It’s been a long, winding road between wins for Andrea Lee.
The flyweight contender picked up a much-needed win on Saturday, defeating Antonina Shevchenko by second-round triangle armbar submission on the preliminary portion of UFC 262 in Houston. It was the first win for the Texas native in her home state after two previous tries ended in split decision losses, including a controversial call against Lauren Murphy at UFC 247.
Though Lee was critical of the judging the last time she fought in Houston, she also acknowledges that her performances were affected by the extraordinary stress caused by issues in her personal life. Lee was the victim of a domestic violence incident in August 2018, involving her now former coach and estranged husband Donny Aaron. Aaron was later arrested, but ripples of that incident continued to be felt by Lee, who later hit a three-fight slump that was halted on Saturday.
Lee told MMA Fighting that with her win over Shevchenko, she’s beginning to feel like she’s back to her old self.
“Even though I did get that win against Montana [De La Rosa], I was not as focused in that fight,” Lee said on What the Heck. “There was still a lot going on behind closed doors that people don’t know about. There’s always something going on in someone’s life. But I feel like for the first time I didn’t have any of those distractions. I was able to breathe and just focus on my fight. I was able to go and do a training camp in California and Colorado and just kind of get away and just focus on preparing for what needed to be done. So I really felt that going into that fight.
“I felt my confidence back, I felt like my skills were sharp again and I just felt like there were no limitations on what I could do in there. I believe that showed. I got to show a well-rounded fighter and I feel great about that.”
The first round was a competitive one as Lee had to navigate the dangerous Thai clinch of Shevchenko while looking for openings for her own offense. Though she took some sharp knees to the body, Lee says they didn’t feel as bad as they might have looked, and she was mostly unharmed.
In fact, being able to deal with Shevchenko’s best weapons had Lee feeling good about herself heading into round two.
“At the end of the first round walking to my corner I just felt so good because I wasn’t breathing heavy, my arms weren’t heavy or bloated with lactic acid, neither were my legs,” Lee said. “I just knew that I was in good shape. You can tell, at the end of the first round you’re gonna feel it, but I didn’t even feel like we had fought for five minutes in that first round because the last couple of fights I’m going to the second round like, ‘Why do I feel exhausted? I trained hard for this.’ I just felt like a different person in there.
“Going into the second, I felt great, I knew I had the first round and I still had getting a finish one way or another on my mind. I worked hard for it that second round, but I’m happy that it worked out the way that it did.”
In the second, Lee took the fight to the ground and after nearly locking in a crucifix, she transitioned to a triangle choke that had Shevchenko on the defensive for the majority of the round. Lee attacked with elbows while working the hold and while it may have seemed like she was struggling to finish the choke, her plan was to free up Shevchenko’s arm for the submission all along.
When Shevchenko tapped out, it marked the end of Lee’s losing streak and the first finish of her UFC career.
“I knew that if she wasn’t gonna tap I was gonna have to make that arm not usable for the next round because my legs weren’t gonna be usable,” Lee said. “I felt so good after the ref stepped in. Geez, I just felt so much emotion build up and I just wanted to hug my corner and just celebrate with everybody. It felt really good. There was a lot of doubters out there. I know even the commentators probably didn’t think that my striking was as good as it was. My striking is really good, I just haven’t been able to show it in my last couple of fights like I want to. I felt good out there. I felt calm, I felt honed in, and I was focused.”
A former Legacy Fighting Alliance champion, Lee joined the UFC with plenty of steam behind her three years ago. However, after winning her first three fights for the promotion, she faltered against Roxanne Modafferi, Murphy, and Joanne Calderwood, leading to questions of not just whether she could be a contender, but whether she belonged in the UFC.
Lee admits it was difficult to avoid hearing what others had to say about her career in the past, but now she’s primarily concerned with staying active and boosting her contender credentials one fight at a time.
“Maybe I’m better prepared for it now,” Lee said. “I don’t want to necessarily go online and look up where I’m at, where am I ranked now, I don’t care about that. I didn’t really in the beginning, but people want to let you know where you are. I feel like that kind of puts a little unnecessary pressure on top of everything else, so I don’t necessarily want to think about that or focus about that.
“I want to fight, I want to make my way up the rankings, I do, because I want an opportunity to fight for the title, but I don’t want it to be in the forefront of my mind. It’s not what I want to focus on.”