Most 17-year-old students preparing for their senior year of high school are thinking about things like getting good grades, the teachers and the classes they’ll be taking and perhaps the colleges they’re interested in attending.
While she’s also getting ready for school, Victoria Lee is currently focused on the best way to beat up her next opponent in ONE Championship.
On Friday at ONE: Battleground, Lee makes her second appearance for the promotion after debuting this past February at just 16 years of age while wrapping up an impressive second-round submission win. As the younger sister of ONE champions Angela and Christian Lee, Victoria obviously comes from a family famous for fighting and growing up on mats in her father’s martial arts academy was certainly a massive influence.
That said, Lee made her own decision about pursuing a professional fighting career, which actually came when she was barely a teenager.
“When I won my first world championship, a few years prior, that’s when I decided to become a professional fighter,” Lee revealed when speaking to MMA Fighting. “When the opportunity presented itself to me, I had to take it.
“Because it’s like a once in a lifetime opportunity and I’m so glad that I did because I love where I am right now.”
As the sport of MMA grows bigger and bigger on a global scale, athletes are starting to train for the sport at a much younger age but it’s still a rarity for anyone to turn pro at 16 years of age.
In Lee’s case, she was already champing at the bit to compete at a higher level, especially seeing what her siblings did as a similar age.
“I think that my brother and my sister are one of the biggest role models for me,” Lee explained. “Definitely, they were one of the reasons that I decided to start my professional debut. At an early age, I knew this was what I wanted to do after winning the Junior World Championships.
“I’m so grateful to have the opportunity to be able to compete in this organization, especially to be able to do it with my siblings and my family. I’m just so grateful where I am.”
As the Olympics carry on in Japan where at least one competitor— a 12-year-old Syrian table tennis player — along with a slew of teenagers are gunning for gold medals, there’s no right or wrong way for a person to develop into their athletic prime.
That said, MMA can be a particularly brutal sport even for athletes with 10 times as much experience but Lee is certainly not the first person to debut so young and find success.
Thanks to her famous brother and sister, Lee already had a road map to understand the successes and the failures that can come along with a decision to compete as a professional while still a teenager. In fact, Lee believes she’s coming into the sport with very realistic expectations largely because her siblings have already gone through it while also leaning on her mother and father, who are her coaches and her managers.
“Both my brother and sister, they have such a big influence on me,” Lee said. “It’s really valuable the advice that I get from them because they’ve been in my shoes competing at such a high level, at such a young age. They really help me to manage all of the emotions that they felt as well and the pressure and they really just helped me to take a different perspective and appreciate every part of this journey. The ups and the downs and I really have been able to go into this camp with a different perspective and I enjoy every part of it.
“This is a crazy sport. It’s extreme. The goods are great and the bads are really bad but for me, it’s a risk I’m willing to take. The risk for the rewards. It’s just a rollercoaster of emotions the whole way but I enjoy it. It’s the sport that I chose and I love it so I’m embracing all of it.”
Of course, because she’s routinely mentioned in the same sentence as her siblings, Lee will undoubtedly face a different level of pressure and expectation than even the average 17-year-old might deal with while fighting professionally at that age.
It would be easy for Lee to play it off like none of that matters or just say the right things in order to dissuade those kinds of questions but instead she’s just learning to embrace it.
“I think it’s impossible to avoid the pressure completely,” Lee said. “I mean as much as you try to run from it, it manages to creep its way in. I’m so lucky to have my family with me. They are really what helps to keep me ground and put everything into perspective.
“Without them, I don’t think I’d be able to deal with all of it. They really help me to manage the pressure and to focus on myself and just doing what I love to do.”
As she seeks her second win on Friday, Lee is even more enthusiastic than she was for her debut because she already knows what to expect. In a strange twist, Lee might actually be more nervous for her return to high school in a few weeks because she hasn’t been there in more than a year thanks to the global pandemic.
“I feel even more excited for this next fight,” Lee said. “I feel like I’ve learned a lot from my last fight. I’ve taken everything that I’ve learned and I’m implementing it into this camp and I can’t wait to show my new skills for this next fight.
“Honestly, I have no idea [what to expect at school]. I haven’t been in school for two years already, so much has changed. I’m excited to go back and see everybody. I hope it’s not too weird.”
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