Andrea Lee has put herself in a position where a title shot is getting closer and closer. She will look to take a big step in that direction next Saturday night when she faces Joanne Calderwood at UFC 242.
The event will take place at The Arena, Yas Island in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates and the women’s flyweight matchup will be the featured preliminary bout.
With Lee being ranked No. 6 and Calderwood being the No. 5 contender in the division, a victory next weekend will officially insert Lee into the title conversation. While there are still some very pivotal matchups scheduled for later on in the year that will have a direct impact on the women’s 125-pound division, Lee is keeping her focus where it needs to be.
“With every fight, it’s important to make a statement,” Lee told BJPENN.com. “Being in the top-5 will put me in line for a title shot and that’s a big deal in itself.”
It’s hard enough to be a professional fighter at the highest level as it is. When you add what Lee has gone through over the last year or so, it can be almost impossible.
Last August, Lee was assaulted by her soon-to-be ex-husband, Donny Aaron, who allegedly burned Lee with a cigarette and choked her, according to their former roommate and fellow fighter Andy Nguyen. This attack left Lee with several minor injuries and resulted in Aaron being charged with domestic violence/battery and false imprisonment. After being on the run for nearly nine months, Aaron was captured in Upshur County, Texas, after being pulled over for speeding in a school zone. Aaron was arrested after officers found marijuana in his possession and was extradited to Louisiana.
Dealing with everything she has dealt with, including the media frenzy that took place in regards to the story, Andrea Lee has kept her focus and continued to evolve as a mixed martial artist. “KGB” has picked up two impressive unanimous decision victories in 2019 over Ashlee Evans-Smith and Montana De La Rosa respectively as she heads into the biggest fight of her UFC career next Saturday.
As important as climbing the divisional ladder has been, Lee — who just signed a new six-fight extension with the UFC—- is fighting for more than just being in contention for a world title.
“I’m not just fighting for a title and for that opportunity. I’m fighting for myself, I’m fighting for my daughter, I’m fighting to make a living, so for me, every fight is important,” Lee explained. “Right now, what’s on my mind is I need this money so I can live. I enjoy fighting, I love fighting and this is what I want to do. Even if I had a million dollars, I’d still want to fight because it’s something that I love. Right now, I’m not at that point. I don’t have a million dollars. I’m fighting to live. I’m fighting to secure my life at home. Now I’ve got divorce, I’ve got custody, I’ve got bulls**t going on in my life, my focus is just my family.”
Of course, Lee has aspirations of becoming a UFC world champion. All fighters do. The 30-year-old surging contender knows she is close to that shiny gold belt that signifies you are the best fighter in the world. However, at this point in her career, and with an honest perspective on life and fighting, Lee isn’t necessarily in a rush to get there.
“It’s not that I don’t need the belt, I do want the belt, but I don’t, necessarily, need it,” Lee explained. “That’s what I’m striving for. The champion, there’s a lot that goes into being a champion. That’s a big weight to bare and right now, with everything going on in my personal life, I don’t know how I would feel I would handle it. So it’s one fight at a time.”
What Lee is focused on his her fight with Calderwood in Abu Dhabi. “Jo Jo” was considered to be next in line for Valentina Shevchenko and a shot at the UFC women’s flyweight title if she could defeat Katlyn Chookagian at June’s UFC 238 event. Calderwood would lose a unanimous decision in Chicago and looks to get back into the title conversation herself on Sept. 7.
After taking on back-to-back opponents with more of a wrestling pedigree behind them, Lee is excited to throw her hands with a fellow striker.
“I think it’s great,” Lee said about the matchup. “I was hoping to fight a striker for my next fight. I’ve fought mostly wrestlers the last couple of times so I’m looking forward to this matchup with Joanne. Her Muay Thai is extremely good, she’s really savvy, and I think we both match up really well. I think we’re going to be able to put on an exciting fight for the fans, for Dana White, and everyone.”
After her win over De La Rosa at UFC Greenville in June, Lee, as one would expect, had a lot on her mind and, despite getting her hand raised, wasn’t all that thrilled with her performance. Going back and watching it, Lee felt a lot happier about it than she did in the moment.
“It seems like there’s always something going on,” Lee said. “I’m able to remain focused on the task at hand. I watched my last performance and I don’t feel as badly anymore. In that moment, I wasn’t thinking like it was my best. I’ve seen it and I think it was a really good fight. Everyone thinks they can do more, but I was able to pull through at the end and finish strong.”
Andrea Lee is not one that calls her shots or predict how a fight is going to end. It’s not in her nature to do so. What Lee can envision, however, is delivering a fight that fans will enjoy and keeping her win-streak intact. If it all goes down that way, Lee hopes to have some extra money coming her way.
“I don’t like to speculate,” Lee said. “I feel like I’m going to get my hand raised. It’s going to be an exciting fight and hopefully we’ll be able to get a bonus. I think that we both can be very exciting, and I think I’ve shown in my performances that I can be an exciting fighter. Now that I’m fighting another striker, it can only be fun to watch. I hope everyone enjoys it, I hope I get my hand raised. We’ll see.”
There are some big fights coming up in the women’s flyweight division of note: Chookagian will face Jennifer Maia at UFC 244 and former title challenger Jessica Eye will take on surging contender Viviane Araujo a month later at UFC 245. At the end of the year, the division will play itself out a little clearer in terms of who will be next to challenge Shevchenko for the world title.
Andrea Lee is aware of the other important divisional matchups to round out the calendar year, but she is only focused on the most important fight — her own.
“I just try to focus on my victory,” Lee stated. “I don’t necessarily worry how they finish their fights and every fight I want to go in there, be exciting, and I just want to get the win. However I have to do that, that’s what I’m going to do — whether it’s a knockout, submission, or decision — I just want to go out there and get my hand raised.”
Catch Andrea Lee in action at UFC 242 next weekend.
This article first appeared on BJPENN.COM on 8/30/2019.