ONE Atomweight World Champion Angela Lee recently had her first taste of defeat. This unappetizing dish was served up at ONE: A New Era in Tokyo in March when, after a four frenetic rounds of action, she was stopped by a volley of fifth-round strikes from ONE Strawweight World Champion Xiong Jing Nan.
Lee does not plan on having a second serving.
“Losing sucks,” Lee told BJPenn.com of her failed effort to snag the strawweight title from Xiong. “No one likes to lose. It took a little while to get my head straight after that. But I was able to look back on it and kind of view it as a lesson that’s going to serve a greater purpose. I needed to take this loss now in order to enable me to grow even further as a martial artist. So I’m grateful for it and I’ve been training harder than ever. I’m very motivated to get back in there and just tear it up.”
While it was Lee’s soul-searching that allowed her to find her focus and motivation again, watching her brother Christian swipe the ONE Lightweight World Title from Japanese legend Shinya Aoki in May certainly didn’t hurt.
“Oh, I’m so proud of Christian,” she said of her brother’s inspiring title win. “It’s been a long, long time coming for him and the way he won that fight, coming back from adversity and finishing it in the devastating way he did, I just couldn’t be happier for him and I hope he enjoys his time right now. I know he’s going to be a great champion. He’s gonna stay champion for a long time.”
Although Angela Lee failed to claim the Strawweight belt from Xiong Jing Nan in Tokyo, she is still the proud owner of the ONE Atomweight strap. That being said, she has decided to stick to the strawweight division for her next fight, which will pit her against Brazilian jiu jitsu specialist Michelle Nicolini at ONE: Masters of Destiny on July 12 in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.
Ahead of this fight, she is tremendously excited for the opportunity to get back on track with a huge win.
“I’m very excited for this fight,” she said. “I want to get in there, shake the dust off and just make this fight a great comeback fight.”
Angela Lee has actually shared the mats with Michelle Nicolini before, so she is well aware of the Brazilian’s skill in the grappling realm. That said, she feels well prepared for everything her foe brings to the table.
“I’ve been preparing for this for a while now,” she said. “I had a full camp and I feel like we really covered every single area, we’ve gone over all the scenarios that could possibly happen. I feel very well prepared.
“I’m extremely confident. I know jiu jitsu is her skillset where she is strongest, and I’m prepared to deal with her strength, but also take her to areas where I don’t feel she’s as prepared. I think that I’m more of a well-rounded mixed martial artist. MMA is extremely different than jiu jitsu, and I think everyone’s going to see that in the fight.”
Whether the fight unfurls on the feet or on the mat, Lee will be hunting for a big finish for the duration of the bout. She views an emphatic finish as the perfect way to wash away the memory of her loss in Tokyo.
“I want a devastating finish, just like I used to get in my early days and when I first started fighting for ONE Championship and I had those first-round finishes,” she recounted. “I’m hungry for that, so wherever I see the finish, whether it be on the feet or on the ground, I want it.”
If Angela Lee is able to stop Michelle Nicolini, it will open the door to more big opportunities under the ONE Championship banner — including a potential rematch with Xiong Jing Nan, which has already been teased by ONE brass.
“I feel like that fight has allowed me to grow so much more as a martial artist, as a fighter, as a champion,” she said. “I think that whenever the time comes, I’d love a rematch.
“I think it’s just about going back to hard work,” she added when asked how she’d approach this rematch. “The kind of hard, hard work that got me to the top. Sometimes when you become a champion, you don’t have that same hunger, that same will and work ethic that it takes to get you to the top. I just had to revisit that and really be honest with myself and say ‘hey, you can push harder, you can do better. Never stop.’ I think that mentality is gonna help me to become more successful.”
If Lee is able to avenge her loss to Xiong, the pair will be tied 1-1 across two bouts. Yet Lee plans on winning this prospective second bout so decisively that there’s no need for a tie-breaking trilogy fight.
“I’m hoping to make sure the next time I fight her it’s going to be decisive,” she said. “I’m training hard for that and I’m sure sure that fight will happen in the not too distant future.”
While Angela Lee is gearing up for a Strawweight fight with Michelle Nicolini and keen for a Strawweight Title rematch with Xiong Jing Nan, she has not forgotten about her Atomweight Title. She says she intends to defend that belt by year’s end — by which point there will hopefully be a clear-cut top contender waiting for her.
“That is the plan,” she said. “I’m always staying ready. I’m keeping my eye out for who the top contenders are at Atomweight, but as of right now, there’s not really anyone I can put a name on, so I’m just waiting. And while I’m waiting for the next top contender in the Atomweight division, I want to stay busy with strawweight. So that’s the plan.”
ONE Championship has recently signed a host of high profile free agents, so it’s very possible that some of Lee’s upcoming opponents could come from outside the organization. In fact, UFC flyweight contender Paige VanZant recently suggested that she intends to test free agency after her next UFC fight.
Should VanZant end up in ONE Championship alongside fellow UFC alumni like Sage Northcutt and Demetrious Johnson, Lee says she’d leap at the chance to welcome her.
“I would love that matchup,” she said. “I would welcome it with open arms for sure.”
Whatever the case, Angela Lee has plenty of exciting options on the horizon, and spurred on by the unpleasant taste of defeat, she seems to have all the focus and motivation to pass the tests that lie ahead — from Michelle Nicolini, to Xiong Jing Nan and onward.
This article first appeared on BJPENN.COM on 6/27/2019.