For a long time everything Angela Lee touched seemed to turn instantly to gold. She won her first nine fights, becoming the atomweight champion and the face of ONE Championship in the process.

The 23 year old was filling stadiums, particularly in Singapore, and winning fights. She was on top of the world, which is why 2019 must have come as such a shock to the system.

Lee has fought twice this year and has lost both bouts. Her record as a strawweight is 0-2, and her struggles to make the atomweight limit have been well documented.

She remains the atomweight champion, and will be defending that belt against Xiong Jing Nan at ONE: ‘Century’ on Sunday. But the circumstances are very different from their first meeting in March.

Learning curve

Going into that bout Lee was undefeated. Now she is staring down the barrel of a three fight losing skid and life as a contender, rather than a champion.

However Lee says the experience has taught her valuable lessons and she will be a better fighter for having experienced those two defeats,

“I’ve taken a step back and collected myself after two tough bouts. They’ve taught me lessons and helped me realize a lot of things about myself as a fighter. With the help of my family, my dad, and my team, I’ve worked extremely hard in improving my game. I feel now that we have the winning formula.”

Lee was stopped in the fifth by Xiong and seemed to fade badly after coming close to securing a submission win in the penultimate round. It was her first fight after suffering a back injury in a car crash and she thinks this might have been a factor,

“I had prepared to the best of my abilities at that time (but) I was still recovering from my back injury and that played a factor in my cardio. That is something that I made sure would not be a problem this time (and) I’ve lost track of how many hundreds of miles that I’ve run already.”

Underdog status

The majority of Lee’s fights have taken place in Singapore. Her father was born there, the whole family trains at Evolve MMA and she always gets good support from the local crowd.

This fight is in Tokyo and Lee has already lost to Xiong once this year. For once she won’t be the favourite, neither with the bookmakers nor the crowd. It is a situation she embraces,

“I embrace being the underdog. It’s a unique situation because I did lose to her, but she’s coming into my territory. She’s coming for my belt. I’m going to defend it fiercely. I’ve fixed my mistakes, and I know that I’m going to come back 10 times stronger.”

The morning ONE: ‘Century’ card is being televised live by U.S. broadcaster TNT. Having grown up in Canada and Hawaii the significance of this is not lost on Lee,

“It’s a huge honor. It’s a huge opportunity. To be on the first event that’s going to be showcased on national television in the United States is such a big deal.”

Enduring rivalry

Rivalries make fighters. Had the judges been less generous to Lee after two very close fights with Mei Yamaguchi we would surely have seen a trilogy bout there.

But Xiong has beaten the champion decisively. It means Lee is fighting to tie the series at 1-1 and if she does that then a third fight will surely follow,

“I have to beat her on 13 October. From there, I think everyone knows what is going to happen, everyone is expecting the tiebreaker. It’s bound to happen.”