How To Bounce Back From A Car Crash Like Singapore's MMA Darling Angela Lee
"Things could have ended very differently," the world champ says of her accident that saw her car flip six times.
“He’s my bodyguard. He’s always with me,” says Angela Lee, when we meet the mixed martial arts (MMA) fighter-slash-world champ for this interview. You’re probably thinking “Why in the world does an MMA fighter need a bodyguard?” You’re right. The “bodyguard” in question is really Angela’s fiancé and fellow MMA fighter, Bruno Pucci. When he's not training with her at the Evolve MMA gym, he's chaperoning the 21-year-old lass wherever she goes.
And on this balmy Monday morning, it is to the Mediacorp campus where Angela has a string of media interviews lined up to promote her ONE Championship rematch with Japan’s Mei Yamaguchi for the women’s atomweight title in Singapore this Friday. In person, Angela and Bruno are as lovey-dovey as they appear to be on her IG. During our 20-min chat, each time our topic flits to her 27-year-old Brazilian beau (whom she affectionately calls “baby”), she either breaks into a a sundae-sweet smile, girlish giggle, or both. You know, like any normal crazily-in-love girl. But Angela isn't just any normal girl — we’re talking about a girl who would unflichingly mean punch, low kick and choke hold her opponent inside the ring.
Of course, all the fame and glory of being an MMA fighter comes with a price. During our chat with the Hawaii-based Angela, who fights under the Singapore flag with ONE, she’s chomping on two cups full of bite-sized apples and watermelons and drinking a cup of plain water. Turns out that’s all she’s having for lunch. And for breakfast: Some egg whites and water. “Right now, I’m not really eating too much — just very light fruits, some eggs and a lot of water — ’cos I have to meet my weight requirements [at the weigh-ins in a few days]. But after that, I’ll be able to refuel for my fight [on Friday],” she says. Which perhaps explains why she isn’t exactly in the perkiest mood. We would be too if we had been up since 6.30am, with a day ahead packed with media interviews, an afternoon press con and evening training at the gym… while surviving on fruits, eggs and water. Still, the ever-professional star punctuates her replies with flashes of her trademark sunny smile every now and then. Post-interview, Angela rises from her seat and lumbers her way out, no thanks to a case of pins and needles. “My foot fell asleep, sorry,” she jokes, laughing, “That’s probably the worst feeling in the world, right?”
Looking at Angela all pumped up and roaring to go for Friday’s fight night, it’s hard to believe that just seven months ago, the fighter was involved in a harrowing car crash in Hawaii. She was on her way to morning training at the gym when she dozed off at the wheel and hit a guardrail on the highway. Her car flipped about six times but thankfully, she managed to escape relatively unscathed, with a concussion and minor burns. As a result of the accident, the ONE Championship atomweight world champ’s Nov 24 bout with Mei Yamaguchi last year was postponed. It was also set to be Angela’s second fight against the 34-year-old Japanese veteran after defeating the latter in 2016 to become the youngest MMA world champ. But just like a true fighter, Angela has bounced back from that “traumatic” ordeal and is raring to get back into the ring. Aptly, her title defence bout against Mei is named One Championship: Unstoppable Dreams. That could very well be the title of an autobiographical film based on Angela Lee’s story, if there were one. After all, nothing is getting in the way of Angela “Unstoppable” Lee — no car crash, no naysayers, no extreme dieting, and most certainly, not a case of pins and needles.
#1: Growing up in a family of fighters helped hone her passion for her craft.
“It’s always been my dream to be a world champion. I’ve been doing martial arts since I was little, since my family’s involved in [the sport]. I found my passion for martial arts from my parents, who are my coaches. We do martial arts as a family. We’re in the gym together every single day. It’s a unique situation — I don’t think there’s any family like ours. I started competing really young and that’s where I found my love for competition, and I was really good at it. When I was in high school, I thought, ‘I love to compete, and I want to travel, and what better way to do that than becoming a professional fighter?’ So I trained hard. And as soon as I turned 18, I had three amateur fights in Hawaii and I got signed to ONE Championship. Since then, I’ve been travelling the world and competing, and I won the world title, and here I am now.”
#2: She’s a fighter, through and through.
“After my car accident, I took a break from everything for about three months. The whole experience was traumatic and my whole family was shaken up by it. It was a really low time for me. I battled with a lot of self-doubt, negativity and depression. But everyone has their ups and downs, and what counts the most is that you keep fighting through it, and eventually you can overcome it. I’m very proud that I overcame those [negative] thoughts with the support from my family. It was quite a miracle that I walked away from it with just minor scrapes and bruises. I’m very lucky. Things could have ended very differently. But I get to be here and competing again today. It’s definitely made me cherish the life that I have. I see things differently. I’m happy just to be here competing. It takes all the pressure of competition away, just knowing that I get to do what I love again.”
#3: She and her fiancé are in a “violent” relationship.
“We’re always training in the gym. And we’re training partners. So sometimes, we punch each other in the face (laughs). It’s far from an abusive relationship though — it’s strictly professional (laughs). It’s important for us to have a break [from training] once in a while to still do ‘normal’ couple things. I still get excited when I get to dress up for dinner. Like any normal couple, we have our fair share of fights. But being in the same profession makes it a lot easier for us to understand each other. He’s been so understanding as I prepare for my match [this Friday]. The training and preparation can be tough on anyone. And I get pretty grumpy when I’m not eating. I think if he weren’t a fighter, he would have left me by now.”
#4: There’s no sibling rivalry between her and her 19-year-old brother, Christian, who will be fighting in this Friday’s tournament as well.
“Since we were young, Christian and I have been very, very close. We’ve always helped each other to grow and push ourselves to the next level. And now, he’s at that level where he’s fighting for world title and I couldn’t be prouder of him cos he’s come so far. [This Friday’s match] is the biggest moment in our lives. We’re looking to become the first brother-sister world champions of MMA — something that we talked about when we were teenagers. We were like, ‘How cool would it be if one day, we were to become the first brother-sister world champions?’ And now it may be happening on Friday. We’re really making history and it’s so exciting.”
#5: Her hardest fight outside the ring is against temptation.
“Most people don’t know how much sacrifice it really takes to be in our profession. People think, ‘Oh, they get in there, put on some gloves and punch each other.’ It’s so much more than that — the build-up that leads up to [fight night], your diet and time away from loved ones. I had to sacrifice so much. Of course, the night of the fight is critical. But in the lead-up to the big battle, I fight a lot of mini-battles, like not taking that slice of cake when I really want it or running that extra mile when I don’t want to. My toughest battle is always with food. I love to eat a lot so [dieting] is really a struggle for me. But it’s a very gratifying feeling knowing that I earned my victory — I put in all the work, the hours, the sweat. So it depends on how bad you want it and how hard you’re willing to work for it. Nothing worth having ever comes easy, right?”
One Championship: Unstoppable Dreams is on this Friday (May 18), 7pm, at the Singapore Indoor Stadium. Get your tickets here. Catch ONE Championship: Unstoppable Dreams LIVE on oktoSports & Ch 5, May 18, from 10pm onwards. Download the Toggle app to watch the LIVE action from 7:30pm.