Champion's Heart: Angela Lee battled more than just Istela Nunes in latest title defense

Santino Honasan on May 30, 2017 02:11 PM
Angela Lee also battled sickness in latest title defense
I'm a fighter and I choose to be fearless in the face of adversity because resilience is what leads to victory." - "Unstoppable" Angela Lee (Photo courtesy of ONE Championship)

Angela Lee broke down. 

Overcome with emotion, she ran to her family and friends and bawled her eyes out. 

She had just submitted challenger Istela Nunes to defend her ONE Atomweight world championship for the second time, and she did it in front of a partisan Singaporean crowd that was cheering for her every step of the way. 

It was another impressive win on her pristine mixed martial arts record, and it was another testament to how big of a star she's become. 

In just her eighth professional fight, the Singaporean-Korean who was raised in Vancouver has become the face of ONE Championship, the premier mixed martial arts promotion in Asia, and prior to this latest title defense, she had the world taking notice. 

Her grueling five-rounder against Mei Yamaguchi to win the title. Her clinical dismantling of Jenny Huang in her first title defense. It was these performances that brought her to where she is now. 

Against Nunes however, Lee battle more than just the woman standing opposite her inside the cage. 

After the fight, ONE Championship founder and chairman Chatri Sityodtong revealed that Lee had been battling illness days before her title defense.

"Even in the locker room before the fight, I was still throwing up." Lee said. "I was nervous but I also knew how hard I worked for this."

Lee had been feeling under the weather for a while, but continued to put in the work and train. She was, after all, getting ready to defend a world championship. 

"I was battling my sickness in Hawaii, right before I flew to Singapore. When I got to Singapore, it was a little less than 2 weeks before the fight. I was still training and dieting and it was really tough on my body."

"t was also really tough, mentally and emotionally. I had many breakdowns because I was so scared that this sickness would affect my ability to perform on fight night." Lee added. 

For fear of hearing some unwanted news, Lee was hesitant on seeking medical attention. After some convincing from her father however, she ultimately had herself checked out, and it was confirmed that something wasn't right. 

"I'm used to  "sucking it up" and powering through. However, my dad was insisting that I go see a doctor. I went to the hospital 7 days before the fight and my blood test revealed that I had an infection in my lungs and that is was a form of pneumonia."

To treat the condition, Lee was prescribed with medication which included antibiotics, but she eventually needed to stop taking them so that she could properly make weight. 

Finally, fight day had arrived, but the champion still was far from a hundred percent. "I couldn't hold any food or liquids down, my body was rejecting everything."

They say a champion is someone who gets up even when they can't. For Angela Lee, there was no way she wasn't getting up. 

In front of the thousands in attendance at the Singapore Indoor Stadium that night, "Unstoppable" went to work. 

"I was nervous but I also knew how hard I worked for this. I believe that everything happens for a reason and I trusted in that. I thought to myself, 'If I could make it this far, what's 30 more minutes?' So I walked out to that cage, with a smile on my face, and got the job done."

And what a masterful job it was. 

Her match against Nunes lasted only about a round and a half, and when it was over with, Lee let the emotion out. 

Flanked by her family, Lee was crying her eyes out. It was as if all the adversity, all the fears, and all the uncertainty came flowing out. 

Lee had battled through so much more than just the challenger opposite her inside the cage, and she had won, in spectacular fashion. 

(Photo courtesy of ONE Championship)

"That's why I was so emotional after the fight," Lee said. "This win meant so much to me because I had overcome my biggest test- not Istela Nunes but overcoming my own fear & doubt."

"Not once did I think of giving up or calling off this fight. That's not who I am. I'm a fighter and I choose to be fearless in the face of adversity because resilience is what leads to victory."

This performance against Nunes is definitely one that will be talked about for days, months, even years to come. It's performances like this that define a warrior. On this night, she displayed the heart of a true champion. 

At 20 years old and at such an early stage in her MMA career, Angela Lee is still building towards her legacy. 

At the rate that she's going, she could be one of the all-time greats once it's all said and done. 

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