MMA has seen champions rise and fall, but the recent atmosphere at ONE Fight Night 14 in Singapore was unlike any other. As Angela Lee, the atomweight champion, walked into the ONE circle, an air of solemnity took over. The world would soon come to know that Angela Lee’s walk into the cage would be her last as a professional fighter. Her retirement decision, at 27, didn’t just startle the MMA community but raised eyebrows worldwide.
However, behind this abrupt announcement lay dark battles that Angela had fought outside the cage. Recounting a 2017 incident that many recalled as a simple car accident, Angela, in a heart-wrenching revelation, admitted that it was a suicide attempt. The grief intensified with the confirmation of another devastating piece of information: her younger sister, Victoria Lee’s death in the previous December, was also a result of suicide. Victoria, another shining talent in ONE Championship, had her life tragically cut short at the tender age of 18.
During the event at the Singapore Indoor Stadium, a compelling video segment introduced “Fight Story,” a non-profit birthed from Victoria’s memory. The foundation is firmly rooted in assisting those wrestling with mental health issues. Angela’s passion for the cause was evident as she declared, “Fight Story was birthed out of my sister Victoria’s memory. I’ve committed to honoring her by moving forward with a goal of helping and healing others.” Emphasizing the foundation’s primary objective, she added, “Our mission at Fight Story is nothing short of saving lives.”
During her time in MMA, Angela was not just another fighter; she was “Unstoppable.” This emotional night, however, saw her human side, her vulnerabilities, and her pain. Laying her belt down in the cage was symbolic of her saying goodbye, closing one chapter and opening another. She gratefully recounted her journey, “The past eight years have been incredible. I owe my growth and success to my fans, ONE Championship, my teams, and every single person who stood by me.” Her heartfelt message was, “Our biggest battles aren’t with opponents in front of us but within ourselves. Choosing to rise amidst adversity is our daily victory.”
Starting in 2015 with ONE Championship, Angela’s ascent in MMA was swift and impressive. From a staggering 9-0 run to her iconic Twister submission in just her third pro fight, she was a force to reckon with. Angela clinched the ONE atomweight title in 2016, and in a show of her dominance, defended it three times successively. While 2019 saw her shifting gears to the strawweight category and experiencing a couple of setbacks, she reclaimed her honor by triumphing over China’s Xiong. Though Angela’s final fight in October 2022 at strawweight against Xiong did not go in her favor, her retirement left her with a spotless legacy as the undefeated atomweight champion.
Angela’s life outside the cage was eventful. In 2018, she married fellow ONE fighter Bruno Pucci. Their union was blessed with a daughter in 2021.
Ham Seo Hee and Stamp Fairtex, the contenders of the main event, were set to determine Angela’s successor, with Stamp Fairtex being crowned the undisputed ONE atomweight champion.
In a candid conversation with ESPN’s Daniel Cormier, Angela delved deeper into her reasons, sharing, “The heart to step back into that cage has faded… Listening to your heart will always guide you right. That’s the foundation of my decision.”
The young fighter, born in Canada with Singaporean Chinese and Korean lineage, broke records by seizing the ONE women’s 115-pound title at just 19, emerging as the youngest MMA champion in history. Reflecting on her journey, she said, “I have immense pride in my career, devoid of regrets. I can cherish the past and optimistically look forward to what’s next.”
Angela’s immediate focus is now FightStory, which will offer individuals a platform to narrate their mental health experiences.
The Lee family’s association with MMA isn’t confined to Angela. Christian Lee, her brother, holds titles in both the lightweight and welterweight categories. His decisions regarding his MMA career remain under wraps.
Angela summarized her feelings, stating, “The complexity arises because my sister was a fighter, my family breathes fighting, and my father coached us. This intricate web is a significant reason for my withdrawal. Continuing feels increasingly challenging.”
Angela Lee’s exit from MMA creates a significant gap. Yet, her legacy, both in the realm of sports and her upcoming endeavors in mental health advocacy, will undoubtedly echo in the corridors of inspiration for generations.