The Asian Dream: Unstoppable Lee & Superboy Choi
It might not be every parent's first choice career for their children, but these two rising Asian stars are carving a path to the pinnacle of the brutal world of MMA
Also known as: Unstoppable
Fights out of: Evolve MMA (Singapore)
Fights in: ONE Championship
Ranked: ONE women’s atomweight world champion (115lbs)
Both of Angela Lee’s parents are noted martial artists. Her pedigree from the start, therefore, suggested she might be something special. But even her folks probably had no idea how far she would come so early in her career.
The sport’s youngest-ever world champion comes from a pankration background but has so far shown she can go toe-to-toe, too, if the mood takes her. Lee’s defeat of Japanese veteran Mei Yamaguchi to win the ONE Championship’s atomweight world title on the Ascent to Power card in Singapore back in May was a case in point.
Down, and seemingly out, early in proceedings, Lee somehow found her feet, and her range, again, overpowering her opponent as the bout came to a close to win the judges’ nod, and the championship belt.
“I was flat on my feet in the third round,” was how Lee explained the fight. “She caught me and it woke me up. That’s where training and drilling comes in. After that I took over in rounds four and five — out of nowhere.
“After the fifth round I actually thought there was one more round to go. I’ve had time to reflect on it all now, to escape the hype and be with my family, and it’s just amazing.”
As good as she is inside the cage — and at such a young age she can surely only keep on developing — Lee is proving a marketers’ dream outside it. She has clinched sponsorship deals with the likes of Milo, and a six-figure deal with the Singapore-based ONE Championship, as she has quickly established herself as one of Asia’s most popular sport stars.
Lee said her newfound fame, and all the attention that has followed her world title win, has been a comfortable fit.
“I sometimes think to myself that just the other day I was another normal kid, training away in the gym,” said Lee.
“But it’s cool, the attention, and people keep coming up and saying I’m an inspiration to their kids. It just makes me feel so happy. I sometimes can’t believe that’s how they look at me. It’s not been too intrusive.
“Having a younger sister who is 12 years old, I am used to carrying myself in a way that someone can look up to. I don’t feel any pressure, it’s an honor to be in that position, to have someone looking up to me. I grew up being told I could do anything I chose to and I like to carry that with me.”
Also known as: The Korean Superboy
Fights out of: Team MAD (Busan, South Korea)
Fights in: Ultimate Fighting Championship
Currently ranked: 14th featherweight (145 lbs.)
Next fight: vs Cub Swanson, UFC 206 in Toronto on December 10
There’s an air of nonchalance Choi Doo-ho carries around with him that seems at odds with the way athletes in his sport are commonly perceived.
Mostly, mixed martial arts grabs attention for its showmanship. That’s certainly the case when it comes to the Las Vegas-based Ultimate Fighting Championship, which brings all the bluff and bluster of that city with it whenever and wherever it appears.
That the featherweight division Choi fights out of is currently ruled over by the human headline that is Irishman Conor McGregor makes the Korean fighter’s casual nature all the more exceptional — but it should never be mistaken for a lack of confidence.
“I know I can beat anyone I want to,” Choi said during a break in training earlier this month. “If I land my right hand, no one can handle it.”
The Busan-based fighter is currently riding a 3-0 run since joining the UFC in 2013. Overall in MMA he’s now 14-1, without a loss in over six years, and that right hand of his seems to be doing most of the talking for him.
Choi’s three UFC bouts have lasted about four and half minutes, combined, as he has bludgeoned in succession Juan Manuel Puig, Sam Sicilia and, most impressively, seasoned veteran Thiago Tavares at The Ultimate Fighter Finale card in Las Vegas back in July.
After that victory, Choi kept quietly mentioning that he fancied next facing the UFC’s fifth-ranked featherweight Cub Swanson (23-7-0), as he works his way toward a title shot — and a possible showdown with McGregor.
The Swanson fight is now set for December 10 as part of UFC 206 in Toronto. Win and Choi will move that one step closer to a title he feels has been his “destiny” ever since he first saw MMA on TV as a 12 year old and — despite his parents’ concerns — signed on for kickboxing classes at his local gym.
“To have an Asian world champion would be great for me, but it would be greater for the sport in Asia,” said Choi. “I know I can win and I will win and this will give great confidence to other fighters from Asia who will follow.”