With a white frangipani flower behind her ear and her highlighted hair bouncing round her shoulders, the smiling 5 foot four inch Lee cuts a pleasant determine.
Is that this the identical lady who appeared on pay-per-view TV world wide final Could, punching, kicking and grappling to defeat skilled Japanese fighter Mei Yamaguchi?
The identical fierce fighter who, aged 19, secured the inaugural ONE Championship (ONE) girls’s atomweight title, changing into the world’s youngest MMA champion, incomes her comparisons with boxing legend Mike Tyson, who achieved his first world title aged 20?
“As a small youngster rising up, I all the time wished to be a world champion,” Lee tells CNN in Bangkok, the place she is coaching for her subsequent huge struggle.
Since reaching that purpose, she has develop into probably the most well-liked MMA fighters in Asia — male or feminine. She has 1000’s of followers on social media and is consistently cited by MMA journalists as one of many high athletes within the sport.
Undefeated with six wins, 5 by submission — together with an ultra rare “twister” spinal lock submission — Lee’s floor sport is notoriously slick.
As that frangipani hints, she has a method of her personal.
A household of fighters
Born in Canada to a Singaporean father and a South Korean mom, Lee comes from a household of fighters.
Her three youthful siblings — two brothers and a sister — all observe martial arts, whereas her mother and father are each extremely adorned martial arts rivals and instructors.
Lee says she’s been coaching since she may stroll.
And whereas it is her dad, Ken, and her 18-year-old brother Christian — additionally an expert fighter with ONE Championship — that followers see in her nook on struggle evening, Lee credit her mom for instructing her to be a robust and unbiased lady.
“Rising up with my mother as a martial arts teacher, and in addition the extra values that I discovered from blended martial arts, actually formed me into the form of particular person I’m immediately,” she says.
Her dad, in the meantime, gave her a flexible grounding in MMA, a sport that has evolved dramatically over the last 20 years and entails utilizing a mixture of strikes from completely different martial arts disciplines to defeat an opponent.
“Rising up with my dad, I used to be in a position to be taught all these kinds and incorporate them into the brand new type of MMA that’s fought immediately,” says Lee.
“(I discovered to make use of) all the pieces from hanging, boxing, kickboxing and Muay Thai to issues like wrestling and judo on the bottom. I believe that is the gorgeous factor about this sport. It is consistently forcing you to evolve and enhance in all areas.”
Making a person’s world her personal
Right this moment Lee divides her time between Hawaii, the place the household moved when she was younger, and Singapore, the place she’s a member of the Evolve struggle group and competes with the ONE Championship group — thought of by many to be the Asian equal of the Final Preventing Championship (UFC), an American group and the biggest MMA promoter on the planet.
When Lee emerged victorious from her championship struggle final Could, her new contract with ONE reportedly made her one of many highest paid females in the history of any MMA organization in the world.
Although particular particulars about her contract have not been launched, ONE founder Chatri Sityodtong has publicly mentioned that Lee is now one of many high 5 best-paid fighters in his group.
He wrote in a submit on his Fb web page: “I imagine in meritocracy and that’s how all of my corporations are run. Everybody must be afforded the equal alternative to be the grasp of his/her personal future by his/her ideas, phrases, and actions.
“At my corporations, we do not care about paper , CVs, race, gender, faith, sexual orientation, social standing, nationality, shade.”
Certainly, the truth that Lee’s upcoming battle in opposition to Taiwanese MMA fighter Jenny Huang, on March 11 in Bangkok, is presently the subsequent main occasion on ONE’s calendar highlights a world shift within the stage of respect afforded to girls in MMA.
Lee acknowledges the uncommon place she’s in.
“I believe that it is actually vital as a result of I am competing in Southeast Asia and in these international locations I perceive that plenty of girls haven’t got the identical alternatives the lads do,” she says.
Profession defining second
When requested to choose the one struggle that has meant essentially the most to her in her quick profession, Lee factors to her first skilled struggle with promoter ONE Championship — a second that also provides her chills.
Lee overtook her opponent Aya Saber within the first spherical, in only one minute and 43 seconds by way of arm bar, a submission transfer that includes hyper-extending an opponent’s elbow joint so that they are compelled to faucet out.
Having simply graduated from highschool when the struggle occurred, Lee says it opened her eyes to an entire new world, and a life she’d all the time dreamed of.
“From there, it simply looks as if all the pieces was tremendous velocity. Every little thing went completely.”
Certainly, 4 extra fights and fewer than a 12 months later Lee was given her shot on the title.
“I used to be strolling out to the cage, I form of had this clean look on my face and all these ideas had been coming in my head, all these doubts, and I simply could not shake off,” she says of the Could 2016 struggle in opposition to Yamaguchi.
That was the primary time Lee needed to go a 5 full rounds.
After an epic battle in opposition to a girl thought of one in every of Asia’s high fighters, she was declared victorious in a unanimous determination. Some sports activities media dubbed it ONE’s top fight of 2016.
“I owe (the win) to my preparation and my coaching for the struggle but in addition I used to be very completely happy that I used to be in a position to overcome all these doubts and insecurities that I had and are available out victorious. It was a really emotional second for me.”
Lee commemorated the win with a tattoo — a pocket watch surrounded by a lotus, that includes the time and the date of her win.
“I am a really sentimental particular person,” she says as she reveals off her ink.
Preventing again in opposition to MMA criticism
Lee acknowledges MMA has its critics, with many dismissing it as a violent and barbaric sport as a result of truth fighters are, basically, aiming to injure their opponent to maintain them from persevering with.
Although lately MMA has launched a sequence of guidelines to guard fighters from risking critical damage, many proceed to affiliate MMA with its authentic no-holds-barred format.
“There are such a lot of misconceptions about MMA,” she says.
“Fortunately, it is a sport that is evolving so quick, it is changing into broadly accepted world wide and individuals are beginning to understand it is a lot greater than what it seems to be.
“If you happen to take me, for instance. I am only a child, virtually. A 20-year-old lady. I am an expert MMA fighter and a world champion. I am just about a residing testimony to breaking these stereotypes that fighters are alleged to look a sure approach, act a sure approach.”
However regardless whether or not a girl needs to step right into a cage and struggle, Lee says it is vital for females to know learn how to defend themselves.
“Martial arts is a lot greater than (combating),” she says. “It actually provides you self-confidence, it promotes a more healthy life-style and undoubtedly there’s the self-defense facet. It is a loopy world on the market and I believe everybody ought to be capable to defend themselves.”
It is all about confidence
It is one factor to see Lee within the cage, the place you anticipate a fighter to provide their all, and fairly one other to look at her up-close in coaching. She’s frighteningly quick, has the reflexes of a mongoose, and her focus is absolute.
“The way you carry out is immediately associated to your coaching and your preparation,” says Lee.
“Within the second what makes all of the distinction is how fast your response time is. That is why I prepare so laborious, in order that it comes out extraordinarily naturally throughout the struggle.”
For now Lee is concentrated on defending her title in opposition to Huang on March 11, however what’s subsequent for the younger star?
“It is laborious to place an finish date on it,” she says, “as a result of I actually simply bought began.
“I need to struggle for so long as I can.”