Angela Lee is ONE Championship’s first ever female champion after outpointing Mei Yamaguchi in Singapore, but the teenager did not have things all her own way. She had to survive knockdowns and submission attempts before coming back to finish the fight strongly and claim the belt.
In the opening round, it was Yamaguchi who instigated the first takedown, but Lee instantly reversed the position and attacked with a guillotine choke followed by an armbar attempt. The Singaporean was pushing the pace, but never looked like she would finish the fight.
In round two, Yamaguchi appeared to grow in confidence as she shook off Lee’s submission attempts with increasing ease, but it wasn’t until the start of the third that the fight exploded into life. The Japanese veteran came out with a left hook followed by a straight right that left the local hero flat on her back.
There was a collective intake of breath at the Singapore Indoor Stadium as fans wondered whether Lee had been knocked out. Yamaguchi moved in for the kill with ground and pound, but the teenager still had her wits about her and was actively attempting to escape and improve her position.
The knockdown would prove to be the catalyst that sparked one of the best rounds you will see anywhere this year. Yamaguchi moved into mount and, as Lee attempted to escape, she locked in the first in a series of armbar attempts.
The Singaporean survived and briefly moved into mount herself only for Yamaguchi to establish her guard and attack with another armbar. Lee escaped again, but after an intense scramble, she found herself defending a knee bar.
Once again, Lee survived the submission attempt and the round finished with her looking for a D’Arce choke and landing a few knees to the head. At this stage, Yamaguchi appeared to be ahead under ONE Championship’s scoring system, but Lee, who had never previously been further than the second round, came on strong in the latter stages.
The Singaporean scored an early takedown in the fourth and then tried for a heel hook and an arm triangle. Lee followed this with a conventional triangle attempt and jumped for a guillotine at the end of the round with Yamaguchi forced to constantly defend against submissions.
At the start of the fifth, Lee landed a switch kick to the mid section, which appeared to hurt Yamaguchi. The Japanese fighter looked exhausted and was powerless to prevent herself from being taken down by the younger fighter, who finished the round with an arm triangle attempt.
After such a strong finish by the teenager, the decision seemed no more than a formality and all three judges awarded the fight to Lee, who improved her record to 6-0. Yamaguchi dropped to 15-9-1 and saw her three-fight winning streak snapped.
Speaking after the fight, the newly crowned ONE women’s atomweight champion said, “I was born for this this moment right here. I worked really hard for it. I couldn’t do this by myself. It takes a whole army to build a champion and I’m really lucky to be surrounded by such amazing people. I want to dedicate this fight to my Mum and Dad.”
In the co-main event, Roger Gracie (8-2) needed just 2:12 to finish the previously undefeated Michal Pasternak (11-1). The BJJ black belt executed a trip early on and then moved into side control and put the Polish fighter to sleep with an arm triangle choke.
He became the first Gracie to win a major MMA title in the modern era and, speaking after the fight, the UFC and Strikeforce veteran announced his intention to drop down to middleweight and challenge for a second ONE Championship title.
In a battle between two former champions, it was Narantungalag Jadambaa (11-4) who came out on top. He scored a third-round submission win over Kotetsu Boku (24-11-2) with the Mongolian finishing the fight with a Von Flue choke.
(Follow @JamesGoyder on Twitter | Video courtesy of ONE Championship | Photo courtesy of Heath Sims)