When 19 year old Angela Lee secured ONE Championship’s inaugural women’s world title in May not only did it make her the youngest title holder in the sport’s history but it also catapulted her up the ranks of the highest paid athletes on the promotions roster, male or female.
Lee, who made her professional MMA debut a little over a year ago, has taken the MMA world by storm notching up six consecutive wins from six fights, five of which she finished in the first round via submission.
Her title fight against veteran Mei Yamaguchi (15-9-1) was Lee’s only fight to go the distance and ended in a unanimous victory for the rising star.
“The fight against Mei was a really great learning experience. I wouldn’t change anything about the fight, it really challenged me. I learnt more from that fight compared to all my other fights combined. I’m really happy that I had such an amazing opponent. I’m glad that Mei and I could really show the world what women’s MMA is all about,” Lee said.
To say women’s MMA has grown exponentially over the last three years is an understatement. The premier promotions in the world all now boast women’s divisions and some of the top money earners in the sport are female, a feat not achieved in even the most well established mainstream sports.
It is no surprise then that ONE Championship, a Singapore based MMA promotion, is heavily focused and committed to investing in their first female champion and opening up opportunities for the next wave of female athletes to compete on the biggest stage in Asia.
“I think that ONE sees the potential that women’s MMA has and I think that they want to get ahead of the game because it’s going to take off in the next couple of years,” Lee said.
“For the world to see that ONE is investing in a female champion and that they are paying female athletes equally is only going to make more female athletes want to fight for the promotion. It’s really great.
“It helps encourage female athletes and show them that they can make something of themselves and make a living and a career doing something they love.”
The commitment to female athletes and providing young women with strong, diverse role models is driven by ONE Championship owner Chatri Sityodtong.
Sityodtong is supremely passionate about promoting equality for the fighters on his roster and he makes no apologies for giving Lee a hefty pay raise when she re-signed with the promotion following her decisive title victory.
For Sityodtong reward is based on merit – talent, ability and achievement - not on gender, age or social standing. If you are the best you deserve to be paid the best. What a novel concept!
“Angela Lee as a world champion at 19 years old is the fifth highest paid fighter on our roster, male or female. She is breaking all sorts of stereotypes about what a woman should be and can be in Asia.
“People can be upset about her being a woman and being paid more than the men or that she’s 19 years old.
“I don’t give a damn if you’re a boy or a girl or how old you are. If you’re the worlds best you deserve to be paid the world’s best.”
“It’s a multi-year, multi-fight contract. It basically pays her (Lee) six figures a fight (excluding endorsements). She’s going to be very well-to-do,” Sityodtong said.
The future of women’s MMA is bright and ONE Championship is planning for rapid expansion with the implementation of multiple weight classes and regular signing of new talent. It’s an initiative that the organisation and Sityodtong takes very seriously.
Number ONE for equality
For ONE Championship this isn’t just about providing entertainment, it’s about making a societal impact from an elevated platform that reaches millions of people.
“One of the things that we’re trying to do as an organisation is to make the world a better place. Asia has a lot of income inequality, education inequality and gender inequality. Through sports and through heroes we can help the shape the values of society for the better.”
With an unprecedented level of interest in women’s sports globally ONE Championship is setting the bar when it comes to promotional and financial support of its female athletes.
And while we can always argue that there is plenty more to do in bridging the gap between male and female athletes, it’s safe to say it’s easier to do so with a few less glass ceilings to break through.