MMA: Controversy as Angela Lee loses bid for strawweight title in disputed decision
She showed heart and grit as she promised, and kept going forward throughout the fight. But mixed martial arts (MMA) fighter Angela Lee once again fell short in her bid to capture the One Championship strawweight (up to 56.7kg) world title at the One Fight Night 2 event.
Lee, One's atomweight (up to 52.2kg) champion, was aiming to become the Singapore-headquartered organisation's first female MMA double champion by defeating strawweight queen Xiong Jingnan. Lee had also contested unsuccessfully for the belt in March 2019 when she lost by a technical knockout in the fifth and final round.
This time around, Xiong defended her title with a unanimous decision from the judges after the title bout went the full five rounds, although the result did not sit well with many at the Indoor Stadium.
Jeers broke out from the near-capacity crowd when the decision was announced and during the 34-year-old's post-fight interview. Asked for her thoughts on it, the Chinese fighter responded: "I don't mind the audience reaction. That's their opinion. Only my team and I understand what I had to go through to prepare for this fight."
The home crowd's reaction to the decision was shared by Lee - an American who has a Singaporean dad and South Korean mum - and even One chief executive officer Chatri Sityodtong.
"Xiong came out really strong in the first round but I felt I was more consistently pushing forward and I don't understand the decision," said Lee.
"I don't understand how you can score points with your defence and running backwards, but I gave it my all in this fight."
At the end of the event, Chatri said: "In the slightest margins, I'd give it to Angela. She stood toe to toe (with Xiong) and did very, very well other than the first round."
In the first round, Xiong dropped Lee to the mat with two right hands, and was clearly the sharper striker of the two, displaying crisp counter-punching.
But she was unable to finish her opponent off and Lee enjoyed a strong second round, where she came close to submitting Xiong. The 26-year-old kept the pressure up in the final three rounds of the bout but could not deliver a decisive blow.
"I did look at the judges' scorecards and they had it very close," said Chatri, adding that he felt the judges had given too much weight to Xiong's first-round close finish.
Elsewhere on the card, Mikey Musumeci became One's first submission grappling world champion when he won the flyweight (up to 61.2kg) title by beating fellow Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt Cleber Sousa via unanimous decision after a single 10-round bout.
An emotional Musumeci, a five-time International Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Federation (IBJJF) world champion, said: "I had appendix surgery three months ago, and the next day I ran 10 miles, and I haven't taken a day off.
"I just wanted this so much and I've been working so hard... 22 years of doing jiu-jitsu (led) to this moment. This is the biggest title of my life."
There were also impressive One debutants for new signings Ilya Freymanov and Halil Amir, who knocked out their opponents Martin Nguyen and Timofey Nastyukhin in featherweight (up to 70.3kg) and lightweight (up to 77.1kg) bouts, respectively.
Freymanov had the Russian flag draped over his shoulders in what was thought to be the first time it was on display at a sporting event in Singapore since the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
Russian athletes had been pulled from previous One cards and the world governing bodies for badminton and table tennis, among others, have banned them from competing in sanctioned events.
Chatri explained that the initial decisions were to assess the "political landscape", but added he felt his organisation was a "politically neutral platform" and he felt it was not right to deny Russian athletes a chance to make a living.
"We all kind of concluded, on the team, that the best thing is to always be pro-athlete," he said.
Main card results
Xiong Jingnan def. Angela Lee (Unanimous decision)
Mikey Musumeci def. Cleber Sousa (UD)
Stamp Fairtex def. Jihin Radzuan (UD)
Ilya Freymanov def. Martin Nguyen (Technical knockout)
Halil Amir def. Timofey Nastyukhin (TKO)