At first glance, Angela Lee looks like a normal teenager. But unlike her contemporaries, the 19-year-old spends most of her time inside a steel cage, beating up opponents twice her age.
Lee is part of a new generation of mixed martial arts (MMA) fighters from Asia, and has been turning heads along the way. Raised in a family of martial artists, Lee remains undefeated since her debut earlier this year against experienced Egyptian fighter Aya Saber. It was a bout that Lee ended in less than two minutes.
Lee told CNBC her aim was always to finish a fight before the first round is over.
"It's just my style of fighting. I finish fights very quickly and the way I fight, it just ends...," she said.
On Friday Lee will compete in the ONE: Pride of Lions fighting event, organized by Singapore-based MMA promotion company ONE Championship. A ONE spokesperson said the event at the Singapore Indoor Stadium was expected to draw in a crowd of 12,000 enthusiasts. The company has held similar fighting events across Asia, in cities such as Manila, Kuala Lumpur, Beijing, and Yangon among others.
The sport is gaining momentum in China. ONE Championship recently announced a two-year tie up with Chinese sports development company Wujie that includes plans for 26 MMA fight events across the country. The first fight, which happens near the end of the month in Beijing, will see featherweight champions Marat Gafurov and Narantungalag Jadambaa battle it out at the Gymnasium of National Olympic Sports Center, the company said in a press release.
Lee's opponent on Friday evening is Natalie Gonzales Hills, who has a 2-2 record of fights won and lost and is eight years older than Lee. But speaking to CNBC ahead of the fight, the teenager appeared unfazed.
"I think it's great that she is a well-rounded fighter. I think that makes for a really exciting fight," said Lee, describing Hills as "aggressive."
Mixed martial arts is a combat sport in which fighters use techniques drawn from other full-contact sports such as the jiujitsu, boxing, wrestling and muy thai, to knock out their opponents. Its origin goes back to the early 20th century and much of its current popularity can be traced to the largest MMA promotion company, US-based Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC). UFC fights in the U.S. can attract more than a million pay-per-views on cable television, with thousands packing stadiums and reality television shows following individual fighters.
Like most sports, MMA's big-name fights are almost entirely male-dominated. The highlight of the ONE: Pride of Lions tournament is between Thai fighter Dejdamrong Sor Amnuaysirichoke and Brazilian Yago Bryan, who will compete in the ONE Strawweight Super Fight bout. But there's growing global interest in women's MMA following the rise of U.S. stars Ronda Rousey, Joanna Jedrzejczyk and Miesha Tate
Lee's fight with Hills is a Main Card event, which takes place earlier in the night, and is the only female fight on the cards.
"Women always tend to put on a really great show," said Lee. "There's only one women's fight on the whole fight card [tonight] and I'm hoping that we'll stand out."