ONE Women’s Atomweight World Champion Angela Lee has lived up to her “Unstoppable” moniker by going 7-0 inside the cage. But on Friday, 26 May, at ONE: DYNASTY OF HEROES, Brazil’s Istela Nunes looks to change all of that.
Only a year and a half into the sport of mixed martial arts, Nunes has blitzed the competition. She has accumulated an unblemished 5-0, 1 No Contest record with two wins via KO.
If the knockout artist is successful at dethroning Lee inside the Singapore Indoor Stadium, she will etch her name in the history books. Not only will she deliver the first and only loss to the inaugural title holder, but she will also earn the distinction of being the promotion’s first Brazilian women’s champion.
“Angela Lee is a good opponent. I think it will be a good fight,” the 24-year-old states. “I know her strength is her ground game, but I see openings on the ground and on her feet, the same way I have openings, so I cannot say that she is good or bad at something. I am going to impose my game upon her.”
Nunes presents several dangers of her own. Before jumping headfirst into mixed martial arts competition, she earned a reputation as a feared Muay Thai competitor. She racked up an impressive 52 victories and became a two-time Muay Thai World Champion in Thailand.
However, after finding herself in a class entirely of her own, she needed a new mountain to climb. The lack of elite Muay Thai combatants in her region led her to Curitaba in 2015, where she began training in other disciplines in an effort to test her talents inside the cage.
The Brazilian made her professional debut in October of that year in impressive fashion. True to her Muay Thai roots, Nunes scored her first professional victory courtesy of her powerful knee strikes. The other highlight-reel finish came six months later, when she scored a triple head kick knockout, the video of which went viral around the world.
ONE Championship’s atomweight division was officially put on notice last August, when Nunes made her promotional debut and earned a split decision victory over former contender Mei Yamaguchi at ONE: HEROES OF THE WORLD. That win paved the way for a shot at Lee’s crown.
By the time 26 May comes around, the knockout artist will not solely rely on the skills that brought her to this point. Since her debut, she has worked hard at shoring up the holes in her game. One of those holes happens to be where the 20-year-old champion has a major advantage.
“My biggest strength is obviously on my feet,” Nunes says. “I think, not that it is a weakness, but I only started recently in Brazilian jiu-jitsu. That does not mean anything, however. By the time she gets to the ground, she will have gone through a lot on her feet.”
On paper, Nunes owns the advantage in striking. Lee, however, demonstrated recent improvements of her own in that department. During her last match at ONE: WARRIOR KINGDOM, the Singaporean flawlessly peppered Jenny Huang with her enhanced stand-up game before stopping her with punches in the third round.
While Lee is entering ONE: DYNASTY OF HEROES with a head full of confidence, Nunes has a chance to dethrone the champion and make history.
“I will be the first Brazilian woman to have a belt in ONE Championship,” she says. “That is really good for Brazil, really good for me, and really good for anyone who is with me — my trainers, my family, and everyone.”
If Nunes is successful, she also knows that she will be sharing her hand-raising moment with everyone watching who dares to dream.
“I just want people who think they will not be able to fulfil their dreams, to see that you can never give up, and always believe that you can. It is only up to you.”