Meet the 'Unstoppables': Brother-sister MMA duo makes Manila debut
MANILA, Philippines - Angela "Unstoppable" Lee charges with a quick jab and a cross, catching her younger but much bigger brother, Christian, in a choke hold as their father nods in approval.
It's crunch time in training camp for the two teens, who will chase dreams of mixed martial arts stardom on the same ONE Championship fight card at Mall of Asia Arena in Manila on Friday, December 11. The card will be headlined by the inaugural ONE heavyweight championship pitting Brandon Vera against late-replacement Paul Cheng.
And their parents, who also double as their coaches, will be outside the steel cage giving last-minute directions and at the same time, praying they don't suffer career-ending injuries.
Also ringside will be two younger Lee siblings aged 11 and 9, who are also eyeing careers in the uncompromising fighting sport.
"Martial arts keeps our family together. There is synergy in doing things together," said family matriarch Jewelz Lee, who is of Korean descent, after a sparring session that ends with the Lees locking heads and arms in a huddle.
Unbeaten strawweight Angela, 19, has been dubbed "Unstoppable" on the way to winning her first 3 professional bouts by submission, one using the rare "twister" lock.
It's a moniker which 17-year-old Christian will try to live up to when he makes his professional debut as ONE's youngest fighter.
"It's amazing, (Christian) making his debut. I'm gonna be nervous for him and focusing on my fight at the same time," said Angela, who is attempting her fourth win in as many fights.
Her father Ken Lee, who has Singaporean roots, held back tears as he watched his children grant media interviews and pose for photographers at the end of a sparring session. He met Jewelz while at university in Hawaii.
"It's quite an emotional time. This is their dream and they're living their dream at such a young age," the 43-year-old said.
The Lee siblings are poised to win over fans, especially in Asia, where it is common for whole families to take up martial arts, said One Championship CEO Victor Cui.
"They are extremely talented," he said.
‘They're good kids'
Born in Canada, raised in Hawaii and now both representing their father's home country of Singapore, the Lee siblings learned how to punch and tumble soon after they learned how to walk, according to their parents, who run a martial arts gym while working in real estate in Hawaii.
"My parents started me off at a very young age. The more I started training the more I liked it. MMA was just the next step," said featherweight Christian.
Growing up, the two loved playing cops and robbers, chasing each other and grappling on mats that were spread around the house.
Ken said his children had the passion to learn martial arts, which their father took up to fight off racist bullies while he grew up in Canada in the 1970s.
"We train, that's our lifestyle. Genetics can get you so far, you have to have the spirit and they do show that," he said.
The family start their day with mum's pineapple and ginger smoothies before hitting the gym. The day ends with a second round of sparring after work and school.
Christian makes chicken and eggs for much-needed protein during training while Angela prepares salads using kale, berries and mandarin oranges.
Ken and Jewelz laugh when asked if they settle family arguments in the ring.
"Martial arts is separate. Just because we're physical, doesn't mean we get physical. We talk a lot," Ken said.
"They're still kids. But they're good kids."
The children are grounded or get lengthy lectures if they choose going out with friends over their studies or their training, Jewelz said.
Beneath her sweet smile, Angela admitted to being more competitive, treating their sparring sessions as if they were real fights and taking criticism personally.
'Heartbreaking' to watch
"Now that we're older and more mature, we try to help each other get better and not beat each other up," said Angela.
"We trade techniques. It's no longer like, I will try to choke you out."
Jewelz said she finds it hard watch her children get hurt in the ring, and keeps herself calm by praying.
"Of course I feel nervous. It's heartbreaking to see your children in pain," she said.
Her husband added: "You're always a parent first, you cannot make that go away... That's why we train them extra hard, for less chance of injury (and) greater chance of victory."
As their two eldest children kick off their professional careers, the Lees are now preparing to train their two younger children.
At 11 and nine years old respectively, Victoria and Adrian Lee are set to follow in the footsteps of their elder fighting siblings.
They will be ringside with the rest of the family when Angela and Christian take to the cage at Manila's Mall of Asia Arena on Friday night.
"It was never our goal to make them all fighters, we just wanted them to learn to defend themselves," Jewelz said.
Christian is not shy about his big dreams. "I want to be world champion in as many weight classes as possible. I'm extremely focused. I feel like I'm preparing for this my whole life," he said.
And his parents couldn't be more supportive.
"We always tell them, don't follow mum and dad. Go beyond, and that is what will make us proud," Jewelz said. – Rappler.com