Note: This article contains descriptions of self-harm and reporting on a suicide. Audience discretion is advised.
Mixed martial arts star Angela Lee has publicly admitted that her 2017 car crash was a suicide attempt and not an accident, and revealed for the first time that her 18-year-old sister Victoria Lee took her own life.
Victoria Lee, known as "The Prodigy", died on Dec. 26, 2022, and Angela Lee initially confirmed the news on Jan. 7, 2023.
No cause of death was revealed until recently.
The younger Lee was 3-0 in the One Championship promotion.
Angela Lee, 26, has not returned to the cage to fight since the demise of her younger sister.
Talk was that she could retire.
She will make “a big statement” on her future while in Singapore for the One Fight Night 14 on Sep. 30.
Wrote heartfelt article
In an article on The Players Tribune, Lee wrote: “Six years ago, I tried to end my life.”
The atomweight champion's public admission is shocking as she had never explained before what led to the car crash in 2017 that put her out of fight action.
“It’s taken me a long time to get to this place, but I’ve now reached a point where I am comfortable and confident enough to speak the full truth,” she added.
Aged 21 then, Lee was eventually ruled out of a November 2017 title defence against Japan’s Mei Yamaguchi in Singapore.
Angela Lee sustained a concussion, an injured back, and minor burns from the vehicular crash in Hawaii just a few weeks before the fight.
She admitted in her article that “it was not an accident, it was a suicide attempt”.
Tried to get out of 2017 fight
In her piece, the Hawaii native also admitted to trying to break her arm and even sustain a concussion just to get out of the fight.
She explained that the pressure on her to cut weight in time for the bout broke her mentally, and she felt physically incapable of getting into fight shape.
The fear of losing it all if she was defeated weighed heavily on her.
“For the longest time, I blocked that reality out of my mind in order to ‘protect myself’ – I put up barriers as a defence mechanism, to try and protect my mind and my heart from what had actually happened,” she wrote in her gut-wrenching article.
“And even all these years later, after a lot of healing, it’s still difficult to think about, let alone talk about.”
However, she wrote that writing about it and what happened has helped her cope.
Pressure as high-profile fighter
The pressure on her to live up to the expectations as the face of One Championship was keenly felt.
In 2016, Angela Lee became the youngest female world champion in MMA at age 20.
She defeated veteran Yamaguchi to capture One Championship’s 115-pound belt.
She then put up back-to-back title defences.
“In the weeks leading up to the crash, I was convinced that I couldn’t tell anyone what I was feeling, about all the thoughts I was having,” Lee wrote.
“I didn’t want to let my family down. So I was going to do everything in my power to make sure that wouldn’t happen. That’s what I told myself."
Night of crash
Angela Lee's breaking point was also openly discussed in her piece.
“Everything came crashing down on November 6, the longest night of my life. That evening, I was trying to drop a few more pounds. I took a hot bath. I was wrapping myself up in towels. That whole thing," she wrote.
“I went to my room, and I broke down crying. I remember pacing through my room and walking over to the scale. I get on, and look down, and it says that I still have 12 pounds to lose.”
She admitted to hurting herself.
“At one point, when everyone else in my house was asleep, I went to the bathroom and literally tried to break my own arm. Then I tried to give myself a concussion,” Lee wrote.
“I was trying anything I could think of to escape from the situation I was in and get out of the fight."
When she failed, she thought of driving out to end things.
She wrote: “When those things didn’t work, I decided to get in my car and leave it up to fate to see what happens next."
"I wanted to end whatever it was that I was feeling. Because I felt like that was my only option. I couldn’t see past that moment."
"I was too scared to speak up and tell people I was struggling. I was too afraid of what my family would think of me, of what the world would think."
“I didn’t want to be a disappointment to anyone.”
She drove her car off a ravine on her second try.
Lee wrote that she floored the accelerator at a spot near her house when a gulch “drops off” the highway.
“I just remember turning the steering wheel and swerving and then hitting something, and then it was just... rolling."
She was hanging upside down when the car stopped.
“To tell you the truth, I didn’t care if I lived or died at that moment. So surviving, trying to live, after all that had happened was extremely difficult."
“What made it even harder was... no one knew what had really happened.”
Passers-by came to her rescue, she wrote.
Mental health charity, Fightstory
Lee said she was choosing to share her story now after her sister’s death and has since created the non-profit mental health charity Fightstory.
Lee’s father and coach Ken Lee has “completely retired” from coaching.
He had also coached Victoria Lee, as well as his two sons, Christian Lee, 25 and amateur Adrian Lee, 17.
The family’s United MMA Hawaii gym has reopened after it “permanently closed” following Victoria’s death.
Christian Lee, One's lightweight and welterweight MMA champion, is set to return to action in 2024.
Adrian Lee is likely to make his debut in One Championship.
If you or someone you know are in mental distress, here are some hotlines you can call to seek help, advice, or just a listening ear:
SOS 24-hour Hotline: 1-767
Singapore Association for Mental Health: 1800-283-7019
Institute of Mental Health: 6389-2222 (24 hours)
Tinkle Friend: 1800-274-4788 (for primary school-aged children)
Top photo via Angela Lee