Before each mixed martial arts (MMA) competition, Victoria Lee reminds herself of the advice from her father Ken: Ignore the outside chatter and focus on the contest ahead.
It is a lesson she intends to heed as she embarks on her biggest challenge as a professional fighter after One Championship on Thursday announced that the 16-year-old would be joining the MMA promotion.
Her age and ability were immediately called into question by sceptics but Victoria, whose older siblings Angela, 24, and Christian, 22, are world champions with One and fight under the Singapore flag, refused to allow the criticism to affect her.
One’s chief executive Chatri Sityodtong leapt to her defence on Friday, writing in a Facebook post that he signed the teenager “entirely on her merit alone”.
He added: “It had nothing to do with her siblings and their achievements.
“In fighting, skills trump age. If you have the skills to dominate in your weight class, it does not matter how old you are.”
The vote of confidence was welcomed, Hawaii native Victoria told The Sunday Times in a video interview yesterday.
She said: “In competitions, it’s very important for your mind to be there. I think the best way to do that is to not think of so many things at once, just focus on what I’m here to do and not listen to all this outside chatter.
“I appreciate what Mr Chatri has done – defending me – but I’m just so excited about what’s happening right now and I just don’t want to get down about any of that.”
Backing her is a long list of credentials that include being a 15-time North American Grappling Association Expert Champion and a two-time Pankration Junior World Champion.
Last year, she won the International Mixed Martial Arts Federation Junior World Championship and the Hawaii State Wrestling Championship.
AGE IS NO PROBLEM
In fighting, skills trump age. If you have the skills to dominate in your weight class, it does not matter how old you are.
CHATRI SITYODTONG , chief executive of One Championship, on signing Victoria, 16.
Angela was also full of praise.
One’s atomweight world champion said: “Victoria is a part of this next generation that has been born and raised with MMA as a whole. The transitions are seamless, there are no gaps.
“She is still learning and improving each day but, yes, she is already much better than I was at her age.”
There are expectations that come along with being the younger sister of two world champions but Victoria is determined to forge her own path.
She said: “I use my brother and sister as inspiration and motivation for me. My dad has always taught us to focus on our own games, to not get sidetracked with all the outside noise and just run our own race.”
Martial arts are a family affair – all three siblings and their youngest brother Adrian, 14 , are coached by their parents, Singapore-born Ken and his South Korean wife Jewelz.
Victoria, a junior at Mililani High School, believes that being part of a family that loves the sport has played a big role in her development as an athlete.
Her professional debut has not been confirmed, but she is already raring to get into the ring although she ruled out ever facing Angela – “we are family, so that would never happen” – in a potential atomweight clash.
While competitions are halted due to the Covid-19 pandemic, Victoria continues to train five times a week in preparation for that maiden outing.
“That feeling after winning was just really what made me want to just keep competing,” she said.
“I always knew that I wanted to become a professional fighter. I never expected it to happen this fast, but I’m extremely grateful for this opportunity and I just can’t wait to compete.”