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    "I think that women's MMA can really help to empower these women, even if it is for self-defence it would definitely benefit everyone," Lee said. | Photo: Reuters

Lee said the sport was enjoying strong growth in Asia and was a plus for women in the region, where gender inequality persists in many countries.

Mixed martial arts may have started as a male-dominated sport, but women have grappled their way to the upper echelons of MMA and will only gain more popularity in the coming years, undefeated champion Angela Lee said on Thursday.

"I think that women's MMA is very mainstream. Over the last couple years it kind of just exploded and it's a whole new market," Lee, 20, told Reuters in an interview on the mats of the Evolve MMA gym in Singapore.

"I think it's just going to go on this upward trajectory in the next three years — it's going to be huge," said Lee, who last year became the youngest-ever MMA world champion by winning the ONE Championship atomweight, or under 115 pounds, title.

Women's MMA has been around since the 1990s but it was Olympic judo medalist Ronda Rousey's signing just five years ago with the Ultimate Fighting Championship that helped bring it to the general public.

Underscoring the growing appeal of women's MMA, "Unstoppable" Lee will headline the fight card at ONE's Dynasty of Heroes event in Singapore next Friday. She will seek to defend her title against Brazil's Istela Nunes, a two-time Muay Thai world champion.


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