Michelle Nicolini unfazed by Angela Lee’s skills: ‘Jiu-jitsu is very weak here in Asia’

One of the best competitors in jiu-jitsu history, claiming eight world titles in three different weight classes — from 116 to 163 pounds — between 2006 and 2014, Michelle Nicolini is now 100 percent focused on her mixed martial arts career. On Friday, she enters the biggest fight of her life against ONE Championship superstar Angela Lee in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

To prepare for Lee, a former strawweight champion in Asia, Nicolini dove into a nine-week camp in Sao Paulo, Brazil, alongside fellow jiu-jitsu legend Demian Maia. Her training partner was victorious against Anthony Rocco Martin in June, and now it’s time for Nicolini to get the job done.

Lee, known as “Unstoppable”, held a perfect 9-0 record with six submissions prior to her recent setback versus Jingnan Xiong. Those numbers don’t impress Nicolini, though.

“She’s a black belt in jiu-jitsu and won many fights by submission, but jiu-jitsu is very weak here in Asia,” Nicolini told MMA Fighting. “They are good in Muay Thai and on the feet in general. No girl she faced has good jiu-jitsu. That Japanese fighter she fought twice, Mei Yamaguchi, gave her a bit more trouble.”

Nicolini’s grappling credentials are unquestionable. A multiple-time medalist at the prestigious ADCC grappling tournament, winning gold in 2013, a couple of silvers (2011 and 2015) and bronze in 2017, Nicolini scored all her MMA wins by way of submission. On Friday, she expects her “sharp” jiu-jitsu to “make the difference in this fight” against Lee.

“I see myself winning in the first or second round,” Nicolini said. “When I grab a hold of her, real strong and prepared, I won’t let her go.”

A quick submission victory over someone like Lee could grant Nicolini a shot at the gold even with both coming off defeats, the Brazilian grappler predicts.

“She’s the star of the promotion,” Nicolini said. “She’s fighting there for a long time, building her career, and I think I can fight for the title if I defeat her. She lost her chance recently against that Chinese who has the belt now (Xiong), and I think I definitely can earn that chance with a win over her. I hope so.”

Nicolini’s last bout, a close decision defeat to Tiffany Teo in November, is still stuck in her throat. She chooses to see it as a learning experience, and to fix the things that went wrong last time ahead of ONE: Masters of Destiny.

“I came to Malaysia early this time and everything went perfect,” Nicolini said. “Last time I arrived on a Monday to fight on a Friday after a 26-hour flight. I did everything different this time, including many changes in my training.”

“I think I made things more complicated than it should have been last time,” she continued. “I have to go there, grab her and not let her go anymore, to dominate the positions. That was my focus in this training camp. Last time many things went a way I didn’t want and I started to get frustrated. I did everything different this time.”

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