Natalie Gonzales Hills, also known as “The Kilapino”, debuted for ONE Championship last Friday, November 13 at ONE: Pride of Lions, but her first time inside the ONE Cage didn’t exactly go as she had planned.
Hills was caught in one of the rarest submission maneuvers in professional mixed martial arts by opponent Angela Lee, who is quickly gaining a reputation as a grappling ace. Lee forced Hills to tap out from a ‘Twister’, a move that has only been executed a handful of times in MMA.
Despite being on the wrong end of a highlight reel finish, Hills was able to give fans a glimpse of her potential as she dominated Lee in the stand-up.
Hills surprised Lee with lightning quick punches, sharp knees and kicks. She timed Lee with a plethora of powerful right hands and it became evident that Hills had more than a good chance to score the upset on the hometown favorite had the fight remained standing.
But when the fight hit the mat and Hills dived into top position for ground and pound, Lee found herself immediately in her comfort zone.
“I knew [Angela Lee’s] ground game was stronger but when I got the takedown, I was in top position and I was supposed to finish it from there,” said Hills. “I respect her ground game. She did win by submission but I do feel that I could have won if I hadn’t made the mistake [of following Lee to the ground] that day.”
On the mat, Lee moved swiftly and treacherously, like a spider that had its prey caught in its web. From half guard, Lee grabbed Hills in a side headlock with her arm trapped behind her head, slowly cranking Hills’ torso in opposite directions, putting enormous amounts of pressure on her spine.
“I felt that my neck was trapped and I tried to turn in and at that point I knew the [Twister] was already on. I used the wrong escape and it was too late at that point,” Hills described the moment she realized she was in a Twister.
“While I know it’s easy to say what could have happened after the fight, but I do feel that when I was winning the exchanges and my strikes were landing, I did feel that she was out of her comfort zone on the feet.”
Despite the loss, Hills describes an ultimately positive experience with ONE Championship and recalls the warm welcome by fans in Singapore.
“ONE is cool and they really looked after me and my team. It was the first time I was treated as a professional fighter,” explained Hills.
“I have a job and a family, and to be flown to Singapore and to be put in a nice hotel. The whole experience, I really felt like a professional fighter. They really took care of us. Everything was well run and went smoothly and that made it less stressful even though we had media obligations.”
After her bout with Lee was announced a month ago, Hills also connected with her Filipino fans online.
Hills is of mixed English and Filipino descent, with her mother being born and raised in the Philippines her entire life. Hills was also born in the Philippines, in a small town in Cavite City, but spent her childhood in the United Kingdom before moving to Australia.
She was surprised by the turnout.
“Yeah, some fans on Twitter mentioned they will be [at the fight] and I didn’t think they would actually come,” said Hills.
“There were people there who wanted my photo and autograph. I was really surprised. They either heard about me or saw me on social media. That was really cool. I didn’t realise that I had friends or fans in Singapore. That was really interesting.”
Needless to say, Hills is looking forward to the next time she can showcase her skills inside the ONE Cage. For now, she’s back in Sydney, staying in shape and trying to stay afloat until she gets that next call.
“Being able to travel and fight and meet new people and reach out to Asian fans – that’s really what I want to do,” said Hills.
“Being able to compete in a promotion like ONE that puts on shows in so many different countries is really, really exciting and is something I’m really looking forward to. It was a really good first experience and I’m just really excited about where I’ll end up next with ONE,” she added.
“This fight (against Angela Lee) was the most high profile fight I’ve ever been involved in because everything was so organised. Despite it being quite a large stadium venue, I didn’t feel the pressure and I actually could focus on the fight, and I really appreciate that from the promotion.”