"Now that I've had Ava, it definitely makes me so much stronger as a woman and it'll be like my secret weapon when I get back into the cage," Angela Lee tells PEOPLE

Angela Lee
Credit: Angela Lee/Instagram

Angela Lee may have earned a major world title in MMA, but there's a new title taking more importance in her life: mom.

In an exclusive interview with PEOPLE, the ONE Women's Atomweight World Champion, 25, opens up about her life as a new mom and her experience returning to the ring and defending her title after maternity leave.

Lee and husband Bruno Pucci welcomed their first child, daughter Ava Marie Pucci, on April 16, 2021. Baby Ava weighed 6 lbs., 9.5 oz., and measured 19 inches long at birth, she shared on Instagram.

"I've wanted to be a mom for as long as I can remember ... but nothing really prepares you for what being a mom is like," she says. "So of course, as soon as she came home from the hospital, there were good days and harder days."

The athlete says her 3-month-old is already "growing so fast" and the new parents are trying to "cherish every moment that happens."

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Angela Lee
Credit: ONE Championship

Lee, who was the youngest person ever to win a major world title in MMA when she became the ONE Atomweight World Champion at 19, tells PEOPLE that she "really tried" to exercise during her pregnancy, however, it "wasn't nearly as frequent or vigorous" as her typical training schedule.

Last month, the new mom returned to the gym for the first time, which she said was a "strange" experience as "my body is just different and not what I remember."

"I can tell you, as a professional athlete, I have a certain expectation of what I expect for my body and what I can do. And mentally, I still think that way, but my body has been catching up so I've been trying to give myself some grace and take it one day at a time," she says.

While Lee says there are people out there that doubt that she'll be "as good as I once was," the athlete argues otherwise.

"I just think being a mom you really have that added benefit of so much more strength because of everything that moms do," she says. "I think that now that I've had Ava, it definitely makes me so much stronger as a woman and it'll be like my secret weapon when I get back into the cage."

Lee says she's "very excited" to get back to her sport as a new mom and she "can't wait" to pass down some of what she's learned as a fighter to her baby girl.

"I think that being a fighter, being a martial artist, is so beneficial, especially for a young girl. It gives you confidence and discipline and you just have the self-respect for yourself," she shares. "So I can't wait to show all that and pass it down to Ava."

Lee went on to praise ONE Championship, the organization she fights for, for being "completely understanding and very supportive" of her first pregnancy and wanting to return to the ring.

"I know a lot of women don't have that kind of support in their workplace and I just felt very relieved and that I could focus on my pregnancy and growing my baby," she shares.

The mom of one says it was also important to her to go back to the sport as she wanted to show baby Ava to "never give up your passions and still chase after your dreams."

"I felt like I could be a mom and take good care of Ava as well as do what I do, which is fighting," she says. "I wanted to lead by example."