Christian Lee Has His Sights On Welterweight Title
Christian Lee made a huge statement in his first defence of the ONE lightweight title against Iuri Lapicus at ONE: Inside the Matrix. The first round TKO victory ensured he ended 2020 as the king of the division.
In the past two years, Lee has enjoyed huge success inside the ONE Circle, winning the title at ONE: Enter the Dragon and the Lightweight World Grand Prix at ONE: Century in 2019. Before successfully defending his title last year. He enters 2021 with a long line of hungry contenders looking to take him down.
Riding The Momentum Of 2019
Although he had a successful 2020, Lee told ONE Championship that he had hoped to make multiple title defences last year.
“I came off of a great 2019, winning the World Title and also winning the ONE Lightweight World Grand Prix,” said Lee. “So, I was very excited coming into 2020, looking to get three-to-four title defenses in. And then, the pandemic hit.
“Thankfully, I was able to have my wedding in February, right before the whole lockdown began. From there, in March, we had to close down our gym, United MMA, just to help stop the spread of COVID. Things were just different. You had to wear a mask every time you went out. For a while, everyone was wearing gloves when they went out to grocery stores. It’s new times for all of us. It just took some getting used to.”
“I’m Just Grateful”
Despite the effects of the coronavirus pandemic, the 22-year-old champion remains grateful he was able to compete and experience success. Furthermore, he is soon to become a father.
“As far as how the year went, I’m very grateful because I know there are a lot of people struggling out there trying to make ends meet and took a really big hit from the COVID lockdowns and everything,” Lee said. “For me, I’m just grateful I’m doing well in my career thus far, spending a lot of time at home with my family, spending a lot of time with my wife, and appreciating the quality time that typically you wouldn’t be able to spend.
“Before the lockdown, I was working 12-hour days from training to teaching classes. We went from that to having a lot of free time to enjoy with loved ones. 2020 was a great year for me, all the way from the start of the pandemic until now. I would say that I’m blessed because nobody in my family has gotten sick from COVID, thankfully. And I’m just trying to stay safe and do everything necessary so nobody in the family gets sick.
“Heading into 2021, I’m very excited to defend my belt some more. And, of course, for my baby girl to come into the world in April. There’s a lot of great things to look forward to.”
Training Through The Pandemic
Even with the pandemic, the training never stopped for Lee. It gave him more time to prepare. He wanted to stay ready when his first title defence finally came to fruition.
“For me, I just look at it as a positive,” said Lee. “As an athlete, a martial artist, I never stop training. I’m always in the gym.
“The fight getting pushed back from May to June to July to, eventually, October when the fight happened, it was no different. I train year-round, and training continued as normal. I always knew they were going to make the fight happen, so I was just staying ready.
“Once we signed the contract, once we got the date set, that’s when the real fight camp goes in. That’s when we start doing two-to-three sessions a day and the intensity picks up. But it’s always a positive when you have more time to train.”
“I Was Able To Get The Job Done”
Lee’s plan in his first title defence was to finish the fight as quickly as possible. Even though he faced some resistance in the beginning, the champion executed his game plan accordingly.
“Going into the match, I was very excited,” Lee said. “I just wanted to go in there, get the job done as quickly as possible, get my pay cheque, and go home – and that’s exactly what I did. I brought the fight to him, just like I said I would. We had a bit of a clash. We both traded punches. His head slipped to the side. His [punch] landed, mine didn’t. Then from there, there was just a scramble.
“I was able to keep my composure, win every scramble, and that’s how I ended up in the position to land those ground-and-pound shots to finish the match. For me, that was a great feeling. I trained so hard.
“Even though 2020 was a year of rest and downtime, I was in the gym every single day training. It all paid off when I was in there, and thankfully, I was able to get the job done in under two minutes.
“The first World Title defence is done. I’ve already taken out the former lightweight champ, the number one contender ‘Dagi’ (Saygid Arslanaliev) and the next top contender, Iuri Lapicus. I’ve taken out three of the top lightweights already, and I’m just looking forward to knocking them down.
“I know there are a lot of hungry contenders who are very worthy of a title shot. I just invite them in to give themselves a shot because I’m very hungry and excited to defend my belt many more times in 2021.”
Biggest Fight Of His Life
A few months on, Lee considers his first title defence to have been the most important fight of his career. As a champion, nothing is more important than defending the title. Everything – not just the belt – was on the line, so he was able to breathe easy when he won.
“That fight was the most important fight of my life,” said Lee. “The reason is, every time you step in there, you’re putting it all on the line. My job – being a fighter, being a champion – requires you to be at the top of your game every single time you step into the cage.
“The MMA game is not a forgiving one. You can be on top of the world and lose one fight, and people forget your name, and you no longer get paid. That fight meant everything to me. It meant keeping my pay cheque. It meant being able to provide a great life for my family. There was no way Iuri Lapicus was going to get past me on that night. It meant everything to me.”
“Most Stacked Division In The World”
Lee sees the ONE lightweight division as being full of formidable fighters, all of whom would make for good challengers to his title. He believes however that he is up to the challenge of taking on all contenders
“I see the lightweight division as the most stacked division in the world,” Lee said. “It really is full of the most killers out there. We got Shinya Aoki. Timofey [Nastyukhin], who is a very dangerous contender. We got Eddie [Alvarez], who’s going to be working his way up as well. Marat [Gafurov], who’s coming off his first win at lightweight. There are many killers out there who are just waiting for their shot at the belt.
“That’s just great for me because that means I’m always going to stay active. I’m always going to have excellent fighters to push myself and test myself against. I just see the lightweight division as the most stacked division out there. That makes me feel even better about being the champion of the division.”
Christian Lee vs Thanh Le?
With ONE featherweight champion Thanh Le expressing interest in competing at lightweight and fighting Lee, the Hawaii native thinks the 35-year-old should focus on defending his title first. Furthermore, he believes there are others more deserving of a shot at the lightweight title.
“I think Thanh Le is a good fighter and had a good performance against Martin [Nguyen],” said Lee. “He’s explosive and he’s got a good killer instinct, but he just won the belt at featherweight, a division below me.
“He’s got a little bit of work to do in clearing out that division before he thinks about moving up. Like they say, you’re not a true champion until you defend the belt. We’ll see how he does in his first few title defences.
“If eventually he clears his division out and wants more, then I welcome that. But as for me, there’s a lot of hungry contenders who have earned their shot at the belt before he has, so I’ll be looking to them first.”
Goals For 2021
Like any champion, Lee’s primary goal is to continue defending his belt. He wants to clear out the lightweight division to show the world that he’s truly the best there is. The first opponent he has in mind this year is Timofey Nastyukhin, who recently beat Pieter Buist at ONE: Inside the Matrix 2.
“My main goal in 2021 is to continue defending my belt and clear out the rest of my division,” Lee said. “The way I see it, there are only a few key players left that I haven’t already beaten. I want to knock them off the list. I see Timofey as the first guy, and I feel like he’s earned his shot. He’s taken out Eddie Alvarez, and he just beat Pieter Buist as well. I feel like he’s definitely in line. Of course, the final call is up to ONE Championship.”
‘The Warrior’ is also open to fighting Eddie Alvarez if the former UFC champion wins his next fight.
“I know there’s another big match in the works with Eddie Alvarez. If he [wins], he could very well earn himself a shot as well.”
If Lee continues to successfully defend his title, he has even considered moving up to welterweight and challenging for the division’s title.
“I see those two fights are going to be in the works for 2021, and the next guy is a wild card. My plan is just to knock off three more top contenders in 2021, continue defending my belt, and maybe even take a crack at the welterweight belt. We’ll see how 2021 goes and how things line up, but I’m definitely trying to stay active.”
While Lee is yet to taste fatherhood, he is currently in a state of joy, and is grateful to be having a daughter.
“Oh man, I’m just overwhelmed with joy and extremely excited,” said Lee. “My wife and I have always talked about it and always wanted to have a baby. It’s so great that we’re going to be having a baby girl coming up so soon, in April.
“I don’t know what it’s going to be like just yet, but I know she’s going to be the best thing that has ever happened to both of us. I’m just so overwhelmed with joy, and I can’t wait until she’s born. I can feel her kicking on my wife’s belly more and more every day.
“It’s definitely the best thing that’s ever happened to my wife and me. I’m grateful to be having a baby girl.”
Who should Christian Lee defend the ONE lightweight title against next?