ONE Lightweight World Champion Christian “The Warrior” Lee is building an enduring legacy in The Home of Martial Arts and already has a laundry list of accolades to his credit.
Now on a seven-bout winning streak – which includes claiming the ONE Lightweight World Title and the ONE Lightweight World Grand Prix Championship – the 23-year-old superstar continues to rewrite the record books.
Lee now leads the promotion in all-time wins (15), finishes (14), and knockouts (10) – and he’s hoping to become the most dominant Lightweight World Champion in mixed martial arts history. And his next World Title challenge will come from #3-ranked lightweight contender Ok Rae Yoon at ONE: REVOLUTION on Friday, 24 September.
In this exclusive interview, the lightweight king discusses why Ok is a unique opponent, what it’s like to compete on the same card as his 17-year-old sister, the importance of headlining such a stacked event, and much more.
ONE Championship: How has life as a father been recently, and what’s it like watching Alia Mae grow day-to-day?
Christian Lee: Ever since my daughter was born, everything’s been going great. And it’s just crazy how fast time flies. She’s already 4 months old. She’s almost crawling and starting to try and talk. It’s crazy how fast time flies once you have a baby in the world.
ONE: How has becoming a father impacted your training ahead of your third World Title defense?
CL: Well, I have a really good balance right now. My wife and my baby come in with me to train every single morning. We wake up together, we go into the gym together, they hang out on the mats while I’m training, and then we come home together.
So really, it hasn’t affected my training. I’m not training any less, and I’m not spending any less time away from my wife and baby either. I’m just really grateful that the way that my wife and I were able to work things out allows us to be together all the time.
ONE: ONE: REVOLUTION is stacked with three World Championship matches. What does it mean to be the main event of such a massive card?
CL: I think it’s a great honor to be headlining such a big event. And for me, as champion, I’m more than happy to take on that responsibility, take on that role of leading the card.
Ever since I started this journey, I felt like I was ready for this spot. And so now that I’m actually here, and now that I’m the champion, headlining these events is just great. I’m more than happy to do so, and I’m more than ready to do so.
ONE: You and your 17-year-old sister, Victoria Lee, will bookend the main card. How has that dynamic been thus far with both of you training for ONE: REVOLUTION?
CL: It’s actually been really great. Initially, we talked about it, and I didn’t think that the two of us should be fighting on the same card together. I wasn’t sure how that dynamic would work.
But I talked to Victoria, and she really wanted to fight on the same card. She felt that it would not affect her in any way. And for me, I feel like it wouldn’t affect my performance in any way. So, we said we’d do it. Now I’m just more excited than anything to be competing on the same card.
[The same thing happened when] I first started my career. I was sharing the card with my oldest sister, [ONE Women’s Atomweight World Champion “Unstoppable” Angela Lee]. That’s how we kind of started our careers, fighting on the same card as each other. And so now, it’s really cool to see how the shift happened.
ONE: How do you manage your emotions on event day with the highs and lows of a sibling performing before you make your walk to the Circle?
CL: I think the hardest thing to separate when you have a sibling, someone you love fighting on the same card as you, is going to be separating between your family and your business and your work.
Of course, I want Victoria to win. I believe that she’s going to win. But when she goes in [the Circle] and fights, I’m going to be supporting her. And after that, I’m focused on nothing else but my fight, nothing else but the opponent in front of me.
If you can’t do that, if you can’t make that switch and separate yourself from being a spectator to being a competitor on that same night, then you really shouldn’t do so. You shouldn’t be competing on the same card as your sister or sibling. For me, fighting so many years with Angela on the same card, I think that I’ve been able to do so, and I know Victoria will be able to do so as well.
I think it’s going to be a great night for both of us.
ONE: Your opponent, Ok Rae Yoon, debuted with back-to-back wins over former World Champions Marat Gafurov and Eddie Alvarez. How does his style differ from your previous two challengers, Iuri Lapicus and Timofey Nastyukhin?
CL: It’s definitely going to be a different style, a different fight entirely when I go in there against Ok Rae Yoon. Because different from my last two opponents, they were coming forward and trying to take my head off right away. I think Ok is going to take a little different approach.
He’s more of a counterstriker. He likes to go in there and pick opponents off with his accuracy and his timing, and then he likes to stuff those takedowns and tire his opponents out. So I think he’s going to be, in some ways, the complete opposite of the last two opponents I faced.
For me, I have to be a little bit more careful not to rush into one of his counters, but I think it’s going to be a good style for my style.
ONE: You are known as one of the most exciting finishers in the sport. How do you not force the issue and try to rush a finish when the adrenaline is going?
CL: They say in fighting, the worst thing you can do is to chase the knockout. Because when people are chasing the knockout, that’s when they overextend themselves, get overaggressive, and end up getting knocked out themselves. And so with a counterstriker, a guy who’s very patient and measured, like Ok, that’s going to be the worst thing to do.
I’m just going to go in there, put the pressure on him, play my game, continue to mix it up between striking and grappling, and I’ll see what opening presents itself first – whether it’s going to be on the feet or on the ground.
I think Ok is going to be equally prepared for my striking and for my grappling. But when I mix it up, I think I’m going to find an opening faster than he’s going to be able to defend.
ONE: This will be Ok’s first five-round match in ONE, and it comes in the main event for a World Title. How will you try to impose your game when the bell rings?
CL: For Ok, the last two opponents he faced, Marat and Eddie, were former World Champions, and they were very good in their own right. But they’re nowhere close to the level that I’m at, and I think Ok is going to have a completely different challenge in front of him than his last two opponents.
He did a great job in beating the two opponents that he faced in ONE so far. But really, he’s going to have to prepare in a completely different way because you’re not going to go in there and win a title fight, win a five-round fight, by just defending. So, I think it’s going to clash with his style. He’s not going to be able to just counter and defend.
At a certain point, he’s going to need to bring the fight to me. He’s going to need to initiate to try to win, and I think that’s where we’re going to see a lot of openings.
ONE: After bursting onto the global stage in the manner that he did, how do you think Ok will change his tactics against you?
CL: I think the biggest mistake that Marat and Eddie both made when they were facing Ok is that they underestimated him. I feel that they both sort of looked past him. They thought that it was going to be an easy matchup for them, and Ok is a tough guy. We saw it firsthand in those two fights.
He’s very resilient. He’s got good takedown defense, and he’s got good striking. So I think the fact that they overlooked him, they weren’t prepared to work as hard as they needed to, to get past him on that night. And Ok was prepared for that.
Watching those two fights, I definitely know not to look past him, and I’m going to be treating him as the number one threat, the best opponent in the world right now, and I’m not going to be taking him lightly.
ONE: Where do you see your advantages in this matchup?
CL: I think that Ok has good striking. He utilizes his range very well, and he’s got good timing when he strikes. But I feel confident in my own skill set that I’m better in every range.
I feel that I’m a better striker, I feel that I’ve got better wrestling, and I feel that I have better jiu-jitsu. I know that Ok is going to be bringing the fight to me. He’s going to be fighting with all that he has, but I think that I have more.
ONE: Do you have any emphasis on getting another finish to add to your ONE records? And what is your ideal way to finish this match?
CL: In this matchup against Ok, I’m fully prepared to go five hard rounds with him. I’m prepared to go the distance because he’s a resilient guy. He’s a tough fighter, and I think his best strength is his resilience, his toughness.
But if everything goes according to plan, I plan on taking this guy out in the first round. [I plan on] taking him down quick and submitting him.