Christian “The Warrior” Lee may only be 19 years of age, but he has the chance to make history as the youngest male world champion in mixed martial arts history. The overall accolade already belongs to his sister Angela, the ONE Women’s Atomweight World Champion.
On Friday, 18 May, the teenage sensation will attempt to capture the ONE Featherweight World Championship, and avenge the only loss of his career, when he challenges reigning titleholder Martin “The Situ-Asian” Nguyen for the belt at ONE: UNSTOPPABLE DREAMS in Singapore.
While Lee will have to face the champion alone when he steps into the ONE cage, he will have more than 50 of his students with him in spirit, cheering him on from his family’s gym at United MMA in Hawaii.
“It is great. We have a great team here at United MMA. The kids and adults stay up till three or four o’clock in the morning to watch me and Angela compete,” he says.
“They are staying up to watch the coaches who taught them how to grapple, and how to fight. They are watching us go out and compete. I take so much pride knowing that they look up to me.”
Even though “The Warrior” is constantly training in anticipation of his forthcoming world title bout, he has never lost sight of his students. That is because teaching has become a real passion for him.
Lee regularly instructs the gym’s children’s classes, and also teaches adults that are around his age, or even 20 years his senior. He takes great pleasure in taking the knowledge his father, Ken, taught him, and passing it on to the next generation of martial artists.
Just seeing the younger kids properly utilize a technique he has taught brings the featherweight world title contender a tremendous amount of joy.
“I have fallen in love with teaching,” Lee begins. “It is a great thing watching a little kid that you taught from day one go out there and, step-by-step, do what you taught them to do.
“We have a couple of 6-year-old kids, and then we have this one kid, and he is just a stud. He takes to grappling so well, and he is so ferocious when he trains. You take so much pride knowing that you helped this kid win a gold medal and feel like a champion.
“It is so rewarding. At the end of the day, that is why I teach these kids.”
“The Warrior” has watched a lot of his students win titles lately.
In April, United MMA competed in the 2018 NAGA Pacific Grappling Championship, and 36 of the gym’s members brought home belts, swords, and medals.
“We brought a huge team of 56 competitors to a grappling competition – kids and adults – and they just mopped the floor [with the competition]. We had kids who won extra belts and medals, and I am so proud of them.
“I am with these kids every day. I am on the mats with them. I teach two classes a day from 4pm to 5pm, and from 5pm to 6pm, and I get to watch these kids grow.”
Perhaps the best part about the featherweight’s life as an instructor is that he is not only teaching his students how to grapple, compete in mixed martial arts, and learn basic self-defense skills, he is also constantly soaking up knowledge.
Lee says that, in the midst of coaching, he began to notice how he was becoming a better martial artist right alongside his pupils.
“The thing I love the most about teaching is not only watching their technique develop, I am watching my own technique develop,” he explains.
“As I am telling them the things that they need to do, I am correcting myself. I am telling myself what I need to do. It helps me to evolve as a fighter, and evolve as a martial artist. I am definitely better. Through teaching them, I am teaching myself in a way.”
That has fuelled Lee’s success, and could help give him an advantage as he prepares to challenge two-division ONE World Champion Nguyen for his featherweight belt at ONE: UNSTOPPABLE DREAMS in just a few weeks’ time.
Despite being only 19, “The Warrior” has looked to the future. He knows he has a lot of time left in his athletic career, perhaps decades before he ultimately steps away from the cage for good. But even when that day comes, he will never stop passing along his martial arts knowledge.
“I will be teaching martial arts long after my career is over,” Lee states.
“I will be teaching my little brother and sister. I will be teaching my kids one day, and once you pass that on, it is something you never lose. Once you pass those life skills on, they will never forget it.”