So far, Lapicus has been invincible in his mixed martial arts career.
The 24-year-old Moldovan, who represents Team Petrosyan, holds a spotless 14-0 professional record and has finished every single person who has stood across from him.
In May 2019, he decimated Thai mixed martial arts pioneer Shannon “OneShin” Wiratchai in his promotional debut and forced him to tap out via rear-naked choke in the third round.
He followed that up by submitting former ONE Featherweight World Champion Marat “Cobra” Gafurov in a jaw-dropping 67 seconds last February.
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Lee has paid close attention to the Moldovan’s impressive performances and rise up the lightweight ranks, and he believes that momentum will only elevate his rival’s morale.
“My initial impression of Iuri Lapicus is that he’s a dangerous, hungry young competitor. He is undefeated in his professional career, and I know he is riding off a great submission win over Gafurov,” the 21-year-old Evolve and United MMA product offers.
“His confidence is going to be at an all-time high. I think, right now, he’s going to be feeling the best he has ever felt in his career so far. I think that will bring out the best of him when he steps into the ring with me.”
Lapicus, however, is not the only athlete who is feeling confident. After all, 2019 was the year of “The Warrior.”
Four months later, he moved up a weight class and challenged his Evolve teammate, then-ONE Lightweight World Champion Shinya “Tobikan Judan” Aoki, for the belt. Although the Japanese legend had “The Warrior” in a deep armbar in the opening stanza, Lee persevered and knocked out the icon in the second round to claim the gold.
The Asian-American capped off his stellar year by entering the ONE Lightweight World Grand Prix Championship Final in October and defeating Saygid “Dagi” Guseyn Arslanaliev via unanimous decision to capture the tournament crown.
Though Lee always trains hard to enhance his world-class skills, he credits his attitude and mentality for his championship victories.
“When I was fighting at featherweight, I felt that I was the champion. When I moved to lightweight, I felt that I was the champion,” he explains.
“That’s just the mindset that I carry over into my training, which carries over into my fights. My mindset has always stayed the same – I was just able to bear the fruits of my hard work and training in my two most recent fights.”
The fruits of his labor have now put a bullseye on his back.
Lapicus will be the first to try and knock him off the top of the mountain, and he has the striking ability and grappling prowess to accomplish such a feat.
However, Lee believes his endurance, his vast martial arts repertoire, and his experience in World Title bouts could be the difference-maker in their upcoming battle.
“I’m sure he is training his butt off, and he is willing to step up to the plate. I feel that I’m just deeper in every area. I’ve gone championship rounds, and I don’t think he can last five rounds in there with me,” Lee admits.
“Most of his wins, most of his finishes, happen in the first round. I think he is still a little bit raw in that aspect. He is used to getting a quick finish over opponents who he can steamroll over. I will definitely be his biggest test to date and his toughest opposition.
“I’ve been fortunate enough to train with many judo practitioners and kickboxers, and I feel that he is dangerous in both areas. But I’ll be ready.”
Although “The Warrior” thinks he would have an overwhelming advantage in the championship rounds, he does not believe he will have the chance to truly find that out.
The lightweight king trains to submit and knock out his opponents as quickly as possible, and he intends to kick-off his World Title reign in similar fashion.
“I don’t like to say these things too often because I don’t like to give anything away,” Lee offers, “but it’s going to be a first-round finish.”