There may not be another mixed martial artist on the ONE Championship roster who has experienced a better —and more surprising — year than Christian “The Warrior” Lee.
At the start of 2019, the 21-year-old Singaporean was trying to climb up the featherweight ladder and secure a trilogy bout with the division’s reigning king, Martin “The Situ-Asian” Nguyen.
In April, however, there was a sudden change in plans.
Christian Lee STOPS Shinya Aoki in the second round to win the ONE Lightweight World Title! ????TV: Check local listings for global broadcast
Posted by ONE Championship on Friday, 17 May 2019
Lee — who kicked off his year with a resounding first-round TKO victory against his old foe Edward “The Ferocious” Kelly at ONE: ETERNAL GLORY in January — was unexpectedly called out by his training partner, Shinya “Tobikan Judan” Aoki, following the Japanese legend’s ONE Lightweight World Title win at ONE: A NEW ERA.
“The Warrior” accepted the challenge, moved up a weight class, and squared off against his Evolve teammate in the main event of ONE: ENTER THE DRAGON in May. Although he found himself in deep trouble in the first round courtesy of an Aoki armbar, the Singaporean survived the frame and knocked him out in the second stanza to capture the gold.
Then in October, he replaced “The Underground King” Eddie Alvarez in the ONE Lightweight World Grand Prix Championship Final to face Saygid “Dagi” Guseyn Arslanaliev at ONE: CENTURY PART I. The Dagestani had ripped through the tournament field, but Lee refused to roll over for him. He dominated Arslanaliev for three rounds to earn the silver belt.
Now, with the year winding down, “The Warrior” opens up about his journey from featherweight contender to Lightweight World Champion with dual titles.
???? LIGHTWEIGHT KING ????ONE Lightweight World Champion Christian Lee overcomes "Dagi" Arslanaliev in a three-round thriller to win the inaugural ONE Lightweight World Grand Prix!????: Check local listings for global broadcast details????: Watch on the ONE Super App ???? http://bit.ly/ONESuperApp????: Shop Official Merchandise ???? http://bit.ly/ONECShop
Posted by ONE Championship on Saturday, 12 October 2019
ONE Championship: You started 2019 as a featherweight contender, but ended it by winning the ONE Lightweight World Grand Prix Championship. Could you have imagined this at the start of the year?
Christian Lee: It’s actually crazy. I was doing an interview with you last year when I was still fighting in the featherweight division, and I said if there’s a spot open in the Grand Prix, I would love to take it.
Soon enough in May, I got the ONE Lightweight World Title shot and actually won the belt. Then in October, I got the chance to step into the Grand Prix Final and won that belt.
This was an amazing year for me. There were definitely a bunch of twists and turns, but I couldn’t be happier with the outcome of how this year went for me.
ONE: Let’s go back to your first bout of the year with Edward Kelly, who previously defeated you via disqualification. What did it mean to you to avenge that loss?
CL: That fight was actually everything to me. At that point in my career, I was coming off 2018 and I was 2-2 that year, so that fight was very important. Starting off my 2019, I had the chance to erase that disqualification loss and prove that I am the better fighter.
I feel like I came away with the TKO victory the first time we fought, and I was able to come away with the TKO victory the second time we fought. It was just about solidifying myself as a better fighter.
ONE: Your second bout of the year came against Shinya Aoki, following a surprising call-out. Looking back now, what was your emotional reaction to that entire situation?
CL: I was in Tokyo the night he won the ONE Lightweight World Title. I wished him good luck before the fight, and we were talking. I also congratulated him after the fight.
Then, when I was Phuket for the ONE Elite Retreat, I opened up my phone and saw the article, and I was like, ’Is this real?’ That’s the last thing I thought Shinya would want after winning the belt — putting it on the line against a dangerous competitor like myself, who wasn’t even in the same division as him.
He had a lot on the line calling me out, but I’m thankful Shinya was a true warrior and he wanted to test himself against someone who he thought could be the next in line for his belt. I’m just grateful that he gave me the opportunity.
ONE: Were there any nerves or fears going into that contest because of your past training sessions?
CL: The thing is when you train with someone, you get to know their style, their strengths, and their weaknesses. The first time I trained with him, I was a 17-year-old kid who just joined Evolve, and I would get tapped by Shinya all the time.
As the years progressed, it became more of a 50-50 thing where we were both finishing each other, and that’s where we left it at. We didn’t train together for a span of two years and many fights in between.
When we finally met in the Circle, everything was new again. Although we met each other in the training room, that was two years prior and many fights prior — and ultimately, training is just training.
It’s a completely different approach and a completely different mindset when you’re in a fight. You can lose to one of your training partners every single day in the training room, but you can get into a fight and beat that same training partner.
ONE: You battled out of Shinya’s submission attempts in the first round, but overcame that adversity to knock him out in the second. Did you expect to finish him?
CL: My goal was to get in there and basically do what I did to him in the second round — but do it in the first round. In a way, it was actually better that I had to face that adversity. It came to a point where he nearly broke my arm.
By pushing through that adversity and then coming away with the finish, that just made the win that much more special. There is less doubt when you win that way.
ONE: From there, you accepted a short-notice bout against Saygid Guseyn Arslanaliev, who many considered to be unstoppable, in the ONE Lightweight World Grand Prix Championship Final. What were your thoughts going into that bout?
CL: The funny thing is — going into that fight — I was the champion and he was the contender, but I felt like I was entering that fight as the underdog. That just motivated me to push harder and prove to the world that I am the best. I am the champion. I am the best fighter in the lightweight division.
I went out there and dominated for three rounds, and that just put a stamp on my legacy as the ONE Lightweight World Champion. I knew he was tough, and I knew I would have to dig deep. I knew I would have to push harder than I’ve ever pushed. Without a doubt, he is an amazing fighter. He pushed me to my limit, and we both grew as fighters from that fight.
ONE: You have wanted to be a World Champion in mixed martial arts since you were 13 years old. How does it feel to fulfill that goal nine years later?
CL: It’s crazy. Life is full of many, many unexpected twists and turns. Just last year, I was a contender in the featherweight division, patiently awaiting my shot. Then out of nowhere, the ONE Lightweight World Title just presented itself as an opportunity to me.
I captured it, and then I got 10 days’ notice for another belt and I captured that as well. Who knows what’s in store for 2020 because I never would have expected 2019 to turn out like it did.