Since winning the ONE Lightweight World Title in May 2019, Christian “The Warrior” Lee has reigned over the division, defending his belt twice against top competition.
Ahead of that headlining fight, “The Warrior” spoke to onefc.com about his World Title defense, his status in ONE Championship, and the stacked lightweight division.
ONE Championship: You mentioned in the past that Timofey Nastyukhin was your preferred next opponent. What about this matchup specifically intrigued you?
Christian Lee: The thing about this fight that’s exciting for me is that Timofey is, in my opinion, one of the most dangerous athletes in the lightweight division. And he’s taken out some of the best names in ONE so far.
So I really feel like he’s in the #1 contender spot. He’s definitely deserving of this World Title shot. And just the way our styles line up, he’s a finisher, I’m a finisher, and it’s going to make for a great, exciting fight for the fans.
ONE: This matchup will be a main event in the new “ONE on TNT” series. How do you feel about that opportunity?
CL: I think it’s great. I’m really excited that ONE has signed a deal with TNT. It’s great to see that ONE is finally breaking its way into the U.S. market, and I can tell my friends and family here in Hawaii to just turn on TNT and watch it in prime time.
I’m excited for that and just excited for all the big things coming. I know they’re talking of bringing a show here to the United States and possibly starting with Hawaii. I would be all for that.
And I’m just really happy to see the growth of ONE Championship, and I’m excited to be a part of it.
ONE: When you’re fighting in the main event on a significant card, is there added incentive to put on an exciting performance?
CL: Oh, absolutely. I’m very honored that ONE Championship feels that I’m a big enough draw to put me as their main event.
The way that I fight, I like to bring the action from start to finish, and I’m always looking for the finish. I’m very, very grateful that ONE Championship thinks of me as an exciting fighter who can draw fans.
I’m just extremely grateful to be headlining such a big event on TNT. It’s a great honor for me to be in the position of Lightweight World Champion, where they’re calling me up asking me to headline their events. I still remember when I was first starting in ONE Championship, I was the first bout of the night on the prelim card.
Now I’m stepping up on TNT, headlining big shows. It’s just great. And I’m so grateful that ONE Championship has that faith in me.
ONE: You mentioned Timofey’s power. How do you break down his overall game and evaluate the biggest challenges he will pose?
CL: Timofey is a dangerous opponent because he’s always looking for the finish. He does have a very good amount of power in his hands. But I feel like what sets him apart is just the fact that he’s able to make adjustments in his game, and he’s always able to find a way to finish.
I’ve seen him up against good fighters. As I mentioned before, Eduard Folayang and Eddie Alvarez — they’re good strikers themselves. He was able to find holes in their game, take them apart, and eventually get the knockout. So in this matchup, I feel like it’s going to be no different with his game plan.
I think he’s going to be coming in there looking to take my head off. I think he’ll have a good game plan to try to expose my game, but I’m going to be equally as prepared for his.
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ONE: Will you embrace that challenge testing yourself against his strength on the feet, or will you try to rely on your wrestling and ground game?
CL: The thing is, every fight starts on the feet. And so right away, we’ll be going into his strength. And really, that’s where I feel he’s the strongest.
He’s a well-rounded fighter himself, and I think he has a few submission wins on his record as well. So I do think he’ll be training in every area for the fight. But I definitely see the ground game as his biggest weakness.
I’m going to stand in there, and I’m going to pick him apart on the feet, and eventually, I’m just going to break him down with my pressure. I don’t think that he’ll be able to withstand the pace that I’m going to bring to him.
I’m not afraid of his power. I’m not afraid of his striking game. I respect the skills that he has on the feet, but ultimately, I’ll take this fight wherever it brings me, and I’ll be looking for the finish on the feet or on the ground.
ONE: If you beat Nastyukhin, how would you view your impressive string of performances and where you stand in the world?
CL: I don’t want to come off as cocky, but I do feel that I’m the best lightweight fighter in the entire world. And that doesn’t mean just ONE Championship – that means every organization.
I’m absolutely confident that I would come out on top against any champion, in any division, that they put me against. I feel that I’m the best in the world, and I’m more than happy to step in there and show it.
ONE: How do you see yourself defeating Nastyukhin?
CL: I see this fight going down within two rounds. You know, he’s a tough guy, and I’ll be looking to take him out in the first, but I don’t see him getting out of the second.
I’m going to put a very, very fast pace on him from the moment the bell rings, and from there, I just don’t think he’ll be able to hang with me. I think I’m going to drown him with my pressure.
ONE: There is a also big lightweight bout on “ONE on TNT 1” between Alvarez and Iuri Lapicus. Are you keeping a watchful eye on that contest? And do you have aspirations to meet Eddie, given his decorated career?
CL: Yeah, absolutely. You know, ONE Championship signed Eddie Alvarez to see if he can make his way up to the top and claim the belt – and that belt is mine, and it’s not going anywhere.
But I definitely plan on facing Eddie Alvarez somewhere down the line. Iuri was the #1 contender [before losing to Lee in October], and he was the last guy to fight for the belt, so I feel that if Eddie can finish Lapicus, or get an impressive win over him, he’s definitely going to be next in line for the belt once I get past Timofey.
I’m not looking past my opponent in front of me, but I’ll be keeping an eye on that matchup. I see Eddie as the only guy left in the lightweight division that I haven’t taken out. Timofey is right here in front of me. I’m not looking past him, but other than Timofey, it’s just Eddie.
Those two guys are the only two left standing in my way until I’ve cleared out the lightweight division. And from there, we’ll see. I’m going to keep my options open.