The one blemish on his record now seems forgivable, as the victor, Martin “The Situ-Asian” Nguyen, is a two-division ONE World Champion, and about to challenge for a third.
Lee’s three victories since that August 2016 loss were highlighted by his last bout against a dangerous knockout artist from Japan, former ONE Lightweight World Champion Kotetsu “No Face” Boku. Lee won at 3:24 of the first round via TKO.
Now he faces another dangerous Japanese opponent in Kazunori Yokota (26-7-3).
Yokota was on a 13-bout winning streak, which included a three-round decision over leg-lock expert Mazakazu Imanari before he made his ONE Championship debut in May 2016.
Debuts do not come much tougher than Marat “Cobra” Gafurov, and like so many who had gone before him, Yokota fell to the Dagestani via rear-naked choke in the second round.
In retrospect, his next match was even tougher. Just like Lee, Gafurov lost his unbeaten record to Nguyen. When Yokota collided with the Australian in January 2017, he fell short again, this time to punches.
The 39-year-old Japanese competitor returned to the win column last December, as he defeated Da Won Yoon via kimura in another promotion.
Yokota, for all his experience, will find it difficult to live with the relentless pace that Lee likes to set. Although, since his sole blemish, the Singaporean’s energy-sapping style has become a little more measured.
Standing up, Yokota favors a casual, countering style, but he may have little choice other than to break out of that mold, simply because of the pace that Lee sets. Against Nguyen, he leaned in with a good left jab, but carrying his right hand just a little too low, the Australian countered with blistering speed, and dropped the Japanese veteran with a single overhand right.
That ending could be a very likely finish on Friday, with Lee standing in Nguyen’s shoes, and nobody would be surprised if “The Warrior” was after a quicker end than the one Nguyen registered, which happened to be 3:36 of the first round.
Yokota does not stop many martial artists — he has four KOs and six submissions in his 26 wins, but he has been in the cage with some of the best in the world.
I see Lee winning this in the first two rounds, and he could become only the second man to submit the Japanese warrior, after catching him with lightning-fast punches and softening him up.
Steve Dawson is a ONE Championship presenter and commentator, a Fox Sports presenter and an author of sporting biographies. He can be found at www.coachsd.com.