ONE lightweight champion Christian Lee could be described as many things but cocky isn’t one of them.
After turning pro when he was barely old enough to drive a car, Lee has developed into one of the promotion’s premiere talents after competing at featherweight to start his career and then eventually becoming lightweight champion.
At 22, Lee has already accomplished a lot but as he prepares for his first headlining event with the upcoming ONE on TNT 2 card set for primetime broadcast in the United States, he’s ready to introduce himself to a whole new audience. In fact while Lee seems almost allergic to trash talk, he’s confident enough to say without reservation that many Americans are about to witness the best lightweight in the world when he defends his title against Timofey Nastyukhin on Wednesday.
“I don’t consider myself an egotistical guy but I am very confident in my skill set and my abilities,” Lee said when speaking to MMA Fighting. “I do believe that I am the best lightweight fighter in the world, not just in ONE Championship. As of right now, I’m signed with ONE Championship and the way the MMA leagues are structured you can only fight the people in your organization but I would love for that to happen one day where you could fight across promotions to truly see who’s the best.
“Because I don’t believe that the UFC has the best fighters. I don’t believe Bellator has the best fighters. There’s amazing fighters in all organizations and it just depends on where they got signed to and where they end up making their career at. I’m very confident in my skill set and if ONE Championship ever made a cross promotion fight between champions, I would extremely confident against any champion of any organization.”
Prior to his last win over Iuri Lapicus, who just recently battled Eddie Alvarez on the ONE on TNT 1 card, Lee had hoped that he could one day challenge himself against the fighter most universally recognized as the best lightweight in the sport in former UFC champion Khabib Nurmagomedov.
Of course, Nurmagomedov shocked the world this past October by announcing his retirement from the sport as he left the UFC lightweight title behind while calling it a career with a perfect 29-0 resume.
Lee had nothing but admiration for Nurmagomedov and the same could be said for Bellator lightweight champion Patricio Pitbull or whoever comes out on top in the upcoming UFC lightweight title fight between Michael Chandler and Charles Oliveira.
That said, Lee has no problem believing that he would beat any of them if given the opportunity to face the champions from other promotions from around the world.
“For me, I feel that I’m the No. 1 lightweight in the world,” Lee said. “I’m confident in my abilities. If all these top fighters weren’t signed to other organizations and we did a grand prix for all the top lightweights in the world, I feel like I would be sitting on top of that. I absolutely believe I would come out on top against any lightweight.”
After initially competing at featherweight, Lee found himself fighting at lightweight almost by accident after former champion and one-time training partner Shinya Aoki called him out back in 2019.
It was an unexpected title shot but Lee took full advantage by blitzing the Japanese legend with strikes in the second round to claim the ONE lightweight title. He then dismantled highly touted Dagestani prospect Saygid “Dagi” Guseyn Arslanaliev before taking out Lapicus in his last outing.
Now that he’s settled into life as a lightweight, Lee admits that his days competing at featherweight are probably finished, especially after taking time during the global pandemic to add more size and muscle to his frame.
“For me in terms of the weight class, honestly I grew out of the featherweight division,” Lee said. “My walking weight doesn’t really allow me to go back to that featherweight limit. I was going to suck it up because I wanted that redemption. I had an early loss to Martin Nguyen in my career and I was really upset about my split decision loss because I went into that fight with a broken hand, which of course is my fault. I felt that I could prepare for it well enough without having any sparring. But it still went to a close split decision. I landed more strikes. I felt like I did enough to earn that decision so I was going to go back down to featherweight for that reason.
“But now going down to fight Thanh [Le] now that Martin is no longer the champ, I don’t feel any desire to kill my body to go back down for that fight. Lightweight is going to be new home and I’m looking forward to taking out all the hungry contenders in this division.”
Perhaps the scariest thing when thinking about Lee’s standing in ONE Championship as well as the lightweight division is that he’s still so young in his career. He’s been fighting professionally for six years but he’s barely cracked his athletic potential and Lee promises the best is yet to come.
“I’m thankful for everything that I’ve accomplished but I feel like I’m just at the beginning,” Lee said. “I’m excited because I don’t plan stopping here. I plan on defending my belt many, many more times and if the opportunity ever comes to jump up to welterweight, I’ll do that as well. I’m just excited for all the opportunities the future holds.”