Among those familiar with the world of combat sports, the general consensus states that winning a championship is hard, but defending it is even harder. As is the case with all sports truisms, there is always an exception.
In ONE Championship, Christian Lee is the exception.
With a record of 15-3, Lee has hardly lost at all. Currently riding a six-fight winning streak, his last falter came in September of 2018. Lee slammed Edward Kelly into unconsciousness, which appeared to have earned him the victory before it was deemed illegal by ringside officials.
Prior to that, Lee had lost a narrow split-decision to a former champion in Martin Nguyen, a result which Lee still contests to this day.
“The Warrior” first captured the lightweight belt in 2019 when he defeated a living legend in Shinya Aoki. Since then, Lee has defended his belt twice—against Iuri Lapicus and Timofey Nastyukhin—finishing both in under three minutes.
The 23-year-old also dispatched of dangerous Sayid Guseyn Arslanaliev in a tournament bout, winning via unanimous decision.
Between Aoki, Arslanaliev, Lapicus and Nasyukhin, four of the top five have failed to get past Lee. Enter: Ok Rae Yoon, who will fight Lee live on September 24, at the ONE: REVOLUTION event.
The South Korean star who has earned the moniker of “Legend Killer,” following wins over Eddie Alvarez and Marat Gafurov, holds an identical record to Lee’s at 15-3. A product of the critically acclaimed Busan Team MAD, Ok enters the bout as a sizable underdog, which begs the question: if Lee defeats Ok Rae Yoon as expected, what comes next?
Having already won the first lightweight tournament in 2019 with his victory over Arslanaliev, Lee expressed his interest in hosting another lightweight Grand Prix.
“I think [a ONE Lightweight World Grand Prix] would be a good idea. It would draw a lot of attention to the lightweight division,” Lee said, lamenting the lack of novel, remaining opponents.
“After Ok Rae Yoon there’s no one left in line for the lightweight title, there’s no one left for me to defend my belt against. I think it would be interesting for the division, and it would be a good way to find the true number one contender.”
The hypothetical Grand Prix would serve as a vehicle to determine who is most deserving of a title shot among the top five, or even those on the cusp of entering the top five. Names like Eddie Alvarez, Lipeng Zhang, Tony Caruso, or even Martin Nguyen—should he move up a weight class—have the potential to enter the mix.
Additionally, a tournament lends itself to more fan interaction, as seen by the recent atomweight tournament. After the ONE: EMPOWER event, company CEO Chatri Sityodtong announced that fans would determine the semifinal matchups by voting on the fights they want to see.
“Right now, I feel like I’m the best fighter in the world. So there is no one person I want to fight. It’s more, whoever they’re saying is the best, that’s who I want,” Lee said.
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