Lee excited for a 'crazy war'

One lightweight champion ready to prove doubters wrong in front of American viewers

Christian Lee (left) defeated Japanese grappling legend Shinya Aoki two years ago to become One's lightweight champion and he believes that he has what it takes to beat Timofey Nastyukhin today and retain his belt.
Christian Lee (left) defeated Japanese grappling legend Shinya Aoki two years ago to become One's lightweight champion and he believes that he has what it takes to beat Timofey Nastyukhin today and retain his belt.ST PHOTO: ARIFFIN JAMAR

A fired-up Christian Lee believes his One Championship lightweight (up to 77kg) title fight will be the perfect platform to showcase his abilities to a wider audience .

The bout against Russian Timofey Nastyukhin headlines the One on TNT II event at the Singapore Indoor Stadium this morning and will be broadcast live on prime time in North America on cable network TNT.

It is part of a series of live shows this month organised by the mixed martial arts (MMA) organisation to break into the United States market, a move that Lee hailed as "groundbreaking".

The 22-year-old MMA exponent, whose father is Singaporean and mother is South Korean, fights under the Singapore flag in One. He said: "I live in the US, my home is Hawaii, so I'm very excited for my friends and family back home to be able to turn the TV on at prime time and watch me fight on TNT."

He and his sister Angela, 24, One's atomweight world champion, are among its stars, though some critics have suggested their successes are due to preferential treatment from the Singapore-based outfit.

Faced with such scepticism, Lee is eager to prove he reached the summit on merit.

After all, he claimed the title in May 2019 after beating Japanese grappling legend Shinya Aoki.

Five months later, Lee stepped in as a replacement in One's lightweight grand prix final and defeated Saygid Arslanaliev of Turkey, who had been on a tear with three straight knockout wins.

And in October last year, Lee defended his title with an impressive technical knockout win over Iuri Lapicus of Moldova, who had entered the fight undefeated, having knocked out or submitted all 13 of his previous opponents.

Nastyukhin, 31, poses another tough challenge. He gained notoriety for making short work of former Ultimate Fighting Championship and Bellator world champion Eddie Alvarez, knocking out the American in his One debut in March 2019.

He punched Alvarez so hard that his left eyelid split in half.

One's founder and chief executive Chatri Sityodtong predicted the fight between Lee and Nastyukhin will be a "crazy war".

While Lee admits that Nastyukhin is a "serious threat", he is confident of exploiting his rival's weaknesses and emerging from the cage with the belt still around his waist.

American website MMA Fighting had reported that the One on TNT I event last Thursday, which featured Alvarez and Demetrious Johnson, averaged 196,000 viewers over the course of the two-hour broadcast.

One's events are also broadcast live on its mobile app, and YouTube channel.

"It doesn't matter who's watching, or how many people," Lee said.

"When I get into the cage and the door locks, the only thing I'm focused on is taking out the opponent in front of me.

"I'm very honoured to be fighting on TNT and to have the US crowd watching, but there's no added pressure."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 15, 2021, with the headline 'Lee excited for a 'crazy war''. Subscribe