Escaping a deathly armbar was just part of his training

At only 20 years old, Christian “The Warrior” Lee lives up to his fighting moniker, displaying the true qualities of a warrior even when faced with less-than-desirable circumstances.

Earlier this month, the Singaporean martial arts contender secured his third running streak with a victory over Japanese veteran fighter Shinya Aoki—and took One Championship’s lightweight belt from him. The fight started out on a precarious foot for Lee, when his opponent, a notoriously fierce submissioner took the game to the ground in the first round and forced Lee into his signature armbar that spared little forgiveness. The world watched with bated breath as Lee miraculously returned from what seemed to be a bleak end for him, quickly flipping the odds on its head in the second stanza. Punch after punch rained down on Aoki’s face, as the match came to a halt on the referee's command, resulting in a clear technical knockout within the minute mark.

Going up against an MMA phenomenon like Aoki was undoubtedly a challenge that goes beyond pure physical abilities. We reached out to Lee to follow up on his recent victory to take a peek into the tedious process of preparation, discuss where his family of professional fighters got their vigour from, and his foresight for future fights.

Congratulations on claiming the lightweight title! Tell us how you feel about the victory and what it has been like after being crowned the new Lightweight Champion.

Thank you very much! I’m very happy with my victory and it feels great to be the Lightweight champ. It has been a dream of mine for a very long time and it feels great to finally accomplish that.

Just to get a bit of a background, how were you introduced to MMA?

I first got into MMA as a child. My dad was a martial arts instructor, so growing up, training in martial arts was a big part of my life.

Your sister, Angela, is also a prominent figure in the industry. What's it like to come from a family of professional fighters?

It’s great coming from a family of professional athletes. We train together everyday, help each other with our techniques, watch fights with one another and we’re always in each others’ corners. So it definitely helps having our whole family support what we do.

What was it like in the lead up to the fight with Aoki, who is a legendary figure in the lightweight division?

The training camp was very grueling. I prepared close to eight weeks leading up to that bout and I did not look past Aoki one bit. I know that he is a legend and he was a very, very tough opponent, as I had a very tough first round with him. However, we trained for every situation and I feel like that training paid off in the fight.

Were there any surprises during the match?

There were no surprises, actually. My plan was not to get taken down in the first round, although that happened. But we were prepared for that. We knew that he has a great takedown technique and a great ground game so that was something that we definitely did not look past.

At 20 years of age and having a track record of 12-3, do you see yourself becoming the target while helming the division?

I definitely see myself staying the champion for a very long time and my plan is just to take out anybody that wants to fight for the title.

After Aoki’s deep armbar in the first round, how did you manage to maintain your morale, persevere and ultimately rise up to the top within seconds the next round?

I knew that there was no way I was going to tap to that armbar. We trained very hard for every situation. All I could do was to stay calm and wait for the split second where I had the opportunity to escape. And that’s all that I did—I stayed calm and knew that I wouldn’t quit.

Watching you survive the armbar was very impressive. Was there anything that set apart getting in the ring with someone you are familiar with from the same fight club, as compared to someone from a different club?

Thank you! Not really. Aoki and I are good friends and we’re also teammates, but above everything else, we are martial artists. So when we step into the ring, it’s just competition. It was just about seeing who the better man was that night, and I was able to come up on top.

What goes through your mind during a fight?

Nothing much really goes through my mind during a fight. I try to keep a very clear headspace. I just block everything out, focus on the person standing in front of me and what I need to do to beat him.

Any fighters you look up to? Who would you like to get in the ring with next?

In terms of fighters that I look up to, I would say that the only one would be my sister, Angela Lee. I would like to get in the ring with anybody else that One Championship puts me up against, whether it would be defending my lightweight division belt, or there is also a possibility of going back down to featherweight to challenge Martin Nguyen for his belt; which is also something I’ve had in my mind.

That brings me to my next question; now that you have conquered the lightweight title, are you looking to be a double belt holder? Any plans to move up or down in weight class?

Absolutely, I definitely plan on becoming a double champ. When I took up the recent fight, I was still the number one contender in the featherweight division, so I feel that my place still holds there. There is a very strong chance that my next fight will be to challenge Martin Nguyen for his featherweight belt so I can become a double champ.

Looking forward to that! What do you wish to hone in preparation for future fights?

Although I won my last fight with Aoki, I saw that there were many areas of my game that I still have to work on and improve. Though it was a victory, I still feel that this is just the beginning for me and that this is just the start of my journey so I will be working harder than ever to improve on every area of my game; from striking, to wrestling, to grappling.

Ever since your win last Friday, fans are eager to see you fight three-time lightweight champion Eduard Folayang. Do you see that happening in the future?

I definitely see that happening, actually, if One Championship offered me a fight with Eduard Folayang right now, I would take it up. As of now, my options are open and I will fight anyone that One Championship and the fans want to see me fight.

Do you have any advice for aspiring fighters who dream to be in the same position as you one day?

For anyone that is dreaming of becoming a fighter or a world champion in any area, the number one thing is just to stay focused on your goal. There will be many things that will try to knock you down along your journey, but as long as you persevere and keep getting up each time you get knocked down, you will be a champion one day.