ONE Championship’s 20-year-old prodigy Christian Lee has already established himself as one of the best featherweights in the promotion, and his best days are still ahead of him. At ONE: Eternal Glory on January 19, Lee will rematch Edward “The Ferocious” Kelly. In the first meeting, Lee was disqualified after an inadvertent suplex maneuver.
Lee wants to erase the sting of that defeat and to launch himself to the next level, which could ultimately lead to a title berth. In many ways, Lee’s career arc is similar to UFC featherweight champion Max Holloway’s journey toward becoming an elite performer.
Both Christian Lee and Max Holloway compete in the featherweight division. Holloway has already risen to the pinnacle of his promotion in the weight class, and many believe Lee has the potential to become the ONE Championship king of the featherweights
Turning Pro Early
Like Holloway, who turned pro at 19, Lee kicked off his career young. In fact, Lee made his professional debut when he was just 17 years old at ONE: Spirit of Champions. Lee defeated David Meek in just 29 seconds via KO from punches. With his flair and fearless approach, it was clear Lee was a different breed.
It didn’t take long for Lee or Holloway to face their first major test. Max Holloway battled perennial contender Dustin Poirier in his fifth pro match. Christian Lee drew ONE Championship featherweight champion Martin Nguyen in his sixth bout. Both Lee and Poirier came up short in these tests only to bounce back with respective winning streaks of four and three.
The stumbling blocks weren’t done. Holloway would lose two more times professionally including a decision defeat to Conor McGregor in 2013. Holloway has since gone on a run of 13 straight wins. Lee ran into some impediments too. He dropped a close split decision in a rematch with Nguyen and then had the mishap against Kelly.
Lee rebounded with a first-round TKO win over Kazuki Tokudome in November at ONE: Heart of the Lion. Could Lee be set to go on his own winning streak, earn a third clash with Nguyen and embark on a run as the ONE Featherweight World Champion?
Holloway’s 2014 and 2015 compare to Lee’s 2018 and potentially his 2019. During those years Holloway truly hit his stride. Christian Lee looked to be doing the same thing in 2018, and the prospects of a great 2019 begin at ONE: Eternal Glory.
If Lee can grab his second win in a row, the division could be in trouble. He’s only going to become a tougher fighter with every battle.
Don’t underestimate the intangibles. Holloway is known to embody the spirit of a Hawaiian warrior and a true martial artist. Lee is cut from the same cloth.
“2018 was a big year of growth for me as a person, and as a martial artist,” Lee says.
“I definitely learned a lot about myself, and I can’t say that if I could go back, I would change anything about this year. I got a disqualification loss to Edward Kelly. Now it’s my chance to rewrite that. The split decision against Martin [Nguyen], it is what it is. I went into that fight healing up from a broken hand – no sparring for eight weeks – and it went to a split decision. I know with a full camp and a healthy body, I would finish him. The other two wins were great. Just more paydays for me. I don’t have any bad blood or bad feelings about 2018. I’m just excited to be going into the next year with this momentum.”
Needless to say, Christian Lee is rounding out into someone who is going to be known as much more than the younger brother of ONE Championship superstar Angela Lee.
This article first appeared on BJPENN.COM on 12/29/2018.