Earlier this year, Bibiano Fernandes ended the six-fight winning streak that included Martin Nguyen picking up two titles. The Brazilian eeked out a split-decision win in Bangkok, but Christian Lee has no intention of using this particular blueprint.
The teenager, who faces Nguyen at ONE: Unstoppable Dreams in Singapore, was watching that fight, but don’t expect him to emulate Fernandes by adopting a cautious approach on Friday.
“Bibiano played a smart, safe game, but I am not Bibiano. I am a different fighter. I am much more dynamic. He figured out how to defend some of Martin’s overhands, but I am not going to just defend Martin’s overhands. I am going to figure out how to finish him.”
Christian Lee Draws on the Strength of Family
Lee doesn’t turn 20 until next month. He’s fighting for a major title in his father’s hometown and there are likely to be around 10,000 fans in the Singapore Indoor Stadium hoping to see another fighter with local roots win a ONE Championship belt.
The expectation is intense, but he has seen how his older sister, Angela, copes with it. She is the reigning women’s atomweight champion and her success makes Lee feel very confident about his own preparation.
“I am only 19 years old. There are moments where I definitely feel the pressure. But at the end of the day I am confident in my abilities and I am confident in my training.”
Angela will be defending her title in the main event at ONE: Unstoppable Dreams. Having two siblings fighting for titles on the same night has definitely captured the imagination of the world’s media, but for the Lee family, it creates emotional and logistical issues.
Lee will be cageside for his sister’s fight, provided he emerges from his bout unscathed, and is hoping they can both emerge from the evening with belts around their waists.
“It is very exciting. We have done it twice before, once in Manila and once in Singapore, and this will be the third time. However, the stakes will be much higher (as) we will both be fighting for world titles.”
It will also be a very busy evening for their father. The Lees divide their training time between Evolve MMA in Singapore and United MMA in their adopted home of Hawaii, but he remains a major presence both in camp and on fight night.
“I give major props to my dad because he will be there emotionally supporting us as a father as well as (being) a coach. I feel like the most stress will lay on him on fight night. Me and Angela are training our butts off together right now, and I know it is going to be a good night.”
For Christian Lee, Beating Martin Nguyen is About Much More Than Revenge
Nguyen handed Lee the first and only loss of his professional career. In 2016, they fought in Macau and the Australian triumphed with a first-round submission win, securing a guillotine choke after getting the better of a frenzied striking exchange.
Lee’s record currently stands at 9-1, that loss represents the sole blemish. But with the ONE featherweight title on the line, he says the rematch is about much more than revenge.
“It is going to be really sweet redeeming my one loss to Martin, but it is going to be even sweeter to win that world title.”
There is a certain confidence which inevitably comes with youth. But the teenager has been tried and tested inside the ONE Championship cage and has proven himself over and over again. He’s finished four straight fights since the loss to Nguyen and is coming off back-to-back wins against well respected Japanese veterans.
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Being beaten by Nguyen represented no more than a bump in the road for Lee, the type most fighters encounter far earlier in their career. He learned from that experience and after ten ONE Championship fights feels he has a wisdom which goes beyond his years.
“Your ability is based on how fast you learn and grow, not your age. If I am able to achieve the same level of skill that it took someone 30 years to accomplish then that is fine.”
With two titles on the line, May 18 looks like a date with destiny for the Lee family. He hopes to watch his sister defend her belt, but the 19-year-old is absolutely certain he will be winning his.
“I know this is my time to win the title and nothing is going to stop me.”
Full First Fight: Martin Nguyen vs. Christian Lee
(Courtesy of ONE Championship)