Two world championship-caliber fighters claimed titles over the weekend, with Christian Lee and Usman Nurmagomedov both winning gold in fights that aired Friday night for Western sports fans.
Lee (17-4), already Asian promotion ONE Championship’s lightweight champ, secured a second title at welterweight. Nurmagomedov captured his first major world championship in a dominant performance against Patricky Pitbull.
For Lee, one of the faces of ONE Championship alongside sister Angela, his stock has never been higher. And with the win came the suggestion that he take place in a cross-promotional bout with another world-class athlete.
The question is, which one? Lee knows who he wants to face, it seems, and who he doesn’t. In fact, as he told media outlets including Cageside Press following ONE on Prime Video 4 this past Friday, a UFC champion has already said his name.
“A fellow competitor over in the UFC, Islam Makhachev, called me out. He’s inviting me over to the UFC to fight him for his lightweight title,” said Lee, fresh off a TKO win against Kiamrian Abbasov. “I would love to make that fight happen. Let’s see it, let’s do a cross-promotion event. Lightweight world champion from UFC versus lightweight world champion from ONE Championship. We’ll see who’s the best lightweight in the world.”
Then there’s Nurmagomedov, cousin of UFC legend Khabib, who trains on the same team as Makhachev. Despite his undefeated record and brand new title, not to mention Bellator being willing to cross-promote while the UFC has refused to do the same, Lee did not sound enthusiastic.
“Umm, you know for me, a fight like that isn’t as interesting. Without discrediting anybody or any promotion, right now in my opinion I only see two promotions at the top, and that’s the UFC and ONE Championship. So for me if I’m to do a crossover promotion I would want it to be against the other key promotion out in the west.”
In the meantime, Lee can bask in the glory of a triumphant come-from-behind win over Abbasov, after a hectic first round saw the lightweight champ appear to be out on his feet.
Asked by Cageside Press what advice his corner had given him after that opening frame, Lee replied by saying that “They uh— I couldn’t tell you. The fight’s a blur, it really just happened. But I can tell you that a pivotal moment in the fight happened in the fourth round when the finish was there. I was looking for the arm-triangle, you can see if you play the fight back. I heard my dad yell over to abandon it, and to go for the finish. That’s what I did, and the finish happened. I have the best corner in the world.”
As for the stumble out of the gate, ONE Chairman and CEO Chatri Sityodtong espoused the belief on Friday that Lee had looked slower as a welterweight.
“I agree. I felt a little bit slow, I felt a little bit sluggish in there,” Lee acknowledged. “I definitely don’t think that it was my best performance. I know that I can do better, but I’ve got to go back and I’ve got to watch the fight to really see. Right after a long fight like that, it’s hard to see things clearly.”
Lee believes a few things factored into his early struggles, “but the hard work that I put in helped me to dig deep when I had a slow start.”
Watch the full ONE on Prime Video 4 post-fight media appearance by Christian Lee above.