When reigning lightweight king Christian Lee (16-4) challenges Kiamrian Abbasov (23-5) for the ONE welterweight world title in the main event of ONE on Prime Video 4, he’ll be competing in his third weight class – completing a physical maturation process that’s been years in the making.
"The Warrior" made his professional MMA debut as a 17-year-old featherweight in 2015, scoring a spectacular 29-second knockout at "ONE: Spirit of Champions."
Seven years later, he’s set for the first welterweight bout of his career and is confident he’ll have the physicality needed to dethrone Abbasov and make himself a two-division world champion on November 18.
According to the four-time ONE lightweight world champion, the time was right for his move to welterweight for this champ-versus-champ showdown.
"I believe it’s about two years since (Abbasov) defended the welterweight title. I’ve been actively clearing out the lightweight division. So right now, there is no clear contender, and with there being no fight in the lightweight or welterweight division, it only makes sense to put the two champions together."
As he’s added size and muscle over the past several weeks, Lee has given extra focus to his endurance, making sure that he’s gaining weight the right way.
"Going into this fight, I feel that my cardio is better than it’s ever been. I truly feel like I’m in the best shape that I’ve been in so far. I think it’s easy to make the mistake when you’re moving up a weight division, to just simply put on the size, to put on the extra weight, and then to neglect the cardio.
"I took some time to put on extra weight so that when I did step up the training, and when I did start doing my cardio, I would be able to be in the same shape I was fighting for the lightweight title as I’m going to be for the welterweight title."
From featherweight to lightweight to welterweight
Lee's transformation from a teenage featherweight to a ONE lightweight world champion to a ONE welterweight world title challenger hasn't happened overnight.
When he first debuted in ONE Championship, the organization had not yet instituted its current hydration requirements, which are designed to eliminate dangerous rapid weight cutting.
"The Warrior" recalled his early days in MMA:
"When I started my career I was 17 years old. I was doing a water cut to 145 pounds, so it was a fairly easy water cut, and then when they brought in the hydration system, I was dieting down to 155 pounds. And I feel like that was my natural division for some time. But after just a few months of training, it was getting harder."
Although he tasted victory plenty of times at featherweight – winning 11 of his first 13 fights and challenging for the divisional belt – Lee was still very much growing into his body and struggled to make the limit.
By 2019, he was ready to move up. And in his first lightweight appearance, the Singaporean-American superstar defeated Japanese MMA legend Shinya Aoki to capture the ONE lightweight world title.
Despite that immediate success, "The Warrior’s" overall transition took some time:
"So by the time I made the move to the lightweight division, I feel like I was already growing out of the featherweight division, it was already getting a lot harder to make the weight. And then it took a little bit of time to let my body fully adjust to the lightweight division.
"In the beginning, I feel that I was a bit small for the division, being used to fighting at 155 and then making the move to 170. But now, I feel like I’m in a really good size for the lightweight division. It definitely feels like my natural division right now."
Continuing to grow and add muscle to his 5-foot-11 frame, Lee is now preparing his body for the rigors of welterweight.
Notably, though, he’s not paying much attention to his actual weight. Instead, he’s simply focused on being the best possible version of himself when he squares off with the larger Abbasov.
"The Warrior" added:
"But moving up to welterweight, I’m just going to take the same approach that I did, when I moved up from featherweight to lightweight. I’m not focused on my size, I’m not focused on how big or small I’m going to be in that division.
"I’m just going to go in there in the best shape possible, and take a shot at the title. And then when I claim the title, that’s when I take the time to fully make the switch and adjust my weight and adjust my training to be comfortable fighting at 185."
This story first published at ONEFC.com.