SINGAPORE – He is “absolutely” keen to give mixed martial arts (MMA) fans the fight they want, but Christian Lee will only defend his One Championship lightweight world title against Eddie Alvarez if the former UFC star earns the opportunity.
In a media conference call on Wednesday (Sept 8) ahead of his title defence against South Korean fighter Ok Rae Yoon at One’s Sept 24 Revolution event at the Singapore Indoor Stadium, Lee was asked if he would have preferred fighting someone with a “higher profile”, like 37-year-old American Alvarez.
Lee, who has a Singaporean father and South Korean mother and fights under the Singapore flag in One, said: “Eddie Alvarez, he was a big name coming over from the UFC (Ultimate Fighting Championship).
“When One signed him, he had a lot of traction behind him, but he hasn’t done enough to build himself a run-up to the title.
“I’m still waiting on Eddie to start winning a few fights and then we can square off… but for now I’m happy to be facing Ok, I think he’s the only deserving contender.”
Alvarez, a former lightweight champion in top American organisations the UFC and Bellator, has had little to celebrate since signing for One in late 2018. He was knocked out in his first fight, won his second, disqualified in his third – this was later overturned and ruled a no-contest – and then lost to Ok via unanimous decision in his fourth, in April.
In May, after Lee dismissed Alvarez’s bid for a shot at the title, the American tweeted, saying the 23-year-old was “well protected” by One, adding that he would “finish you whenever I wanted”.
On Wednesday, Lee brushed aside the verbal barbs, accusing his American rival of “trying to stir up drama”.
“We see each other in the hallway of (an event) and… everything is fine,” said Lee. “There’s no real drama between us, but I guess online there is. I don’t spend my time tracking it so I’m not sure what’s said out there, but any trash talk that has been said by any of my opponents, is just a joke to me.”
Lee has impressed in his two title defences so far, with first-round knockout wins over Iuri Lapicus and Timofey Nastyukhin, and victory over Ok would cement his status in the lightweight (up to 77kg) division.
He is already eyeing a step up to welterweight (up to 84kg) in 2022 and aims to be a two-division champion, but said he would delay those plans if Alvarez works his way into lightweight title contention.
“Absolutely,” said Lee. “That’s definitely a fight the fans have been wanting to see. All we’re really waiting for is for Eddie to win a fight, then we’ll make it happen.”
The new year will also see a return to the cage for Lee’s sister and One atomweight women’s champion Angela Lee, who gave birth to her first child in April. She is scheduled to return in February to face the winner of the atomweight Grand Prix. Four female fighters are left and Lee tips either Thai fighter Stamp Fairtex and India’s Ritu Phogat to come out tops.
Lee, 25, said motherhood was “amazing” and has “definitely changed me”.
She has begun to train alongside her siblings Christian and Victoria – who will also be in action on Sept 24 – after completing a training programme specifically for athletes who have given birth.
“After this event in September, we’re going to be kicking it into gear and get my fight camp started, so I’m very excited for that,” she said, having originally targeted a return to action before the end of 2021.
“I think that fighting in February will be great for me. It’s going to give me even more time to come back even stronger, so I’m really excited for it.”
She did, however, have a testy exchange with a Filipino journalist who accused her of taking a “two-year vacation” to have a child while refusing to vacate her title. Lee’s last fight was a successful title defence in October 2019.
She said “these aren’t normal times” because of the global pandemic, and praised One Championship’s chief executive officer Chatri Sityodtong for his support.
“It’s not because I’m the poster girl, it’s because… I’ve worked so hard to get to the position I’m at,” she said.
“Just because I get pregnant and I want to have a baby, I shouldn’t be stripped of my title. One Championship has shown this is what the standard should be – when a woman gets pregnant, in her work she is supported and she has a job to come back to afterwards.
“I’m very lucky and I know it’s going to come with a lot of criticism and a lot of hate but I know how hard I’ve worked for this and I’m not just going to have that taken from me.”
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