- Christian Lee, a 21-year-old One Championship champion, is already good enough to dethrone the UFC lightweight king Khabib Nurmagomedov.
- That is according to the One Championship chairman and CEO, Chatri Sityodtong, who told Insider he was open to co-promoting a One-versus-UFC event putting his champion Lee in the MMA cage with Nurmagomedov.
- Sityodtong called Lee a “monster” capable of competing against any MMA organization’s lightweight champion and winning.
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One of the most powerful promoters in mixed martial arts, Chatri Sityodtong, says his 21-year-old “phenom” could top any lightweight in the world, including Khabib Nurmagomedov.
Such a match would cause logistical problems as the youngster, Christian Lee, fights in Sityodtong’s Singapore-based fight firm, One Championship.
Nurmagomedov, meanwhile, is contracted to Dana White’s Las Vegas-based company, the UFC.
But that does not deter Sityodtong, who told Insider this month that he could imagine an inter-promoter fight pitting One against the UFC, putting Sityodtong and White onstage together, and that Lee going toe-to-toe with Nurmagomedov was interesting.
In this one-of-a-kind scenario, Sityodtong seems confident of success. “He can go up against any lightweight, in any organization, and come out on top,” he said.
The One champion is from the impressive Lee family dynasty; has won titles in Brazilian jiujitsu, pankration, and submission grappling; and, at 21, is the youngest male champion at a major organization in MMA history.
Nurmagomedov, though, has an intimidating unbeaten run, has signature victories over Rafael dos Anjos, Conor McGregor, and Dustin Poirier, and is Insider’s pick as the No. 1 pound-for-pound fighter in all of MMA.
Regardless, the levels Lee could progress to excites Sityodtong, who told us Lee could defeat Nurmagomedov even if they fought today.
“Christian Lee is our lightweight world champion and 21 years old, coming into his own and is genuinely a phenom,” Sityadtong said.
“I feel like he could go toe-to-toe with the very best lightweights in the world in any organization and come out on top,” Sityodtong said.
“He is explosive, dynamic, athletic, very skilled technically, and he is just a monster. I’ve seen him in training, compete in world title matches … he’s only just beginning.
“He’s only going to improve in the next year, five years, he’s just going to be … yeah, he can go up against any lightweight, in any organization, and come out on top.”
Though uncommon, there has been a merging of combat-sports promotions in recent months as Bellator MMA and Rizin cross-promoted two shows at the end of 2019 in Tokyo.
On whether One would consider co-promoting an event with Bellator, Rizin, or the UFC, Sityodtong said there’s only one organization he’d work with: the UFC, and it would have to be for a “world champion versus world champion” fight.
“I would love that,” he said.
As for whether he’d risk Lee’s status as a fast-rising mixed martial artist against Nurmagomedov, Sityodtong added, “Definitely.”
Sityodtong and White have one thing in common right now
Major sports leagues and organizations around the world shuttered operations since mid-March as the spread of the novel coronavirus worsened.
Fight sports, particularly MMA, have appeared keen to be the first of all sports to restart its live-events calendar.
The UFC boss, White, for example, wanted his UFC 249 event to take place April 18 at the Tachi Palace Casino Resort, on Native American land in California, as a way of circumventing coronavirus-related government restrictions.
Disney, which owns UFC’s broadcast partner ESPN, ordered White to nix the show after mounting political pressure from Gov. Gavin Newsom of California.
But rather than cancel the event, White has instead moved the date and location to May 9 in Florida — a state that has deemed sports as essential businesses.
Sityodtong can seemingly relate to White’s desire to use inventive means to keep combat sports going.
One Championship’s most recent live event was February 28. It was initially open to fans, but Sityadtong refunded tickets and put the show behind closed doors after a coronavirus outbreak in Singapore.
Sityodtong was hoping to restart his fight calendar in April, but when Singapore’s government closed its borders, bringing foreign athletes into the country became improbable.
One Championship’s next event is now tentatively rescheduled for May 29 in Manila, Philippines, where there are 7,777 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 511 deaths. Like its last show in February, it is set to be a behind-closed-doors event.
Sityodtong said he was determined to restart his calendar because he wanted to entertain One’s fans who were self-isolating in their homes.
“I think about the entertainment aspect,” he told us. “People at home want to be entertained. Our athletes want to compete. Not a single athlete has told me they don’t want to compete in this environment. They say I don’t care about the virus, I want to compete. The athletes want it, the fans want it, my team want it … so we want to push forward.
“I do appreciate and respect Dana White and [boxing promoter] Eddie Hearn’s desire for the show to go on. I have the exact same spirit as them. In crises you can shrink away or face them head on and drive through them. That is what Dana White is doing, what Eddie Hearn is doing, and what I’m doing.
“I’m 100% confident that UFC and One Championship will survive and thrive in this environment.”