There may not be another teenager who loves martial arts more than Christian “The Warrior” Lee (8-1).
The 19-year-old featherweight contender trains daily at his family’s Hawaii-based United MMA, spends countless hours honing his skills, and regularly travels to Singapore’s Evolve MMA to study under world champions.
Even in his spare time, he prefers analyzing videos of bouts to going to concerts, or almost any other leisure activity typical for youths his age. He is incredibly dedicated, and is practically obsessed with his thriving career.
“I found my passion. Waking up at 5am in the morning to go for a run is not taxing for me, because I know why I am doing it, and I love what I am doing. I do not consider it work, because I love doing it,” he explains.
“About 90 percent of the time, I am just watching matches. It is what I do all day long. I watch as many bouts as I can, and I study people’s techniques. People always ask me what I do outside of competition, but in my down time, I am still trying to absorb as much martial arts as I can.”
A Family Tradition
Lee has been completely immersed in martial arts culture ever since childhood. Together with his eldest sister, ONE Women’s Atomweight World Champion Angela, they first began their training as toddlers.
Lee’s parents, Ken and Jewelz, are both black belts in a variety of disciplines, and ran three martial arts dojos in their birthplace of Vancouver, Canada. Initially, the pair only learned basic punches, kicks, and tumbling.
However, in the years to follow after the family’s relocation to Hawaii nearly 14 years ago, Ken incorporated more strategic elements of boxing, taekwondo, and other disciplines into their regimen. At the very least, he wanted to arm his kids with the ability to defend themselves.
What started out as learning self-defense quickly turned into a desire to compete. Lee and his sister had participated in localized grappling and striking tournaments, but wanted to test their skills on the national, and if possible, global stage.
That led them to pankration, another discipline in which their father possessed expertise. After all, Ken was on the Canadian advisory board to reinstate the sport to the 2004 Summer Olympic Games in Athens, Greece.
The sibling pair experienced success almost immediately. They both won the US National Tournament in their respective divisions, and then traveled all the way to Athens in November 2012, where they participated in international competition. Lee would win one world championship, while his sister claimed two.
That is when his martial arts dreams really took shape.
“After that moment, it really solidified that this is what I want to do,” Lee explains. “I remember telling my parents, ‘Mom and dad, I want to become a professional martial artist.’ I was 14 years old when I said it, and with the support of my parents, my dreams became a reality.”
Living A Teenage Dream
Whereas most teenagers spend their high school years figuring out a possible career path, Lee entered Mililani High School determined to become a professional martial artist, and he had all the tools possible to make that happen.
Resuming their training with this new goal in mind, Lee’s father trained the siblings every day at United MMA, with the hope that they would be able to accomplish their goals of stardom together.
By the time Lee entered his senior year, his dreams were almost set. He and Angela flew to Singapore in August 2015, tried out for the Evolve Fight Team, and made the squad.
Soon thereafter, he signed a contract with ONE Championship, and as a 17-year-old, made his professional debut at ONE: SPIRIT OF CHAMPIONS that December against Aussie veteran David Meak.
“My first professional bout was completely surreal to me,” he recalls. “I was so excited, and basically everything stopped. The moment I found out about my match, everything stopped, and my whole focus was on that bout.”
“The Warrior” woke up before school for his 5am daily run, lifted weights after classes ended, and trained until it was bedtime. The cycle repeated until he made his debut. All that hard work paid off, as it took only 29 seconds for Lee to deliver a first-round TKO.
Lee competed four more times, all while finishing his final semester. Since he was in constant training camp, he missed nearly every high school function, and had to complete massive amounts of schoolwork in advance just to stay on course to graduate.
“I would find out I have a bout coming up, and then I would ask my teachers if I could finish all my work up front for the next month. I would do it all, then leave for my bout and come back,” he remembers.
“The support I got from my teachers, the principal, and the whole faculty was so amazing. All my teachers would watch my matches. It was nice, all the support I got.”
A Lesson Learned
The featherweight prospect graduated from high school in May 2016, but the biggest lesson he learned would happen outside of the classroom. Actually, it was at the Cotai Arena in Macau, China, when he faced Martin “The Situ-Asian” Nguyen at ONE: HEROES OF THE WORLD that August.
In that bout, Lee was out-struck, and despite momentarily stunning his opponent, was hit by powerful left hook that completely floored him. That led to Nguyen putting him, and his spotless record, to sleep.
No one is ever happy to lose. But after some much needed reflection, it became painfully obvious to Lee that he was burnt out from the constant grind of school and training camp. His head truly was not in the right state of mind that night, and now, he has grown as a martial artist.
“I feel as if I matured so much because of that loss,” he begins.“It allowed me to become a better martial artist, and I definitely feel the changes I have made in my game, my competition style, and my training. It is definitely going to pay off in the long run.”
As a matter of fact, it has already paid off. “The Warrior” exhibited patience in his return bout against “The Werewolf” Wan Jian Ping this past April at ONE: KINGS OF DESTINY, where he took his time before systematically breaking down his opposition en route to a first-round TKO victory.
He followed that up with another exciting outing against Malaysia’s Keanu Subba later that August at ONE: QUEST FOR GREATNESS.
Though Lee continued to remain calm, he retained his killer instinct, and was focused on finishing his rival. It was a see-saw battle that brought the Hawaii native into the third round for the first time, but he was able to secure a match-ending armbar. Every match is a learning experience, and Lee finally proved to have mastered the art of patience.
“The biggest thing I learned coming out of my match with Subba was just to remain composed, and to not let emotions come into play. That is something every young martial artist needs to learn as they transition into the upper level of the division.”
“The Warrior” knocked the Japanese veteran out with a spectacular slam, earning yet another first-round finish, and tied the record for most finishes in ONE Championship history at eight.
“The Warrior” is a proven winner inside the cage, and is already top contender in the division. The most incredible thing is that he is not anywhere close to being in his prime.
However, none of this success, as well as his sister’s, would have been possible without the overwhelming love and support of their family. If not for their guidance and encouragement, these dreams may have been simply just that.
“I really believe the family bond we have is what brought us to the top so fast,” Lee says.
“It is hard trying to come up as a professional martial artist, especially at a young age. But with the tight-knit family bond we have, I feel there is nothing anyone in this family could not do, because when one person in the family does something, everyone is behind you.
“Our family bond is what makes us so successful.”