How would Bruce Lee have fared in MMA?

Would Lee's skills have carried him to MMA glory?
Would Lee's skills have carried him to MMA glory?

Bruce Lee, the man who revolutionized kung fu cinema in Hollywood, has grown into a pop cultural legend since his untimely death in 1973. At just 32, Lee passed away from what doctors labeled a “death by misadventure”. Acknowledged as the “father of mixed martial arts” by UFC president Dana White, Lee was a multi-faceted fighter in a time where MMA was yet to even be born.

Starting his martial arts journey as a teenager in Hong Kong, Lee studied Wing Chun under the legendary Ip Man. Through Wing Chun, Lee mastered great hand speed in his strikes and the ability to relax when under physical pressure. Lee soon took up a variety of physical disciplines, from boxing to cha-cha dancing, excelling on all fronts. In school, he bagged the win in a Hong Kong boxing tournament. Through dance, Lee secured another trophy, the Crown Colony Hong Kong Championship.

A notorious street fighter before he had even turned 20, Lee’s combination of speed, grace and aggression made him a lethal foe to anyone foolish enough to confront him.

Moving to America, Lee soon found work on ‘60s TV shows such as The Green Hornet and Ironside, showcasing his exceptional mastery of disciplines ranging from punch-oriented styles like Wing Chun and boxing to kick-focused work in taekwondo and grappling via his expertise in judo. Skilled in all areas of the fight game, Lee’s star power in show business quickly rose as he lifted the lid on what could be accomplished in action cinema.

Just how good a fighter was Bruce Lee?


According to those unlucky enough to face him, Lee was devastating. Wong Jack-man, a renowned martial artist in his own right, faced Lee in a notorious duel in San Francisco in 1964. Lee, by most accounts, displayed killer instincts from the get-go, even launching a potentially deadly strike at Wong’s eyes early into the fight.

Not only was Lee merciless, there was no aspect of movement that he wasn’t well-versed in. From self-defence to deadly offense, Lee could handle himself with near perfect efficiency.

Not content with the styles he’d mastered already, Lee invented his own martial art, Jeet Kune Do. The characters on the Jeet Kune Do emblem can be translated to “Using no way as way” and “Having no limitation as limitation”. A hybrid style emphasizing the importance of improvisation and speed when fighting, Jeet Kune Do allowed a student to be well-prepared for all aspects of hand-to-hand combat. It was the first truly mixed martial art to make its way into the mainstream.

How would Bruce Lee have looked in the octagon?

Had the UFC been the conglomerate it is today when Bruce Lee was going strong, it seems perfectly plausible he would’ve pursued it with gusto. At 5’8 and 140lbs, Lee would’ve likely competed in the featherweight and bantamweight divisions, where his size and reach would’ve been fairly standard.

Between his lightning quick strikes, superlative cardio (the man considered daily runs a form of relaxation) and unpredictable approach to strategy, Lee would’ve been a nightmare opponent for most. It’s likely he would’ve found himself in title contention very quickly.

As skilled as Lee was, his approach to training would’ve possibly proved to be a double-edged sword in MMA as it ultimately did in his life. On a daily basis, Lee was known to practice weightlifting, jogging, sparring, heavy bag, shadowboxing and stretching.

As versatile as this made his conditioning, overtraining can prove to be devastating on the joints and nervous system. Lee himself learned this the hard way when he severely injured his back doing barbell good-mornings.

Due to the immense level of stress Bruce Lee placed on his body, it’s likely he would’ve conquered the featherweight division in the UFC for a short spell before burning out relatively early into his MMA career.

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Edited by John Cunningham
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