Saturday, September 9, 2017

Bruce Lee in the UFC - A What If Article (2008)

Hello, this is an article I wrote in 2008, re-posted here.
Enjoy. :)

Bruce Lee In The UFC
By John Pagan  |   Submitted On May 22, 2008

Thanks to YouTube, I can get a quick dose of motivation to either train or head for the work out equipment, from a short video clip of Bruce Lee. Although the results can fluctuate by the minute, entering Lee's name produces 31,900 video clips to view. This is currently more than any other martial art movie star. However, with the thousands upon thousands of video clips of different topics available, each one also allows viewers to post their comments and herein lies the intrigue.

The majority of the comments for Lee's clips appear to be positive and praising, seemingly from new admirers who were not even a thought in their parent's young adolescent minds yet when the "Little Dragon" was alive and (literally) kicking. Then, of course, there are those comments from the insecure martial art "experts", internet tough guys, who go out of their way to view Bruce Lee video clips in order to leave ignorantly rude and immature comments. I believe we are all entitled to our own opinions, which is why I am mainly referring to the comments that would normally entail censorship. Some of the more mild statements however, are the assertions that Bruce Lee was: "Over rated", "fake", "just a Hollywood actor", "gay", or that he was not a "real fighter" because he never competed in tournaments.

The comments led to comparisons of UFC fighters and that led to the opinion that Lee would have been "destroyed" if he fought in the UFC octagon. They believe because Jet Li admitted he would have been "killed" if he actually fought in the octagon, as depicted in his film Cradle to the Grave, then it must surely apply to Bruce Lee as well.

Now, I'll be the first to admit there are many Bruce Lee fans that think Lee was the totally invincible fighter who could not be beaten by anyone, based on his movies. Although those who knew him state he could actually do many of the things he did in his films, true fans would enlighten themselves to realize Lee meticulously choreographed those fight scenes, therefore he naturally dominates all of his opponents in his films. I believe Lee Jun Fan (Bruce Lee's birth name) and his performance in a UFC match should be viewed as realistically as possible without movie fantasy.

First, it should be cleared up that Lee was not an unbeatable, invincible fighter. Ed Parker Jr., son of the late Kenpo karate master, revealed an incident that most Lee fans may not be aware of. While a young Bruce Lee was still filming episodes of the Green Hornet, Gene LeBell managed to get him into a hold that he could not get out of. Supposedly, this incident prompted Lee to begin learning the grappling arts in earnest. I'm sure many will immediately imagine Royce Gracie quickly taking Lee down, easily putting him into a armbar and forcing him to tap out. At this point, it is a plausible scenario.

Indeed, it is difficult to picture a man, 5' 7 ½ ", approximately 138lbs, with a muscular yet slender build, stepping into the octagon cage where his opponent, 6' 2", 228lbs, with a thick heavily muscular build, stands waiting (and possibly growling). By most accounts, the outcome may seem painfully predictable, yet anyone with any wisdom realizes the outcome actually depends on the man in question.

"To me, totality is very important (...) Many styles claim (...) they can cope with all types of attacks (...) if this is true, then how did all the different styles come about?"
-Bruce Lee

Not since Mike Anderson introduced the World Full-Contact Karate Championship in 1974, has a martial art event been as popular as the UFC; and dedicated fans know there have been many matches where a larger, more muscular man has been defeated, even knocked out, by a smaller or less muscular opponent who had better fighting skill. I've witnessed this myself. Was Lee skilled enough to pull that off in the UFC? Those who knew, trained and sparred with him equated Bruce Lee with exceptional skill.

"For his size and weight, Bruce was one of the strongest people-pound for pound-I have ever met. I think he could have beaten a lot of people much heavier and much stronger than he was. He would have done extremely well in competition (...) He was that skillful."
- Mike Stone

"...It was obvious that he possessed qualities which were exceptional...In my opinion, his caliber of talent was one in two billion."
- Ed Parker

"I don't know how Bruce did it. He moved in so fast, before you could even get set."
- Jhoon Rhee

"Bruce asked me to spar with him. I couldn't touch him. Every time I tried to move, bang, I was the one being hit! He was very light on his feet, very deceptive and evasive."
- Larry Hartsell

"I don't think there was anyone in Hong Kong who could have nailed him with a punch."
- Joe Lewis

Lee's ideology has also been effectively proven several times, in non-contact and full-contact kickboxing competition, by Joe Lewis. Okay, so Lee could hit fast and hard, the Gracies proved jujitsu grappling is a major key to victory in the octagon. How would Bruce Lee have handled that? Those who know anything about Bruce Lee's realistic approach to combat are aware he had over 33 grappling maneuvers in his repertoire. In other words, he was also skilled on the ground, perhaps due to the Gene LeBell incident.

"He (Lee) was very good friends with Wally Jay, Gene LeBell and Hayward Nishioka. It's a fact that Bruce learned a lot of grappling from these men."
- Larry Hartsell

"...One minute he (Lee) could look like any kicking system and at middle range, he could explode like a savage street-fighter or a western boxer. And when he got in tight, it looked like Wing Chun. And then when he'd go to the ground, it looked like jujutsu. He was a good grappler also. Despite his lightweight, he was very quick. I think he probably received training from various (...) people and (...) from Gene LeBell (...) and he probably learned a lot of jujutsu from maybe Wally Jay."
- Dan Inosanto

Lee's personal approach to combat, popularly known as Jeet Kune Do, has also been called "scientific or sophisticated street-fighting". Doesn't that sound like something suited for UFC competition? It may seem that "Jeet Kune Do" stylists have entered the octagon cage before and were soundly defeated by Royce Gracie. If you are having trouble recalling their names, so am I. While they may have been tough fighters, it is doubtful they were truly qualified to represent Jeet Kune Do. Of course, even the most qualified are still not the iconoclastic Bruce Lee. It would be similar to saying that when a boxer trained by Muhammad Ali loses a match, it means Ali was not really a great boxer. Thus, it should be evident now the belief that Lee's quick demise in the UFC cannot be so cut and dry predictable.

"Size is never a true indication of muscular power and efficiency. The smaller man usually makes up for the imbalance of power by his greater agility, flexibility, speed of foot and nervous action. (...) once you go into action and grapple with an opponent (...) keep moving faster than he and pay absolutely no attention to his size, fierce facial contortions, or his vicious language. (...) attack your opponent at his weakest points, which are mainly gravitational, throwing him off balance, and applying leverage principles so that his body, and the limbs of his body, are used toward his own defeat. 'The bigger they are, the harder they fall.'"
- Bruce Lee

Some of the comments of the internet tough guys pertain to Bruce Lee as a "fighter". Did Bruce Lee have any "real" fighting experience? In The Legendary Bruce Lee by the editors of Black Belt magazine, M. Uyehara's article; Bruce Lee The Man, The Fighter, The Superstar, reveals Lee's gang-banger background where his gang carried chains, pen-knives and razor blades attached to their shoes, in "a city of ghettos" where no-holds-barred rooftop matches were the norm.

"He had quite a few fights. A lot of people were jealous of him. Most of his fights were for real."
- Larry Hartsell

Linda Lee, Bruce Lee's wife, tells of the challenge made by a kung fu expert in her book The Bruce Lee Story. Pregnant at the time, she watched as Lee not only accepted the challenge to fight, he threw down the gauntlet demanding nothing less than an all out fight with no rules. "In less than a minute" Lee achieved the upper hand and was soon chasing his opponent, repeatedly punching the back of his head. About another minute later, Lee finally took his opponent down and forced a submission from him. Years later, the challenges would continue...

"...He told Bruce that he was a phony, that he was just a "movie" karate man, and that he really wasn't a good martial artist. (...) The kid jumped down and really started trying to take Bruce out. This kid was good. He was no punk. He was strong and fast (...) But Bruce just methodically took him apart. He slammed the kid into a rock wall and trapped him. He bloodied his mouth...and rammed him into that wall about three more times just to show he could have him against that wall any time he wanted." - Bob Wall
(Recounting an actual fight with an extra, occurring on the set of Enter the Dragon.)

Let's re-look at the aforementioned scenario of Lee facing off against a highly skilled grappler like Royce Gracie. Let's remove the rules of the UFC and put them into actual combat. Could a lightning fast finger-jab from Lee be the determining factor of the outcome?

"His finger-jab (...) was in your face before you knew it. He studied body motion and the physical signs that developed before any action actually began. He could notice the small clues and react to them thereby intercepting your motion."
- Bob Bremer

It's almost creepy to realize Lee could thrust his fingers through unopened steel cans of Coca-Cola, at a time before cans were made of the thinner aluminum metal. But considering Lee's other documented physical feats supported by reliable sources, it all sort of makes the quick finger-jab a little less creepy, relatively speaking. For instance, his striking speed from three feet away with his hands down by his side reached five hundredths of a second. That's about as long as it takes for you to blink. He could perform push-ups using only his thumbs and he could snatch a dime off a person's open palm before they could close it, and leave a penny behind. He could also hold an elevated v-sit position for long durations, and something many body-builders have difficulty with; from a standing position he could hold a 75lb barbell straight out in front of him. To amaze visitors, he would thump the ceiling with a 300-lb (136 kg) bag with a thrusting side kick.

It remains an intriguing "What if?" speculation, the iconoclastic founder of "sophisticated street-fighting" competing in the UFC. Unfortunately, it is something we will never see nor predict with absolute certainty. However, one thing is certain; the "Little Dragon's" passing in 1973 has left a great legacy that continues to influence the martial arts to this very day.

"It's a shame a great martial artist like Bruce had to leave us so soon, but I feel he accomplished more in his lifetime than most people will accomplish in 70 or 80 years, so I don't feel that he was really short changed. (...) It is not how long you live, but what you accomplish while you are living. (...) I think he lived a full life."
- Chuck Norris

9/17/2017 - NEW LINKS ADDED:

Size Does Not Matter -

When David Beats Goliath -

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