Does MMA tarnish the legend of Bruce Lee?

Posted by Posted by Jay Abstract On 10:32 AM

It was the 1970's, and America was captivated by 6'+ heavyweight giants in boxing gloves pounding away at each other.  The old adage says "The bigger they are, the harder they fall".  And for the boxing promoters, the harder they fell, the more money they earned.  It was the time of Mohammed Ali, Joe Frazier, Sonny Liston & George Foreman.  America couldn't get enough of the spectacle of oversized African Americans trading punches for paychecks.

And as the fighting world's promoters employed techniques behind the scenes that would eventually rot the sport at it's very core, Hollywood executives were taking notice of a 5'7 chinese martial arts instructor gaining a reputation for being unbeatable.  Numerous run-ins with the law in China forced his parents to send him back to San Fransisco's Chinatown, his birth place, to set him along a better path.  He would travel the West Coast, from Seattle to Oakland, going to college and teaching interested students in his style of fighting.

20 something years later, I opened my eyes to Bruce Lee's "Enter the Dragon" poster.  It took me a few seconds to realize where I was.  It was my first ever sleepover, at a kid from the neighborhood named Victor's house who would end up becoming one of my best friends and brother, and I layed silent in the room for close to 20 minutes studying the poster hanging on the wall before me.  Unlike the greats fighting inside the ring, the man on the poster looked like somebody I could beat up myself, even at about 8 or 9 years old.

Bruce Lee's "Enter the Dragon" & "Fists of Fury" (along with several Jean Claude Van Damme movies such as "Bloodsport" and "Kickboxer", which we're a little more reluctant to admit) would serve as catalysts for about 1,000 fights/wrestling matches over the years, as everytime the last scene faded to black and the credits rolled, our adolescant adrenaline would be clicking on all cylinders and ready to prove to each other who was more on pace to be the next Bruce (or, ugh..  Jean Claude..  hey, we were young).

The thing that made Bruce Lee so captivating was that he was not chosen by nature to be as great a fighter as he was, like some of the boxing greats.  His tiny frame wasn't built with the intention of surviving damage, much less inflicting it.  But he studied every ancient form of fighting he could, and combined it with current, more mainstream fighting styles to create a unique point of attack.

While America was used to people dancing around and punching each other, Bruce was kicking, jumping, flipping & twisting his way into the world of fighting's spotlight.  Nothing had ever been seen quite like it.  It was so different, so unique...  And our inability to understand it actually added to it's aura.  Who really knew what this guy was capable of? For all we knew, he could tap us on our right nipple and explode our chest using some ancient Chinese nerve-busting finger technique. There was no way of seeing it's limitations. Until...

Enter Mixed Martial Arts

With the heart-breaking realization every young child has when he learns proffesional wrestling is all just a show, I can still remember the conversations about the discovery of the first VHS UFC tapes at the Malden Blockbuster.

"No dude, it's real.  There's no rules or anything.  These guys just beat the hell out of each other.  Even when they fall on the ground, they jump on each other and pound each other's faces in.  It's so cool!!"

I'm not quite sure which one of us found it first, but somehow we got our hands on UFC 1, and our world was about to change.  As the infrastructure of boxing crumbled due to greedy executives and promoters more worried about a quick buck than the future and sanctity of the sport, UFC started cranking out video after video of unknown, yet extremely intriguing, fights with nameless guys seemingly "risking their lives" to fight for respect over money as it payed much, much less than boxing at the time.

While the UFC spent years toiling in obscurity in the mainstream for views of it being "overly violent", it built a steady and loyal underground fanbase of people who could see the potential in a fighting style that allowed it's fighters to study any form of combat they chose and take it into the ring with them for use against an unsuspecting opponent.  The fans saw what it could become, but it needed people running the show seeing it too before it could really take off.

Dana White did.

Dana White and the Fertitta brothers purchased the UFC in 2001 and transformed it's marketing strategy from the heavily-criticized "Human Cockfighting" to a legitmate sport with incredible athletes.  The sport world would be flipped upside down as it grew in popularity with it's new marketing strategy alongside it's reality show "The Ultimate Fighter", focusing on wannabe UFC fighters vying for a contract.

Over the next few years, Mixed Martial Arts would become mainstream, and as it evolved, so did our knowledge of fighting.  The mysterious techniques and obscure fighting styles of Bruce Lee (or atleast similar styles, as his was unique unto him) were brought into the limelight, and we began to see the ends of their reach.

Part of Bruce Lee's legend was that his true capabilities were somewhat shrouded in mystery.  But has MMA brought them out of the shadows and onto a public stage?  We've watched athletes develop to the very best of their abilities in their respective categories for years now.  Can Bruce Lee really have been so ahead of his time that he had figured things out that modern day fighters cannot?

If we placed Bruce Lee in the cage with the likes of the Anderson Silva's, Fedor Emelienko's and Georges St. Pierre's, would he really have such an advantage over them because of his home-grown style that he could decimate them in the fashion his legend suggests?  Or has fighting evolved too drastically even beyond his abilities?

I think it's the latter.  Wanna fight about it?

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1 Comment

  1. Colin Jensen Said,

    The problem with MMA is just how flat--just how non-dynamic--the sport is. It serves one purpose, fighting in a certain style, and just invites all those people who say "yeah, I'd like to see that against a lead pipe." When someone's been doing it for 10 years, they've either burned out their body so badly they can't do it anymore or they just can't find anything new or interesting to do. In a robust martial art, there are so many levels--that when you get old you can get into the spiritual stuff, or when you quit practicing you can still focus on the leverage, etc. With karate, I quickly hit a point where I was like, "Okay, I'm 250 pounds, male, and no longer in middle school--so the odds of me being attacked in my life are statistically less than 1%." So I either quit or I find a new aspect to enjoy. in MMA there is no other aspect.

    The problem with MMA, like Taekwondo if you ask me, is that if you're not practicing a lot and in really good shape, the ancillary lessons won't do you an ounce of good. In kung-fu or traditional karate you can lose a leg and still be a dedicated martial artist with full cred from your peers.

    So I dunno'. I've just been an avid martial artist for a few decades, and have never had one ounce of interest in MMA, nor have I been threatened by it. I have two friends who are big MMA guys and call what I do "dancing," but they're right. If most anyone attacks me I can easily dispatch them, so now I use my art mainly for catharsis and stress-relief. And that's the bottom line--MMA doesn't have grand holistic masters, and I'm not sure if there are any on the horizon. Bruce Lee could beat most any MMA guy out there I believe, but independent of that, I've never seen a MMArtist who can write the kind of philosophy Bruce did, and that's why they'll not soon change the world like he did...

    Posted on October 16, 2010 at 7:55 PM


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