Search icon


27th Nov 2014

On what would be Bruce Lee’s 74th birthday, we ponder what MMA owes to the legend

Bruce Lee is known as the original mixed martial artist

Darragh Murphy

Bruce Lee would have turned 74 today and we’re pretty certain that he’d have been a hardcore fan of mixed martial arts.

Any argument over the fruition of the sport that we now know as mixed martial arts would be incomplete without heavy mention of Bruce Lee’s name.

The cultural phenomenon who became one of the most recognisable faces of the early 1970s has long been referred to as “the father of mixed martial arts,” by UFC president Dana White himself on many an occasion.

bruce lee 2

In reality, there are two names in particular that crop up when the moniker of “the father of MMA” is debated. Those two names are the aforementioned Bruce Lee and Gene LeBell.

Bruce Lee founded a fighting style by the name of Jeet Kune Do – a hybrid method of combat that put a strong focus on the economy of movement, fluidity of motion and explosive attacks.

If you were to compare him to a modern-day fighter, you’d be looking at someone along the lines of Jon Jones, Anderson Silva or, dare we say it, Conor McGregor.

These fighters perform with the philosophy that you cannot enter combat reliant on a specific game plan and one must fight with an air of spontaneity, just as Lee espoused.

The man at the other end of the “who was more of an influence on modern-day MMA” debate is “Judo” Gene LeBell.

gene lebell

Gene LeBell is still a coach at 82 years of age and his favoured discipline (no prizes for guessing) was Judo.

If we were to compare him to any contemporary mixed martial artist, we’d plump for Chael Sonnen or Ronda Rousey, the latter of which is actually a good friend and training partner of LeBell’s.

LeBell performed in professional wrestling so he had the art of the promo down and he has been very vocal in his opinion that he was the more important party when it came to the beginning of mixed martial arts and has been quoted as saying: “If Bruce Lee is the father of mixed martial arts, than I am its grandfather.”

While we concede that LeBell was a vital player in both the inception of the sport and modern-day MMA, we’re going to lean towards Bruce Lee in this argument for the following reasons.

Bruce Lee placed such a large emphasis on the notion of expressing oneself through fighting. To him, one’s fighting style was an art form, just like the brushstroke of a painter. There’s no doubt that we wouldn’t be currently enjoying creative fighters like Anthony Pettis, Jose Aldo and Jon Jones without Lee’s mark on the sport.

Lee spoke at length on the value of meditation and entering combat in a calm state of mind. Legendary fighters like Lyoto Machida and Diego Sanchez were strong believers in the importance of achieving this zen state, obviously influenced by Lee’s faith in the practice.

Arguably the greatest contribution that Lee made to martial arts came in the form of his striking humility towards his opponents. Modern-day MMA is so far removed from the violence-laden spectacle known as UFC 1 and respect between competitors is now at an all-time premium. It’s been well-reported that mixed martial artists are among the nicest, most respectful sportspeople and this could be down to Lee’s legacy.

UFC Fight Night: Hunt v Bigfoot

Another reason to give Lee the honour of having the greatest influence on MMA is the fact that he realised the importance of maintaining one’s body in peak physical condition. Bruce Lee was 165lbs of pure muscle and he never let himself get out of shape. He considered his body a tool with combat his trade and made a point of appreciating that. He said: “I refer to my hands, feet and body as the tools of the trade. The hands and feet must be sharpened and improved daily to be efficient.”

UFC 111: St-Pierre v Hardy Weigh-In

When you look at the list of elite fighters who have encompassed the values embraced by Lee, then the importance of the icon becomes abundantly clear. If you could take George St-Pierre’s athleticism, Jon Jones’ creativity, Anderson Silva’s humility, Lyoto Machida’s wisdom, Cain Velasquez’ toughness and Jose Aldo’s determination, then you’ve pretty much got Bruce Lee.



Bruce Lee

No posts have been found