Bruce Lee is considered by many as the father of modern day Mixed Martial Arts. He was one of the first martial artists to combine different styles to create his own: Jeet Kune Do. His style features techniques from kung fu, judo, wrestling, and boxing.
However, how would he get on against today’s top MMA fighters?
Bruce Lee lacked ground fighting techniques
Bruce was familiar with ground fighting techniques, mainly from his study of Judo and wrestling. However, in Judo this is somewhat limited and in an actual contest, the Judoka are routinely asked to stand up if no progress is being made.
It’s clear from Bruce Lee’s movies, that he was familiar with a range of ground fighting techniques.
However, in modern MMA, there have been considerable advances in ground fighting, largely as a result of the incorporation of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu.
Brazilian Jiu Jitsu was developed in the 1930s by the Gracie family in Brazil. Carlos Gracie had been trained by Mitsuyo Maeda, who himself had been sent from Japan by Kano Jigoro, the founder of Judo, to spread the word of this fighting art.
Carlos passed this knowledge onto his brothers, including Helio Gracie who adapted the fighting style to give it a greater focus on ground fighting.
Later other members of the Gracie family – Carley and Rorion Gracie – brought BJJ to the United States. Rorion Gracie helped to found the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) in 1993. This fighting style defeated the more traditional fighting styles like boxing, karate, wrestling and muay thai.
Unlike many traditional martial arts, BJJ is continually evolving and new techniques are being developed continuously. Today, most MMA fighters are well versed in BJJ techniques.
Bruce Lee was at his physical peak in the 1960s and so would have missed out on many of the developments in BJJ. It’s highly likely that his ground fighting techniques would not be as effective as those schooled in modern BJJ.
Another reason for this is that the fighting style Bruce Lee created – Jeet Kune Do – was also not designed as a grappling art.
One of Bruce Lee’s fighting principles was that you don’t want to be on the ground any longer that is necessary and you want to get to your feet as quickly as possible.
In a street fight, you’re likely to be fighting on concrete; an unforgiving surface if you fall down or wrestle on it.
You’re also likely to be fighting against multiple opponents. If you’re on the ground, wrestling with someone, it won’t be long before one of their friends is completing a 50 move kata on your head.
Bruce Lee against heavier opponents
Bruce would also lose against much heavier opponents. He was only 130-140lbs pounds and 5’8” in height. He would only have to be caught with a glancing blow by the likes of Francis Ngannou, who stands at 6’4” weighing 258lbs and the fight would be over.
Being much heavier, these fighters are able to inflict much more powerful punches and kicks.
That’s not to say that Bruce wasn’t strong. He is famed for his one inch punch – a strike so powerful it could send a grown man crashing to the ground. It’s just that heavier opponents had a natural, inbuilt advantage: every punch and kick they throw is going to be more powerful – there’s more mass/weight behind it.
However, in the lightweight divisions, Bruce Lee would have given the fighters a run for their money. However, ultimately his lack of ground fighting knowledge would have put him at a disadvantage.