Despite dying at just 32-years-old, Bruce Lee is without a doubt the most influential martial artist of all time. Ahead of his time, Lee was not only trained in multiple styles of martial arts (even founding Jeet Kune Do), he was also instrumental in raising the popularity of martial arts thanks to his wildly popular movies — many of which he both directed and acted in.
The upcoming film Birth of the Dragon, which tells the true story of Lee challenging and fighting kung fu grandmaster, Wong Jack Man, only serves to cement his legendary status even further. Birth of the Dragon covers one of the most mysterious fights of Lee's career, with many still debating who actually won. However, what is undisputed is the impact that the fight had on Lee's fighting style for the remainder of his life. Take a look at the trailer below:
While this famous showdown had a huge influence on Lee's life, Lee himself has become the most influential figure of all time in the world of martial arts. Lee's movies and legendary status inspired thousands to learn his distinctive Kung Fu, and over 40 years since his death he's still revered by those at the very top of their game.
To celebrate the release of Birth of the Dragon, some of Lee's most famous admirers, UFC fighters Alan Jouban, Bas Rutten, Sam Alvey and Ian McCall have shared what Bruce Lee has meant to them throughout their lives and careers.
UFC Welterweight Alan Jouban was quick to reminisce on his favorite Bruce Lee film, Enter the Dragon. Joubin notes that the movie first caught his attention because of all the vastly different characters who were pulled together for their common interest — martial arts. He also shares a heartwarming story about sharing Lee's films with his young son, perfectly illustrating Lee's timeless appeal.
Former UFC Heavyweight Champion, Bas Rutten revealed that Bruce Lee's Enter the Dragon was his entire inspiration for getting into mixed martial arts. Despite Rutten now being a UFC legend, when he was a child he was a target of cruel bullies due to suffering with eczema. After sneaking into a screening of Enter the Dragon, a 12-year-old Rutten decided to "become like that guy" in order to deter his harassers. And, well, the rest is history:
Like Jouban and Rutten, UFC Middleweight fighter Sam Alvey was first introduced to Bruce Lee through the film Enter the Dragon, as well as the TV series The Green Hornet. Alvey was drawn to Lee's work due to the similarities he could see between himself and Lee, noting:
"I was the same kind of privileged young kid, that got in a lot of street fights, that caused a lot of trouble, that was into Kung Fu, that just had something to prove..."
However as Alvey has grown in all aspects of his life, he continues to see a resemblance between the two, and feels to this day as though he's following in Lee's footsteps.
UFC Flyweight, Ian McCall supposes you could describe him as a "direct descendant of the Bruce Lee film lineage," as he recalls his favorite Bruce Lee memory. Despite loving the fight between small-statured Lee and 7 ft. basketball player Kareen Abdul Jabbar, McCall ultimately reveals his favorite Lee fight was when he killed the man "that can't be killed," Chuck Norris in 1972 film Way of the Dragon. A true showdown for the ages!
With all of these elite athletes so obviously inspired and influenced by Lee, it's not hard to image thousands of other professional, amateur and wannabe martial artists who share similar stories. And thanks to the soon-to-be-release Birth of the Dragon, Bruce Lee fans have a chance to take a deep dive into one of the murkier parts of Lee's legacy, an event which lead him to become the martial arts legend we still know him as today.
Birth of the Dragon hits theaters on August 25.
Did Bruce Lee's films have an impact on you? Sound off in the comments below.