The biggest sporting event of the year will come to fruition on August 26 when two of the world's greatest fighters face each other for the first time. Mayweather vs. McGregor not only pits the respective undefeated boxing phenom against the current UFC Lightweight champion, it clashes the venerated world of professional boxing with the rising global sport of Mixed Martial Arts (MMA).
Today, MMA has merited the designation of sport that is growing in popularity and respect. Martial arts as a whole has revitalized itself in entertainment, from movies and television shows to video games. More and more old-school fighting video games are making a comeback—Marvel vs. Capcom: Infinite is arguably one of the most anticipated fighting games of the year, for example. In Hollywood, plenty of young actors and stunt people are making a name for themselves with a repertoire of martial arts skills on their resume, and as a result, the stunt choreography and fight sequences in movies and TV shows are getting better and better. Just look at the praise garnered for martial arts-heavy shows like Netflix's Daredevil and AMC's Into the Badlands.
But MMA's story of evolving from a combination of boxing and other fighting disciplines and becoming a worldwide sensation isn't new. In 1964 Bruce Lee and his new take on Wing Chun transfixed the West Coast of the United States. It was also in that year that Lee’s new approach on Chinese martial arts clashed with the Kung Fu of the past, when Wushu master Wong Jack Man faced Lee in a duel. When two of the world’s greatest Kung Fu masters faced each other for the first time in that fight over 50 years ago, it revolutionized Kung Fu for the masses.
No one really knows how the fight went down, but we’ll finally see a glimpse of the legend in the movie Birth of the Dragon. If we look at that legendary fight, we can draw some parallels to the upcoming one, and how the history of fighting has influenced both.
Bruce Lee And Conor McGregor
Bruce Lee gave rise to what we know today as Mixed Martial Arts. His take on Kung Fu was unique and vastly different from what early masters of the art were teaching their students. Eventually, Lee’s fighting style evolved into his own discipline, Jeet Kune Do; it's when it made its way into movies that the discipline became famous.
But before Lee became the Hollywood legend that he is today, he was teaching his Kung Fu ways to San Francisco residents. When he participated in his first competition at the Long Beach International Karate Championships, Lee became a local sensation and won the crowd over with his one-inch punch. Much like Lee, we can see the same fire in Conor McGregor.
The current champ has been the talk of the MMA universe ever since he made his UFC debut, winning by way of knockout. His cocky, fiery personality inside and outside of the octagon has inspired many rising UFC fighters, and like Lee, McGregor has brought his own spin to an ancient fighting style. In addition to being a mixed martial artist, McGregor also sees himself as a boxer. Like Lee, however, his boxing is a culmination of different disciplines put into one. That's what's so intriguing about the UFC champ; he's a modern-day version of Bruce Lee, and fans seem to agree. From his fighting style to his philosophies, McGregor channels Bruce Lee entirely; that is why he calls Lee his inspiration.
What’s more, the similarities between Lee and McGregor don’t end in their mutual abilities. Their greatest fights may just be their greatest equivalence. McGregor will meet his match when he faces Floyd Mayweather Jr. on August 26, just like Lee fought his greatest adversary Wong Jack Man in an abandoned warehouse in 1964.
Wong Jack Man And Floyd Mayweather Jr.
While much is debated about the epic fight between Bruce Lee and Wong Jack Man, what's fact is that Wong was one of the best fighters of his time. His skills in the various branches of Chinese martial arts made him an expert in the sport and a respected, popular name both in China and the United States. The parallels between Wong and Mayweather are clear.
Like Mayweather, Wong was fearless and full of spirit, sticking to the ancient ways of Kung Fu. Wong's bout with Bruce Lee saw the old style of Chinese martial arts clash with Lee's new system, just like how Mayweather's traditional boxing background will run up against McGregor's modified hybrid style.
But of course, it was more than just kicking and punching. The fight between Wong and Lee was as much a battle between opposite philosophies as it was a physical fight.
When Fighting Philosophies Clash
When Lee opened his martial arts school, the Jun Fan Gung Institute, in 1964, he wasn’t yet the Bruce Lee that we all know and love. The "be like water" way of mind hadn't yet entered into Lee's philosophical paradigm. The younger Lee was a constant rush of adrenaline and more than a little arrogant in his ways. Lee's optimism was a great virtue, but it was partnered with a healthy dose of conceit. His calm, relaxed demeanor of later years was far from present, and his urge to win and prove himself was high.
Enter Wong Jack Man, a Chinese martial arts master whose philosophy was everything Bruce Lee's was not. Lee's aggressive, kicking whirlwind faced off against Wong's serene, controlled dance of motion. And it prevailed.
While the outcome of the fight is up to interpretation, there was another outcome that is more important. From that day forward Lee had a new mentality. He went forth to create his own discipline in Jeet Kune Do and became as great a philosopher as he was an actor and martial arts expert. The sport changed for the better, continually evolving and leading to its resurgence in the modern world of entertainment; today there's a full roster of MMA names to thank for the martial arts resurgence that's currently influencing sports and entertainment. But while these personalities are the catalyst of the modern martial arts renaissance, they are all still the offspring that sprouted from the legend of Bruce Lee and Wong Jack Man.
While none of us got to witness the mythical fight between Lee and Wong, we'll get the chance to watch its equivalent on August 26. Another physical and philosophical clash of masters in their respective disciplines is in the very fabric of Floyd Mayweather Jr. vs. Conor McGregor. Regardless of the victor, the boxing world will learn from the MMA world and vice versa. Two philosophies will clash and, like Lee vs. Wong, a new spirit will blossom.
The greatest fight of our time is right upon us, mirroring the greatest fight that came about over 50 years ago.
Watch the legendary fight between Bruce Lee and Wong Jack Man when Birth of the Dragon releases in the U.S. on August 25.