If you were to stop a person in the street and ask them ‘who is the most famous martial artists of all time’?
They would give one of two answers;
Bruce Lee or Conor McGregor
I think that if you had asked that question a few years ago, Bruce Lee would have been the only answer but the rise of Conor has been incredible.
The fact that Bruce Lee is a name linked with Martial Arts today with only a mere handful of film and TV roles to his credit (not counting his acting as a child) shows that his impact and legacy were incredible.
However, if he were to have been around when the UFC came into existence (and he was young), what would his performance have been like?
Would Bruce Lee have dominated?
In this article, we break down exactly how it would have gone done and why Bruce Lee would have been king of the UFC!
Let’s do this;
Bruce Lee In UFC 1
Way back in Denver Colorado in 1993 the UFC was born.
The winner, that night in a televised, no holds barred tournament was Royce Gracie.
And in one night the world of fighting was changed forever.
But what would have happened if Bruce would have fought in the UFC that night?
So let us tackle the obvious, the size and weight of Bruce Lee.
Bruce was around 5’7″ tall, and his weight is believed to have varied from 126 to 145 pounds although reported to have gone up to 165 at one time.
Royce was 178 pounds and considered skinny compared with the other fighters (which was again a surprise factor in the win)
So Bruce would have been the lightest in that event.
Even in today’s UFC weight divisions, Bruce would be a bantamweight or featherweight at best.
So how would he have won against huge fighters such as Ken Shamrock?
The answer lies in strategy!
There is no doubt in my mind that Bruce would have entered the Octagon that night in Denver as the most focused fighter there.
Also, he would have been more like a modern MMA fighter, and this would have been his key.
So the way I see it is this (if Bruce replaced eventual finalist Gerard Gordeau):
Bruce would have started off fighting the huge sumo fighter Teila Tuli (the guy whose teeth went flying), and this would have been an easy fight.
Bruce was too fast, hit too hard and would have either destroyed Teila just like Gerard or would have taken his time and kept him at bay with low kicks until the sumo fighter was exhausted.
In his next match, he would have faced the large Kevin Rosier. At 6ft 4 inches tall and over 265 pounds, on paper, this looks a nightmare match.
How the speed of Bruce and height disadvantage would have forced him to go in low and look for a single leg takedown.
I would imagine Bruce would have got him to the ground and submitted him with relative ease.
In the final, he would have faced Royce Gracie.
As great as Royce is, I feel that Bruce would have already known a lot on BJJ by the time of that fight and used takedown defence and super fast, accurate and powerful strikes to make a mess of Royce and eventually stop him.
The result: Bruce Lee is UFC Champion.
Now, of course, the draw could have been another way, I mean what if Royce had fought Gordeau, Pat Smith or even Shamrock?
Those could arguably be tougher fights for Bruce.
I do not see any real difference.
Bruce would, in my opinion, have been better than Shamrock in both striking and grappling. Sure he was bigger and stronger, but I think he would have struggled to match Bruce.
Gordeau was one tough cookie, but he was also beaten in Japan by Yuki Nakai using a heel hook, Yuki was a similar size to Bruce, and as such I see Bruce beating him as well.
On paper Bruce had an answer for every fighter, he was simply far too advanced.
UFC 2 And Beyond
Assuming that Bruce would have entered UFC 2, I do not think that he would have struggled with the then 16 man tournament.
And the result would have been a Bruce Lee victory.
Bruce V Kimo?
In UFC 3 Royce Gracie faced Kimo Leopoldo, a fierce, stocky street style fighter. It took Royce a long time to defeat Kimo, and it exhausted him to such a degree that he had to retire from the event.
Kimo was strong and thick-set, a nightmare to take down and he was aggressive.
This also would have been a tough fight for Bruce…or would it?
I believe that Bruce would again have been too fast for Kimo and would have finished him within seconds with his power strikes.
Who Would Have Beaten Bruce?
I think it would have taken years to find a fighter that had what it took to defeat the legend.
Dan Severn was beaten by Royce Gracie in UFC 4, and I suspect Bruce would have dispatched him in a similar fashion
Oleg Taktarov and Tank Abbot appeared in UFC 6, and these again would have represented far stiffer challenges.
Tank was huge and hit like a sledgehammer and Oleg was very skilled in Sambo and could also punch.
Tank would, in theory, present a severe challenge for Bruce.
He was large, overweight but a great sense of balance and some wrestling experience. He also had big knockout power in each hand.
Going toe to toe would not have been an option for Bruce, but I suspect he would have had far too much speed and quickly finished a single leg to drag Tank down and then tap him out or knock him out with strikes
Oleg would have been a massive task for Bruce Lee, but I suspect that Bruce would have landed head kicks to take him out.
The Head Kicks Have It
Marco Ruas appeared in UFC 7 and on paper would be a fearsome opponent for Bruce.
By UFC 7 fighters were already becoming more well rounded and the open weight format was drawing heavyweights that had mixed skills.
I think by this time Bruce would have evolved, his style which was already well rounded would have adapted to bring something else to the game.
My gut feeling is that we would have seen the types of roundhouse and spinning kicks that stars such as Conor McGregor are landing with.
Back fists and hammer strikes would fit alongside the trapping skills that Bruce had.
The End Is Near
If Bruce had started his fighting career at UFC 1 and carried on, it is fair to assume that he would have had time off, missed a few UFC’s and also entered other events.
But had our little fantasy world happened, I think you would have seen a fight happen between Bruce Lee and BJ Penn.
With the introduction of weight classes a Bruce Lee towards his 40’s against a young BJ Penn would have been a tantalising fight.
BJ was one of the first to be amazing on both the ground and feet, with KO power to match.
But here is the thing.
I think Bruce would have evolved in his fighting career.
He would have worked on his wrestling, his submissions and his strikes.
And with that in mind, I think Bruce would be able to dominate a young BJ Penn. Be it standing or on the ground Bruce would have had the edge.
However, like all things, I also think Bruce would have known when to call it a day.
After all, knowing when NOT to fight is the sign of a truly exceptional strategic mind.
With this in mind, I suspect Bruce might have retired early on with nothing to prove.
That is until a young Irish fighter called McGregor called him out of retirement.
Of course, this is all hypothetical.
But what do you think?
Would Bruce have been the best?