In the decades since his death, Bruce Lee, the subject of the latest ESPN documentary, Be Water, has been connected to pretty much every great fighter in existence. Who would win in a real fight between Bruce Lee and this guy? Who would win in a real fight between Bruce Lee and that guy?
What’s crazy is that Bruce Lee wasn’t even a real fighter, at least in the professional sense. Yes, there was the legendary and controversial fight with Wong Jack Man in the mid-1960s, the details of which are still somewhat sketchy to this day. But that was a fight behind closed doors. Then there’s obviously the fights that we’ve seen on TV and movie screens that truly made him a household name. But it wasn’t as if Lee competed in actual martial arts competitions, unlike his one-time co-star Chuck Norris.
But there is one official Bruce Lee fight on the books, a boxing match that took place in Hong Kong when the “Little Dragon” was just an 18-year-old kid in high school.
Bruce Lee got into a lot of trouble growing up in Hong Kong
Growing up in Hong Kong, Bruce Lee found himself in trouble often. He developed a reputation for being somewhat of a hothead and got into numerous scuffles in the streets. It’s actually why his parents ended up sending him to the United States as they feared for his safety after he decimated the son of a triad family, according to the legends anyway.
It was these same street fights that led to Bruce Lee being trained in martial arts. After training some with his father, Lee began studying Wing Chun at the age of 16 under legendary teacher Yip Man. However, in the mid-1950s, martial arts competitions, really just martial arts in general, were frowned upon by the British overlords in Hong Kong. Western-style boxing was the preferred combat sport then, which led to Bruce Lee’s only known official fight.
18-year-old Bruce Lee fought one official boxing match in 1958
In 1958, just one year before being shipped off to Seattle to live with his sister, Bruce Lee was simply a high-school student at St. George’s in Hong Kong. Despite his martial arts instructors attempting to harness his rage, Lee was still constantly looking for fights and finally found an official one, a boxing match against 17-year-old Gary Elms, who was recognized as the Inter-School Individual Boxing Champion.
BloodyElbow.com recently did a feature on Elms, who passed away in 2018, calling on numerous sources and witnesses, and recounted the fight that likely nobody thought would be discussed more than six decades later.
“Though rumors that followed the bout would claim a knockout victory to Lee, the reality is that he seems to have bullied Elms around the ring – knocking his opponent to the canvas three times across three rounds – but Elms kept coming back, and he kept attacking. Reports from witnesses make it sound like an odd contest, with Lee throwing hybrid wing chun kung fu and boxing combinations, and struggling with the gloves, and Elms trying to stick to what he knew best – the established rules of the ring.
“In the end, it was a unanimous points victory to Lee, and no pride lost for Elms.”BloodyElbow.com on the Bruce Lee vs. Gary Elms boxing match in 1958
So Bruce Lee got the win but he apparently wasn’t too thrilled about it.
The fight helped lead to the creation of Jeet Kune Do, which paved the way for modern MMA
Apparently not happy with not getting a knockout win in his lone boxing match, Bruce Lee simply quit. He wasn’t happy with all of the rules and regulations that the sport required, which certainly could have contributed to the creation of Jeet Kune Do, which Lee introduced to the world in 1967.
Upon moving to the U.S., Bruce Lee had opened up several martial arts studios but still wasn’t happy with the techniques that he had been taught and had been teaching to others. He felt that most fighting styles, including boxing, were too rigid and constrictive. So he simply created his own style, which he called “the style of no style.” He wanted a more practical and efficient way of fighting and Jeet Kune Do was born. It’s this style that millions of people have witnessed over the last 50 years as the legend of Bruce Lee lives on in classics such as Enter the Dragon. It also helped pave the way for modern mixed martial arts.
So, technically, Bruce Lee retired from boxing with a perfect record. Wonder how Floyd Mayweather feels about that. See, somebody always has to bring up a dream match, right?