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Bruce Lee:

Bringing the legend to life

Words by Guy Cocker

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Bruce Lee was a movie star, philosopher and pop culture icon, but to UFC fans, his biggest achievement is arguably inspiring the development of mixed martial arts. As he makes his way into EA SPORTS UFC, games journalist Guy Cocker talks to the game’s makers and the UFC’s talent to find out more about the impact of the great man.

Bruce Lee is seen by many as the most influential martial artist of all time, with his films, books and interviews bringing Eastern-inspired combat techniques to a Western audience. As EA SPORTS UFC Creative Director Brian Hayes explains, “In a lot of circles, Bruce Lee is envisioned as kind of the father of mixed martial arts. He’s the guy whose philosophy was “learn whatever you can, take what works, discard what doesn’t, and make things your own”, and that’s really in essence what mixed martial arts is, and what UFC is.” Given the ancient and formal structures of most martial arts, it was a highly controversial ethos in the 1960s, but Lee’s physical prowess, magnetic charisma and astonishing strength validated his thinking, both in his films such as Way of the Dragon and Game of Death, and his famous “one-inch punch” demonstration. “He was a tremendously dedicated individual. If he had put his mind to being a UFC fighter, not an actor, let’s say, I’m sure there’s no limit to what he could have achieved,” says Hayes.

Although the term “mixed martial arts” wasn’t used until the UFC was founded in 1993, Bruce Lee effectively laid the groundwork for the discipline in the 1960s. His book “The Tao of Jeet Kune Do” laid out a new form of martial arts that mixed different styles and influences, creating a new martial art in the process. He’s undoubtedly done more than anyone to influence the current generation of UFC fighters, so it’s poetic that he’ll finally be able to face off against today’s best fighters in EA SPORTS UFC later this year.

 
 
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- Bruce Lee

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The big boss

Getting Bruce Lee into the new UFC game obviously seemed like a no-brainer to the team at EA SPORTS, but you’d assume that actually doing it would be a whole other matter. Thankfully, everyone involved was totally on-board. “We talked to the UFC about it, and they were like 'that’s an awesome idea',” explains Hayes. “They actually know the people at Bruce Lee Enterprises, and they were able to put us in touch. We were able to speak to them and talk to them about how we could integrate Bruce as a character into the game.”

If you’ve watched the videos of Bruce actually in the game, then you’ll have seen how realistic he looks—-a testament to the power of the next-generation consoles that the game launches on, as well as the talented artists and technicians on the team. However, having the actual fighters around to model today’s UFC stars is one thing, but recreating a character who sadly passed away over 40 years ago isn’t quite as simple. Thankfully, the team had some help in the form of an accurately-modelled 3D image of Bruce’s head.

“[Bruce Lee Enterprises] sent us a lot of photography that we’d never seen, that they own exclusively, so we could use that as reference. They also had a 3D head cast that was done for making his mask in the [TV series] Green Hornet. So that cast was sent up to us, and we were able to 3D scan that, making sure that we got the geometry of his head accurate. We also had some talented martial artists into our studio to actually mimic some of his moves.”

Fist of fury

If Bruce was to compete in the UFC today, how would he fare? You’ll get to answer that question in the game itself, but we put the question to the current athletes of the UFC. “If he were to compete in the UFC today, he would be as skilled as any UFC fighter with his talent,” claims the number one light heavyweight contender and EA SPORTS UFC cover star Alexander Gustafsson. Featherweight fighter and Bruce Lee fan Conor McGregor agrees. “I’ve no doubt he would have been world champion, in MMA, no doubt,” he says.

So what was the secret to his phenomenal ability? Conor McGregor elaborates: “He’s fluid, he’s loose, he’s fast, his movement is fluid, it’s efficient, it’s functional. So many guys are addicted to strength and conditioning, and just get bulked up and stiff and slow. Bruce was free and nimble.” “He was a very versatile fighter,” adds Hayes. To demonstrate, Hayes and his team have made Bruce Lee available across various different weight divisions in the game. “You’ll be able to compete with Bruce in the bantamweight, featherweight, lightweight and welterweight divisions,” explains Hayes. “So that’s a whole lot of UFC fighters that you can take him into the Octagon against and see how he does.”

 

© Bruce Lee Enterprises, LLC. All Rights Reserved.

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Mixed martial arts

While Bruce Lee wanted to influence martial artists through his work, even he might not have imagined that his pioneering ideas would still have ramifications half a century down the line. However, his impact can’t be understated, as flyweight Louis Gaudinot explains. “In one of his movies, he had MMA gloves before there were MMA gloves. He’s doing an armbar before people even knew what an armbar was. So I think if he was around at this time, or MMA was around when he was around, he would have adapted.

Bruce Lee’s philosophy was distilled into a book called “The Tao of Jeet Kune Do”, in which this new form of martial arts was explained to the world. It had a huge influence on former UFC light heavyweight champion Forrest Griffin. “I was a little affronted, I thought 'Bruce Lee is Bruce Lee, he’s a movie star—he’s not mixed martial arts.' When I got the book I was like 'Really? This is what you think of me, you gonna buy me Chuck Norris' book next?' And then I read the book, and I realised, he WAS mixed martial arts. His whole philosophy was about evolving styles, so he would do jiu-jitsu, he would do Muay Thai, he would wrestle.”

Brad Pickett, who has moved between multiple weight divisions including featherweight, lightweight, bantamweight, and now flyweight, has similar praise for Bruce. “He’s a phenomenal athlete, and he had a great mindset—way before his time. He was the first one back then who wanted to try and mix martial arts, and people back then were like 'no, kung-fu and judo don’t mix'. Breaking old traditions is hard.”

 

Bruce Lee makes his MMA debut on the Xbox One and PlayStation 4 in EA SPORTS UFC.

EA SPORTS UFC is out now. Buy Now