Bruce Lee thought Muhammad Ali would “kill” him in a fight

Bruce Lee thought Muhammad Ali would “kill” him in a fight

As well as an iconic movie star of the mid-20th century, Bruce Lee was also known as one of the most dangerous men in the world with his bare hands. A multifaceted star recognised for his philosophical worldview and sagacious attitude to life, Lee starred in such movies as Enter the Dragon, The Green Hornet and Way of the Dragon after winning a high school boxing tournament in his youth.
Though, despite being known as a deadly fighter, Lee only took part in one official fight, even if he had plenty of experience sparring at a martial arts school, with the icon being better known for his on-screen acrobatics and sagacious attitude. One of Lee’s most influential imprints appeared in The Warrior Within by John R. Little, where Lee wrote: “Empty your mind. Be formless, shapeless, like water…now water can flow – or it can crash. Be water, my friend”.

A thinker as well as a fighter, Lee took inspiration from a number of iconic figures, including martial arts expert Koichi Tohei and the Indian wrestler Ghulam Mohammad Baksh Butt, but one unlikely icon who informed his style was the indelible boxer, Muhammad Ali.
So inspired by the work of the three-time world heavyweight champion, who defended his belt 19 times, Bruce Lee would teach the students who trained under him to pay particular attention to the boxer’s acclaimed footwork and trace the flow of his body movement. Inspired by the boxing icon, Lee even copied Ali’s footwork, using the technique to off-set and confuse his opponents.

Speaking about his brother’s obsession with the boxer, Robert Lee states, “After training, Bruce mostly spends his time in the study, he has a videotape machine that plays tapings of Mohammaed Alli…He was open to all these different types of influences. What he would study would be where his power was coming from, and he would think about what worked better for his particular body”.
As with any and all fandoms, lovers of Lee and Ali across the world couldn’t help but compare the two athletes, thinking, ‘who would win in a fight?’. Turns out the fans weren’t the only ones, however, with Lee obsessing over the very same fantasy.

Though the fight never actually happened, Lee gave his impression of what might happen through an account detailed in the 1987 book, The Making of Enter the Dragon. “Bruce set up a wide full-length mirror to reflect Ali’s image from the screen. Bruce was looking into the mirror, moving along with Ali…Bruce was fighting in Ali’s shoes,” the book fascinatingly states, before revealing what the martial artist thought might happen if they met in the ring.
Speaking to Lee on the set of the 1973 film Enter the Dragon, director Robert Clause recalls the actor stating, “Everybody says I must fight Ali some day…I’m studying every move he makes. I’m getting to know how he thinks and moves”. But despite his studies, Lee doubted his chances against the iconic fighter, humorously explaining, “Look at my hand…That’s a little Chinese hand. He’d kill me”.

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