Bruce Lee's Only Official Fight Explained (& Who Won)
Bruce Lee only competed in one official fight. In spite of his reputation as a highly skilled martial artist, Lee was not known for being a professional fighter. Instead, most of the respect that Lee has earned for his kung fu prowess comes from his fights in movies like Enter the Dragon, Way of the Dragon, and Fist of Fury.
That being said, Lee had plenty of experience when it came to real fights. While growing up in Hong Kong, Lee often got himself involved in street fights and even ran around with a gang. Seeking to better his skills, Lee joined a martial arts school run by Wing Chun grandmaster Ip Man when he was 15 years old. Through the rigorous training he received at Ip Man’s school, Lee grew into a competent fighter and enjoyed putting his Wing Chun moves to use in street fights.
When he was a teenager enrolled at the St. Francis Xavier high school in Hong Kong, an opportunity itself presented itself for Lee to fight in a public setting for the first time. Every year, a boxing tournament was held between St. Francis Xavier and another Hong Kong school, St. George’s. Thanks to lessons provided by his school’s sportsmaster, the Wing Chun student learned Western boxing and represented St. Francis Xavier in the annual tournament. At the end of the event, he had to face off against Gary Elms, the winner of the previous year’s competition. Though Lee didn’t have much experience as a boxer, he ultimately succeeded in beating the defending champion in the finals and took home the title for St. Francis Xavier.
Details provided by those present at the 1958 event have provided insight into what actually happened that day [via Bloody Elbow]. Thanks to advice from Wong Shun Leung (Bruce Lee’s primary kung fu instructor at Ip Man’s school), Lee was able to adapt to the rules of Western boxing without abandoning Wing Chun. The constraints of fighting an official boxing match made it difficult for Lee to use all of his Wing Chun moves, Lee was able to incorporate much of his kung fu training into the fight with Elms. Because of Lee’s speed and style, he was able to get in a flurry of punches. According to spectators, Elms took a beating but refused to stay down, which kept the fight going for multiple rounds. But since he was knocked down so many times, Lee had enough points to be declared the winner.
Bruce Lee’s big win over Gary Elms was the last time the martial artist participated in an event of that nature. Exactly why more matches never followed is unclear, but Lee gravitating more toward friendly sparring contests, street fights, and matches like his famous showdown with Wong Jack Man fits with what’s known about Lee’s martial arts preferences. As Lee has said himself, he disliked guidelines, mandatory stances, and traditions, as he always maintained that this wasn’t how real-life fighting worked. Bruce Lee was in his element when he was free to fight as he pleased without being held back by rules.