Bruce Lee vs Jet Li: Who would win?

Bruce Lee and Jet Li are two of the most legendary silver screen warriors in history. The two Kung Fu movie juggernauts took very different paths to stardom, to the point where Lee didn't even survive his. Their personal histories and training are also vastly different, but they do have one important thing in common: They could both kick rear like no one's business. Which, of course, begs the obvious question: Who would win in a fight between the two?

First, a quick glance at their fighter bios, with the assumption that both superstars are at peak power and, you know, alive. At a little over 5'7", Celebheights gives Bruce Lee a slight size advantage over Jet Li, who is slightly over 5'5". Li, however, has more formal accolades than Lee. As Biography tells us, Li spent his youth raking in Wushu championships and touring the world performing as part of the country's most elite martial artists. The same site notes that Lee was an unruly teen who happened to get into Kung Fu, and started studying Wing Chun under Yip (Ip) Man – a legendary martial artist who Li has ironically played in multiple movies. Then again, Lee famously went on to create his own Jeet Kune Do system, while Li mostly focused on his movie career after retiring from competitive martial arts at only 17. At this point, it could go either way. Let's dig deeper!

Would Jet Li beat Bruce Lee in a fight?

Jet Li is a masterful martial artist and arguably one of the shiniest jewels of China's martial arts schooling system. However, it's debatable how well he'd fare in an actual fight. As Jet Li himself says on his website, while his training was extremely rigorous and he excelled over everyone else at a very young age, his training was largely directed toward politically important performances, with painstakingly rehearsed choreography. When he was a boy, he toured the world with an elite group of martial arts performers, so when he got to demonstrate his skills in front of, say, President Richard Nixon, he didn't do it by jump-kicking Tricky Dick in the nose. 

There's also the fact that even if he was a straight-up fighter, his martial art of choice is still Wushu, which Neurologica Blog points out is quite vulnerable against a reasonably well-rounded MMA fighter. The prospect of a for-realsies fight against Bruce Lee doesn't look all that good for Li at this point, but let's see!

Bruce Lee would almost certainly beat Jet Li in a fight

Speaking of mixed martial arts, Fightland points out that Bruce Lee was the "philosophical godfather" of MMA, and his fame-driven persona and tendency to challenge tradition made many classic martial artists see red. This sent quite a few challengers his way, and Lee actually did fight some of his traditionalist detractors. He reportedly knocked out a karateka called Yoichi Nakachi in just 11 seconds, kicking his opponent's skull so hard that it broke. The massively skilled Kung Fu master Wong Jack Man fared significantly better, but Lee still managed to make him yield in roughly seven minutes. That fight took place in 1964, incidentally, and the Bruce Lee Foundation tells us Lee didn't even come up with his "whatever works" -themed Jeet Kune Do system until three years later. Imagine, then, what a fully Jeet Kune Do'd, no-holds-barred Bruce Lee at his prime could do to a master of traditional Chinese martial arts, especially one like Jet Li who has focused his skills on performance over face-punching. 

So, based on all that... Sorry, Jet Li. You're a magnificent martial artist, but Bruce Lee could probably one-inch-punch you to dreamland. Don't be disappointed, though. Black Belt Mag notes that even Chuck Norris – a legitimate and borderline unbeatable fighter who knew Lee personally and sparred with the man — praises the Jeet Kune Do master's abilities to high heaven and gets oddly evasive and philosophical when asked which one of them would win in a fight.