As the two most influential movie martial artists of all time, Bruce Lee and Chuck Norris formed a symbiotic relationship that involved helping each other to the very height of their profession.
Disrupting the Hollywood system during his rise to prominence in the late 1960s, in such TV series as Batman and The Green Hornet, before breaking American cinema at the turn of the ‘70s, Bruce Lee brought an unprecedented potency to the industry, making him an iconic name in every corner of international culture. Meanwhile, Lee struck a friendship with a far more humble name far from the Hollywood lights, Chuck Norris.
It was whilst competing in the late 1960s that Norris met Bruce Lee, with the iconic screen presence working on The Green Hornet at the time. Developing a strong friendship with one another, the pair became sparring partners, with both athletes eager to learn from each other’s skills.
Shortly after their first encounter, Norris received a call out of the blue from Lee, with the Hollywood actor telling him that he wanted him to fight in the climax of the 1972 movie Way of the Dragon. Facing off against the American cult hero in the final scene of the movie, the fight between Bruce Lee and Chuck Norris in the Roman colosseum has become one of the most iconic cinematic sequences of the 1970s, still holding a great deal of cultural pertinence to this very day.
Recalling the moment in a Q&A with Combat Culture, Norris explains, “At that time I held the world title, and kiddingly I said to Bruce ‘Well, who wins Bruce?’ and he says, ‘I win, I’m the star of this movie”. I say, ‘Oh, I see, you want to beat the world champion, and he said ‘No I don’t, I want to kill the world champion’”.
As two highly competitive individuals, there’s no doubt that there was a rivalry between both Lee and Norris, particularly earlier in their careers when they were both sparring together. Though, as late as the 1970 Lee, was aiming fire at Norris, stating in an interview that he would be able to handle national karate champions Joe Lewis, Mike Stone and Chuck Norris, “almost as a parent would a young child”.
Adding to his arrogant statement, he explains that his superiority would: “Be somewhat disconcerting to watch. It’s like walking into a saloon in the old west and seeing the fastest guy in the territory standing there with notches all over his gun, then in walks a pleasant little fellow who says ‘How many times do I have to tell you you are doing it all wrong and the other guy listens intently’.”
Though they had a healthy competitive feud, Lee and Norris remained good friends, with their urge for winning only spurring both athletes on to bigger and better things.