Sports fans, and fight fans in particular, have always been a speculative bunch.
There are few things fight fans love more than sitting around with their buddies, often with adult beverages, arguing about things that will never really be settled, such as “Who is the greatest pound-for-pound fighter ever?”
Or perhaps “What if BJ Penn were to fight Bruce Lee?”
Lee was a visionary who brought a scientific approach to martial arts conditioning. But the martial arts master and film icon died at 32 in 1973, so unless someone invents a real-life time machine, the question will go forever unanswered.
In this age of computer-generated imagery, however, such speculation need not be confined to the mind’s eye or alcohol-fueled conversations.
On June 17, video game maker EA Sports released its new-look UFC E3 2014 game, with a feature allowing gamers to simulate dream matches including — you guessed it — BJ Penn vs. Bruce Lee. In a demo video released June 10, which can be seen on YouTube, Lee knocks out Penn in the fifth round of their virtual fight.
That, of course, is just one possible scenario, and fight fans — as well as MMA journalists — being who they are, the speculation intensified in cyberspace.
In a poll on MMAFighting.com, 53 percent of respondents said they thought Penn would win an actual fight, with 47 percent choosing Lee as the victor.
Robert Gardner, BleacherReport.com senior MMA analyst, responded with an article titled “Time Warp Battle: Why BJ Penn Would Destroy the Legend of Bruce Lee.”
Acknowledging Lee’s well-deserved status as the most influential martial artist of the 20th Century, Gardner wrote: “For all his training and technique, though, Lee has never faced someone the likes of BJ Penn.”
“Penn earned his moniker ‘The Prodigy’ by not only earning the level of black belt in just three short years but, rather, by becoming the first American-born winner of the World Jiu-Jitsu Championships at the black-belt level three years into his training,” he noted.
The 35-year-old Penn, one of only two fighters to win championship belts in two UFC weight classes — Randy Couture is the other — said Wednesday night he hasn’t seen the promo video but has heard about it.
“If I was 25, I would’ve kicked Bruce Lee’s a—. Thirty-five might be different,” Penn quipped, and laughed.
Penn, one of MMA’s elder statesmen, is also featured in previous editions of the UFC video game.
“When the UFC video game came out, man, I was so excited,” he said. “That was the biggest thing in the world because I was into Street Fighter II. Then the UFC (game) came out. But nowadays, I can’t keep up, because all these new games came out. And all the kids are so good, all the nephews and them, at playing. It’s hard to beat the kids, because they’re so good. They can beat me up with myself.”
Email John Burnett at firstname.lastname@example.org