Had it not been for some nasty, fatal cerebral edema brought on by painkillers in 1973, Nov. 27 would have been Bruce Lee's 69th birthday.
Despite a career dominated more by his performances on-screen than any real conflict off-camera, Lee was a martial philosopher widely credited with perpetuating the idea of embracing multiple styles. Dana White has referred to him as the "Godfather" of MMA, which might not be the most appropriate title for a noncompetitor, but not without some merit. Lee's insistence on pulling techniques from different disciplines was complete blasphemy to traditional artists of the era.
He had the right idea; he just wasn't interested in implementing it in competition. (Suggesting it's a good idea to go into space is one thing. Strapping your rear into a shuttle is another.)
Regardless of his personal interests, Lee was cognizant of grappling. He pulled off an armbar in "Enter the Dragon" as a nod to training partner Gene LeBell. He and LeBell would also roll, with LeBell showing him chokes and leg submissions. But Lee was more interested in what worked for movies: Fishing for a heel hook is not as popcorn-ready as a spinning kick to the solar plexus.
Mixed martial arts has a lot of fathers: the Gracies, Art Davie, LeBell, Muhammad Ali, Inoki and a dozen others. It's Rushmore, not a pedestal. But Lee certainly deserves his place.