MMA fighters paying tribute to Bruce Lee

Rod Mar for ESPN.com

In the past two months, mixed martial arts fans might have noticed the letters R-Y-U on the backs, chests and legs of fighters during UFC events.

It’s a new MMA clothing line, but it’s also a philosophy.

RYU (prounounced ROO) stands for Respect Your Universe, and the company has teamed up with the Bruce Lee Foundation to offer a new product that inspires both MMA fans and athletes, as well as fans of the legendary master who revolutionized martial arts, entertainment and inspired a sport. Lee died in 1973, but his philosophy and teachings live through many of today’s MMA fighters.

The limited-edition Warrior hoodie debuted early this month. Stitched on the hoodie is Lee’s mantra: “Walk On,” which resonates with MMA fighters who persevere through adversity.

Call UFC lightweight Jamie Varner a fan.

For Varner, overcoming adversity isn’t even the half of it. After wresting the WEC lightweight belt from “Razor” Rob McCullough in 2008 and holding the championship for almost two years, he lost the belt to current UFC lightweight champion Ben Henderson.

Varner went through a period of soul-searching, during which two losses and a draw had experts saying he was done. But in his UFC debut, he knocked out rising star Edson Barboza and put himself squarely into contention discussion. He took the fight with Joe Lauzon at UFC on Fox on Aug. 4 on short notice and gave it his all, including his hand, breaking it the process. But he pressed on, as Lee instructs.

“I felt Round 1 was definitely mine and Round 2 was close,” Varner said. “Despite breaking my hand I was able to still land some elbows and other strikes. If my hand wasn't broken, maybe the third frame would have gone different. Either way, I’ll take some positive out of the fight, and I'll come back even stronger.”

And as Lee taught, Varner knows to respect his opponents, win or lose.

“My hat is off to Joe [Lauzon]," Varner said. "He is a class act and a top fighter in this division."

Often considered the father of modern mixed martial arts, Lee would have been a fan of what the UFC and RYU have done with the sport, says Alex Stephens, senior vice president of Bruce Lee Enterprises.

“Bruce Lee would have definitely been a fan of what the UFC is doing,” Stephens said. “His daughter Shannon said it herself, too. And fighters like Jamie and Georges St. Pierre, Jon Jones, Stephan Bonnar and Anderson Silva represent that -- fighting is not a grudge match. It is a test of skill and our product helps train you for that test.”

As for the Warrior hoodie, consider Varner a fan as well, especially considering the intense physical training he engages in. Lee believed much of the martial arts ignored fitness, but he didn’t. And like the modern MMA fighter, he is obsessed with being in peak physical condition.

“It fits my rigorous training schedule that encompasses MMA training, swimming, weightlifting, CrossFit and more,” Varner said. “Being associated with a brand that also aligns with Bruce Lee is awesome.”