Memories of the life and times of Bruce Lee will be rekindled for the martial arts master’s legions of fans this Sunday (US time), and his full story will be introduced to a whole new generation, with the screening of the documentary Be Water as part of ESPN’s 30 for 30 series. UFC boss Dana White will be among those with eyes fixed to a screen. “There is a mystery that surrounds Bruce Lee and I think that he has almost become like this superhero to people,” said White, while shooting a video to help promote the new documentary. “Bruce Lee was human. He had certain attributes. He had speed and he was really the first big breakout star for martial arts. But for fight geeks like me the mystery of Bruce Lee is fun and entertaining. Anything that comes out about Bruce Lee, anything that is new, is exciting.” White had previously explained to the Post why he considered Lee to be the “grandfather of MMA”. “His philosophy back in the day was that no one style is the best,” White said. “You have to have a little piece of everything to be a complete fighter and that was never really proved until 1993 when the first UFC event took place. Bruce Lee was talking about that in the ’60s or early ’70s. He was way ahead of his time. All of his philosophies and all the things he talked about were absolutely correct, they just weren’t proven until he passed away.” Tarantino ‘isn’t a Bruce Lee fan’, says ‘Warrior’ star Tobin The fact that ESPN has chosen to heavily promote Be Water during broadcasts of recent UFC events – including today’s UFC 250 card – reflects the enduring impact Lee has on the world of combat sports, and on sport in general. So, too, does the fact that the Bao Nguyen-directed documentary is following the path blazed in recent weeks by the network’s Sunday night screenings of the 10-part Michael Jordan-led series The Last Dance , about the basketball star’s last season with the Chicago Bulls, and the two-parter Lance , which looked inside cyclist Lance Armstrong’s spectacular fall from grace. Both those broadcasts drew a massive global audience – and the network expects the same from Be Water . Kevin Chang, the UFC's senior vice-president for the Asia-Pacific region, pointed to Lee’s “it factor” as to why he remains prime time, almost 47 years on from his passing. “He was able to command the attention of millions not only with his physical talent, but also his charisma and ability to connect with people,” said Chang. “He was able to open the world’s eyes to the fact that martial arts is a way of life and much more than punches and kicks. The list of UFC fighters who can trace their interest in martial arts back to watching Bruce Lee on screen is countless. He was one of the first celebrities to use his fame as a platform to spread a more meaningful message. “There have always been great fighters in history, but very few that have been able to inspire millions and have a lasting impact the way he has.” ESPN’s ‘Be Water’ revisits day Bruce Lee changed martial arts forever Nguyen’s film had its premiere at the Sundance Film Festival, Utah, back in January and ESPN said it would reveal the often troubled journey undertaken by the martial arts great, who passed away aged 32 in Hong Kong on July 20, 1973 via cerebral oedema, just as his global fame and influence were taking off. “ Be Water includes a trove of archive film that provides a visual tapestry, capturing Lee's charisma, passion, philosophy and wonder of his art,” according to the network. Lee forged his martial arts skills in Hong Kong – under the guidance of the wing chun kung fu masters Ip Man and Wong Shun Leung – but his impact on the global combat sports community first really took root when he made an appearance at the Long Beach International Karate Championships on August 2, 1964. The 23-year-old’s 30-minute demonstration – including the soon-to-be-famous two-finger push-ups and the one-inch punch – struck a chord with a generation of martial artists, and first alerted Hollywood producers to Lee’s talent. Global acclaim eventually followed through such blockbusters as Way of the Dragon (1972) and Enter the Dragon (1973) but Lee’s popularity was at the same time laying the foundations for the explosion of martial arts as a spectator sport that we are witnessing today. For some, the “arm bar” Lee lays on a surprised (and beaten) Sammo Hung Kam-bo at the start of Enter the Dragon was the exact moment when martial arts became officially “mixed” – as a kung fu fighter uses a jiu-jitsu move. In the decade following Lee’s death, fight promotions emerged across the globe as athletes increasingly started to mix their skills up. The UFC itself started in 1993, playing to an audience of about 8,000. The organisation was bought for US$2 million by Zuffa, LLC in 2001, and was sold on to current owners the Endeavor Group for around US$4 billion in 2016 as the sport of MMA first established itself and then flourished. ESPN formalised its own relationship with the sport by signing a five-year, US$1.5 billion broadcast deal in 2018 as it looks to tap into a global audience the UFC has estimated now numbers more than 300 million. As White said, none of this would have been possible without the talent and the vision of Hong Kong’s “Little Dragon”. Today and in the coming days, the Post will look at how Lee’s impact spread – and continues to spread – across the global sporting landscape. We’ll hear from fellow martial arts greats Benny “The Jet” Urquidez and Ron Van Clief (who were both at Long Beach in 1964), pending Hall of Famer Georges St-Pierre and other UFC stars, including China’s own UFC strawweight champion Zhang “Magnum” Weili. We’ll also explore how global sports stars such as the late basketball star Kobe Bryant looked to Lee for inspiration.