Bruce Lee had a hard-earned reputation as one of the toughest men who ever lived. The common perception was that the man seen on the big screen was pretty much the one you might have met off it, and Lee was reportedly often called out on-set, and out on the street, by fellow fighters trying to make a name for themselves.
Lee dispensed with them all, of course, and he hoped to inspire generations of Hongkongers into combat sports, through both his film roles and the martial arts philosophy he followed.
Four decades after Lee’s death and there are two modern-day Hong Kong warriors preaching the same message.
That’s kind of the culture [in Hong Kong] – girls shouldn’t be fighting … They don’t like to have people come into their personal space. Ironic given how crowded the city is, but hopefully I can help change that mindset
– Ramona Pascual
On Saturday night, 28-year-old Ramona Pascual (2-0) becomes the first woman from Hong Kong to fight for a world mixed martial arts title when she faces off against Singapore-based American Jennifer Leigh Norris (2-0) for the IMPI World Series title in her home town.
Pascual admits to finding the mindset today in Hong Kong “a bit strange” considering the connection the city has to Lee and his iconic status. The message the one-time rugby union star wants to send is clear.
“I want women in Hong Kong – and Asian women everywhere – to realize that it is OK to fight and to train in martial arts,” says Pascual.
“That’s kind of the culture here – girls shouldn’t be fighting, or doing contact sports. They don’t like to have people come into their personal space much. Ironic given how crowded the city is, but hopefully I can help change that mindset.”
MMA is exploding in popularity across Asia, as it is across the world, and Pascual hopes her efforts inside the cage will attract new fans, and international promoters on the lookout for fresh talent.
“At first MMA wasn’t really for women, but it has grown,” says Pascual. “Organizations such as IMPI have caught on in Hong Kong and are having more and more women fighting. Now we just have to get more women involved in the sport.
“I know I have to get a record together. I was told to build myself locally first. The more exposure you get the better. You just have to take the opportunities when you fight and put on a good show. The more I fight and the more I win, the better it will be for me and for the sport here.”
Rex Tso Sing-yu knows exactly how that works. As Hong Kong’s first professional boxer – incredible as that statistic may seem – the 29-year-old holds an impressive 21-0 record in the super flyweight division, with 13 knockouts, and an impressive attitude to boot.
“I want to be the new Bruce Lee,” he says. “I want Hong Kong to have a new hero and that’s why I am working toward a world title fight. I want to become the first Hong Kong fighter to hold a world title.”
Tso kept those hopes alive, knocking out Japanese Hirofumi Mukai on March 11 to keep his streak alive. His management are now looking for options as Tso’s world ranking continues to improve and he moves closer to that elusive title shot.
“I grew up watching and admiring Bruce Lee and I want to be just like him. I want to make Hong Kong proud.”