Jason Lee was introduced to the American wrestling audience in 2016, through the Cruiserweight Classic. The young man from Hong Kong told the WWE Universe about how when he watched TV as a kid, he thought “One day, I want to be Bruce Lee, so I want to show people how to add kung fu to wrestling.” He was eliminated from the tournament in the first round, but that was far from the end of his wrestling career. Today, the twenty-seven-year-old is one of Dragon Gate‘s rising stars, and he might be one of the industry’s most underrated players.
Lee was inspired to start wrestling when he was ten years old “watching WWE on TV in Hong Kong. I thought that it’s a very exciting program, and I want to do it for my life.” He started pursuing his dream as a teenager by training with Ho Ho Lun, the founder of the Hong Kong Pro Wrestling Federation. He debuted as “Jason New” in 2009, when he was just sixteen years old.
In 2012, Lee started traveling in Japan to work with Pro Wrestling Zero1, training in the company’s dojo and returning to Hong Kong every three months to renew his visa. After “maybe two and a half months” in the dojo, Lee was allowed to have his first match for the company, which kicked off a three-year period as a Zero1 regular. He was the first wrestler from the still-young Hong Kong scene to be offered a full-time contract for a Japanese company.
Lee’s persona evolved when he had the opportunity to do more work overseas and wanted to make himself more memorable in the wider wrestling world. When Lee and Lun headed to the UK for a tour of the indies in 2013, Lee says “I was thinking how to perform like I’m from Hong Kong.” He changed his ring surname from “New” to “Lee” to bring Bruce to mind and started adding a kung fu element to his character and using nunchucks in his entrance. He says he’s never actually trained in martial arts, though: “It’s my gimmick only.” And as for the nunchuck skills, “I actually learned from YouTube.”
— ジェイソン・リー(Jason Lee) (@lee_7122) April 16, 2020
A few years later, the Cruiserweight Classic added to Lee’s international resume and fulfilled a childhood dream. “It was a great experience because I always wanted to step in a WWE ring,” Lee says. And after years performing mostly for Japanese audiences, the Full Sail crowd was a change of scene – though American fans weren’t all that different from those in Hong Kong. Lee says that while in Japan fans would typically applaud, then react dramatically “when you have something special… in America and Hong Kong, even you just enter, and they will pop up, make noise.”
Both Lee and his mentor wrestled in the Cruiserweight Classic, but only Ho Ho Lun stayed on with WWE afterward (He left the company in 2017.) Lee realized a career in sports entertainment was not in his future when “I saw the other episodes of the cruiserweight tournament. The guys who were in the first round, they came back for tag team matches or something like that,” but Lee wasn’t invited back after his first-round loss to Rich Swann.
Though he didn’t get a WWE offer, an opportunity for another major company was just around the corner. “I went back to Hong Kong and maybe two months after the cruiserweight tournament, I had a show and some kind of sponsor from Japan got a connection for me with Dragon Gate,” Lee says. “He said, ‘I think you might fit in Dragon Gate style and it might be good for good for Hong Kong Pro Wrestling,’ so he told me to go and try out.”
The sponsor turned out to be right. Lee’s tryout was a success, and after making his Dragon Gate debut in 2017, he quickly fit right in with the company’s wrestling style. The key to that, Lee says, was a lot of drills in the dojo. “Japanese style training is kind of about spirit. Like, you maybe have to do a lot of squats and pushups and cardio. They just want to see your spirit of not giving up; you have to finish strong. But Dragon Gate style, it has a lot of movement and it’s fast, so they do a lot of cardio.” Lee came up with some different moves he could to do fit the promotion’s fast-paced matches, and the work he put in paid off – “Dragon Gate fans remember and like me.”
Since 2019, Lee has been a full-time member of the Dragon Gate roster. He’s held one championship, the Open The Triangle Gate trios titles alongside Masato Yoshino and Naruki Doi, and two of his favorite matches have been unsuccessful title shots with or against Kaito Ishida.
As stablemates in MaxiMuM, Lee wrestled his favorite tag match alongside Ishida when they challenged R.E.D. (Big R Shimizu and Eita) for the tag titles last September. A few months later, Ishida turned heel and Lee had the singles match he says he’s most proud of against his former friend, challenging for his Open the Brave Gate (junior heavyweight) Championship. Lee lost that match, but he’ll have another shot at Ishida this week when the two face off in the first round of DG’s annual King of Gate tournament, which was pre-taped without an audience and will air on the Dragon Gate Network starting May 15.
Beyond this rivalry, there’s still a lot Jason Lee wants to do in Dragon Gate. He especially wants a match with Doi, one of his mentors in the company, and to become Brave Gate Champion. As for his wrestling career as a whole, Lee says, “Actually, my goal was to step into the WWE ring, and I’ve done that. For now, I want to wrestle as much as possible in my life.”