Today we were hit with the sudden departure of K-1 legend Mike Bernardo, which is a giant hit to the Kickboxing community. Bernardo, who has been retired since 2004 had a good run in the realm of K-1 before being forced to retire after an eye injury. Bernardo, sadly, had to retire before ever seeing success on the highest level of K-1, which is winning the K-1 World Grand Prix. Even though he never won the big one, he was competing during a period where the competition was intense, to the point where the one tournament victory that he did have under his belt was incredibly impressive.
To help honor Bernardo, we are going to take a look at Bernardo's World Grand Prix in Fukuoka run and why it was as special as it was. His first bout of the evening was against Jorgen Kruth, a young Swedish fighter who was looking to make a big splash on the K-1 scene. Kruth had earned his way into the Fukuoka tournament by running through the K-1 Grand Prix Europe 2000 which saw three impressive knockouts over Tony Katoni, Drazo Ordui and Xhavit Bajrami. It was a steep step up in competition for Kruth, but he had a good deal of hype surrounding him leading into his first K-1 event in Japan. Sadly for Kruth, Bernardo had other plans for him, as did his right hand.
It was a picture perfect right hand that left Kruth crawling on the mat and knocked him out of the tournament early on. Bernardo's next fight was against fellow South African, Andrew Thomson. Thomson had a very tough fight with Stefan Leko in the quarterfinals, and actually lost his fight via low kicks, but moved on due to an injury that Leko sustained. Bernardo quickly smelled blood and went for the kill, securing his spot in the finals. (If the embed doesn't start from the right time, click here or skip ahead to 10 minutes.)
This set the stage for a gigantic rematch for Mike Bernardo, as he was moving on to the finals of the Fukuoka World Grand Prix against Mirko Filipovic. Cro Cop had a rough night, taking two hard-fought decisions over Glaube Feitosa and Hiromi Amada, two tough veterans who posed a significant threat at the time. Bernardo and Cro Cop had met almost exactly a year before in the opening round of the K-1 World Grand Prix where Cro Cop knocked Bernardo around, forcing him to the mat three times forcing the ref to stop the fight. Bernardo was quick to swarm on the battered Cro Cop and Beru-chan fought a much more strategic fight against Cro Cop, keeping in close, not allowing Cro Cop to get distance and land his deadly kicks and instead landed a brutal leg kick of his own.
Cro Cop's corner threw in the towel as Mirk had difficulty getting to his feet, putting Bernardo in the winner's circle with a slot in the World Grand Prix. Sadly, Bernardo suffered an injury and had to sit out the rest of the year, with Cro Cop unsuccessfully taking his place against Ernesto Hoost. This tournament served as Mike Bernardo's lone K-1 tournament win and was truly a great, crowning achievement.