Branko Cikatic, K-1’s first ever Grand Prix champion, passed away at the age of 65 in Croatia on March 23rd. Cikatic had been struggling with health issues since being hospitalized for a pulmonary embolism in 2018 and contracting an infection that led to sepsis. He was later diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, which he ultimately succumbed to.
Cikatic started training in Taekwondo and Karate as a teen and switched to boxing and kickboxing when he turned 18. He dominated the European full contact amateur scene in the early 80s, winning 5 European WAKO titles and putting together a 152-15-3 record with 138 KOs.
In 1984, he joined Thom Harinck’s Chakuriki gym in Amsterdam and turned pro. There isn’t much information on his first few years as a pro apart from his picking up of an European Thai boxing title in 1985. From 1987 to 1992, he secured some major fights with the best fighters around lightheavyweight and cruiserweight.
His power, rough style and veteran savvy (a deep bag of tricks ranging from rough clinching to headbutts, elbows and low blows) carried him to two wins over future WBO cruiserweight bocing champion Carl Thompson and allowed him to give tough fights to Don Wilson (a 7th round KO loss), Ernesto Hoost (Disqualification loss), Stan Longinidis (decision loss) and Dennis Alexio (technical draw).
His big break came in 1993 with the inaugural K-1 Grand Prix, a tournament he was invited in as a late replacement for Dennis Alexio. He scored three brutal KOs over Changpuek Kiatsongrit, Japanese star Masaaki Satake and Ernesto Hoost to become the first K-1 champion at 38 years old.
He lost his following fight to a young Andy Hug and returned to defend his title at the 1994 Grand Prix. He should have met his young teammate Peter Aerts in the finals but was robbed in a rematch with Satake in the semis. After losing a rematch to Longinidis, he rematched Hoost and once again brutally knocked him out. He retired to focus on his gym in Croatia following the win over Hoost.
The retirement lasted three years and Cikatic made an unsuccessful comeback to K-1 in 1997 suffering devastating losses to Sam Greco and Mike Bernardo. He left K-1 for Pride and was a big name of its early days. He fought Ralph White in kickboxing at Pride 1, which ended in a no contest after Cikatic kicked a downed White. He transitioned to MMA and main evented Pride 2 against Mark Kerr and got disqualified for grabbing the ropes and illegally elbowing Kerr in the back of the head. He was submitted by Maurice Smith at Pride 7 and retired for good at 45 years old with a pro kickboxing record of 87-9 with 82 KOs.
Cikatic wasn’t the greatest heavyweight kickboxer of all time, but he knocked him out twice. His devastating right hand and will to win by hook or crook made him one of the scariest. His career paved the way for his countryman Mirko Cro Cop, who Cikatic mentored early in his career, and his K-1 Grand Prix win cemented the Croatian’s place in kickboxing history.
Branko Cikatic career playlist: