Branko Cikatic, the inaugural K-1 Grand Prix champion and a competitor during the early days of Pride Fighting Championships, has died at age 65.
Cikatic passed away in his native Croatia due to Parkinson’s Disease on Monday. Cikatic had encountered numerous health problems in recent years, as he had a pulmonary embolism in 2018 and then an infection that led to sepsis. It was around that time that he was also diagnosed with Parkinson’s.
“Bad news this morning when I woke up, the great Branko Cikatic has passed away,” UFC Hall of Famer Bas Rutten wrote on Facebook. “Wow, such a strong fighter, I remember watching him fight in the ‘Jaap Eden Hal’ in Holland, he and Ernesto Hoost (another great fighter) had some crazy matches there. 87 wins, 82 KO's, that should say it all. His trainer Thom Harinck, head coach from the world famous Chukuriki gym in Holland did an amazing job with him.”
“He always looked very scary to me, and outside training when he was around he would always look at me stern,” Rutten continued. “I always thought ‘Oof, I don't think he likes me very much.’ Then one day when I was telling jokes to some people, we were in Japan around 2000, he suddenly walked over, first looking stern and suddenly a smile came on his face: ‘You are a funny man Bas Rutten,’ is what he said, and from that moment on, I was relieved, haha.
“Great man, I started emailing again with him in 2017, he went through a crazy illness, horrifying pictures I saw, but you know what? He beat it, and I thought it was behind him and then now this horrible news?…(What) a loss, only 65 years old. My deepest condolences to his family.”
Nicknamed “The Croatian Tiger,” Cikatic made his name in the kickboxing realm, with a professional record 87-9-1 with 82 KO victories. His most notable achievement occurred in April 1993 in Tokyo when he defeated three opponents in one night to become the first-ever K-1 Grand Prix champion. He also compiled a 152-15-3 amateur mark.
He later competed on Pride’s first event, where he was disqualified for kicking opponent Ralph White while he was on the ground in a kickboxing bout. He also fought twice under MMA rules for the Japanese organization, losing to Mark Kerr via disqualification at Pride 2 and falling to Maurice Smith by submission at Pride 7.