Michael Shawn Bernardo (28 July 1969 – 14 February 2012) was a South Africankickboxer and boxer from Cape Town. Bernardo was known as Beru-chan in Japan, where he has taken part in K-1 World GPs since 1994. He holds notable wins over Mirko Cro Cop, Andy Hug, Francisco Filho, Branko Cikatic, Stan Longinidis, Gary Goodridge and three consecutive wins over K-1 legend Peter Aerts.
Mike Bernardo was of Italian and English heritage and was born in Fishhoek near Cape Town on 28 July 1969. His surname was actually Barnardo, but most people knew him as Bernardo. When he was younger, bullies often picked on him and beat him up. Bernardo started with Kyokushin to deal with his bullies: “I started Karate when I was, 12, 13 years old. The reason why I started was, because as a youngster I was quite tall but not strong. A lot of children at school were in gangs and they would always pick on me and beat me up because I was a big guy so they could prove their friends they were stronger. I took up martial arts lessons and went back to school and when they started to pick on me again and try to beat me up, I beat them all up.”
Being a keen all-round sportsman, Mike Bernardo tried to do as many sports as he could. Besides karate, he started surfing when he was six, played numerous other sports but the one that he liked to play the most was rugby. After he kept getting sent off for fighting, Bernardo knew he had to make the transition from rugby to fighting sports.
It was under the guidance of former boxing champion Steve Kalakoda where Mike Bernardo received his kickboxing training. He met Kalakoda during his compulsory military service where the latter worked as a physical training instructor in the navy. Bernardo quickly established a fearsome reputation as a heavy-hitting knockout fighter. After fights in South Africa, Italy and Russia Bernardo got invited through one of England’s promoters to fight in K-1. He made his debut in the K-1 World Grand Prix 1995 against Andy Hug. Bernardo pulled off the shocking win via third round stoppage.
One of his biggest successes came early in his career. In 1996, just one year into his K-1 run, Mike Bernardo competed in the K-1 World Grand Prix for the second time. Bernardo faced a tough task as he would meet Peter Aerts in the first round of the tournament. Just as he did against Hug one year before, Bernardo scored a big upset with a huge right cross that knocked the former K-1 World Grand Prix champion out. Bernardo made it to the finals that year, ultimately losing to Andy Hug in a great fight. Bernardo’s other major success took place in 2000 when he won the K-1 World Grand Prix in Fukuoka, beating Jörgen Kruth, Andrew Thompson and then Mirko Cro Cop in the final. He won all three fights that night by KO.
Though he never did win the K-1 World Grand Prix crown, Bernardo proved he could hang with the very best fighters. In his career he faced all of the K-1’s best – including Jerome Le Banner, Andy Hug, Peter Aerts, Ernesto Hoost and Francisco Filho – and at some point in their career, nearly all of them found themselves on the receiving end of a KO. On New Year’s Eve of 2004, Bernardo was going to face Nigerian fighter Bobby Ologun in “K1-Dynamite!”, but couldn’t take part in the event due to a neck injury and retired from K-1.