Bloodsport 2: Why Daniel Bernhardt Replaced Jean-Claude Van Damme

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Daniel Bernhardt is well-known for appearing in the three sequels to Bloodsport, but why didn’t Jean-Claude Van Damme return to the franchise?

Why did Daniel Bernhardt replace Jean-Claude Van Damme for Bloodsport 2: The Next Kumite? Coming off of handful of his earlier roles in the film industry, including his villainous turn in 1986’s No Retreat, No Surrender, Van Damme finally landed his big break with the 1988 tournament movie Bloodsport. The film would set Van Damme on the path to becoming one of the biggest action stars on the planet, while also effectively setting the template for underground tournament martial arts movies. Despite this, Van Damme was nowhere to be seen in the three Bloodsport sequels that would eventually follow, with all three instead being led by Daniel Bernhardt.

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The first Bloodsport saw Van Damme play a real-life figure, Frank Dux, with its premise of the tournament known as the Kumite being based on Dux’s own purported (and heavily disputed) competitive experiences.  Bloodsport 2 and Bloodsport 3 would both still revolve around the Kumite, with Bernhardt playing the new protagonist, Alex Cardo, with Bloodsport 4: The Dark Kumite seeing him as undercover cop John Keller. As it turns out, Bernhardt’s entry into the Bloodsport series would curiously connect to Van Damme himself.

In a recent interview with Scott Adkins on his YouTube series The Art of Action, Bernhardt revealed that during his early work as a model, he was cast to fight opposite Van Damme in a Johnny Versace commercial. Describing this experience as his first time fighting on camera, Bernhardt says “At that moment in life, I had an epiphany. I just knew this is what I have to do.” Bernhardt stated that he later got a phone call from a producer on Bloodsport 2, with Bernhardt at first believing it to be a crank call and hanging up. Once it became clear that the offer was genuine, Bernhardt later met with the producer, with Bernhardt being offered Bloodsport 2 and signing a five-picture deal, though Bernhardt also mentioned that it was still two years before the movie actually happened. Bernhardt also later learned from Van Damme that he had been “putting everything on hold” with the intent to do Bloodsport 2, but this ultimately didn’t happen.

Bloodsport 3 image pic

Bernhardt also spoken on his frequently mentioned physical resemblance to Van Damme, something that is hard to deny when looking at the box art for Bloodsport 2 showing Bernhardt in the air mid-kick and also displaying his Van Damme-levels of flexibility. Bernhardt mentioned that “My brother looks even more like him than I do“, while also commenting that while he can see their resemblance in pictures of Van Damme, “If you see us next to each other, we don’t look anything alike“. In any case, Bloodsport 2 would prove to be surprisingly on the same tier as the original, with Bernhardt really showing what he can do in the film’s many fight scenes.

In the time since the Bloodsport sequels, Bernhardt has also been heavily involved in stuntwork, and is perhaps more widely known today for his roles as Agent Johnson in The Matrix Reloaded and Kirill in John Wick. Bernhardt will also soon be seen in the upcoming sci-fi action movie Skylin3s and will also reprise the role of Agent Johnson in The Matrix 4. Nevertheless, Bloodsport 2: The Next Kumite marked the beginning of his career in action movies, and as fate would have it, a Versace commercial with none other than Jean-Claude Van Damme would become an unexpected passing of the torch moment between the two. If you want to know the history of martial arts, check out this useful handbook.

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