Former 1984 Olympic gold medalist in Greco-Roman wrestling and UFC commissioner Jeff Blatnick died at Ellis Hospital in Schenectady, N.Y., as a result of complications from heart surgery. He was 55 years old.
Blatnick was a UFC commentator from UFC 4 to UFC 32 for the Ultimate Fighting Championship, and was named the promotion's commissioner at UFC 17.
A heavyweight in every sense of the word, Jeff Blatnick coined the term mixed martial arts, was instrumental in setting up the Unified Rules of MMA, shepherded the sport during its most vulnerable period, and continued to work in the field as an MMA judge, most notably in New Jersey.
"Jeff should be remembered as one of the most important figures in the growth and formation of MMA in this country," said New Jersey State Athletic Comission Counsel Nick Lembo. "He was the Chair of the MMAC, a key drafter of the proposed unified rules, an outstanding judge, and trainer to new officials."
"Far more than that, he was one of the best men I ever was graced with the pleasure of calling my friend."
Before his involvement with MMA, Blatnick was one of the most storied wrestlers of his generation. He won States for New York's Niskayuna High School in 1975. Next he won Div II nationals, twice, for Springfield College in Massachusetts. Blatnick made the 1980 Olympic team, but was unable to compete due to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, and subsequent Olympic boycott.
Two year later he was diagnosed with Hodgkins lymphoma. Treatment included removal of his spleen and appendix and treatments with radiation, but he came back to not only make the team, but win gold. Blatnick with teammate Steve Fraser were the first Americans to ever win Olympic gold in Greco.
After winning, a tearful Blatnick declared "I'm a happy dude." The sentiment was seen and felt across the planet.
A return of cancer forced his retirement, but his love of the wrestling was such that he worked for decades as a volunteer assistant wrestling coach for his local Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake High School, even as he travelled the world as a motivational speaker and sports commentator.
Blatnick was inducted into the United States Wrestling Hall of Fame in 1999.
He is survived by a wife Lori; his mother, Angela; a brother, Andrew; a son, Ian; and a daughter, Niki.
Jeff Blatnick was humble as he was great. “If I didn’t have cancer, nobody would know who I was,” he said in 2007. “Not a lot of wrestlers make the news.”
For a beatiful piece on Jeff and all his contributions, please check out Dave Meltzer's story at MMAFighting.
Jonathan Snowden did an outstanding job of detailing Blatnick's extraordinary contributions to MMA.
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