It’s a sad day in the world of combat sports, Olympic gold medalist Jeff Blatnick has passed.
Blatnick not only holds one of the United States’ first-ever gold medals in Olympic Greco-Roman wrestling, but he was one of the authors of the Unified Rules of Mixed Martial Arts, which both governs and provides global credibility to the sport today.
Blatnick was one of the most accomplished amateur United States wrestlers of the late ’70’s and early ’80’s. In fact, in 1984, Blatnick proved to be one of the most important and influential wrestlers in the history of the world.
In 1975, he won the heavyweight New York state wrestling title, which earned him a spot on the NCAA Division II wrestling team at Springfield College in Springfield, Mass.
After winning NCAA wrestling championships in 1978 and 1979, Blatnick earned a spot on the 1980 U.S. Olympic Greco-Roman Wrestling team to compete in Moscow. However, due to Cold War tensions and Russia’s war with Afghanistan, the United States boycotted the Olympics, ending Blatnick’s chances to showcase his talent on the biggest global stage.
Blatnick, with the true heart of a champion, hung on through the turmoil of the canceled Olympics, and eventually got his shot at the 1984 Olympics, but not without a major bump in the road while on his journey.
In 1982, Blatnick was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma, which cost him his appendix and his spleen. Hodgkin’s lymphoma is a deadly blood cell-borne cancer that affects the lymph nodes.
Determined to continue on his road to glory, he went through radiation therapy, which held his cancer in remission long enough to, along with fellow American Steve Fraser, win the first-ever United States Olympic gold medals in Greco-Roman wrestling.
The remission Blatnick experienced didn’t last very long after his gold medal performance, so he had to undergo chemotherapy, which ended any chances of competing again as an Olympian. With his deteriorating condition, Blatnick turned to commentating in the 1988 Olympics, because, even though his health was not great, he was still a wonderful man that had great insight that not many can compare to.
Six years after his stint as an Olympic commentator, Blatnick tried his hand as a commentator for Ultimate Fighting Championship 4. Since his MMA commentating debut was a success, he continued as a regular analyst for the organization until UFC 32 in 2001. In 1998, the organization named Blatnick the Commissioner of the Ultimate Fighting Championship.
MMA was still a young sport and was, in its early years, considered highly controversial. Many people felt it was nothing more than an unsanctioned blood sport and wanted it outlawed.
Knowing that the only way to keep MMA alive and respected was to create a set of rules surrounding the sport, a group of supporters worked to form the Unified Rules of Mixed Martial Arts. Blatnick was one of the pioneers that helped create the URMMA.
In the spring of 2000, the California State Athletic Commission voted in the rules that later defined URMMA. A year later, these rules were finalized and agreed upon by the New Jersey State Athletic Control Board, which set the standard across the country, and helped other state athletic commissions sanction MMA. Blatnick was a licensed MMA referee and judge with the NJSAC, and also wrote the Mixed Martial Arts Council Manual.
Needless to say, Blatnick was one of the most important figures in MMA, one of the sport’s biggest innovators and supporters for a very sensitive time in the early years.
Yesterday, Oct. 24, 2012, at the young age of 55, Jeff Blatnick passed during heart surgery. The world has suffered a great loss. Everything Blatnick worked for, fought for, and sacrificed for will never be forgotten.
Olympic gold medalist, Olympic commentator, and MMA pioneer are only a few of the titles that barely represent the life of such an outstanding person. Jeff will be greatly missed.
The MMA Corner sends its thoughts to Jeff Blatnick’s family during this difficult time.
Photo: Jeff Blatnick (L) passed at age 55 (Jeff Sherwood/Sherdog)