Jeff Blatnick died yesterday at the age of 55 due to complications from heart surgery. You may remember him as that giant bastard with the weird teeth who commented at UFC events from 1994 to 2001, but he was much more than that. He was also an Olympic gold medalist in Greco Roman wrestling, a feat made more impressive due to the fact that he was diagnosed with Hodgkins Lymphoma two years before the Olympics. He was also the main guy pushing for rules and regulations during the wild west days of SEG ownership. Here he is talking to Jonathan Snowden about how he worked with Joe Silva and Big John on the first set of ever expanding MMA rules:
“The UFC created a manual,” Blatnick told me. “We covered everything from conflict of interest for the judges and referees to the basics of how to regulate the sport. The job was given to me, but I had a lot of help from John McCarthy, Joe Silva, and many of the fighters themselves. I wanted to get a handle on what people thought the right way to do things was.
“What is the right length of a round? How could we balance the rules to be fair to both grapplers and strikers? It all came together cleanly and we formed the Mixed Martial Arts Council. From there we had to change things as fighters pushed the envelope. When Tank Abbott tried to throw Cal Worsham over the fence. When a Japanese fighter grabbed his opponent’s glove and almost turned it inside out. When Mikey Burnette grabbed Pat Miletich’s shorts for almost an entire 15 minutes.
“Anything that popped up, we had to address. Things you never thought of, like Phil Baroni licking Matt Lindland’s face. Finger in an orifice. As fighters pushed the envelope we had to respond.”
Blatnick was also the guy pushing the term ‘mixed martial arts’ over slightly less polished names like no holds barred, vale tudo, and human cockfighting. After Zuffa took over and ditched his goofy looking ass, he went on to work hand in hand with the NJSAC to create what are now known as the Unified Rules of MMA. Right up until he died he was an active mixed martial arts judge and a supporter of the sport. He tirelessly worked to try and get MMA legalized in New York state, and it kinda blows that he didn’t get to live to see a fight at Madison Square Garden.
RIP Jeff Blatnick. You were the first UFC commentator that didn’t suck balls.