Jeff Blatnick, who served as a mixed martial arts referee and was formerly a commentator for the UFC, has died due to complications related to heart surgery. He was 55 years old. WYNT in Albany, New York was the first to report the news.
Blatnick was a two-time Olympian, winning a gold medal in Greco-Roman wrestling in the super heavyweight division in 1984. Blatnick's accomplishment was impressive both because his opponent whom he defeated to win gold had tested positive for performance enhancing drugs and he had been diagnosed with Hodgkin's lymphoma in 1982. After extensive surgery resulting in removal of major internal organs, Blatnick overcame the disease and moved on to medal at the next Olympic games.
He later served as the commentator for the UFC during the organization's Semaphore Entertainment Group (SEG) days, from UFC 4 in 1994 to UFC 32 in 2001. Blatnick was also a pioneer in establishing a mixed martial arts rules set known as the Mixed Martial Arts Council Manual, which served as the precursor to the Unified Rules of Mixed Martial Arts. He was a licensed judge and referee in the state of New Jersey.
Blatnick was also an instrumental figure in lobbying on the sport's behalf to television companies, relevant legislative bodies and other key groups.
"The UFC sends its sincerest condolences to the family and friends of former commentator and judge Jeff Blatnick, who passed away Wednesday after complications following heart surgery," said a UFC statement posted on their website. "A 1984 Olympic Gold medal winner in Greco-Roman wrestling AFTER battling cancer, Blatnick was a pioneering force in mixed martial arts who introduced countless people to the sport as a UFC commentator from UFC 4 through 32. Blatnick also worked closely with athletic commissions regarding the sport he loved, and he would later serve as an MMA judge, even working several UFC events."
The Olympic gold medalist stayed involved with wrestling, serving both as a high school coach and commentator for USA Wrestling events on NBC Sports.
MMA Fighting spoke with Blatnick in June of this year at the Beat The Streets USA Wrestling event in New York City about the U.S. men's freestyle wrestling team, MMA judging, UFC 148 and more.