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Jeff Blatnick, Hughes vs. Trigg II to be inducted into UFC Hall of Fame

Jeff Blatnick, the former UFC announcer and commissioner who wrote the first rule book and gave the sport its name, along with the 2005 Matt Hughes vs. Frank Trigg welterweight championship fight, were named as part of the 2015 class of the UFC Hall of Fame.

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Former Olympic gold medal winning wrestler Jeff Blatnick and the April 2005 fight between then welterweight champion Matt Hughes and Frank Trigg were the first announced inductees for the 2015 UFC Hall of Fame.

The announcements were made on Wednesday night's edition of UFC Tonight.

UFC recently announced a revamping of the Hall of Fame, inducting people in four different categories: Contributors, for non-fighters, Greatest Matches, the Pioneer category for fighters who started their career before 2001, and the Modern Fighter category, open to fighters who started their careers after 2001 and are at least 35 years old.

The Pioneer Fighter and Modern Fighter recipients will be announced this weekend.

The induction ceremony will take place on the afternoon of July 11, at the UFC Fan Expo in Las Vegas.

Lori Blatnick, the wife of Jeff, will be accepting the award on behalf of her husband, who passed away on October 24, 2012, due to heart failure from what was supposed to be a relatively minor heart operation.

"I thought it was awesome," said Lori Blatnick when she was called earlier this week by Dana White and given the news. "He did so much behind the scenes to help out, to help make the sport what it is, whether it was the rule book, or renaming the sport to make it sound better. He'd sit in his chair for hours and hours and work on the rule book and other things. He was thinking about it constantly. I'd always see his mind working. He was very humble. He'd never take the limelight and the spotlight. He did it because he wanted to do it. He didn't need the recognition, but I think he deserved it, and he did contribute so much to its success in what it is today, that almost nobody knows about."

"Jeff Blatnick is a name that newer fans may not be familiar with, but this guy was a huge part of the UFC's development in the 1990s," the UFC said in a statement. "He pushed for greater regulation, unified rules, and--because he was an Olympic gold medalist in wrestling -- he had credibility with everyone in the sport. It is our honor to recognize his huge contributions to the UFC by inducting him into the Hall of Fame."

Blatnick started with UFC as an announcer in 1994. At the time, he was a well-known sports figure in the 80s for coming off a battle with cancer and winning the gold medal in the 1984 Olympics as a super heavyweight Greco-Roman wrestler. He and Steven Fraser that year were the first two Americans ever to take gold medals in that sport. If there had been such a thing as the ESPY Awards, he would have won most inspirational athlete that year in a walk. He was working as a sports announcer and had covered the previous two Olympic games and a number of national wrestling tournaments.

He quickly became a big fan and a student of what few considered a sport at the time. At first it was because he considered it an avenue for wrestlers to make money with their skills. The original owners of the company, Semaphore Entertainment Group, made him UFC commissioner in 1998. He, along with current UFC matchmaker Joe Silva and referee John McCarthy, wrote the modern sport's original rule book that year, and also created the first judging criteria.

He also gave the sport its name.

On May 15, 1998, at the fighters meeting hours before the start of a UFC show in Mobile, Ala., Blatnick was introduced as the new commissioner. He told fighters that his goal was to improve the safety of the sport, to prove to outsiders it was a legitimate sport, and to work with athletic commissions to get the events regulated and sanctioned. At the meting, he said that he wanted to change the name of the sport from No Holds Barred, or NHB, as it was known, to Mixed Martial Arts, because he felt it was a better description and also a lot more politically feasible. He noted that, in actuality, there were moves and holds that were barred.

He did not create the term itself, which had been used in Japan since shortly after World War II for judo vs. karate matches involving Masahiko Kimura, and was later a term for mixed style matches with pro wrestlers against athletes from other sports, like the 1976 match between Muhammad Ali vs. Antonio Inoki. But he was the person who gave the modern sport its name.

Over the next several years, Blatnick worked at both attempting to get major athletic commissions to sanction UFC events and get the events back on pay-per-view. After UFC was a huge success on pay-per-view from 1993 to 1996, pressure from Arizona Sen. John McCain led to cable systems dropping airing the shows. Without pay-per-view, the UFC went through an economic collapse and was on the brink of death by 2000.

Blatnick, McCarthy and Frank Shamrock, at the time UFC's biggest star, were the point men in trying to get the sport legalized in different states, sanctioned, and put back on pay-per-view. While McCarthy and Shamrock were well spoken in their arguments, nobody from that generation of decision makers knew who they were. Blatnick, on the other hand, was a genuine national sports hero, who had been personally appointed by Bill Clinton to the President's Council on Physical Fitness and Sports in a Rose Garden ceremony. No matter how powerful anyone was in the television industry, they would make time to talk to Blatnick.

He noted he was able to get in the door, but it was much harder getting in people's head. It remained a difficult fight, with far more losses than victories.

Blatnick's biggest win was his work in getting MMA, the sport he named, regulated in New Jersey in 2000, where the current unified rules came into play. With a few modifications, such as the ban of knees to a downward opponent, the rules put in place were the same as the rule book Blatnick, Silva and McCarthy had written years earlier. The next year Nevada agreed to regulate UFC. The sport returned on a national basis to pay-per-view in 2001.

While he had a parting of the ways with the modern UFC ownership when the decision was made to change the announcing team and go in a different direction, he remained involved in the sport as a judge until his death. He passed away before getting to see one of his life's dreams, which was an MMA event in Madison Square Garden, as he had worked for years, meeting with state legislators, on that goal.

Blatnick was already inducted into the National Wrestling Hall of Fame in 1999. He's also achieved other honors, such as having a wing at Springfield College, where he was Division II national wrestling champion in 1978 and 1979, named after him. He also has a park in his home town and his old high school gym named after him.

Blatnick was also a motivational speaker, and a hero to cancer patients around the country. Whenever someone would bring up suffering from cancer as a negative, Blatnick would respond by saying, "If I didn't have cancer, nobody would know who I was. Not a lot of wrestlers make the news."

The Hughes-Trigg welterweight title fight was a rematch of a match on November 21, 2003. Hughes, one of the most dominant fighters of his era, won that one via choke in the first round.

Trigg had won two fights, including a first-round knockout of Dennis Hallman, who had submitted Hughes twice before Hughes had won the championship, in the interim. He was also champion of the rival WFA promotion. Hughes was working on an 11-fight winning streak.

The fight didn't last long, but it was memorable, the highlights of which play as part of a video montage at UFC events to this day. There had been bad blood between the two before the fight, made worse when Trigg went to kiss Hughes right at the start.

Trigg had Hughes in serious trouble. Hughes crumbled from an undetected low blow. Trigg was pounding on Hughes and seemingly had him in a rear naked choke. It appeared he was seconds away from scoring what would have been one of the biggest upsets in UFC history. Then, almost like in a movie scene, Hughes broke the choke, picked Trigg up, ran across the ring with him and slammed him to the mat, which to this day is one of the most memorable moments in UFC fight history. Hughes quickly put Trigg away in 3:54 with a rear naked choke.

"I've said it a million times over the last 10 years, Hughes vs. Trigg II is one of my favorite fights ever," said White. "In four minutes, it showed everything that is great about the UFC."

"When I got my hand raised, I thought I'd just come through a tough fight," Hughes said. "It was only afterwards, when my team were congratulating me on this great win, that I started to realize this wasn't just another fight. Then Dana called me a few days later telling me it was the best fight he'd ever seen. In the years since, I get asked about that one rematch with Trigg about as much as I do any big fight I've ever been in.

"I occasionally get invited to speak to servicemen, and I try to speak to them about never giving up when they are in bad situations. The fight I use as an example is the second Trigg fight. I was in a very bad situation. I'd been hit low, I was hurt, rocked, Trigg had my back, and he had me in a choke. But I didn't panic, and as long as you don't panic, you don't quit on yourself and you have a little time, you can get out of even the worst of situations."

"This is a great honor," said Trigg. "Every fight has a winner and a loser, but I am very proud of that 10 years on, people still ask me about this fight. I may not have won the UFC title in that fight, but this goes some way to make up for that."

Hughes had already been named to the UFC Hall of Fame as an individual in 2010.

Blatnick is the second contributor named to the Hall of Fame, after Charles "Mask" Lewis, who pioneered the TapOut brand. Hughes vs. Trigg would be the second fight in the Hall of Fame, along with the 2005 Forrest Griffin vs. Stephan Bonnar fight.

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