If you had the volume turned down to avoid the conjecture of Rogan and Goldberg last Saturday night, than you missed their mentioning of Jeff Blatnick. For those new to the UFC the name probably did not ring a bell, but the man was a UFC commentator for 7 years – from UFC 4 to UFC 32. Blatnick is also widely credited with coining the term “Mixed Martial Arts” and helping develop the initial unified rules.
Before ever seeing an MMA bout, Blatnick was already a legend in the wrestling world. He qualified for the 1980 Olympic games, but didn’t get a shot at gold due to the United States’ boycott. Prior to the 1984 games Blatnick had his spleen and appendix removed due to lymphoma.
He still qualified and actually won the super heavyweight gold in Greco-Roman wrestling. Prior to 1984 no American had even won Olympic gold in that event.
Fast-forward about 20 years to 2002. Blatnick is no longer with the UFC, and I’m just a 220-pound rising high school junior. The highlight of the summer was attending the star-studded Bruce Baumgartner Heavyweight Wrestling School. There I got to learn from some of the best American wrestlers in history, including Blatnick.
My introduction to the Olympian was not exactly smooth. Another coach at the camp, Brian Keck, is somewhat notorious for embodying the wrestling body type that lacks a neck. It also doesn’t help that his last name rhymes with neck. Boys were being boys and mocking the accomplished wrestler, and it is safe to say that Blatnick did not approve.
Blatnick snuck up on one of the boys and supplexed him to the mat. After rubbing the kid’s face in the mat, he proceeded to dump a bucket of dirty mop water on him. From that point on Keck was off limits. However, later that day Blatnick came up to our room, and spent the whole night talking with us. He relived his Olympic adventures, and recounted some of his encounters with UFC stars like Frank Shamrock and Eugene Jackson. At the time I was the only one who recognized the names.
The night stuck with me. I guess you could say I was star struck. Blatnick was my first interaction with the approachable celebrities of MMA. The way he talked about the sport piqued my interest, and inspired me to investigate further into something I had been following with a passing fancy. Without that night I may have just moved on to another hobby and forgot all about the sport we now call MMA.
We all owe something to him for helping the sport evolve into today’s form. For me it is more. Whenever I watch an old UFC I still have on VHS, or youtube an old NCAA finals match, I hear the same voice that had me enraptured back in the summer of 2002 and I feel the childish excitement that made me a fan on the sport.