Last October, the worlds of MMA and wrestling lost a true pioneer. Olympic Gold Medalist wrestling champion Jeff Blatnick passed away at the too young age of 55. Jeff was a staple at NJ MMA events, serving in various officiating roles, such as referee and judge. I had the distinct pleasure and honor of working with Jeff many times, and I sorely miss his upbeat personality and vast knowledge of the sport. Jeff is still mourned by many people in the sport, including his dear friend Nick Lembo. In the piece below, writer Matthew Roth recounts a dinner he had with Nick Lembo, where Nick talked with great insight about Jeff Blatnick's myriad accomplishments. It's a moving and touching tribute to the man who helped make MMA what it is today.
Remembering Jeff Blatnick: Dinner with Nick Lembo
by Matthew Ross
Last year the MMA world was rocked with the news of Jeff Blatnick’s passing. For many fans, they learned of Blatnick’s life after his death. He didn’t do a lot of press and tried to stay out of the media spotlight as much as possible. For others, it hit extremely close to home not only for what he contributed to the sport but also for the legacy that he left behind.
And then there are those that considered him a friend. They are still trying to come to terms with his death and the emptiness that was left in the months that have followed. One of those people is NJSACB counsel Nick Lembo.
I consider Nick a friend. Whenever I travel back to New Jersey, I try and meet up with him for dinner or drinks, to talk about MMA or just talk about life. This past weekend, I was home for the World Series of Fighting’s second card, which was held in Atlantic City. We planned to celebrate Jeff’s life over some beers and drink to his memory.
Those planned beers almost didn’t happen as the Jersey shore was hit with snow and rain on Monday and driving conditions weren’t exactly optimal. But Nick and I decided to meet up anyway at a small Irish pub in Forked River, to talk about Jeff Blatnick.
I could tell right away that it wasn’t going to be an easy discussion for Nick. Jeff’s death hit him extremely hard, not only because they worked together, but also because Jeff was and always will be one of Nick’s closest friends.
With dinner finished and several beers consumed, it was then when Nick started to open up about his friend Jeff.
“I had known Jeff from his wrestling days before MMA. He was a legendary figure in the New York and New Jersey area. He’d frequently give seminars and motivational lectures, so he was a legend.”
“As much as New Jersey is a wrestling state, I remember the first time that the Pennsylvania commissioner asked for some judges and I recommended, as I would to anyone in the world, Jeff Blatnick. It was a Western Pennsylvania venue and Jeff was saying how he was the most popular guy there. Pictures and autographs, things that just didn’t happen to him while he was judging in Atlantic City. He was a big time celebrity out there.”
Read the rest here: Remember Jeff Blatnick: Dinner with Nick Lembo