From 2010 to 2015, Ariel Helwani was named MMA Journalist of the Year every year. That, however, didn’t stop Dana White from escorting him out of UFC 199 on Saturday, revoking his credentials and banning him for life for breaking a story.
Helwani wound up being reinstated, but why is reporting UFC news – even if it beats the UFC to the punch, no pun intended – a bad thing?
“That is, I think, a question for them,” Helwani said on CBS Sports Radio’s Tiki and Tierney. “I don’t think it’s a bad thing. I’m certainly not going to stop doing it because that’s my job. I’m an MMA journalist no different from Peter King in the NFL or Adrian Wojnarowski at Yahoo! or Adam Schefter at ESPN. This is a part of sports. People like to get their news from quote-unquote insiders, journalists, whatever you want to call them. They, for whatever reason, like to either announce things on their own or disseminate the news to certain partners or platforms. I get it from their standpoint, but sometimes the best-laid plans of mice and men often go awry. My job is to get the news. . . .They kept telling us there was a big slot yet to be filled (for UFC 200), a big name. So to me, that’s like a flashing red light in my face. I’m going to try to find the name – not because I’m being malicious or trying to be evil, (but) because that’s my job.”
Helwani tweeted that Brock Lesnar would fight at UFC 200.
“It’s big news, there’s no doubt about that,” Helwani said. “But again, it wasn’t any earth-shattering, deep, dark secrets that makes the UFC look bad. In essence, it’s positive news because people are excited about it.”
The UFC informed Helwani that it was not happy he reported this news, and, right before the main event at UFC 199, was asked to see Dana White. Helwani respectfully declined.
“A few minutes later, another member of the PR staff came and said that I have to go to the back now, that there’s no room for discussion here,” Helwani recalled. “I said, ‘Okay, I’m bringing a colleague with me.’ I went to the back and Dana was visibly upset, he was red in the face and said, ‘You’re out. You’re not welcome here anymore. You’re banned. You can go cover Bellator. You’re too negative. Lorenzo Fertitta doesn’t like you. We don’t want you here anymore.’ I tried to reason with him and (said), ‘How is this any different than any other sports journalist and what they do?’ He didn’t really want to have a discussion about the whole thing. Some other things were said, but I don’t really want to share those at this time.”
Helwani didn’t feel physically threatened, but said he’s “had some issues in the past along those lines.”
“That’s why I brought a colleague of mine,” he said. “I didn’t want to see that happen again. I just told him that I really appreciate everything he has done for me because Dana has really done a lot for my career and he has really given me a lot of time. I hold no ill-will toward him or Lorenzo or anyone at the UFC. I shook his hand and I said, ‘I hope that you will reconsider this, but if you want me out, I will leave.’”
Helwani, contrary to reports, was not told to not break the news on Lesnar.
“Well, Joe Rogan went on his podcast and said someone at the UFC told me not to put it out there because jobs will be lost as a result,” Helwani said. “That is 1,000 percent inaccurate. No one at the UFC ever told me that jobs would be lost if I reported news. That’s kind of a ludicrous thing to say to anyone. And if I’m being honest, I’m a little disappointed that he put that out there without even talking to me. He got that from Dana White. He’s a close friend of Dana White’s, and Dana and some other people at the UFC believe there’s a mole at the company feeding me information. That is also 1,000 percent inaccurate. There is no mole. There is no singular person that I planted within the company to give me news. Also a ludicrous idea.
“There are many people in this sport that know a lot of things that I talk to, that I’ve developed relationships with,” Helwani continued. “They’re called sources. This is journalism. It’s 101. There isn’t someone that’s just sitting somewhere feeding me stuff every day. They seem to believe that, which, to me, is kind of a compliment that they think this news is so secretive that there can only be one person giving it to me, but they have to understand when they book a fight or do something, there are fighters and managers and coaches and teammates. There’s a lot of people that find out this stuff and I talk to a lot of them for various reasons every single day. That’s how I find it out – through hard work, through journalism.”
Helwani is happy to have been reinstated, but ultimately he wants MMA journalists – and all sports journalists – to be treated fairly. Sadly, Helwani’s situation is not unique.
“This has happened in the past,” he said. “Other journalists have been banned for different reasons. That’s unfortunate. I don’t know the full stories there, but this has been happening for a little bit. Just for you guys to have me on your show is very important for the greater good of the sport. We live in an MMA bubble here, and the fact that now you guys know about it, I think, is important. Hopefully these things don’t happen to not only myself but anyone who wants to report on this sport or any sport out there.”