For those who paid good money in person or to watch UFC 199 via pay-per-view, you saw one of the best cards the UFC has put on from bottom to top in many years. The show saw Michael Bisping finally capture the UFC Middleweight Title, Dominick Cruz defeat Urijah Faber to retain his UFC Bantamweight Title, Dan Henderson hold back the hands of time to starch Hector Lombard, the women’s strawweight division debut on Jessica Andrade and even a classic fight for the ages as Dong Hyun Kim took on Polo Reyes. Sadly, as amazing as that card was and it was a great one at that, what the majority of the MMA community will remember this event for is for the antics of the UFC towards one of the great MMA journalists in Ariel Helwani.
For those who have been sleeping for the last two days-plus and are unaware of what happened between the promotion and the journalist, here is an all to quick recap. Helwani, while in attendance at UFC 199 to do his journalistic duties, broke the story that former UFC Heavyweight Champion and former WWE World Heavyweight Champion Brock Lesnar was going to return to competition at UFC 200. Helwani broke the story prior to the video package airing that revealed the current WWE stars return, the action of Helwani (right or wrong, it will be addressed later) presumably angered the UFC brass, which lead to Helwani being brought backstage and then promptly thrown out of the building by UFC President Dana White, then being told he was banned for life afterwards.
Also, two of Helwani’s comrades from the website MMA Fighting (MMAfighting.com) in Esther Lin and E. Casey Leydon were dismissed from the event as well, there status for future UFC events have yet to be discussed by any party involved in the matter. Helwani has since aired his side of the story via a multitude of media sources from his personal Twitter account (@arielhelwani), to the Rich Eisen Podcast, to an interview with ESPN’s Dan LeBatard, to an appearance on the Dan Patrick Show, but the most damning of each statement may have come via the very show that Helwani hosts, the MMA Hour.
There is definitely a lot to be talking about when it comes to the whole relationship between Ariel Helwani and the UFC, so let us get started then…shall we!!! For the folks out there that do not remember Ariel before his time on Fox Sports as the “MMA Insider” and backstage interviewer he became, Ariel busted his chops as an MMA reporter/journalist/jack of all trades with the aforementioned MMA Fighting. Helwani though, wanted to be the best that he can be and he was willing to do whatever he can (good or bad depending on your perspective) to get the proverbial job done right. Helwani’s fame would grow and thanks to some folks in the MMA media, was granted credentials to be at UFC events to take care of his previously mentioned journalistic affairs.
The relationship between Helwani and UFC President Dana White has had its ups or downs over the years, something Ariel discussed on the MMA hour, but the ups and downs seemed to come down to an issue of perspective. That perspective being that should Ariel Helwani do his duties as a journalist/reporter and break news stories related to the UFC, whether they were of a positive or negative nature, or should he conceal what he knows to better serve the king of the MMA universe in the Ultimate Fighting Championships and by extension, UFC President Dana White. This is the one key thread to remember because throughout the two hour expose that Helwani put together for the MMA Hour on June 6th, this was the fine line he was walking through his relationship with the UFC, his relationship with Fox Sports and it would ultimately lead to the moment that Helwani (and his co-workers) were sent packing from The Forum at UFC 199.
Ariel Helwani, as was previously mentioned in this piece, wants to be the best darn journalist/reporter he can be and that is evident by what he talked about today on the MMA Hour, but somebody I was speaking to as we were both listening to a sometimes tearful Helwani stated…” he cannot have his pie and eat it to, that’s what he wants.” That may be the entire problem in a nutshell, because Ariel seemingly and by his own admission today (6/6/16) on his show could not fathom or understand in general, why breaking a story or stories over the years would get him “heat” (pro wrestling term folks) with the UFC and UFC personalities. Here is the issue when you are attempting to serve multiple masters and you are trying to please theme all, you cannot do it…plain and simple.
Helwani is first and foremost a journalist who has helped make MMA Fighting one of the greatest MMA websites in the world, no one can argue that. However, one can argue that it is nearly an impossible task to reports news that the UFC (or any other MMA promotion for that matter) does not want leaked (for whatever reason they want) and then still expect a smile and high five from the promotion you just undercut by spilling something they did not want out at that particular point in time. That makes the scenario even more odd and frustrating when at one point in time, Helwani was getting paid by MMA Fighting (for roles we previously discussed), Fox Sports (for his role on UFC Tonight) and by the UFC (for his interviewing duties at events).
Just wrap your head around this for a moment, Helwani was at one point in time serving a trio of masters and could not understand while just “doing his job” would frustrate one or two or even all three of those masters. Let’s just take an example for the moment and look at the most recent story that Helwani just broke, Brock Lesnar’s return to the UFC. However, before we do that, we must first make it very clear that Helwani was no longer receiving a paycheck from either the UFC or Fox Sports at this time, his only duties were for MMA Fighting. So, with all of that being said, let’s take a look at this whole situation, which starts with Ariel reporting the return of Lesnar before the UFC aired the video package. Now, from the perspective of his current employer, MMA Fighting, Helwani did a great job and broke what may be one of the biggest MMA stories of 2016.
Now, let us take a look at this from the perspective of the UFC, which had produced an awesome video package for UFC 200, with the aforementioned Lesnar popping up as a surprise at the end. The UFC had planned and put together all of this, including the contract with Brock Lesnar in secret, but then a few hours before their huge reveal, got scooped and the surprise spoiled by a lone reporter, thus ruining a good portion of the once secretive amount of hard work you were doing. From that perspective, although the penalty for Helwani may have been a little harsh (will discuss later), you can understand while the UFC brass were up in arms about everything. What is even more crazy to me, from my perspective as a guy writing about this from the comfort of his new recliner, is that Helwani does not understand why the UFC brass is mad at him.
(Editors Note: A portion of this piece talking about the length of the MMA Hour was removed by me due to the fact that I got the length of the show wrong, as was pointed out by a reader who e-mailed me about it. I apologize to the readers, Ariel Helwani, the whole staff at the MMA Hour and the shows many listeners for the error.)
But, that is what part two is for, so check it out tomorrow…