Making a living inside the octagon is difficult. But who knew reporting on the UFC could be just as difficult.
As amazing as this may seem, the UFC decided on Saturday night to ban Ariel Helwani of MMAFighting.com for doing his job. Helwani was in attendance for UFC 199 along with colleagues Casey Leydon and Esther Lin. During the evening, Helwani broke the news that Brock Lesnar would return to the UFC for its UFC 200 pay per view. He also reported that Conor McGregor and Nate Diaz would have their rematch at UFC 202.
The UFC was livid that Helwani had the scoop because they wanted to control the message. Their intentions are fine but Helwani was receiving the information from somewhere, so if the UFC wanted to be mad at anyone, it should’ve been with the source who was sharing the information.
Rather than express their displeasure and handle the situation professionally, the UFC took extreme measures, removing Helwani and his colleagues from the building. This was right before the main event. Helwani says that he was told that he was banned for life.
One important piece of information to be aware of is that the UFC has a history of blackballing reporters and outlets who criticize their product or fail to do what the promotions asks of them. The other issue is that Helwani, recognized as the MMA Journalist of the Year for six years straight, has been a target of the promotion for quite some time. He previously worked for the UFC’s television partner FOX as an on-air reporter in 2014. He was denied access for reporting on Bellator, one of the UFC’s competitors. He was also fired by FOX, despite being recommended for the position by Dana White, due to his reporting job conflicting with his television role.
When asked to address the situation, UFC spokesman Dave Sholler offered that “professional standards are to reach out for comment,” but he refused to elaborate beyond that. What’s murky about that request is whether or not the company expects a reporter to not disclose details after they’ve commented on it. Given that White went on record denying the Lesnar story, only to turn around later and confirm it, shows that reporters have to act on what they uncover, not rely on the UFC to be truthful with them.
Helwani said that UFC President Dana White told him breaking the news could have jeopardized the UFC’s agreement with Lesnar, who the WWE was loaning out on a one-off basis. Lesnar apparently was upset that the story got out, which led to White telling Helwani ‘Go cover Bellator (MMA). We don’t want you here.’