Mixed martial arts journalist, Ariel Helwani, is joining ESPN covering the sport across all platforms including a new weekly show on ESPN+, Ariel & The Bad Guy, with co-host Chael Sonnen.
Helwani has covered MMA since 2006, spending the last two years with SBNation, following a tenure at Fox Sports. The seven-time winner of “MMA Journalist of the Year” has had a number of quarrels with the UFC, even receiving a lifetime ban on access to credentials earlier in 2016.
After reporting Brock Lesnar would return for UFC 200, prior to the UFC being able to announce it, Helwani was escorted out of UFC 199 and told by president Dana While he would no longer be credentialed by the UFC “as long as I’m here.” The ban was revisited and revoked just two days later.
The restriction came a few months after Helwani departed from Fox Sports. Following the ban, Helwani admitted his paychecks, while working for Fox Sports, were signed by Zuffa, UFC’s parent company. For a journalist, this is unusual and even unethical in terms of maintaining an ability to provide unbiased coverage of a sport while being paid by that said sport. Helwani went on to state he believed he was fired by Fox Sports under the influence of the UFC, which was denied by Fox.
Helwani’s most recent employment stop, SB Nation, had no affiliation with the UFC, but ESPN does after recently announcing an agreement to bring exclusive content, including 15 fights to their newly launched direct-to-consumer subscription platform, ESPN+. Even with the partnership, it should be safe to assume Helwani’s ESPN checks will be signed by Disney and not the UFC’s current owner, Endeavor.
“Ariel is a dynamic and talented insider, whose insights and acumen will expand and enhance our multimedia coverage of the mixed martial arts world. Pairing Ariel and Chael, the insider and the fighter, on ESPN+ is going to make for an energetic and engaging show that will be must-see for any MMA fan,” said Rob King, ESPN’s Senior Vice President of Original Content, Newsgathering & Digital Media.
Helwani’s new show with co-host Chael Sonnen, Ariel & The Bad Guy, will debut on ESPN+ June 20th. New episodes will be available each Wednesday, as well as specials before and after major MMA events.