UFC Shows Its Youth as an Organization
Over the weekend at UFC 199 one of the biggest names in the MMA media, Ariel Helwani, was kicked out of the event before the headlining title fight between Luke Rockhold and Michael Bisping. The news was broken to Helwani by Dana White himself without much explanation other than saying that his reporting was too negative. As the news of this broke, however, it was revealed that the real reason behind being escorted out of UFC 199, and reportedly being banned for life from UFC events, was because he broke the news that Brock Lesnar was returning to the UFC at UFC 200 in July. Helwani also reported the news that the Conor McGregor and Nate Diaz rematch was going to headline UFC 202 in August.
Both of these stories were ones that the UFC wanted to have break during UFC 199 with promos they had put together. As a side note because most of this article will be bashing the UFC to their credit they put together by far the best promos of any league or sport. Now it is understandable that the UFC would want to break the information at their own event and on their timeline, but to ban a reporter for doing his job is a horrible precedent to set.
Helwani did what any good journalist does, he reported the news once he had confirmed it from multiple sources. That is his job and he did it well because he was the first to report on the news. The UFC can try their hardest to have news reported on their terms, but it shows their youth as an organization and a promotion because leagues like the NBA and NFL learned long ago that this is basically impossible. One of the aspects of the UFC that fans have loved, especially transports used to the very shady world of boxing, is its transparency with the fans. They have made a habit of making fights happen that the fans want to see, revealing bonuses and fighters payouts and giving the media and fans press events where there is little to no censorship. Recent events like this one with Helwani and the Reebok sponsorship deal have shown that the UFC has a lot to learn still about running a sports league/promotion.
News is going to break and the UFC is not always going to like the timing or the news itself and that is understandable but to throw ban a reporter for doing so is not the way to handle the situation, and it also is not going to solve anything because Helwani is still going to report breaking news but will likely now not care about who in the UFC might have a problem with it and clearing it with them before doing so. Now they have also created a PR headache for themselves because a lot of the reporting on UFC 199 is about this subject instead of the fact that their were some great fights and they had a 37 year old heavy underdog win a title in his first ever title shot.
On his podcast today, The MMA Hour, a very emotional Helwani described not just UFC 199 but his relationship with the UFC over the past few years and it seems as if it is not the first time something along these lines has happened. The tone of what he said made it clear that the UFC is very sensitive about certain topics and get vindictive when they are reported on. If you watch the podcast it is clear that Helwani has a deep love for the sport and is, understandably, very upset that his relationship with the UFC may have ended for good because he basically did his job too well. Helwani made the comparison that a reporter in the NBA would never be kicked out of the draft for tweeting a rumored trade, and that is such a perfect example. Reporting news once it is confirmed is his job and wether the UFC likes it or not he was hired to do that job and he does it very well.
This all reminds me of something a kid would do, the UFC did not get their way and they basically threw the equivalent of a hissy fit about it. The problem is that they may have severely damaged a mans career for performing the duties of that very career. It is in their rights to do that I guess but in the end there is no positive for either side in doing so.
The fights at UFC 199 were great and that is what I would prefer to be writing about, but because of a childish move by the UFC that is not the case. As a fan I believe that Ariel Helwani has helped the sport and has long been one of the most professional voices in a sport viewed as somewhat of a meathead thing. Banning him will not help that image and hopefully they realize this is not the way to do business and change their tune and not ban Helwani for eternity. It could be a short lived ban though if the rumors are true that the Fertitta Brothers, who along with Brock Lesnar are reportedly who the idea of the ban came from, are looking to sell the promotion.