The UFC’s Great Mistake
This past weekend at UFC 199, MMA fans witnessed one of the great MMA stories in Michael Bisping finally winning the UFC Middleweight Championship after over a decade of fighting inside the octagon. Unfortunately, Bisping’s win has been overshadowed by one of the most bizarre sports stories in a while.
Ariel Helwani, a reporter for MMAFighting.com was banned from covering future UFC events by Dana White and Lorenzo Fertitta after he broke the story about Brock Lesnar returning to the UFC at UFC 200 in July.
Now for some essential backstory.
Helwani has been covering MMA since 2006 and is known as one of the premier journalists in the MMA world. He graduated from Syracuse University in 2004 with a degree in journalism. He was the lead “MMA Insider” on UFC Tonight on Fox Sports 1 until he was departed in March after parting ways with the network. He continued to report on upcoming fights, injuries, and interview fighters regularly until this past weekend.
In a series of tweets just before the main event, Helwani let the world know just what happened.
Now this was surprising on many levels. Mainly because this doesn’t happen often. The last time a story like this made major news was when Floyd Mayweather had two female ESPN employees banned from covering his bout with Manny Pacquiao. This story became national coverage for two reason. Michelle Beadle and Rachel Nichols worked for the biggest sports network in the country, there was no way this story would not come out. Also, social media gave Beadle and Nichols direct access to the people their content goes to. Making the people aware of the situation right when it happened played a huge role in the resulting coverage by major news networks across the country.
If you want to hear more of Helwani’s story and his past relationship with UFC president Dana White, he went over all the details on his “The MMA Hour Live” podcast.
Sports journalists are the middle man between company and fans. What we read in newspapers, hear on television, and hear on radio is the result of extensive research and confirming with individuals who work for a certain company. Now there are some who go straight to the story with no official confirmation and just want to produce the “clickbait”. But for journalists like Ariel Helwani who pride themselves on their ability to get a story and get it right, this is a huge and disrespectful blow.
Personally, I have been a fan of Helwani’s reporting for a long time. I appreciated the way he covered fights and his interviews after UFC events because his style came across as unbiased and he was always the first to report. He was, and still is, seen as the best MMA journalist today.
For Dana White and the brass at the UFC to remove the best MMA journalist from covering their fights is nothing more than a flex of their own power. The problem is that they don’t understand what they are doing. They don’t understand the role of the journalist. They don’t understand what the journalist does for the fans and the sport.
For him to be upset the Helwani broke a story about an upcoming fight is an example of this. This is what journalists do. They break the story before anyone else can. If it was a controversial story concerning a fighter, I could see where a problem could come up. But it’s a story about a former UFC Heavyweight champion returning to fight in a sport he retired from 15 months ago. From the outside looking in, it’s easy to assume that the reason the Dana and Lorenzo are upset because it ruined the “surprise” moment during the latest UFC 200 promo.
While I hope this situation is resolved and both sides come to an agreement for Helwani to return, stories like this show the overall lack of respect for journalists today. Stories like this don’t come from the NBA, NFL, and other major sports because they understand their roles. If teams ban reporters, it’s not getting enough coverage. The UFC and MMA as a whole is still seen as the young buck compared to other major sports and situations like this show that. They didn’t realize that this was would overshadow an amazing fight. They didn’t realize Helwani’s impact on their fanbase. They didn’t realize how this can affect them going forward. Hopefully they do.