Despite having about 6 more months to go in the calendar year, UFC 199 could arguably be considered card of the year. From the possibility of Hendo’s final bout ending in spectacular vintage Dan Henderson fashion to Max Holloway’s “Lets Bang Bro” in the final 10 seconds of the fight, UFC 199 was not short of instant classic MMA moments (shout out to Michael Bisping finally getting his title shot and capturing UFC gold). Unfortunately UFC 199 may also be known as Ariel Helwani’s last live UFC show as he was banned for life from any future UFC events. The story has already begun to pick up traction, showing up in huge media outlets such as Forbes and the Washington Post.
Helwani, who’s widely considered the best MMA journalist currently in the game, was escorted out of The Forum arena before the main event of the evening, being stripped of his credentials along with two of his associates (Esther Lin and E. Casey Leydon). The heinous offense he committed to receive such punishment was simply doing his job as a journalist and reporting accurate and swift news revolving around the world of Mixed Martial Arts. More specifically two pieces of information was given to Ariel from one of his countless sources he’s undoubtedly gained during his 10 plus year career, the finalization of McGregor-Diaz 2 and perhaps the biggest story of the night, Brock Lesnar’s return at UFC 200 (Mark Hunt being his opponent as announced by Brock himself on Sports Center). According to some sources, Helwani breaking the return of Lesnar hours before the UFC was what directly lead to the banning.
This is not the first time Ariel and the UFC has had a conflict of interest that resulted in drastic actions taken at Helwani’s career. As recently as March, Helwani was abruptly “let go” from Fox, the reasons not exactly made clear, but heavily hinted at being due to an interview he had with top WelterWeight, Rory MacDonald. In said interview, discussion of free agency was a major topic, MacDonald preparing to fight out his last fight on his current contract, and publicly stating his willingness to sign to the promotion that’s willing to pay him what he believes he’s worth as a fighter, which may not necessarily be with the UFC. Helwani praised MacDonald on his honesty on the battles of contract negotiations, but also expressed that it’s something more fighters should consider, a sentiment UFC/Fox disagreed with whole heartedly.
These bullying tactics by the UFC comes off as juvenile and petty and in no way meets the professional standard they claim to strive for in making MMA a legitimized sport. Instead of lashing out on the media for doing their job, call me crazy, but seeking out the individual(s) that continue to leak their information out to the presses, would be a more logical and civil course of action. Ariel has always maintained a strong professional code of conduct and has, from my knowledge, never released any information that would be considered off the record or had some sort time sensitive stipulation. This is not to say I don’t see how the higher ups within the UFC could be frustrated with the fact that they would have preferred releasing this information on their own terms, but truth be told, that’s should not be any of Ariel’s concern because again, he was just doing his job as the best damn MMA journalist, nor does it warrant the treatment he received Saturday night.
Today Ariel spoke his side of the story on his show “The MMA Hour”, I personally haven’t had a chance to listen, but advise all to check it out when possible to get any further details on this ongoing situation and to also show our support to Ariel. We all love this sport and the product UFC presents, but this back stage thug like behavior is unacceptable, and should be viewed as a huge misstep for the UFC. Ariel won’t admit it as he’s an undeniable professional and at all times maintains an unbiased stance on fighters, but it’s clear from past interviews, Michael Bisping definitely inspires him a little more than others, and missing out on such a historical moment must have been heart breaking, and is undeserved punishment enough.
Hopefully the outcry and support Ariel and his colleagues has received in the past two days sways the UFC’s decision, but until then… #FreeHelwani.