A big night for the UFC has been soured for many fans over the company’s decision to throw award winning MMA journalist Ariel Helwani out of UFC 199 and ban him from the promotion’s events indefinitely. The decision to blacklist the MMAFighting.com writer and former FOX Sports correspondent seems to stem from Helwani breaking the news of Brock Lesnar returning at UFC 200 before the UFC had a chance to make the announcement on their own.
Ariel’s report on a possible Lesnar fight hit the internet around 8PM EST. The UFC made Brock’s return official just before midnight during their pay-per-view event. Helwani also broke another piece of big news that night, revealing Conor McGregor and Nate Diaz would rematch each other at UFC 202 in August hours before the promotion’s ad for the fight aired.
This isn’t the first time that he has been punished for covering more than the UFC might like. He was recently fired from his jobs at FOX Sports and UFC Tonight for reasons that remain unclear. It is alleged that an interview with Rory MacDonald ‘promoting free agency’ was the ‘last straw’ for UFC president Dana White. And Ariel had his UFC access heavily curtailed for months back in 2014 for more mysterious reasons, with many suspecting it had to do with his positive coverage of competing MMA company Bellator’s events.
It goes without saying that it is an unfortunate state of affairs when a sports organization can effectively ban a reporter from the sport for coverage they don’t like. America was founded on concepts like freedom of the press, and while the UFC is a private company that can do what it likes, that doesn’t make it look any better when it acts out like an authoritarian regime.
This couldn’t have happened to a nicer person, either. Ariel Helwani is one of the hardest working journalists in the sport, a fact recognized by the seven World MMA Awards for ‘Best Journalist’ he’s won over the past eight years. His passion and dedication to covering and promoting mixed martial arts has undoubtedly played a role in the UFC’s growth and move into the mainstream.
Where many other reporters have grown cynical with time, he has remained positive and enthusiastic about the sport he loves, even in the face of the UFC repeatedly sanctioning him for doing his job. His ethics are above reproach and fans of the sport have come to rely on him as the gold standard for reliable MMA coverage.
In addition to Ariel Helwani, his MMAFighting.com co-workers Esther Lin and E. Casey Leydon were also removed from UFC 199. It is unclear if they (or all MMAFighting.com staff) face the same indefinite ban as Helwani.
Here’s hoping, indeed.