The UFC has always been a tightly controlled organization and that control originates at the very top from owner Lorenzo Fertitta and president Dana White. Everything the promotion does goes through those two men, and if something gets screwed up or you cross one of them, it often doesn’t end well for you.
Just ask Ariel Helwani, who found himself thrown out of UFC 199 and threatened with a lifetime ban after he broke the news that Brock Lesnar would be returning to fight at UFC 200. After an uproar from the press and MMA fans, the promotion relented and is allowing Helwani to continue to attend events as media. But that doesn’t mean the relationship between him and Dana White is in a good place.
“I wouldn’t say he’s in decent graces,” White said on the new UFC Unfiltered podcast. “He got his credential back. We built that [Brock Lesnar] promo and a lot of people were quiet about it, and it was for the fans. That thing is for the fans, for that ‘Wow’ factor to be there and to go ‘Oh wow, Brock’s back!’ And the way he did it had a lot of people pointing fingers at each other.”
“You notice I wasn’t out there putting the belt on Dominick Cruz, and then I ran out there to put the belt on Bisping because I’ve been with Bisping for 10 years, he’s such a great guy. My sleeves are rolled up and I’ve got no jacket on because I’m dealing with the aftermath of that weasel move that he pulled. People can call it journalism or whatever and we can have our difference of opinions on that, but he knows what he did and he did it on purpose.”
So White’s position is that scooping the UFC on their own announcement several hours before they planned to make it was a dick move. Fair enough. But it’s the UFC’s obsession with clamping down and controlling everything that was the real root of this problem. As Joe Rogan said when discussing what happened, the UFC was convinced Ariel had a mole in the organization feeding him info, and they were reportedly willing to fire several UFC workers to make sure they got rid of that mole.
You can see the same attitude in their recent denials of a rumored $4.2 billion sale — they sent an email to their workers refuting a sale had gone through and then threatened to “investigate and take all appropriate legal actions” against whoever was feeding information to the press about it. This doesn’t sound like a very enjoyable environment for anyone to work in … not for UFC employees, or the media that covers the sport.
In the end, it’s debatable how much Helwani’s report on Lesnar’s return hurt the hype that followed the official announcement. But it’s undeniable that the way the UFC reacted by banning Helwani overshadowed many of the stories that came out of UFC 199. Instead of talking about Michael Bisping as the new middleweight champ or Conor McGregor vs. Nate Diaz, outlets were instead writing about the UFC’s behavior regarding Ariel. Which is too bad, because if the UFC just accepted they can’t control everything, none of this would have been an issue at all.