UFC Allegedly ‘Got Physical’ With Ariel Helwani In Past

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MMAFighting.com’s Ariel Helwani was recently embroiled in a highly-publicized beef with the UFC after being banned for life from all upcoming events due to the journalist breaking news that former heavyweight champion Brock Lesnar would make his Octagon return at UFC 200 before the revealing video promo was released at UFC 199.

Helwani and his staff were escorted out of the arena following the conclusion of the co-main event of UFC 199, having their credentials removed as well.

Helwani’s ban has since been lifted after an outpouring of support from his fellow MMA media members, but he still took the opportunity to dish out some of the seedier aspects of his packed career as a MMA reporter.

Two days following the event Helwani held a ‘tell-all’ Monday afternoon following buzz of the incident circulating throughout MMA media, as he dished on his work for the UFC and FOX throughout the years on his show ‘The MMA Hour.’


Helwani first started off by crediting UFC President Dana White for always treating him with respect since the beginning of his journalism career:

“In 1997 the first time I interviewed him, my microphone died and he said ‘Go out and get another one, I’ll be waiting here.’ And I went outside, I went in my car and got another microphone, and he was still there when I came back.

“He’s always given me the time of day and it hurts me that this has happened. But maybe I’m crazy, maybe I’m dreaming, but I felt like deep down inside he didn’t want to do that. I think he was respecting the wishes of his partner (Lorenzo Fertitta), who I’ve never really had a close relationship with, and he was doing what he was essentially told.”

Then an incident involving the main event of UFC 196 was mentioned, when Helwani got wind that UFC lightweight champion Rafael dos Anjos was injured and out of his scheduled title defense against Conor McGregor:

“When I asked the UFC if Rafael dos Anjos was injured prior to UFC 196, you know what I was told? ‘Not true.’ Guess what? He was injured, and I knew he was injured, I knew for a fact that he was injured. They were already talking about Nate Diaz at that point. So then you’re faced with a moral dilemma, someone who you respect is telling you on the record that it’s not true and you’re going to go out and report it? That’s going to make things worse in my opinion.”

Helwani then began to tell the story of his employment with FOX and the UFC, beginning at the relationship’s inception in 2010:

“It kind of all started around December of 2010. A production company that I knew say ‘We want to make a show about you, like an MMA show.’ And I remember where I was, I was in Montreal for UFC 124. And one of the places they wanted to pitch this show to was Fuel TV, remember Fuel TV?

“I thought that was great, this is my big TV debut; this is awesome. I’m gonna have a show, an MMA show, this fantastic lets do it. Now again, I believe that I owe a lot to Dana White, and we’ve had a great relationship. I’ve sent him pictures of my kids, and he’s said nice things. And when the Patriots beat the Bills, he says not so nice things, but it’s been a fun ride and I hope this isn’t the end.”

ariel helwaniWith the lucrative TV deal on the table, Helwani called up White to get some advice on whether or not he should accept the offer:

“Well I called Dana and asked him , ‘Hey I have this opportunity maybe on Fuel TV, what do you think? Should I do it?’ I was actually looking for his advice. He told me that that wasn’t a good idea. He told me that the TV deal’s coming up, end of 2011, bigger opportunities are coming, just hold off on that.

“Do you know how hard that was for me? Do you know how hard it was to say ‘no’ to a potential TV opportunity, the first one of my career? I struggled with that so much, it was the hardest thing. It was the hardest decision, to go back to this group and say ‘You know what, I have to bow out.’ I didn’t tell them why, but ‘I have to bow out, I’ll explain why later.’ And why did I do that? Because I really respected Dana and what he was telling me, I really respected his advice.”

After Helwani respectfully declined the offer, but the UFC then went into business with FOX, which immediately upset the journalist as he had taken White’s advice:

“But the funny thing was, ten our so months later, UFC signed a deal with FOX. Guess what was they’re ‘unofficial’ home so to speak? Fuel! And so I was thinking to myself ‘I could have been there before the launch.

Why did I turn this down?’ Well as you know, as was reported by the Wall Street Journal, the UFC was in talks with NBC at the time. Viacom at the time. G4 was going to be the UFC Network. FOX came in at the eleventh hour, so I was like man… But It all worked out because I ended up on Fuel anyway.”

UFC President Dana White actually gave Helwani the scoop that the announcement of partnership between the UFC and FOX would be made official in L.A., so Helwani immediately flew out to cover the event:

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“And I’ve told you about this first meeting with the FOX brass, this was in August of 2011 right after the big announcement. I sat down with a couple of people from FOX, and I remember them telling me that ‘Look we’re going to be in business with the UFC, but we want to do journalism.’ And you know my eyes lit up when I heard that.

But they didn’t offer me a contract that day, and I give a lot of credit to Dana, Dana actually told me that they were going to make the news official — they were going to break the news on that day, and that’s how I knew to fly out to L.A. for the big announcement.”

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Helwani was later offered a position on FOX’s UFC Tonight, an opportunity he gladly jumped at:

“Around December of 2011, I got a call offering me a position on UFC Tonight. I was one of the first people given a position or offered a position on UFC Tonight. They said they wanted me to be the insider, the Jay Glazer, that was great.

“Wow, alright, it’s finally happening. So someone from FOX offered me the job to be on UFC Tonight, I jumped at it, I didn’t negotiate. ‘How much are you guys paying me to do this? I’m in! That’s great.’ 

“A few weeks later, I was told — It was kind of in the same conversation that FOX was going to start doing these post-fight shows once the deal kicks in in 2012.

“They’re gonna do pre-fight shows, post-fight shows, weight in shows, and ancillary programing, and they asked me if I wanted to be that backstage reporter guy, and I said ‘Yes, for sure.'”

DanaArielHelwaniThe deal, however, proved too good to be true as Helwani learned the contract came with a catch:

“But there was one catch. The catch was, that for the pre and post-fight shows the check has to be signed by Zuffa. So UFC Tonight is one contract, that’s a FOX production, Zuffa has nothing to do with it.

“But, even though FOX is paying the UFC for those broadcasts, weigh in shows, post-fight shows, all that stuff— the money is going from FOX to Zuffa to the talent.

“And I hated this. I don’t want to get any check from Zuffa. I don’t want that at all. I’ve turned down opportunities from every promotion out there, I’ve talked to all of them every single one, I want to be a journalist, I want to be unbiased, I don’t want to be tied to a single person.”

Helwani would then respectfully decline an offer from FOX Sports, which led to the journalist’s removal from FOX TV. He would then plead his case to White that he was simply loyal to his current employers:

“Well, May of 2012 I was told — I respectfully declined, I remember where I was, I respectfully declined the FOX deal, and then I was told I was off TV. May of 2012 I was told that I was off TV, off UFC Tonight, off the broadcast. Because I wasn’t all in.

And I remember having a conversation with Dana saying ‘Look I’m just a loyal guy, I don’t want to leave my friends and my colleagues at MMA Fighting, can you please reconsider this, because it’s not that I’m not all in, I just really love working for these people and I feel like I have the best of both worlds.’

“And thankfully he was like ‘Alright, you can stay on the TV, UFC Tonight,’ remember cause they kind of lumped them in all together. So that was the first time I began to feel like ‘Okay, this can be taken away at any moment’s notice.’ “

Interestingly enough, amongst the UFC 199 fiasco that saw White unhappy with Helwani, White apparently encouraged the well known reporter to have ‘thicker skin’ and to ‘go for it’ rather than sitting on a lead:

In 2013 I got the Renan Barao – Dominick Cruz news, and I tried to confirm it. And then moments later it was given to someone else. And I remember having a conversation with Dana White. He was getting his kids ready for school, it was great, it was rare that I got to speak to him on that level.

“But I remember talking to him and saying ‘This is tough, I went to the UFC to confirm—‘ and he said ‘Why? You got it, you had it, go for it.’

“He said ‘ Listen to me, the insiders are sometimes not going to be liked. You are reporting things before us. But if you got it, you have to go with it. You gotta have thicker skin.’ He said that to me throughout my career, ‘You have to have thicker skin.’

“And in my mind I always remembered that moment and that conversation, because I said ‘Wow, if he’s giving me the seal of approval, if he’s saying you gotta go out there and not be afraid and report, I’m good.

“I don’t have to worry about anything. I’ll never forget that conversation. And I reminded him of that conversation on Saturday. Didn’t have much to say.”

134381101-fighters-only-world-mixed-martial-arts-awards-2011-850x560Helwani went on to describe an incident that would damage his relationship with the UFC, after he decided to cover a Bellator media event not too far from his own home:

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“In January of 2014 I was told that Bellator was having a media day in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. Minutes away from where I live in Williamsburg, and I was told that all big-name fighters were going to be there from Bellator.

“I was asked by MMA Fighting, could I go cover this day? And so I went and I didn’t think nothing of it to be honest.

“A couple of days later, I don’t know why I thought this, but I realized that I was blocked on Twitter by all these accounts. Dana’s account, Lorenzo’s account, the UFC News account, official UFC account, Instagram, all that blocked.

“And I was wondering, ‘Why is this happening? What happened?’ I started reaching out to people at FOX. ‘Have you heard anything about the UFC being mad? I’m blocked by all the accounts.’

“A couple days later I was in UFC Georgia, I remember it was Costas Phillapou vs. Luke Rockhold, I was told I was off all the broadcasts.

“I started to think, ‘What did I do?’ And the only think I could come up with was the Bellator media day. And I was Tweeting these videos out that we got there. ‘Could that have been it? Is that what I did?’ I reached out to Dana White multiple times, nothing.”

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Helwani went on to describe a sitdown between him and White in which the two would essentially smooth things over:

“I finally got a hold of him a couple days before UFC on FOX in Chicago, that was the event headlined by Benson Henderson vs Josh Thomson, and we had a conversation and he told me that ‘Look, I like you kid, but we’re just not on the same page here. You’re going to Bellator events, it just doesn’t work.’

“And I said ‘Well okay I understand, but can I at least talk to you? Can we sit down face to face?’ And he said ‘Yeah sure I’ll be in Chicago, let’s sit down face to face.’

“So we sat down in Chicago that Thursday before the event, at his hotel and it was a great conversation, it was like a two-hour conversation. And I said repeatedly in that conversation ‘ Look if you want to take me off the FOX events I get it.’ To be honest, I was relieved. I said ‘I’m not going to fight that.’

“The only things I’m asking for are three things, please unblock me from Twitter because it’s important for me to see the Tweets to do my job. I said I’d love to not be banned, and I’d love for us to continue our good relationship.’

“And he said yes to all three, in fact he called somebody and said ‘please unblock Ariel.’ And I was so happy with that conversation.”

Then Helwani went on to mention a rather dark incident that involved an apparent physical altercation, but he was reluctant to detail in any further:

“Around that timeframe something else happened, and that’s the one thing I’m going to skip over. For now. That’s the one thing I just don’t want to get into, I don’t feel comfortable. I will say this though–it got physical. And I’ll move along. And that was hard. But I kept doing my job, and I’m proud of my job.

“And I asked myself at times ‘Why am I doing this?’ What’s the point? Why am I doing this to myself? I see other people covering the NBA, and yeah those interviews are boring, and those stories are boring, but they don’t have to go through this.

“This is not worth it. This is not why I signed up for journalism school. They never told me about this. You feel very, you feel very disappointed in yourself.”

007_dana_white_interview.0During the holidays while Helwani was on vacation, MMAFighting.com had reported UFC 196 would not be taking place in Brazil due to financial issues. Vacation or not, however, Helwani still found himself in a jam with the UFC yet again for a simple retweet on Twitter:

“December of 2015, I’m on vacation and MMA Fighting reported that Anderson Silva said that UFC 196 wouldn’t be happening in Brazil due to the economic crisis there.

“So I retweeted it. And then a couple of hours later I got a Tweet from Dana saying I’m full of S-H-I-T and that I’m guilty of click-baiting. Prior to that other UFC employees said that we were click baiting. I never really understood this idea that the UFC has, that the media is responsible for click baiting.

“Because to me click baiting is ‘Miley Cyrus has a new boyfriend click here to find out’ or ‘You’ll never guess what Rihanna did’. Our headline gave away the story. In my opinion we did the exact opposite of click baiting. You could have seen that on your Twitter feed and not clicked on it.

“And they love to say that all you care about is clicks on your website and that you can make money. I can assure you I don’t make a single dollar off a click on our website.

“Theres nothing in my contract that says if we get X amount of clicks I get more money. Even on this show we get advertising all the time, and I just pass it off, I don’t even get a cut of that. 

“That’s like telling the editor of The New York Times ‘All you care about is selling newspapers.’ Yeah of course, that’s like saying the UFC ‘The only reason why you put Brock Lesnar on that card is because you want to sell pay-per-views.’ Of course. This is America, that’s how you make money.”

Helwani later interviewed fellow Canadian Rory MacDonald on an episode of The MMA Hour, that saw MacDonald expressing his displeasures with his ongoing contract negotiations and expressed his interest in testing the free-agency market. The UFC didn’t take too kindly to this interview, either:

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“Rory MacDonald comes on this show and talks about how he was frustrated with the negotiations and how he was going into his fight with Wonderboy Thompson on the last fight of his deal and then test the market, so to speak.

“I can assure you I did not know he was going to say this; now I will say had he told me this beforehand, I would have had no problem putting him on the show. But I will say again, I did not know he was going to say this, for whatever that’s worth.

“I was told shortly thereafter that the UFC wasn’t happy with that, with the constant talk of free agency, Bellator and all that stuff.”

The straw that apparently broke the camel’s back on Helwani’s UFC Tonight career was when he broke news that a rematch between Conor McGregor and Nate Diaz at welterweight was targeted to headline UFC 200:

“A week or so later, I reported the UFC 200 main event in the works, Conor vs Nate Diaz rematch at 170 pounds. That was on a Friday, on Monday — three days later, I was walking home and I got a call from my agent and I was told I was officially fired from the pre-fight show, post-fight show, weigh-in show. I was told that–no real reason given but the UFC didn’t want me involved in that anymore.

“But I was told you were still on UFC Tonight, which was surprising to me because in the past when this happened UFC Tonight was gone. It was a package deal, and I didn’t really quite believe it but I said ‘Okay, alright.’

“Around two-hours later I got a call from a higher-up official at FOX and I was told I was done from UFC Tonight as well, that I was done from FOX all together.”

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Dana-White-and-Ariel-Helwani-at-UFC-121Following this incident word rumors started to circulate that Helwani had a ‘mole’ feeding him information from the inside at FOX, an accusation Helwani very passionately negated:

“And then I started to get word that the bosses at FOX and UFC believe that there is a ‘mole’ feeding me information. And now there are these poor employees at FOX who are being berated and told that there is a mole in this company feeding information to me.

“There is no mole, I said it to Dana White on Saturday, I’ll say it again. To me the fact that these people I’ve worked with for four-and-a-half years can’t wrap their head around the idea that I have sources, that I have people that I talk to, that I have people that trust me, and respect me, and talk to me on a day-to-day basis, who I’ve helped, who they’ve helped me, the fact that they can’t wrap their head around that when I would tell them stories way before they were announced— to me is unbelievable. They think that there is a mole feeding me information, can you believe that?”

On May 25, 2016 Helwani held a special Wednesday edition of The MMA Hour, in which he interviewed Nate Diaz who was rumored to be in negotiations for a rematch with Conor McGregor after the first targeted date for the rematch fell through:

“In the middle of that interview, I got a 702 call a couple of times and it was from Dana White and I wasn’t quite sure. ‘Do you want me to pick it up, do you not want me to pick it up? Should I answer this on the air?

“I’m not really sure; I wasn’t going to put him on the spot. I wasn’t sure why I was being called in the middle of the show. And then I got a text saying a pretty mean thing to me from Dana White. And then I realized that for some reason he was upset with that interview.

“When, I thought it was one of Nate’s best, thought on a random Wednesday the world was talking about Nate Diaz and Conor McGregor, I think the world of both of those guys.

“I owe them a lot, everyone was buzzing, I thought the fight was bigger. Nate said some very important thing, a important thing was happening right in front of our eyes. I didn’t understand how it was a bad thing for the UFC.

“I didn’t respond, I guess I didn’t need to, I knew how he felt at that point. And so we get to 199…”

The lifelong ban issued by the UFC, however, was short-lived as the UFC issued a statement indicating that Helwani and MMA Fighting had been granted permission to resume UFC event coverage.

Regardless, there is no doubt the promotion put Helwani in his colleagues through a rough and trying time, as Helwani got very emotional towards the end of his show.

You can listen to the full show here: