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.”
With 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:
“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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