Highly respected MMA journalist and reporter Ariel Helwani has spoken out after he was ejected from UFC 199 and banned for life by the promotion on Saturday night for breaking the news about Brock Lesnar’s return at UFC 200.
“I was brought to the back by UFC [public relations] and told by Dana White that I had to leave the arena,” Helwani told Kevin Iole of Yahoo! Sports yesterday. “Dana mentioned that from what I recalled that Brock Lesnar was upset the news was released early and that this could have ruined their deal.
“He repeatedly said, ‘Go cover Bellator. We don’t want you here.’ … I said, ‘What did I do wrong?’ He said, ‘You’re too negative.’”
That last comment sticks out as particularly wide of the mark given that, since, not only is Helwani generally very even-handed with his coverage of the sport, but also he’s a journalist who’s there to report the news, not shower the UFC with praise.
If the UFC continues this heavy-handed stance, where does it end? Will we end up with the journalistic equivalent of USADA, where every member of the media has to go under a pre-fight test to see how positive or negative they are before being granted the right to cover an event?
Helwani went on to that the UFC were also concerned that he had “a mole” within the company, though he says he actually had two sources for the Lesnar story.
“I never go off one source anyway, so I guess they’re saying now there are two moles,” Helwani told Iole. “But with God as my witness, there is no ‘mole.’ Honestly, I’m having a hard time wrapping my head around this. I’m almost embarrassed because people are saying, ‘You’re standing up for journalism.’
“I’m not doing any great investigative journalism here. This is not ground-breaking stuff. I’m not going to win a Pulitzer for this.”
Overall this has been a massive PR blunder by the UFC that’s cast them in a negative light, despite what turned out to be a stellar UFC 199 event on Saturday night, and has overshadowed some of the big announcements that they also made on the night.
As such, the quicker they get ahead of this situation and reinstate Helwani and his two MMAfighting.com colleagues, E. Casey Leydon and Esther Lin, the better for all concerned.