Most people didn’t know the name Ariel Helwani before this weekend. Helwani is a writer for MMAFighting.com covering UFC among other sports.
He formerly worked for Fox Sports and their UFC coverage.
Saturday night, during UFCs latest installment, they showed a preview video for the upcoming events, and revealed that a former star, Brock Lesnar, would be coming out of retirement.
Two hours before the PPV (pay-per-view) event started, during which this big storyline reveal was planned, Helwani broke the story that Lesnar would be returning.
He was then escorted to Dana White’s office (the President of UFC) and informed that his credentials were being pulled, and he was being given a lifetime ban. The only way he’d be allowed to watch UFC was if he bought a ticket.
The UFCs claim was that Helwani stepped on their production, and even though he had acquired the information thru sources, and was never told “this is off the record” (or something similar), he shouldn’t’ve reported it without first confirming it with White’s office.
If he had gone to White’s office, they would’ve denied the return from retirement, as they had done on Friday when asked at a press conference.
But Helwani knew 100% that his information was correct, and there was no reason for him to not report the story.
The UFC has clearly shown that it is not a sport but a production, in the fact that they insist on controlling every aspect of a story.
Can you imagine if Adrian Wojnarowski was banned from reporting on the NBA, after reporting that Lebron was returning to Miami, hours before Lebron actually made the announcement?
It is unacceptable for a sport to manhandle the media like this, and as Helwani put it yesterday “my job is to report on the stories, I hate being the story”.
Last night the UFC finally rectified their mistake and reinstated Helwani, and said in a statement to SB Nation (the parent company of MMAFighting.com):
We respect the role the media plays in our sport and beyond, including MMAFighting’s ability to report news. However, in our opinion, we believe the recurring tactics used by its lead reporter extended beyond the purpose of journalism. We feel confident our position has now been adequately communicated to the SB Nation editorial team.
[…] We will continue to introduce this sport and its athletes to new fans across the world, and we will do so by working alongside media across all platform.
Dana White is an owner. Don’t think of him as David Stern or Gary Bettman, but rather he is a Steinbrenner or James Dolan. So he doesn’t need to let anyone in to watch UFC, and he can control the media that view his events.
But if you are going to stifle the press, then don’t be surprised when people stop watching and following your brand.