It’s been a minute since we’ve discussed anything in regards to the UFC or MMA for that matter. So let us start to make amends for that. After UFC 199 PPV last weekend there is plenty of talking points to touch on. Approaching the weekend UFC has been a mixed bag of so-so news and bad news.
The organization crowned a new Heavyweight champion, Stipe Miocic, who if the Cavaliers don’t defeat the Warriors in the NBA Finals (trending that way after 2 games) will be Cleveland’s only champion in decades. International star and former women’s bantamweight champ Ronda Rousey had surgery this past week which will keep her out of the octagon for what is assumed to be 2016. Even reflecting on the biggest takeaway from UFC 199, the 1st round TKO victory by Micheal Bisping over Luke Rockhold for the UFC middleweight title, with Bisping avenging a 2nd round submission loss two years previous at a UFC Fight Night. However, the company yet again suffered a self-inflicted wound that draws attention outside of the octagon.
The event was marred this past weekend because Zuffa officials (parent group of UFC) escorted well respected MMA journalist, Ariel Helwani, out of The Forum, along with two of his fellow colleagues. Not only did Helwani & Co. get escorted from UFC 199, it was stated that he was banned for life from all UFC events.
So what could have precipitated such a reaction from the company to warrant such a harsh ban?
Helwani was the first to report that Brock Lesnar would be participating at the much ballyhooed UFC 200 in Las Vegas in July. A huge breaking story considering that Lesnar is under contract with WWE, yet shortly after the company issued statement outlining a one-off clause that will allow Lesnar to have a one-night only fight in the UFC which will then be followed by a return back to the WWE. Lesnar is also one of the most popular fighters in company history so news of his return has created quite a stir on social media and throughout the sporting community.
Clearly Dana White & Co. hoped to announce the news themselves or have it as a surprise awhile longer than when Helwani reported the news.
It’s hard to look at the situation as anything other than sour grapes. Given that a person is good at their job, did what the job requires them to do to the best of their ability. The most intriguing aspect of this conflict is that if this was just about any other journalist there wouldn’t be as much attention to the move. Unfortunately, it’s Ariel Helwani. A man that has too much good will among many in the MMA community and is well respected among his peers in the media.
What the UFC has done is retaliate against a person’s who job is to report news, essentially angered at his freedom of speech and will to pass along information to the masses. Why could the UFC not just come out with a denial, or spoken to Helwani privately about the matter. To be so abrupt to kick him and his co-workers out, simultaneously banning him at the event gives the appearance of pettiness. The longer this matter goes unresolved the more bad PR the UFC is likely to incur, in a David vs Goliath, Ariel vs UFC matchup that the company should want no part of.
To no one’s surprise the headline in this fracas himself Brock Lesnar came out and confirmed that he will be working at UFC 200. Given that the situation happened on Saturday, we pondered if cooler heads would prevail and the ban would be rescinded -perhaps with an apology, but one thing at a time-. Instead Dana White did say that Helwani could buy a ticket to UFC 200, but stood behind the ban stating that he would not be granted access as a media member.
We wish that we could say that we’re surprised, but that is the MO of Dana White. This is the same guy that has gotten into it many times with UFC talent, though for a number of the incidents cooler heads did prevail amending his brash in your face governing style.
This is the second time in months that we’ve seen members of the media dictated to and bullied by the team and sport they cover. Media members were told that they were not allowed to report who dropped the ball or threw an interception at the Bills OTA sessions, essential putting a filter over OTA coverage. Who would’ve thought that a Rex Ryan team would advocating censorship in football. Though we’re sure the Bills were not the first to have terms such as those.
This is still a terrible look for the UFC that we still feel lacks the star power, compelling narratives and intrigue that the NBA playoffs have delivered and that will be surely given during the Summer Olympics and the Euro Cup.
UFC looks quite foolish at the moment. It’s like composing a tweet in the heat of anger, posting it, and then having to defend the tweet even though you know that it was the wrong move or feel differently today than you did in the moment. The UFC is attempting to flex their muscles, it’s just that they’re doing so at an empty beach where there is no appreciation.
An apology or amends should be taken to save face. Coming from an organized governing body, one would expect a more dignified response regarding a controversy such as this.
It appears that Dana has reluctantly rescinded the lifetime ban for Ariel Helwani, E. Casey Leydon and Esther Lin. Will the move be enough to grant a reprieve from the media firestorm that the company has incurred?