Imagine the NBA having Adrian Wojnarowski escorted out of a game in the third quarter and banning him for life for having reported a trade rumor. Ridiculous as it seems, a scenario exactly like this just happened at a UFC show.
Last night, Ariel Helwani of Vox’s MMAFighting.com reported that Brock Lesnar, the former UFC heavyweight champion and current pro wrestler, was in serious talks to compete on the big UFC 200 card next month. Later in the evening, Helwani said that he had, along with colleagues Casey Leydon and Esther Lin—universally considered the best videographer and photographer, respectively, in MMA—been thrown out of the UFC event they were covering and told they’d been banned for life:
The issue here appears to be that Helwani reported news before the UFC wanted it reported, upstaging their plans for a surprise announcement of Lesnar’s return.
One important bit of context here is that the UFC has a long history of blackballing reporters and outlets who offer critical coverage or displease them, Deadspin among them. (The effect of this has been to make the independent MMA press function largely as an extension of the UFC public relations apparatus.) Another is that Helwani—often derided over the years here and elsewhere for his soft coverage and coziness with the UFC—has repeatedly been the target of the promotion’s petty and vindictive behavior.
While working for UFC partner Fox as an on-air reporter in 2014, for instance, Helwani was temporarily denied access to the UFC, apparently for the crime of having reported on Bellator, a UFC competitor. More significantly, earlier this year, after he was fired from Fox, Helwani didnothing to discourage the widespread belief that UFC brass—perhaps displeased by a Helwani interview in which welterweight Rory MacDonald had praised the concept of free agency—was behind it.