UFC President Dana White confirmed that longtime MMA journalist Ariel Helwani has been banned from receiving press credentials after breaking the news on two huge fights without contacting the promotion beforehand.
"As long as I'm here," White told TMZ Sports of how long Helwani's ban will last.
Helwani, one of the most connected MMA insiders, covers the sport for SB Nation's MMAFighting.com. He initially broke Brock Lesnar's return at UFC 200 and Conor McGregor's rematch against Nate Diaz at UFC 202. Angered over the news leaking, UFC officials kicked Helwani and colleagues Esther Lin and E. Casey Leydon out of the arena at Saturday's UFC 199 pay-per-view.
“I was brought to the back by UFC [public relations] and told by [White] that I had to leave the arena,” Helwani told Kevin Iole of Yahoo Sports (h/t Awful Announcing). “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.'"
UFC spokesperson Dave Sholler told the Associated Press that the promotion believes journalists should seek comment from the UFC before reporting a story.
Appearing on SportsCenter on Monday, Lesnar said he did not have anything to do with Helwani's ban.
"I don't even know who that is...I don't do Twitter. I'm in the dark. I have no idea," Lesnar told Hannah Storm.
Earlier this year, Helwani suddenly parted ways with Fox. While Fox refused to confirm why, some suspected the UFC was unhappy with how Helwani covered the sport, as Sports Illustrated's Richard Deitsch noted in March—in particular an interview with Rory MacDonald that discussed free agency.
"There's a lot of smart people on the internet," Helwani said on the MMA Hour (via Joe Lucia of Awful Announcing). "There's a lot of smart people out there. You can probably guess what happened. I don't need to go into that. I want to have a career, I want to cover this sport. There's no need. You can guess it. Read the stuff that's out there. I don't know how people are so smart, but you're spot on.”
While Helwani is banned from receiving credentials, White said Helwani could cover future events if he purchased a ticket.
"He can cover all the events he wants, he just can't have a credential," White told TMZ.
Journalists are typically provided free access to sporting events, a long-standing tradition in exchange for the coverage they provide. A ringside seat at a UFC pay-per-view would set back Helwani (or MMAFighting.com) back thousands of dollars, and he would not have access to press conferences or other events.
White did not say whether MMAFighting.com has been banned outright.
"MMA Fighting and SB Nation fully support Ariel, Casey, Esther and the entire MMA Fighting staff. And we appreciate the support we have received from the MMA Fighting audience and community," the website said in a statement.
The decision from the UFC borders on unprecedented, and media members have widely derided it. Lucia compared it to as if the "National Football League escorted Adam Schefter out of a game because they weren't happy with his coverage."
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