Now that he’s not hooked up to ESPN and would not have to fret about its enterprise relationship with the UFC, Ariel Helwani feels very snug speaking about his time with “The Worldwide Chief in Sports activities.”
Throughout an look on Monday’s version of “The Dan Le Batard Present with Stugotz,” the MMA journalist spoke at size about his time at ESPN and his moderately rocky relationship with Dana White. The UFC president has by no means been Helwani’s greatest fan, most notably kicking him out of UFC 199 and banning him from all future occasions after Helwani precisely reported about Brock Lesnar’s UFC return. (The ban was later lifted.)
That incident occurred in 2016 whereas Helwani labored for MMAFighting.com, however White did not heat as much as him after he joined ESPN in 2018. Earlier this yr, White called Helwani “a douche” in response to Helwani’s criticism of former MMA fighter Gina Carano, who had obtained intense backlash for controversial social media posts evaluating the present political local weather to Nazi Germany.
Helwani’s three-year contract with ESPN expired in June, and he determined to pursue different alternatives with Vox Media, Spotify, Substack and BT Sport. However Le Batard needed to know if it was really Helwani’s choice to go away ESPN, or if White performed a job in his exit — not utterly inconceivable contemplating ESPN and the UFC agreed to a five-year, $1.5 billion deal in 2018 that gave ESPN the corporate’s whole rights package deal.
His full response:
“So, I can not reply that query with sure or no, however I’ll clarify it like this. From the second it was made public that I used to be becoming a member of ESPN — unbeknownst to me on my life, on my child’s life — I did not know after I was employed by ESPN, I did not know that they have been in talks with the UFC. I had no thought. On the time, they actually had, like, one MMA man on the workers. I believed, ‘All proper, the game is rising, Conor McGregor, they wish to beef up the protection.’ I had no thought concerning the different stuff. After which if you happen to recall — and you may return and look — initially they signed them to a 10-card deal, ESPN+ solely. After which I used to be like, ‘All proper, they don’t seem to be the only real, unique broadcast associate. I can stay with that.’ After which it grew to become the entire freaking factor, after which I began to get nervous. So from the second it was made public in mid-Could that I used to be going to ESPN and, at the moment, it had already been out that they’d signed this cope with ESPN, the UFC did, Dana White tried to get me not even to make it to my first day. I imply, he raised hell to attempt to cease me — my first day was June 15 — tried to cease me [from getting to] the primary day. Now, to the credit score of plenty of the executives there, all of them mentioned no. All of them had my again. They gave me exhibits. They gave me alternatives. However, for the following three years, it was one roadblock after the following. It was one challenge after the following. It was all types of stuff.
“I will let you know a narrative. I’ve by no means even shared this story. After I could be at occasions, Dan and everybody — and as an instance it is the weigh-ins, proper? — and there is a desk there and I am doing one thing beforehand, however Dana White is coming as a visitor in half-hour or one thing. I must be escorted out of the venue as a result of, per his request, I could not be in his neighborhood or his line of sight. So right here I’m, on the set of an organization that I work for, and safety, the nicest individuals on the earth who’re embarrassed that they’d to do that, would inform me, ‘I am sorry, Ariel. We’ve got to stroll you out.’ You know the way that makes somebody really feel? ‘We’ve got to stroll you out of the venue as a result of Dana White would not need you in his line of sight.’ I mentioned, ‘I will sit proper over there. I will not even have a look at him. I will have a look at my cellphone. What are we doing right here?’ So that is the type of stuff that I needed to cope with. I could not go backstage. I could not do plenty of different stuff.”
Whereas Helwani has no “sick will” towards anybody at ESPN, he did admit that he was “disenchanted” by the provide he obtained after his earlier contract expired.
“For the document, they did give me a proposal, and it was a proposal that I believe lots of people masking MMA could be thrilled with,” Helwani mentioned. “On the finish of the day, there was a proposal that I needed to flip down. They might have simply mentioned, ‘Thanks to your time. Let’s simply go our separate methods.’ However they did give me a proposal. It was not a proposal that I felt was truthful or that was what I used to be searching for and even reflective of the work that I had completed for the previous three years. I used to be 100% disenchanted by the provide. It was not what I used to be anticipating.”
The 39-year-old added that he by no means anticipated to solely work three years for ESPN, however he feels all the pieces “type of labored out.” Helwani is now extra “free” and “unbiased” as an MMA reporter.
“[White] most likely thinks he ran me out,” Helwani mentioned. “He is most likely — actually, I do know he is celebrating that I am not there anymore, however I’d argue that he did me an enormous favor because of all of his complaints over the previous three years.”
You’ll be able to watch Le Batard’s full interview with Helwani beneath.