The Ultimate Fighting Championship on Monday lifted its indefinite ban on SB Nation's MMAfighting.com reporter Ariel Helwani, who was escorted out of the Forum on Saturday before the UFC 199 main event for breaking two news stories about the organization.
“Following a conversation with the editorial team at SB Nation, UFC will not prevent MMAFighting.com from receiving media credentials to cover live UFC events,” a UFC spokesman wrote in a company statement emailed to reporters Monday night.
“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.”
Helwani was ousted earlier this year as the UFC reporter on Fox after similarly irking UFC officials by reporting on unwanted stories and breaking news the company didn’t immediately want public.
On Saturday, after posting a story earlier that day about former heavyweight champion Brock Lesnar’s impending return to fight on the July 9 UFC 200 card in Las Vegas, Helwani was told to exit toward the Forum parking lot along with a videographer and photographer before the UFC’s middleweight title fight.
Helwani also broke the news Saturday that popular featherweight champion Conor McGregor of Ireland would return from being removed from the UFC 200 card to fight Stockton’s Nate Diaz at UFC 202 on Aug. 20 in a rematch of their March welterweight fight won by Diaz.
A Syracuse University journalism product, Helwani said Monday on his weekly “The MMA Hour,” show on the website that he had at least two sources on those stories, that he “takes pride in batting 1,000,” and that he disputes – in this case – a comment by UFC spokesman Dave Sholler that he should’ve consulted UFC officials before reporting the story.
“When you know a story that massive is about to break and is all but a done deal, I don’t think I need that confirmation,” Helwani said. “And I feel like most journalists out there would agree with me. … It doesn’t say that in any handbook.”
Helwani noted that on Friday night, UFC President Dana White actually denied to ESPN.com’s Brett Okamoto that the organization was poised to bring Lesnar back.
The UFC ultimately announced the McGregor-Diaz fight on Saturday night’s pay-per-view broadcast, and also revealed Lesnar’s return, touting it with a UFC 200 promotional ad shown inside the Forum on Saturday night.
While having his credential removed, Helwani said he was told by White that he was “too negative,” to exit the premises, and “go cover Bellator,” the UFC’s rival MMA organization.
“It was all very surreal. I felt like I was being watched like I was a dog,” Helwani said on “The MMA Hour.” “They watched us pack our things, and literally walked us out.”
Detailing the scene on the seven-year-old show, Helwani was moved to tears at the end of a near-two-hour show in which he discussed much of the history behind the ban.
“I hope there will be some change and I hope we can go back to how it was,” Helwani said. “It’s hard to be told your career’s over when you don’t think you did anything wrong. … I’m not going anywhere. It’s going to take a lot more to get rid of me. … There’s nothing better than this sport and this job. … I’m proud of being a journalist.”
He said he told his son before leaving for work Monday, “Don’t ever let anyone push you around. Don’t ever let anyone tell you you can’t do something. You can do whatever you want. Live your dreams. I’m living mine. It was a dream, and I hope it can continue, and I hope this can all be forgotten.”
In the UFC statement, it noted, “UFC’s goal as the world’s leading mixed martial arts promotion is to cultivate interest in its world-class athletes and events, and deliver for the fans. 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 platforms.”