Postal Connections: Digging Out from Helwani-Gate

By Greg Savage Jun 10, 2016

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Unless you were buried under a rock for the past week, you’ve heard about the awesome Ultimate Fighting Championship card that went down in Inglewood, California, on June 4. Well, you at least heard about the ill-fated attempt to ban the sport’s most recognizable media member. The UFC’s heavy-handed ouster of MMAFighting.com reporter Ariel Helwani and colleagues E. Casey Leydon and Esther Lin cast an ominous cloud over what should have been one of the biggest nights in the promotion’s history.

Michael Bisping’s improbable upset over Luke Rockhold for the middleweight championship will go down as one of the most shocking title outcomes of all-time. Yet it was overshadowed by sophomoric decision making. Bantamweight Dominick Cruz showed why he remains one of the sport’s true treasures, as he dominated Urijah Faber over a brilliant 25-minute performance. Again, that’s not what we’re talking about. UFC 199 was a firecracker of an event from start to finish. It’s a shame we’re focused on something else, as it still has not received the attention it deserves.

In the latest edition of the “Postal Connections” mailbag, we discuss Helwani, Brock Lesnar’s return to the Octagon and the potential of a working relationship between the UFC and World Wrestling Entertainment:

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I find it hard to fathom that you aren’t covering the Helwani story. I no longer consider you a legitimate MMA news source. Regardless of whether or not he’s a competitor, it’s the biggest story in MMA right now. Helwani has appeared on SportsCenter and a host of other mainstream media outlets but not on an MMA-only site. Can you explain that? -- Dave

Thanks for the question Dave, but I have to ask: What more did you want out of us? I led my post-fight column with the Helwani story, we discussed it at length on “Cheap Seats,” it was covered on “Beatdown after the Bell” and many members of our staff commented on social media. I agree it was a major story with long-term ramifications for our industry, and I think we did our part, not just in letting people know what was going on but in how we felt about the situation.

Being a competitor has nothing to do with how we chose to cover the story. Look at our news stories. There are links to all of our competitors at one time or another, and they do the same for us. I’m not going to lie and tell you everything is cordial all the time, but I think there’s a genuine respect between most outlets. Perhaps the coverage was not as in-depth as you would have liked or as prominently placed, but rest assured, we had plenty of coverage of what I feel was by far the biggest story coming out of UFC 199 despite the amazing slate of fights we all witnessed.

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As a longtime fight fan who’s old enough to have lived through the time period in which Muhammad Ali demonstrated true conviction of his beliefs, the decision by UFC President Dana White to expel a respected journalist like Helwani during the actual event is a direct sign that very little progress has been made over the last 50 years to support freedom of speech and tolerance for differing opinions. Instead of the UFC’s stock televised Ali tribute, it should’ve actually researched the hypocrisy and absurdity of removing Helwani. Having attended over 50 UFC events with a decade-plus of dedicated support, I called the UFC-Zuffa corporate offices to express my views. As expected, this organization had no one willing to discuss this topic and only referred me to an online forum. The fact that this organization is in the fight business and facilitated this journalistic repression the day after Ali’s passing is truly disgraceful. The fact that they hide behind a 20-year-old receptionist and online feedback makes them no different than typical corporate cowards who sign Reebok deals and again homogenize our society with cookie-cutter products. God Bless those that weren’t around to watch a true champion display his courage based on principle and then deal with the adversity that comes along with progressive action. Let’s hope White and Lorenzo Fertitta cash out soon, take their Reebok dollars and allow a fresh set of owners the opportunity to grow MMA without total insult to those heroes who paved the way long before they arrived on the scene. -- John

I can see you were upset by the Helwani banning, but I’m not sure I get the correlation to Ali’s passing. What I think you’re pointing out is that Ali had a social conscience, but I’m not sure that has much to do with the situation from UFC 199.

Let’s get one thing straight: The UFC did not violate anyone’s first amendment rights to free speech. It pulled a credential, albeit in a very shady manner, and cut off access to its product -- something that is well within its right to do. I don’t agree with the decision, just as I did not agree when Sherdog.com and every other major MMA-focused digital media outlet faced the same tactics in 2005. Censoring the media in the manner in which the UFC did was clumsy and shortsighted, and the lifting of the ban on Helwani just two days later proves it.

To your Reebok criticism, again, this is a private company. It has every right to cut deals with the partners it feels give it the best chance to grow the UFC brand and further its business interests. Do I like the look? No, I think it looks like s---. I would never buy what they have come up with to date, and if enough people agree, then Reebok and the UFC will either have to adapt or the deal will expire and go by the wayside.

As for Fertitta and White cashing out, yes, I guess that could be good for the sport. It could also be a case of the devil you know being better than the one you don’t. For all their warts, Fertitta and White do have a couple things going for them: passion for and belief in the sport of MMA. I would love to see some changes that I think would make things better for everyone involved, but I’m not sure how willing the next owner will be in relation to said changes once he or she forks over $3-4 billion.

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Does Lesnar beat Mark Hunt at UFC 200? -- @HowardMorton

This one is simple and straightforward. I do not think Lesnar beats Hunt come July 9. Lesnar returning from such a long layoff is just the first of many reasons why I think the “Super Samoan” is going to get his hand raised at UFC 200. That doesn’t mean I’m not excited to see Lesnar back in action. His return infuses the heavyweight division with some well-needed excitement. Along with new champ Stipe Miocic, Lesnar should shake up things in a division that has seen so many of the same guys fighting each other for so long. He’s a huge boon for the sport since he brings in an entirely different demographic, as well.

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Is this the shape of things to come, with WWE-UFC partnerships now that WWE wants Ronda Rousey or Paige VanZant? Are we stuck with them now?‬ -- @JayPettry

Man, I sure hope not. All you regular “Cheap Seats” listeners know how I feel about professional wrestling; and no, it isn’t the Sport of Kings.

It’s not like I don’t understand the business decision to work alongside each other, though. Honestly, it’s a smart partnership to enact if you can keep enough distance between the two products. The only big issue I could foresee would be people starting to think MMA is a scripted show. If they are careful enough to make sure there are no ill effects from working so closely together, I think it’s a slam dunk. We’ve seen the willingness of the two fan bases to cross over in the past, and I think it could be mutually beneficial if done the right way. Don’t mind me: I’ll be the one over here holding my nose while these companies cash their fat checks.

Sherdog.com Executive Editor Greg Savage can be reached by email or Twitter @TheSavageTruth. If you would like to have your question or comment answered in the weekly Postal Connections mailbag, please submit them by Wednesday evening each week.
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