Behind the Fight
Ariel Helwani’s rise to prominence in MMA journalism has mirrored the growth of the sport itself. From blogger to national television personality, Helwani has become one of the most trusted news sources in the ever-changing world of MMA. The man who was once described in these pages as “the Howard Cosell of MMA” shares with FIGHT! some of his career experiences.
How did you get into sports journalism?
I always wanted to be a sports broadcaster. I did a few things to try and get my name out there, but in March 2008, I had pretty much given up and was looking for a job in TV production. Then I got an email from MMARated. com—they gave me a job, I ran with it, and the rest is history.
Did it take some time to establish yourself as a serious reporter?
Over time, I just earned the respect of the people I covered, and I became more professional and worked harder. I remember a quote from Woody Allen that says, ‘Eighty percent of success is just showing up.’ I would try to show up to every single event that I could.
One of your most memorable interviews was post-fight at UFC 125 where Jacob Volkmann told you he would like to fight President Obama. Did you have any idea the repercussions that would have?
Not at all. I didn’t think much of it at the time, and I certainly didn’t think it would end up on The Jay Leno Show or that the Secret Service would look into it. I’m very proud of that moment.
What’s it like talking to the Diaz brothers?
I’ve had my ups and downs with those guys, but I’ve got a lot of respect for them. When I interviewed Nick around the time of the Paul Daley fight, he said people like me would get slapped where he was from. Maybe I stood my ground or whatever, but I think we developed a mutual respect.
Bob Sapp made some controversial comments on your show that could be construed as him admitting to throwing fights. What was going through your mind during that interview?
To be honest, I kind of regret my approach to that interview because I felt frustrated and said some things I probably shouldn’t have. He was talking in circles and not admitting anything. I don’t have a lot of respect for the guy, and I don’t like what he’s doing.
How would you describe your relationship with Dana White and the UFC?
I’m not best friends with those guys, but I think it’s the kind of relationship I would like to have if I’m a journalist covering anyone, be it politics or entertainment. There have been occasions here and there where people aren’t happy with me, but that comes with the territory. I have a good relationship with ninety-nine percent of the people in the sport.
Does that one percent include Tito Ortiz and Hector Lombard?
Tito Ortiz and Hector Lombard are the only two guys who won’t talk to me, and I truly don’t believe I did anything wrong to either man. Tito is mad at me because Matt Mitrione said something on my show, and he feels like I should have stepped in. I said to him, ‘Man to man, I apologize if I offended you. Let me know what I did wrong so I can try to be a better person and never have this happen again,’ but not only will he not talk to me, he won’t even look me in the face.
How has the sport changed in the time that you’ve been covering it?
It’s obviously evolved. There are a lot more events, a lot more fighters. I think they’d probably be better suited having a few less events, because if you have events four weeks in a row, it’s hard to tell the story of the fourth event in that stretch when you’re trying to tell the first, second, and third.
Is there anyone you’d like to interview but haven’t?
Joe Silva, but he’s off limits. The one fighter that I never had the chance to interview was Mirko Cro Cop. I’ve been to a lot of his fights, but he’s not a huge fan of doing media stuff and one-on-ones in particular. If you look at the top fighters of all-time, from Fedor to Anderson to GSP, I’ve been very lucky that I’ve had the chance to interview them, but Cro Cop has always eluded me. But, there’s always next time.
We’ll be waiting for next time, Ariel. Thanks for your time.