Ariel Helwani, one of the top Mixed Martial Arts reporters in the world, recently joined ESPN. He and former UFC star Chael Sonnen are cohosting a 30-minute MMA show called Ariel & The Bad Guy for the new ESPN+ subscription service.
Helwani previously worked at FOX Sports 1, serving as an analyst for the network's show UFC Tonight. He joined ESPN last month.
He has had multiple brush-ups with the UFC and president Dana White, who had banned him from being credentialed for a time. He also blamed the organization for pulling him off of Showtime's coverage ahead of last year's Floyd Mayweather vs. Conor McGregor fight.
In an interview with Awful Announcing, Ariel Helwani praised ESPN for its support early on, and at the same time, took a shot at FOX.
He says that FOX often backed its partner in UFC, over him as its employee. From Awful Announcing:
“I’m so happy because when I left Fox, what hurt me the most wasn’t that they listened to Dana or the UFC and cut ties for no fault of my own, it’s that I never felt I had any support, I never felt they had my back, I never felt there was loyalty there. Even before I stepped through the doors here on Friday, I noticed right away, particularly from (senior ESPN coordinating producer) Glenn (Jacobs) but from other people as well, this is an incredibly loyal company. The things they were saying to me blew my mind, without me even being on board yet.
...when you compare the experience I had at Fox to even my first four days here, to say that it’s night and day already is a massive understatement. And it’s not just UFC this and that, I just feel like there’s loyalty here and teamwork and support, and everyone wants to make everyone better."
Interestingly, Helwani's move makes sense for ESPN because it is now a broadcast partner of the UFC. Over the last few months, ESPN struck multiple deals with UFC, worth a reported total of $1.5 billion. That will include fights on the ESPN+ service.
Helwani told Awful Announcing that he is not worried about once again working for a broadcast partner, and feels that he has a "solid working relationship" with White.
Earlier this week, reports emerged that FS1 is poaching SportsNation host Marcellus Wiley from ESPN, to pair with Jason Whitlock on Speak For Yourself, the show that Colin Cowherd is set to depart as co-host. Even years after FS1's launch, it and ESPN continue to poach talent and trade blows.