The UFC is a notoriously thin-skinned organization. They’ve fired fighters for not wanting to sign away their lifetime likeness rights (only to relent and hire them back). They’ve banned reporters from covering their events because of reports on news that wasn’t public.

At best, their treatment of the media could be called “misguided”. At worst, it’s “petty and unethical”. In any case, the UFC took things to another level on Saturday night during UFC 199 when they revoked the credentials, escorted out, and banned for life three extremely respected journalists – Ariel Helwani, formerly of Fox and still of SBNation/MMA Fighting, E. Casey Laydon, and Esther Lin.

What as the trio’s fatal sin? Why, Helwani doing his job, of course, and reporting that Brock Lesnar would be fighting at UFC 200 hours before the UFC announced it.

Helwani was on a roll during the show at the Forum in Inglewood on Saturday, because he also reported that Conor McGregor and Nate Diaz would fight at UFC 202, hours before the UFC announced that as well.

Everything was going fine with Helwani’s coverage of the pay-per-view…until the main event, when his former Fox colleague Michael Bisping took on Luke Rockhold for the middleweight title. Helwani (along with Laydon and Lin) was escorted out of the arena, had his credentials for the evening revoked, and was told he (along with his colleagues) was banned for life.

Leydon actually might have foreshadowed that something was happening after the co-main event of Dominick Cruz (hey, another Fox employee!) and Urijah Faber when he noticed Dana White wasn’t in the cage, likely because he was changing his diaper or throwing a temper tantrum like a three-year old that wants ice cream instead of broccoli.

Both Leydon and Lin also tweeted out support for each other and Helwani.

The UFC didn’t talk about the situation after the show, via MMA Junkie.

When MMAjunkie’s own John Morgan asked UFC Vice President of Public Relations Dave Sholler for a comment on the situation at the post-fight press conference, Sholler refused to discuss it.

I have one question about all of this – what the hell is the UFC doing? Are their heads so far up their asses that they don’t realize how terrible this looks?

They’ve been beating the hell out of Helwani (no pun intended) this year, from White calling him out on Twitter over a report that was proven to be correct to him getting forced out of Fox’s UFC coverage so that the UFC could whitewash UFC Tonight and the pre and post-fight shows a bit more. For as unethical as all of that is, I get it – White’s skin is so thin that it has more in common with plastic wrap than actual human skin, and the UFC wants to turn their fighters into media darlings rather than turning a reporter into one.

But I’d love to know what they think will happen after banning Helwani and his colleagues for life. Do they think he’s just going to quit reporting on the UFC and turn all of his focus to smaller promotions like Bellator and World Series of Fighting? That’s not his style at all, and would result in MMA Fighting’s traffic absolutely plummeting. Furthermore, just because Helwani can’t/won’t be credentialed any more doesn’t mean he can’t do his job – if anything, this is just going to motivate him even more to break news ahead of the UFC making official announcements.

The UFC is backing themselves into a corner here. If they want to be taken seriously as a legitimate sport, they need to accept the possibility that maybe, just maybe, reporters that aren’t under their collective thumb will break news about the company. Imagine if Major League Baseball revoked Ken Rosenthal’s credentials, or if the National Football League escorted Adam Schefter out of a game because they weren’t happy with his coverage. They would be roundly, and justifiably, pilloried across the sports world.

This is exactly what’s happening here, and it’s ridiculous. The UFC wants to be taken seriously as a major sport? That’s fine. Good for them. That *should* be their goal. But to ban reporters from covering their live events for *daring* to do their jobs? That simply shows an entitlement mentality and a lack of awareness that’s simply unheard of in the year 2016.

About Joe Lucia

I hate your favorite team. I also sort of hate most of my favorite teams.

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