Ariel Helwani on covering events in Saudi Arabia. Photo Credit: The MMA Hour on YouTube.

Much has been made about Saudi Arabia’s increased influence in the sports world, and whether or not sportswashing has been used to paint the country in a better light. Combat sports journalist Ariel Helwani recently covered a DAZN boxing event in Saudi Arabia. And according to him, it helped change his perspective on Saudi Arabia’s intentions in the sports realm.

The recent boxing match between Anthony Joshua and MMA star turned-boxing competitor Francis Ngannou last week took place in Saudi Arabia and was largely a highly-anticipated event with a ton of hype around it.

Helwani attending the event was a bit of a surprise considering he turned down the opportunity to attend an event in the past in the country. That was a card with a main event between YouTube sensation turned boxer Jake Paul and Tommy Fury, the brother of heavyweight boxing champion Tyson Fury.

On his show, The MMA Hour, Helwani explained why he chose not to attend the past boxing event in Saudi Arabia, and how his perspective was changed on the matter for this recent boxing event.

“So there are a couple of reasons why last year I didn’t attend that card,” said Helwani. “One was it was around the time of my son’s birthday. It wasn’t specifically on his birthday but it was close, that was one of my reasons. And yes, I did say that I was a little bit torn on the assignment. That was in February of last year, so that is all accurate.

“Since then, I have met a lot of people who are a part of the promotion over there. I’m not just talking about Turki Al-Sheikh, I’m talking about a lot of people who work with him that don’t live in Saudi Arabia, who live in England. From the communications team to the marketing, to people who do work with him.

“I was uneducated at the time, and have learned a lot, and met a lot and asked a lot. And felt comfortable doing it. I know a lot has been said and written about their intentions. I feel like their intentions are to put on the biggest events, to grow the sport.

“Obviously to show Saudi Arabia in a positive light, but that is no different than anyone paying a site fee to have the UFC come to town. Everyone has motives in that regard. I feel comfortable with their motives and comfortable with what they are trying to do.”

Helwani then made it definitively clear that he has not been paid by anyone in the Saudi Arabian government, only by DAZN, for covering the event.

“I see some people saying ‘Oh, Ariel is being paid by the Saudis.’ Just to make the record crystal clear, I have not been paid by any of them. I feel like I have made my stance on that very clear. Nobody else ever has to answer these questions, but I make myself available to answer these questions for you. The only people to pay me for that event last week was DAZN.”

It’s interesting to hear this abrupt change of heart from Helwani on covering combat sports in Saudi Arabia. But it sure sounds like he is very open to another opportunity in the country in the future.

[Jed I. Goodman on Twitter/X]

About Reice Shipley

Reice Shipley is a staff writer for Comeback Media that graduated from Ithaca College with a degree in Sports Media. He previously worked at Barrett Sports Media and is a fan of all things Syracuse sports.