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Talk Radio: Everyone has a price in the MMA media and you can’t expect independent-minded journalism

By Zach Arnold | June 5, 2010

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Except for a few of us…

This discussion happened on Sherdog radio on Friday. A caller brings up the charge that Ariel Helwani and Danny Acosta worked for the UFC during UFC 114 weekend and then the conversation spirals into the idea that because there’s not enough money for MMA media writers that it’s OK to take a pay day from a promoter if it means paying the bills.

I’m choosing to respond to the quotes from the radio show before you read them because I don’t want to interrupt any of the commentary — I want you to read it in full. However, a message to Jack Encarnacao — I am an independent-minded guy and I am not entirely alone. I know you used the term “Watergate” in a different context, but there was a “Watergate” story for MMA and it was called the implosion of PRIDE. I asked many writers at the time to help give the story coverage and actually talk about it and people largely took a pass. The PRIDE implosion was a story that had so many elements to make it major — organized crime charges, the involvement of Japan’s largest broadcast network (outside of NHK), major fighting events, allegations of death threats, you name it and it was there.

There are stories being covered out there in an honest fashion and I understand that maybe four years is ancient history to you, but the ramifications of what happened during PRIDE’s collapse are still being felt today in the business today.

I will say one point that the radio show got right — no money mark wants to finance an ‘honest’ MMA media web site. Not going to happen.

Any how, read the full article and check out what the radio hosts had to say on the topic.

TJ DE SANTIS: “Shane Carwin hates the media. Us included. Yeah, he hates the media. Any man that makes a Twitter list about his Top 10 media people really hates the media and just wants to have everyone pissed at him.”

CALLER: “Speaking of media, what’s up with Ariel Helwani and Danny Acosta working for the UFC with the web site and the Dana White look-alike contest? I think that’s rather being bought by Dana White. What do you think about that?”

TJ DE SANTIS: “I don’t think either look like Dana White, either, so…”

CALLER: “Are we not sad how the MMA media’s like selling out like that?”

LOTFI SARIAHMED: “Here’s the thing. There’s been a lot of discussion about this very topic because of things like what Helwani did for the UFC and what Danny Acosta’s doing now, but it’s not as if MMA media is that profitable of a business and listen, you don’t get into journalism for the money. People tell you that right off the top. But MMA media especially, you’re not, there are maybe two or three people that are earning decent money. So, if you go and you do things like this, well listen, you still have to take it under consideration because you can be called out like this. But, I mean, at the end of the day if you’re going to make a couple of extra bucks doing this, well… I mean it’s at the very least worth consideration. It’s an to-each-his-own decision to make.”

TJ DE SANTIS: “Keep in mind you’re listening to a radio show with three hosts that all have part-time jobs. Well, Jack has a full-time job and this is his part-time job.”

JACK ENCARNACAO: “It’s a great point that Lotfi makes. I think we often miss it because first of all, I’d love to know like where the responsibility is for integrity in Mixed Martial Arts journalism anyway. For a world that craves like crap-talking sound bites and just the back-and-forth and just they really exist to just hate on fighters and fighting. It’ seems like that seems to be the main cache out there. I mean, these people obviously enjoy the sport quite a bit but it’s… It almost doesn’t warrant or you can’t expect you know really independent minded journalism. No one’s going to fund that. I mean, who cares? It’s like, people get all excited for fights when two people talk all kinds of crap about each other and they’re really charismatic and then they fight. How can you really have an objective, how can you really have a format, a successful financial formula to cover that objectively? You know it’s like we act like there’s this rich tradition of how to do it correctly and there isn’t and there’s a different way of covering every sport I think to a large degree.”

TJ DE SANTIS: “I think you’re exactly right about that. I think Mixed Martial Arts is new, obviously, and the MMA media is still learning how to cover the sport and I know that we have some mainstream media guys covering MMA now but still it’s… it’s… there’s… I don’t want to say a learning curve, but there’s sort of like an evolution curve in how the media is following the sport.”

JACK ENCARNACAO: “And make no mistake, we’re not doing journalism. We’re doing content providing, that is the 2010 way to refer to it, content, that’s what people want to buy. That’s what companies are willing to fund and invest in. Not journalism, content.”


LOTFI SARIAHMED: “We’re on the take here.”

JACK ENCARNACAO: “Whatever it takes to get the fighters people care most about or are under contract to the UFC on interviews, that’s what people will do because that’s the content people want to see. And to pretend that there’s a higher mission and a higher calling, I appreciate the ideology but I don’t know when that’s going to happen. Think of all the heat Jay Glazer’s getting right now. It’s like… I don’t know where this exists. People act like we’re Watergate here, like we’re responsible for covering democracy and watching tax-payer money. There’s no responsibility. To who? I mean, your integrity’s on the line if you know say whatever you know someone with money tells you to say and avoid all of the questions that someone with money wants you to avoid or someone with power and influence, fine. But… there is no higher calling and to act like people are selling out is to assume that there is something to sell out from.”

LOTFI SARIAHMED: “I’m going to play for the sake, listen, I obviously side with your argument Jack and I side with what we’ve been saying here. But for the sake of playing devil’s advocate, there is… you do to an extent, though, have to… kind of stick with this sport. It doesn’t get anywhere unless you take it somewhere.”


LOTFI SARIAHMED: “Listen, there are some mainstream sources that are covering this sport but the mainstream sources that are covering this sport are also adhering to whatever Dana White wants to say and whatever storyline that Dana White wants to put out there. I mean, there are I talk maybe only two or three people that are earning decent enough money in the sport doing this. Well, those two or three people are also doing it the right way. So it’s not… it’s not as if it’s impossible, but I certainly do understand what Brandon was talking about with Ariel doing that stuff for the UFC and with Acosta doing what he was doing, so I certainly do get both sides but because just considering what MMA is right now. But to be fair, for the sport to get somewhere you do have to treat it like it’s supposed to be treated.”

TJ DE SANTIS: “All right, we need to bump up Lotfi’s Strikeforce cut.”

LOTFI SARIAHMED: “Yes, thank you, I appreciate that because I got an electric bill coming in pretty soon.”

TJ DE SANTIS: “Yeah, we need to bump that up.”


TJ DE SANTIS: “So you can stop talking crazy like this.”

JACK ENCARNACAO: “Yeah, we all have separate deals with separate percentages based on how many mentions. So that’s kind of how it works. You know, it’s an interesting discussion, because I think to a large degree you’re right Lotfi because it’s up to the individuals in this game to elevate the professionalism but I am far from blaming anybody for you know doing what it takes to keep access to the fighters that bring an audience. And there’s a lot of compromises that have to go on, I mean do you think that… let’s say Brock Lesnar for instance. Do you think Brock Lesnar is going to give, everyone cares about his interviews, everyone. Do you think he’s going to give interviews to someone who asks him tough questions if he doesn’t have to? Absolutely not.”

TJ DE SANTIS: “Memory flashes back to the ESPN E:60 piece where I think he just took off his wireless microphone and got up and walked away when they asked him about steroids.”

JACK ENCARNACAO: “He walked out and that was during another stage of his life entirely. They were asking him about pro-wrestling and he was you know a well-entrenched top name in MMA at that point so he could write it off as ancient history or whatever but he wasn’t having it and he doesn’t have to have it. These fighters have no obligation to talk to the media and if they feel like all it really does is waste their time and take their focus away from training and put them at a disadvantage, fine. But there are some guys that love to talk and those are the guys that do good interviews and can give you this kind of optimistic that there’s a way to do MMA journalism that isn’t beholden to promotional interests. But those guys, that’s just the way they are, you know I talked to Pat Barry for a Q & A that’s going to be coming out next week. The guy is, he just, he loves to talk. Stuff just comes off the top of his head. He thinks outside the box. He’s a colorful thinker and a colorful personality, it’s just the way he is. But if you’re not like that you can’t expect people to subject themselves to questions, I mean the only reason first of all most fighters do interviews is because there’s clauses in their UFC contracts that say you know part of their job is to help promote fights and they can be considered, I think I believe I’m almost positive, in violation of a certain clause of their contract if they just refuse to ever do interviews.”

TJ DE SANTIS: “Well, trust me, it’s the opposite when we call them and ask to do interviews.”

JACK ENCARNACAO: “Right, which is, you know… Imagine how much more difficult that makes it. A fighter does go out on a limb and says I guess I should be doing interviews, but then there’s a list of 10 people he can’t talk to. You know, it’s like way more trouble than it’s worth sometimes.”

TJ DE SANTIS: “As far as I know, it’s not that they can’t talk to us, we’re just ‘unapproved media.’ “

Topics: Media, MMA, UFC, Zach Arnold | 14 Comments » | Permalink | Trackback |

14 Responses to “Talk Radio: Everyone has a price in the MMA media and you can’t expect independent-minded journalism”

  1. Jon says:

    Ariel’s been getting a lot of heat lately and it’s stupid because he does a 10 times better job than Sherdog or BE.

  2. 45 Huddle says:

    The YES Network has their own reporters. They have greater access to the Yankees management and reporters then anything ESPN has. They are technically paid by the network, but the network is owned by the Yankees. A few of them got World Series rings as well when the Yankees won in 2009. It is a far greater “conflict of interest” then anything we see in MMA. And the reporting is still top notch and fair and balanced.

    So I don’t think being paid by the league you are covering makes much of a difference.

    It has to do with the INDIVIDUALS. The MMA Media is filled with a bunch of amateurs. They are immature, young, and unprofessional. A bunch of fanboys. And it shows when they do their “reporting”. That is really the only problem I see.

    Ariel Helwani is a good reporter. He asks Dana White tough questions…. Calls him on things he said 6+ months ago. Is he friendly with him? Absolutely! It’s the same thing you see with guys who cover sports teams. There is a give and take between being friendly to get into the reporting… and asking the tough questions. I see Ariel as exactly what we see in the major sports leagues. He walks that line nearly flawlessly. He has had his moments of badness…. Can you say Cro Cop situation? But overall, he is a professional.

    The same can’t be said for the Sherdog gang. Especially for Loretta Hunt. And Josh Gross is even worse.

    It’s not a surprise that the Sherdog guys missed the boat on the real problem here. Why? Because it would basically be calling them out on their own garbage. But as a whole, the MMA Media is downright awful.

    And a guy like Ariel is doing nothing wrong. A woman like Hunt writing glorified press released for anybody that does business against the UFC and writes hit pieces on the UFC. And then they wonder why Dana White has a problem with them….

    White’s an ego maniac to a certain degree. He has his own issues. But he also is dealing with a bunch of guys covering his sport that are useless. So it’s easy to see why he gets so angry…. And most of the time rightfully so.

    • Zach Arnold says:

      The line I draw on this is if you work for YES or an outfit like that owned by a specific team, just work for that outlet. Keep it open and transparent and not confusing.

      But there is irony about YES because Michael Kay does the Yankees games for YES and he also is on ESPN 1050 in New York with his own radio show.

    • Who at YES Network is playing off the fact that they are impartial journalists? Everyone knows the job of that network is to shill the Yankees.

      • 45 Huddle says:

        They 10 times more fair then anything we see out of Bloody Elbow, Sherdog, Josh Gross, or the Yahoo guys.

        And you obviously do not watch the network, because if you did, you would know they are hardly schill’s. They ask tough questions time and time again. They know how to do it in a nicer way because they are on friendly terms with management. But they still ask the tough questions. But it’s done in a professional and fair manner.

        The same thing happens in a different way with all of the sports teams out there. They have journalists from the local papers who get into the clubhouse or locker room after the game. And it’s a fine line between being their friends and being there to ask the tough questions. Most of the time those old media guys do a great job of walking that line. Unlike the new media MMA types who have little connections to the organizations and just rip on them because they have no clue how to act covering a SPORT.

        Simply put…. Most of the MMA Media is the New York media equivalent to the NY Post. Which is a borderline tabloid paper. Guys like Helwani and Stump (Junkie)… Who are in the minority…. are more in line with how the normal papers would handle sports.

        And that in a nutshell is the problem with the MMA Media. For the Yankees, 90% of it is good quality with 10% being tabloid trash (NY Post). With MMA, 90% of it is tabloid trash (Sherdog, Iole, Gross, BE, etc.) and only a fraction of it is legit (Helwani & Junkie to name a few).

        • The majority of your argument is unassailable fact. However, that doesn’t change the fact that the most important news that’s broken is broken by independent media organizations, not networks owned by individual sports teams like is the case with the Yankees or Royals. Iole is a better journo than most in MMA. The problem is that he, by all appearances, is a mouthpiece for the UFC. I don’t care how well he can write in that instance – I’m not interested in well written fluff pieces because they’re good for the biz or whatever.

    • Tony says:

      Excellent post.

  3. David M says:

    I agree w 45 about Ariel Helwani–I think he is a good reporter and one of the only mma “journalists” who doesn’t come across most of the time like a fanboy buffoon.

    As for Jeff Pearlman ripping Jay Glazer, what a jealous bitch.

    • Jonathan Snowden says:

      Why would Jeff Pearlman be jealous of Jay Glazer? I love Pearlman’s books. He’s got a gift for finding the interesting stories no one else can. Probably because he doesn’t want to be friends or business associates with the people he covers.

  4. Jonathan says:

    I think this an interesting topic. To 45 Huddle, I would say that Josh Gross is one of the better journalists…and an actual journalist…in this sport. I think you dislike him because he does not swallow the Zuffa load like you do. That being said, I think that Loretta Hunt is a horrible interviewer and when I look at her work, it does not scream quality. The fact that she wrote a book with a fighter does not say much. And I think that alot of MMA websites out there just echo what each other is saying and that there is very little “reporting” going on. MMA is not a true sport right now….heck, because of the nature of the business, it may never be. But until it becomes a sport, not a competition, the level of psuedo-journalism that we are seeing now will stay the same. I mean, for pete’s sake, one of the biggest websites out there is named “Cage Potato”….i.e. was chosen back before it became “big time”.

    I also think that the Sherdog network is different from every other MMA website out there because they actually make money (alot of money I reckon) off their website. Also, they provide 1000% more content than anyone else out there.

    • 45 Huddle says:

      Gross tries to play the part of a real journalist. But he falls short when his horrible biases run wild in his writings. From his hatred of Zuffa, to his love for anything Fedor or Rampage. He often contradicts his own standards for fighters and promotions when it doesn’t come to terms with his favorites.

      The guy thinks that the fighters should come first and that the promotions should basically be useless. It’s a false idea, but it’s his own right to have that viewset. The problem is that these views get basically pushed into his writings far too often. The sport is not going to change. This is the structure of it. He needs to accept that and provide a good analysis instead of a constant bashing of Zuffa.

      It’s like having a NBA reporter bash the league any chance he gets because they don’t have a 3rd conference in Europe. It’s just not the way the league is set-up. End of story. Time to report on reality. And Gross is unable to do that more often then not.

      Heck, Iole is a UFC shill and I can’t stand him. So my enjoyment of MMA journalists is not based on their pro or anti-UFC beliefs. It’s about them putting out quality content.

      I typically find I enjoy these 3 sources the most…. Ariel Helwani, Dave Meltzer, and MMA Junkie.

      I also see MMA Live as a step in the right direction. It has a ways to go…. And needs some more independent analysis (non-UFC paid guys)…. But it’s a professional show that is starting to turn the corner on presenting MMA as a sport.

  5. EJ says:

    45 is right about Gross he is equally as bad as Hunt, I mean between Sherdog, BE and others the mma online media is a joke. Most of these writers seem to have an obssession with tearing down Zuffa and White to a point where they lose all of their objectivity and show their bias.

  6. Lachlan says:

    I’d just like to point out how much respect I have for Ariel Helwani. I don’t think there’s a better guy out there currently as far as interviews go. I really appreciate his knowledge, passion and his style.

  7. Rob Maysey says:

    Keep doing your thing Zach—

    Just WOW at that. WOW.


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