Long-time mixed martial arts (MMA) reporter Ariel Helwani is leaving ESPN for greener pastures. That news — first revealed by OutSports earlier Sunday afternoon — was just confirmed by Helwani himself in a 10-minute video posted to Instagram.
“I have some VERY exciting news to share about my future in due time,” he wrote in the caption. “This was 100% my decision. June 15th, which is I believe next Tuesday, will be my last day at ESPN,” Helwani said in the video. “It’s been an amazing three years. I know a lot of you have heard me talk ad nauseum over the past three years over how much working for ESPN has meant to me. It was honestly a dream come true.
“All the interview shows, and DC & Helwani, and Ariel and the Bad Guy, it’s just been a great three year run,” he continued. “So I want to let you know that there’s no hard feelings here. ESPN did offer me a new contract, I signed for 3 years back in 2018. They offered me a new contract, I got the opportunity to look at what was out there for me and I found a lot of exciting opportunities and a lot of things that I think the fans will like and be pumped about, as I am as well.”
“I’d be lying if I said I’d get [to ESPN] and then I’d leave three years later, but this is a crazy world and a crazy business and once I was given an opportunity to see what else was out there, I found a lot of things that really got me excited and I can’t wait to share those with you.”
“It’s crazy to think that it started and now it’s over, but I have a lot, a lot of exciting things that I can’t wait to share with you,” Helwani said. “The long time fans, the people who had my back, the supporters, are gonna be really pumped about it and it’s kind of crazy that it’s happening on the five year anniversary of UFC 199, when I was told my career was over and a bullet would be put in my head.”
“Now I’m about to embark on this new chapter, and as I’ve always said, I don’t feel like I work for any entity, I feel like I work for the fans because you guys saved my career. You guys saved me, there’s no doubt about that. So I’ll try to do right by the fans and try to cover the sport the right way, and in a fun way, original way, unique way. And obviously cover the fighters, the most important in all this, in a proper and professional way.”
There was some discussion in the sports broadcast media earlier in the year that Helwani’s ESPN contract was coming due and he might not return. That had nothing to do with ESPN’s opinion of Helwani, which has always been high despite UFC President Dana White’s very clear disliking of Ariel. Rather, it was laid out as a question of cost and opportunity — a.k.a. how much it would cost to keep Helwani given the amount of financial opportunity is out there for someone with as many followers on various social media platforms Helwani had.
For Helwani to leave ESPN — the holy grail of sports broadcasting — means he’s leaving that old dream of making it amongst the legacy broadcasters he grew up with and idolized through his sports journalism education, and moving on to try and trail-blaze something new that we haven’t really seen too much.
Will he Dave Meltzer-it and put his breaking news and industry insider thoughts behind some sort of paywall? Start selling more stuff on his YouTube shows? Test the Patreon market that can bring in hundreds of thousands of dollars a year for some? Shake his booty on OnlyFans?
We’re here for all of it, and we can only hope he’ll continue to be a thorn in Dana White’s side while doing it.
*UPDATE* According to NY Post’s Andrew Marchand, Helwani will be working (at least in part) with betting site Action Network. Lemme tell you what, even a small affiliate deal powered by Helwani’s followers would be quite cash money.
**Update to the update**
Update: While Ariel Helwani is in talks with the Action Network and very well could end up there as a part of his next move, nothing is signed yet.— Andrew Marchand (@AndrewMarchand) June 6, 2021