So let me see if I got this right:
ESPN MMA reporter Ariel Helwani makes a statement that since Welterweight Champion Kamaru Usman MMA wants to take an extended break to spend quality time with his daughter, (which is certainly understandable) he suggested that Gilbert “Durinho” Burns should face Leon Edwards in a title eliminator bout.
Helwani even backed his thought with numbers. Burns has won 4 in a row at welterweight, while Edwards is currently on an 8 fight unbeaten streak. Edwards was in line to get a shot if he had beat Tyron “The Chosen One” Woodley. Then COVID came and ruined everything, especially for Edwards.
Here is Helwani’s statement:
- “First of all, the disrespect that Mr. Leon Edwards has had to endure over the past year is disgusting, really disgusting, Just because he doesn’t puff his chest out, just because he doesn’t have a manager writing his tweets, just because he doesn’t go out there and endear himself to all the media doesn’t mean that this guy shouldn’t be fighting for a title.
- Number one: this man has won eight in a row. Eight in a row! He’s won eight in a row. Eight in a row, right? He was supposed to fight Tyron Woodley on March 21st. He had that opportunity taken away from him. And, by the way, when Masvidal couldn’t come to terms with the UFC on July 11th, they went to Edwards first! He had to turn it down because he didn’t have a training situation, and it was on three weeks’ notice. God forbid Leon Edwards wants more than three weeks to train for his fight. A title fight! Lord knows if he’s ever going to get another chance to fight for the title. I respect the fact that he said, ‘Give me a little more time.
- So, what about this: Usman just fought, he wants to spend time with his daughter, he’s earned that opportunity, it’s been a very hectic few months for him. Let him chill out until the end of the year. In the meantime, they’re gonna go back to Abu Dhabi in September, what’s wrong with Burns vs. Edwards on one of those cards as a number one contender fight. Burns has won four in a row at welterweight, six overall. Four is not equal to eight, you know what I’m saying? Four not equal to eight. Why does Gilbert Burns deserve a shot over Leon Edwards? I don’t get it. Because he got a title shot first? Okay, tell that to Karo Parisyan, who was supposed to fight Matt Hughes 15 years ago. C’mon, not cool. It’s not fair to Leon Edwards. I don’t get it. I feel like I’m living in some kind of Bizarro World here with all you people.”
Burns as we all know tested positive for the virus, and was pulled from his title fight with Usman and replaced by Jorge “Gamebred” Masvidal.
Helwani’s suggestion isn’t out of line, it makes sense. It keeps the division moving forward, and there is nothing wrong with that.
Then, Dominance MMA head honcho Ali Abdelaziz, who manages Burns (and Usman) did not like Helwani’s suggestion. He said that none of his athletes will ever speak to ESPN journalists again. Not at a press conference, or media scrums, no interviews on shows, until ESPN conducts an investigation into Helwani for being corrupt!
Allegations of corruption coming from a man (Abdelaziz) who while a vice-president at World Series of Fighting was negotiating contracts for athletes with the promotion that he managed through Dominance, and getting them what in the opinion of many was pay above their market value because he had a vested interest, is the ultimate conflict of interest, and corruption at its finest, and even worse it was out in the open and nobody did or said anything about it, dares to claim that Helwani is corrupt?
Abdelaziz is also out there trying to get as much media attention for himself as possible. Getting into fights at Vegas buffets, starting fights at Professional Fighter League (PFL formerly WSOF) events against managers from other companies, this guy is an absolute jerk! Don’t get me wrong, he gets things done for his athletes, but the way he goes about it trying to make himself the story whereas most of the other management companies while they are out there, aren’t trying to put their face in the media the way he does. He also is still involved with PFL and continues to manage athletes on there, and his Dominance roster even though he is an officer of PFL, which as stated above is a conflict of interest.
Abdelaziz has an impressive stable of athletes on his roster, Gaethje, Cejudo, Usman, Nurmagomedov, Edgar, Burns, and more are represented by Dominance.
Burns vs Usman would have massive financial implications for Abdelaziz personally, so no matter who wins the fight, Abdelaziz ultimately is the big winner. Same with Gaethje vs Nurmagomedov, Abdelaziz wins! Because no matter who wins the 2 fights mentioned above, Abdelaziz will still represent the lightweight and welterweight champions in the UFC, and that is clout you can’t buy! This is why he is so adamant, in my opinion, about McGregor not fighting Gaethje at all or Khabib again, and Edwards not fighting Burns, because it hurts his bottom line. Which doesn’t make sense to me because fighting McGregor has the biggest financial gain for him and his athletes, I don’t think anybody could deny that fact!
Helwani has developed quite the Lil ego since being hired by ESPN to be their lead MMA authority, not very humble either. He is a “star” as far as MMA media goes. He has put in the work for a long time and deserves his spot, which I don’t think anyone can deny, except for the jealous that may want his job or the haters like Abdelaziz who don’t like the fact that reporters like Helwani don’t bow down to him and his agenda!
Here’s the funny thing about all of this, Helwani is not the UFC matchmaker and doesn’t have any say about bookings! He is a member of the media, and part of that job is to create conversation, which he did when he suggested Burns versus Edwards!
Also, UFC President Dana White said Burns is next for the champ! So who cares what Helwani says?
This is another example of Abdelaziz attempting to use his clout to push his narrative, and elevate his financial ledger, and nothing else.
I have reached out to Abdelaziz numerous times to do interviews with these clients, and he never responds because I guess I don’t have enough reach for him, and that’s okay because I don’t need to talk with his athletes to do my thing. Would I like to talk to some of these guys? Absolutely! However, when I interview with any athlete I conduct it the way I want to conduct it, with him, you are forced to conduct an interview and paint the picture that he wants the world to see, and I won’t do that!
ESPN is the largest platform out there. They have a larger reach then all the other mixed martial arts media sources combined! Abdelaziz blackballing them, because of his personal and petty issues with a reporter is doing his fighters an injustice! His athletes deserve the biggest spotlight possible, and ESPN provides that as nobody else can!
I am not the biggest fan of Helwani. I think he sometimes is condescending to some of the athletes that he has the privilege to interview, that may not be academically up to his level, and I think he intentionally tries to make them look bad, all with a smile on his face, and I don’t like that! With that being said, I stand behind him on this one. He didn’t do anything wrong, he came up with an idea, which created a conversation which is part of his job, and as I stated above he doesn’t have any say over who fights who, so what does it matter what he said in the 1st place?
A big-time manager versus the largest Sports News outlet on the planet in ESPN, who let us not forget, happens to be the broadcast partner of the UFC. If Abdelaziz follows through on his threat, then it just proves my point that he is all about him, and not so much about getting his athletes into the spotlight that they have earned! None of us care what he has to say, we don’t care about the tweets he sends out under his fighter’s accounts. We want to hear from the fighters, and he should just stay in the background, get them the best opportunities out there, and as much money as possible, oh yeah, and stay away from the media!
Will ESPN back Helwani? Will Dominance athletes talk with Helwani or any ESPN reporter despite the wishes of Abdelaziz? Whatever side of the fence you may sit on, It’s going to be interesting to see how this all ends up playing out.
Christopher James has been in the MMA industry for 15 years, Working as a ring announcer for promotions like the XFC, Island Fights, Combat Night and Fight Nights Global during his career. Chris’ love for the sport and the athletes that partake in it led him to writing and doing face to face interviews with the athletes he admired and respected. Chris isn’t conventional by any stretch of the imagination, he has his own style, and takes pride in not being a “cookie-cutter” member of the media. Unique and sometimes controversial takes are what he brings to the table, forcing folks to think a little differently about the world of MMA. He also has a love for music as he has been a dj for 25 years and his love for music gets brought to the MMA world when he gets his guests to sing on his weekly show Cage Side with Christopher James which can be seen Wednesday nights on FACEBOOK LIVE, and soon via podcast.