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Dominance MMA manager Ali Abdelaziz blackballs ESPN over Helwani comments

The prominent MMA manager says he won’t be allowing ESPN access to any of his fighters after Ariel Helwani made the case for Leon Edwards to fight Gilbert Burns for top contender status.

The Ultimate Fighter Finale: Edgar v Mendes Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images

The trouble with access journalism is that it relies on access. And much like many entertainment industries, in a sport like Mixed Martial Arts keeping access to the stars is a major part of doing the job for mainstream outlets. Due to their broadcast deal with the UFC, there’s little risk of ESPN ever really getting cut off from the bulk of the organization’s roster, but for the moment they appear to have lost their connection to a significant chunk of it.

Dominance MMA owner Ali Abdelaziz recently announced that he would deny access to the UFC’s broadcast partner, over what appears to be his long-running spat with Ariel Helwani. While Helwani and Abdelaziz have been trading barbs, both in interviews and over social media for the past couple years, it appears the final straw came shortly following the conclusion of UFC 251.

In a conversation between Helwani and former UFC champion Daniel Cormier for their ESPN MMA Show, the two men gave their thoughts on the current welterweight title picture following Kamaru Usman’s main event win over Jorge Masvidal in Abu Dhabi. After DC called Helwani out for suggesting that Edwards and Burns should fight for a chance to face Usman, Helwani made his case for why Burns shouldn’t automatically be next in line.

“First of all, the disrespect that Mr. Leon Edwards has had to endure over the past year is disgusting, really disgusting,” Helwani said, launching into his rant. “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 bizzaro world here with all you people.”

Gilbert Burns himself apparently took exception to the whole thing, with a string of Tweets, targeting Helwani for his take.

It wasn’t long after Burns’ outburst, that Abdelaziz took to Twitter to tell ESPN that he would no longer allow the outlet access to fighters managed by his Dominance MMA agency. And while he didn’t name Helwani specifically, it seems quite clear that Helwani’s position on Burns vs. Edwards (and just maybe that dig about managers running fighter twitter accounts) was the driving force behind the move.

Abdelaziz also noted that Canadian outlet TSN is also on his ‘banned list,’ although he didn’t state the specifics as to why.

Dominance MMA currently lists UFC champions Khabib Nurmagomedov, Kamaru Usman, and interim champ Justin Gaethje among its stable of fighters—as well as former champions Frankie Edgar, Cody Garbrandt, and Fabricio Werdum, alongside more than 30 other fighters ranging from relative newcomers to longtime veterans and top contenders. Even among a roster floating around 600 athletes deep, that’s a significant group of people who it sounds like won’t be talking to ESPN for the immediate future.