ESPN’s Ariel Helwani was interviewed this week on Renee Paquette’s “Oral Sessions” podcast. Helwani talked about being a long-time wrestling fan and getting back into WWE over the last several months. He also revealed that his contract with ESPN is about to expire and he’s not sure what his future is with the network. Helwani also discussed the issues he’s had with Dana White and more.
Ariel talking about being in attendance as a fan when the 1997 Montreal Screwjob took place:
“This is interesting. I was a massive pro wrestling fan. I was born in ‘’82, so I remember WrestleMania I, going to the video store and watching it with my brothers. Around ‘94, getting into High School, I started to get really into NBA Basketball. This was a bit of a weird time in WWF land. It was a transitional period, so I actually got out of it for two or three years. A friend of mine, we were at a driving lesson in ‘97, tells me, ‘You know, there’s a PPV coming to Montreal.’ That was the first ever PPV in Montreal. They’ve never come before so it felt like a big deal and it’s Survivor Series, we have to go. However, I had not watched for three or four years, so I was not up to speed with the storylines and everything. I was not even up to speed with the product. I get there and there are 5 million signs. That wasn’t a thing when I stopped watching in ‘94. I see Sable. I’m in 9th grade. I’m like, what the hell’s going on? It’s all sexified. It’s all different. It’s totally different. He’s like, ‘This could be Bret’s last match.’ He’s bringing me up to speed. Then what happens, happens. He throws the monitors and all that. I remember going home, going on Scoops Wrestling and those sites, reading up on all the drama, and thinking, ‘Holy Crap.’ That got me right back in. Then ‘97, ‘98, ‘99, 2000’s, I was more of a fan than ever before. Attitude Era. So in the moment, I was a little bit oblivious, but now in hindsight, I’m like, ‘Wow, I can’t believe I was at one of the most historic matches of all time.”
Ariel talking about his relationship with Dana White:
“My relationship with Dana is, I would say, nonexistent. There is no relationship. It was once supremely close, and good, and healthy, and the kind of a relationship that any journalist would want to have with arguably, the most powerful person in the sport. Now, I don’t interact with him. We don’t text. We don’t talk on the phone. What I have often said to people is that it doesn’t necessarily bother me. Of course, I have tried to have a good relationship with everyone, and that can be tough at times when you’re doing this job because people are going to get mad if you’re truly telling it like it is. It isn’t always going to be positive, but I really tried to be fair, and I hope that people will recognize that. Of course I would love to have a great relationship with him. But I will say that if he doesn’t want to talk to me, if he doesn’t want to do interviews, text, all that stuff, I can live with that. The one part that has always made me a little uncomfortable is like, you know, messing with my livelihood. That’s a different story. So, you know, interviews, texts, all that, all well and good. That’s his prerogative. I respect it. You don’t want to talk to anyone, you shouldn’t talk to them, but when it goes a little too far is when it gets a little personal, and a little uncomfortable, and that’s always been my issue. I’ve really tried my hardest when people are watching me, or listening to me speak, or reading what I write, I don’t ever want them to think I’m biased, good or bad. I don’t want them to think I have an ax to grind. I don’t want to be that guy. Sometimes it’s been difficult, but I’ve really tried to stay on that middle ground so that no one thinks, ‘Oh, here’s that Ariel, who was wronged by so and so. He’s slinging mud because he’s mad at them.’ One should have nothing to do with the other, in my opinion.
Ariel went on to say, “When things started to get a little bit sideways, it became clear. You’ll get blocked on social media. It’s very clear that someone’s unhappy with you in this case. I tried my best to repair whatever was left of the relationship, but the banning was the last time I spoke to him. That night when they kicked me out of the arena was the last time I spoke to him, maybe once, twice max, but one that I vividly remember where I was sort of, not asked, but nudged, to reach out via text to try and get the lines of communication open. This was a couple years ago, before the deal with ESPN first kicked in and I was already there. It was like, alright, we are under the same umbrella again. Let’s try. I never got a reply. I can make a very strong case that the olive branch should be reached out to me. I’m not worth hundreds of millions of dollars, he is. I have lost money as a result of some decisions he has made in employment. So, I swallowed my pride and said, ‘You know what? For the good of the company, for the good of the relationship, I strongly believe that we only have one life to live, so, why go through that life having any kind of enemies, especially something like this, where I don’t think anyone did, I certainly didn’t do anything wrong. What’s the point of all of this?”
Ariel talking about whether or not he is worried ESPN will not renew him when his contract ends::
“I obviously knew this was coming, so I want to be prepared, good or bad. It has been a great time. It was my dream to go work for ESPN. I feel like, in the midst of the pandemic, I was able to pivot quite well. I haven’t been to an event in a year. I never missed an event for 10 years. I never went more than one, like my kid was born, I’d miss one and then I’d be back at the next PPV or whatever. I haven’t been to one in over a year. Not my doing. Some people think that it’s the UFC banning me, or I’m afraid of Coronavirus. This has been ESPN’s call. That’s why I’m doing my shows from home. Hopefully, that changes very soon. I’ve been able to pivot. I used to do a show that was very interview heavy on Mondays. Then I started doing the show with D.C., Daniel Cormier. Then it became even more popular. So, I’m very proud of what I’ve been able to do. Also, one of my dreams was to work NBA games, and I got that opportunity as well. So. it’s been great. I have no ill feelings towards ESPN, and I know that they’re put in a tough spot because I know that some people probably don’t want me to be working at ESPN because of the relationship and they have had my back internally behind the scenes since I’ve signed back in April of 2018. I won’t lie. I’m a neurotic, anxious person, so there’s a part of me that would love to know what’s going to happen, but I’m trying to appreciate the moment and trying to tell myself that, ‘You know, when I’m 70, no one is going to want to work with me, or hire me, or do anything with me businesswise, so, why not just enjoy this and not get too stressed out about it?”
Ariel on possibly doing work for AEW:
“Wow, TNT, I like it yea…it would be fun. We also have ONE Championship on TNT so that’s an MMA organization that’s over there. Back in 2006 or so, I actually had a brief conversation with Double J Jeff Jarrett to work in TNA for the early days in TNA through Kurt Angle, who I befriended at the time. The wrestling world has always been a big part of my life and an influence. I’ve never worked for WWE as you know but I’m open to anything…If you know Mr. Khan, put in a good word.”