Ariel Helwani is a Canadian journalist who has become a focal point for combat sports journalism. He’s been credited and endorsed by major sports networks, including ESPN, BT Sport, and SHOWTIME. Ariel propelled his brand while reporting within the UFC and became well-known for interviewing former 2x champion Conor McGregor, regularly pre and post-fight. Although, Helwani picked up a controversial reputation in his early days of the fight game for supposedly ‘instigating rivalries’ between fighters, which got him a lifetime ban at UFC media days alongside being banned from reporting at the Mayweather vs McGregor event.
Despite the knockbacks Ariel has had to deal with, he’s grown his personal brand to new heights where he’s essentially built ‘his own ESPN’. This blog will discover the journey the Canadian born has been on and how his personal brand has evolved.
The MMA Hour
The MMA Hour is an independent talk show that the Canadian journalist has created. He speaks with personalities involved in the MMA space, including Israel Adesanya, Jorge Masvidal, Francis Ngannou and more.
Topics on the talk show consist of pre-fight preparations, the latest updates in the fighter’s career and personal lives. This initiative allows Ariel to build authentic relationships with his fighters, which will only enhance the content produced during the streams. Helwani has opened up about how he has many fighters’ phone numbers and discusses personal matters with some of them. This puts the Canadian born in a position where most of the MMA community will view him as an authentic voice for the sport. Hence, the journalist has had many successes from the show.
BT Sport involvement
Ariel has also worked as a host for BT Sport. Following the Canadian born leaving ESPN in June 2021, he’s decided to pursue other opportunities with Spotify, Substack and BT Sport. Most of his work at BT Sport consists of presenting boxing events, including Jake Paul vs Tyron Woodley and Mike Tyson vs Roy Jones Jr. He’s also rumoured to be involved with the Katie Taylor vs Amanda Serrano fight confirmed by Eddie Hearn on the MMA Hour.
ESPN and BT Sport have two diverse audiences. ESPN are more focused globally and dominate US territory, whereas BT Sport has the same impact across the UK. Therefore, Ariel can gain further reach across UK soil which has opened more opportunities beyond boxing journalism. BT Sport has given Ariel the chance to interview WWE stars such as Randy Orton, AJ Styles, Drew McIntyre and more. This further solidifies Ariel’s legacy as not only being remembered as a hardcore MMA journalist but one of the most well-known across combat sports.
Personal YouTube Channel
Ariel has his own YouTube channel, currently sitting on 122k+ subscribers. His content consists of interviews across various industries and professions, including athletes, comedians, authors, and celebrities. He also uses his channel to share personal updates, including receiving awards, sponsorship announcements, and UFC event previews.
It’s smart to utilise this medium to present more than his passions for MMA. It could open up opportunities to work across show businesses and entities away from the sport if he wished. Plus, it enhances his value to the MMA community by having a journalist who’s interviewed a wide range of professions. Similarly, with Joe Rogan and his podcast, having him as an analyst has widened the appeal of the UFC and MMA to casual audiences.
The Ringer MMA Show
Despite the busy schedule of the MMA journalist, Ariel has made time to form his own podcast, the Ringer MMA Show. Through this channel, Ariel has the opportunity to present his own views across the MMA scene, including takes on fighters, potential match-making and more.
As a journalist, your profile is built by giving other fighters a spotlight through your brand to uplift their own. In this circumstance, Ariel has gained mass popularity by opening a podcast to share his own views that he can monetise for his own audience.
Helwani also owns a newsletter on a paid subscription-based service called Substack, which he’s entitled Helwani Nose. The newsletter covers Ariel’s unfiltered thoughts across the MMA scene alongside highlights from his Twitter feed. The Canadian journalist often gets many comments about his nose from MMA fans alongside other personalities in MMA, particularly Middleweight Darren Till. He’s utilised this to inspire the tone-of-voice for his newsletter, an effective method to capture attention from his audience hysterically.
In some Helwani Nose newsletters, he offers the chance for fans to comment on their questions on each edition. From this, he’ll try and answer it in the following releases or through other mediums he’s involved in. As a journalist, it’s important to build authentic relationships as your audience increases; having Q&A related content embedded into your content avenues is an easy and valuable way to achieve this.
Interestingly, Ariel doesn’t keep the proceeds he makes from Substack subscriptions. Instead, he gives them away to charity. Helwani does this because he appreciated the value of working with Substack, considering the journalist does video and audio content with his podcasts and interviews. Substack gives him another avenue to display his talents through writing. Although, on the My First Million podcast, Ariel admitted he wasn’t comfortable with sitting behind a paywall as he’s always been used to letting his audience consume his content without exclusivity. This is an important value that Ariel has followed for himself, and for that reason, he has another avenue to build his brand, but he does it by remaining authentic with himself.
Audience building techniques
On Ariel’s first feature of the My First Million podcast, hosts Sam Parr and Shaan Puri discussed audience-building techniques that could benefit Ariel. Their first idea consisted of adopting the Mr Beast Burger model, Helwani picking a food product/cuisine that he likes and then distributing it through a fast-food chain. Plus, this could be incorporated through UFC events. For example, delivery options are available to order with a Pay-Per-View event alongside fighter-themed food items on the menu to drive cultural sensitivity.
Another concept involved Ariel opening up his own journalism/reporter academy. Offering aspiring journalists to be a part of an exclusive community where they’re open to networking opportunities under Ariel’s brand, learning styles of journalism that have helped propel Helwani alongside other career progression perks. This idea has been adopted by many content creators involving UK YouTuber JMX, creator of the world’s first YouTube academy, XCADEMY, to receive coaching to achieve your content creation dreams. This could prove a useful trend for Ariel to consider when coming towards the end of his journalism days, as it keeps his brand alive alongside his online community.
Ariel also discussed his own audience-building techniques, which involved the following.
- He values the importance of having a unique persona and tone of voice. When he began interviewing MMA fighters, nobody else was maximising the space, and for this reason, he’s become of the most pivotal figures in MMA journalism.
- Pick a day where your audience can expect content from you. For example, Ariel usually does an MMA hour stream on Mondays, which his fans will get ready to tune in for.
- When interviewing guests, be a human being towards them. For example, the MMA personalities Ariel interviews; he regularly keeps in touch with them outside of the business to sustain authentic relationships.
- Utilise social media to enhance short-form content from long-form content. For example, he’ll release clips from his podcast and streams through his social feeds to drive traction.