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Growing up in Montreal, Ariel Helwani would emulate postgame interviews in his driveway after playing basketball games with friends.
In ninth grade, Helwani was in English class hiding an issue of a Sports Illustrated magazine behind the book he was supposed to be reading. While reading, he stumbled across some of the top-ranked schools for broadcasting, and although he never thought much of it before, he realized he could turn his passion for sports reporting into a career. That’s when Helwani found Syracuse.
Helwani, a mixed martial arts reporter and alumnus of the Newhouse School of Public Communications, co-hosts a podcast with former UFC fighter Daniel Cormier on ESPN+ called DC & Helwani. He talked to Syracuse students virtually on Wednesday night about his path to becoming a sports reporter and the challenges he faced at Syracuse, such as struggling to find the right media outlet for him.
During his first semester, Helwani auditioned for WAER and WJPZ but eventually dropped both for WERW, where he could be more creative. Helwani focused his WERW show on sports, specifically MMA. WERW was Helwani’s “shining light” freshmen year, and it helped him deal with homesickness.
He attributed his radio show’s growing popularity to the emerging success of MMA. He would interview local Syracuse fighters in gyms and those who were involved in the sport internationally because of its easy access.
After graduating, Helwani was one of three students chosen for Newhouse’s internship with NBC for the 2004 Summer Olympics in Athens. But before Helwani left for Athens, he broke his ankle while playing basketball and had to drop out of the internship.
“It’s funny how life works because that injury changed the course of my life,” Helwani said. “As a result of that, I couldn’t go to the Olympics.”
Shortly after, HBO contacted Helwani about a job in the documentary department, kickstarting his career as a journalist. He moved from HBO to Paramount, but he quit a week into his job at Paramount to create an MMA website. His boss told him he was going to regret quitting Paramount.
“I knew all the things he could be saying were true, but I also knew in my heart you only get one life,” Helwani told students. “I’m not going to wake up doing a job that I just don’t feel passionate about.”
He began to cover MMA fights and interview fighters after realizing that MMA wasn’t being covered professionally like other sports. He launched a combat sports website, where he posted videos. As his videos gained traction in the MMA community, Helwani gained over 900,000 Twitter followers and became a top journalist for mixed martial arts.
Helwani advised students to honor journalism ethics and stay honest, principles he’s used to gain the respect of top MMA fighters. He never planned on returning to Syracuse until Newhouse asked him to speak, and he values the opportunity he had to impact students.
“Anytime that I can do anything for Syracuse and for the students — it really means the world to me.”
The post Ariel Helwani recounts path to becoming top MMA reporter appeared first on The Daily Orange.