After many years of interviews, Mike Swick and Ariel Helwani switch seats. Former UFC fighter Mike Swick, reporting now for MikeSwick.com, turns the tables and becomes the interviewer. Swick now asks the leading MMA journalist some important questions. Ariel Helwani gets candid real quick, with Mike Swick.
Interview Part 2:
The Brock Lesnar thing. Did you know that they were building it up to this big magical moment and you’d be spoiling that when you reported it?
“No, someone told me 2 days before, that Brock was close to coming back. I was like “Wow, it’s a month away. Brock Lesnar coming back, it’s a huge deal.” There had been no rumors of this at all. Next 2 days I am following up and talking to people and it gets to a point where I confirm it the night of UFC 199. I actually missed the first couple fights because I was in my hotel room writing it up. I was waiting for 1 more confirmation. I didn’t know what the plans were or that they were going to announce it. I figured it was going to happen at any moment and I was kinda part of the urgency because the fight was a month away, so they have to announce it, right? I would argue that this big reveal wasn’t really that great big of a reveal. What was I truly spoiling? If anything, I felt like I got it on people’s radar and people were excited and talking about it and I can guarantee you that no one who read my report before they put it on the Pay-Per-View, which was only seen by the less than half a million people, felt like I ruined the announcement for them. Or that they didn’t buy UFC 200 because of it. I wasn’t trying to to be malicious or ruin the surprise. I was just doing my job. I didn’t get the information in any shady ways. It was unfortunate that was the reaction, but I hope that their decision to un-ban us 48 hours later, signaled that they recognized there was a mistake.
One time before, I got a piece of news that Dominick Cruz was gonna fight at UFC 169 and the UFC said they were gonna go check on this and then they gave the news to someone else and I got burned.
If I get information right now that Conor is fighting Mr. X on March 4th and it’s confirmed, I am reporting it right now. The UFC would probably have a big plan to announce it, as that’s their job, but I can’t worry about that for one, and I don’t believe my reporting affects them in any way. When an outlet reports that some so-and-so is going to perform at the halftime show at the Super Bowl, before the NFL is able to do it, which has happened every year, that doesn’t make people not watch the Super Bowl. That’s just how news works.”
So there is no real relationship between you and Dana at this time?
“He did a scrum a few weeks ago and we talked and it seemed fine. I’d like to think that with all the history we have, bygones will be bygones. At some point, hopefully we’ll be able to sit down and talk about all this. I’m in the business of reporting news and reporting news accurately. I’m lucky enough now that I know all the top managers, coaches, and fighters. I have access to them and don’t necessarily need to go to the UFC to confirm things.”
What are a couple of your all-time favorite fights?
“Right off the top of my head, UFC 165. The main event between Jon Jones and Alexander Gustafsson. It was so amazing to watch. No one thought Gustafsson had a chance. He took Jones down, it was back-and-forth, spinning back elbows and both dug down deep… It was just an amazing fight. You have the challenger rise to the occasion and get so close. Then you have the champion on the brink of defeat and he digs deep to retain the title. I love that fight.
There are so many to chose from, but if I had to go with one more, it was UFC 65. George St. Pierre beating Matt Hughes, to become the champion. I was watching in a bar in Montreal and it was such a big deal to have one of our own become champion. I remember the emotion when that place erupted. Getting goosebumps just thinking about it. It was like we won the Stanley Cup. That was a really cool moment. Those are just 2 that come to mind.”
I was told during live tapings of ‘UFC Tonight’, during commercial breaks, you would let the fans quiz you on past events and you would say the main events. Do you really know them all?
“Basically dating back to UFC 64ish, you can throw any event number and I could name at least one or two fights.”
So I have one for you, UFC 69.
“Shootout! Houston Texas”
Yes, Shootout. Aside from GSP losing to Matt Serra, what else happened on the card that was historic that changed the sport?
“GSP lost to Serra. Some guy named Mike Swick suffered a tough defeat as well.”
Do you know, that fight was the 1st time a sponsor banner was ever used in the entire sport of MMA?
“WHAT?!?! Really? I did not know that. That is an unbelievable piece of trivia!”
I just had to throw that at you considering that it’s never really been covered and it’s like my little contribution to the sport.
“It would be really awesome if there was real MMA Hall Of Fame, like baseball or whatever. That would be in it.”
*INTERESTING FACT* On April 7th 2007, at UFC 69, Mike Swick was the first fighter ever to use a printed vinyl sponsor banner before an MMA fight. Without permission or authorization by the UFC, Mike and his corner took the risk and it has been a staple ever since. Ironically enough, Swick also fought at UFC 189, which was the first card since then to not allow sponsored banners, due to the new Reebok deal.
Give us your thoughts on Ronda’s fight and where she goes from here.
“It was hard to get a gauge because she didn’t talk to the media, but the main question I wanted to know was if she was over the Holly Holm fight. You lose that spectacularly. It’s heartbreaking. It’s embarrassing. I know the way she handled it and she was torn up about it. I wanted to know if she was over it, because if she wasn’t over it, it would lead to trouble with Amanda Nunes. I think we learned the answer to that questions in the first 5 Seconds of the Nunes fight. It seemed to me that she wasn’t over the Holly Holm fight. The fact that she wouldn’t talk to the media was a sign that she wasn’t over it. She didn’t want to rehash it all. That’s really my take on Ronda. You heard people who don’t know the sport say that she was never that good or she was exposed and that’s just not fair. She fought the best of the best when she was champion, she beat Miesha Tate twice and beat all the top women in the sport, at the time.
Unfortunately, she prided herself on being undefeated and she said she was going to retire undefeated. It didn’t happen. She lost in a spectacular way and never got over it. Where does she go from here? I don’t know. I wouldn’t be surprised if she never fights again.
She is a very competitive person though. Let’s not forget she’s also lost on a bigger stages than the UFC. She lost in the Olympics. She twice devoted four years of her life to winning a gold medal and she failed both times. She has been through heartbreak and she knows what it’s like to lose. She is not foreign to this but I think she was so obsessed with being undefeated that it really rocked her world. All that being said, it didn’t take away anything that she ever did in the past. I still think she’s a trailblazer, pioneer, and one of the greatest women fighters of all time. It’s just unfortunate that she was never able to get over the Holly Holm fight.”
Mark Hunt has come out and said he’s suing the UFC, Dana White and Brock Lesnar. How do you see this all playing out? Suing the UFC and fighting for the UFC at the same time?
“It’s very unique. I have never seen this in MMA. I’d love to hear what the UFC has to say about it, but they probably won’t comment on a legal matter. I’ll say this about Mark Hunt… He’s definitely a man of his word. He said he was going to do this and he’s going through with it. Is this a play to get them to release him, so he can go fight for someone else? I don’t know. You have to at least commend him for backing up what he was saying. It’s fascinating. I was kind of surprised that he signed the bout agreement, but he has a family and kids and needs to make a living. So I understand in the end why he did it, but I don’t know what’s going to happen. Like the Ronda situation, nothing would surprise me at this point.”
What do you think is going to happen now that WME-IMG bought the UFC?
“Well that is truly the 4 billion dollar question. I think there are so many questions that have not been answered and that will take some time to be answered as well. Just right off the bat, the new owners have not talked to us once. Not one interview or one press conference about it, which I think is a little strange to be honest. The company was sold in July and the deal was closed in August. To not make any kind of announcement or statement, to me, is surprising. I mean, when you think of other sports and their transactions, like when the Clippers were sold to Steve Ballmer for 2 billion dollars a couple years ago, he had a big press conference. I don’t know. I figured by now they would have said something, but they’re not. At least, not right now.
I hope soon that they will, because it will be interesting to talk to them about where their vision is and get a sense of where they are taking the company. Some of these decisions about interim belts and creating a new weight class, all this stuff, I personally fear that we are trending towards entertainment more so than sport. What I mean by that is that I have always been a fan of the showmanship and the glitz and glamour and making it a big event. I love that stuff. The rivalries, the storylines, that’s all very important, as far as getting people emotionally invested into the sport. You can’t compromise what this is all about though. This is a sport.
I think that regardless of what you think about the Fertitta’s and Dana White, the ZUFFA era if you will, you can’t deny the fact that they helped turn a spectacle into a sport. Rankings, contenders, weight classes and rules and all these things, did not really exist before they bought it. I don’t want them to abolish that and become this big mess where guys are fighting for belts when they don’t really deserve it, because it’s the biggest draw and there’s no meritocracy and there’s no ladder to climb. I just think that’s a very slippery slope and I am worried that now we are moving more to that direction. Also, they have a massive loan and they have to make a lot of money in a relatively short amount of time. So are they going to make decisions that will ultimately get them more money, but that will not be what’s best for the sport in the long run? Also, do they need the big stars now more than ever and will they pay them more to try and get them on board? If you look at the first half of this year, where are the big stars? Where are the big draws? Where are the big PPV headliners? Conor is taking a break. Ronda is gone for who knows how long. GSP is on the sidelines. Jon Jones is gone till the summer. Brock is gone. Where are the big stars?
I mean, there is no really good answer because we are in the amazing transitional phase now and they haven’t quite explained where they are at. They are giving us clues. They have let a lot of people go and we don’t know who are replacing these people. We don’t know what their direction or what their vision is. I think it’s fair to be a little skeptical of where they are headed, but I also think it’s fair to reserve judgement until they are able to put their vision in place for the next couple of years.”
I know you have kids and a family at home but being a journalist is pretty much a 24/7 deal. Is there ever a time that you just take for yourself and your family and just shut your phone off and put the computer away? Can you do it?
“I dream about doing that, but it’s very hard for me to do. I am a little too obsessed. It’s not like a regular job. It’s news. I’m always afraid to take vacations. What if the biggest news story happens in the middle of my vacation? The vacation is done. That’s my job. People don’t care that I’m on vacation. People come to me for the news. I do follow journalists that do take vacations. They say goodbye and then they come back a week later and resume work. I’m like “Man, how do they do that?” Good for them, but I have a hard time doing it.
I’ll tell you what though… Becoming a father has really given me more balance and perspective. It’s not all about me or my job any more. My kid comes in the room and he wants me to change him. I have to do it and then we’ll play. You get these beautiful distractions that have given me so much happiness. A perspective and balance that I didn’t have before. I am very lucky that my wife understands.”
Lastly, what advice do you give to aspiring journalist based on your experience?
“Work hard, be professional, don’t be afraid to ask questions, be different, be prepared, and always listen. Don’t stick to the script! Let the interviews flow like a conversation and ask followups. Also, have at least 2 very good sources confirmed when running with a scoop. Finally, ‘Off the record’ always means that. If you lose trust, you have nothing.”
Read part 1 of this interview here:
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