In a potential watershed moment for media coverage of mixed martial arts, a group of prominent MMA media have formed the MMA Journalists Association, the first professional association for media members covering the sport.
The idea of a professional association for mixed martial arts journalists has been kicked around by prominent media members since 2009 but forming an association took hold in a serious manner beginning last June following MMAFighting.com reporter Ariel Helwani having his credential pulled by the UFC prior to UFC 199 at The Forum in Inglewood, Calif. UFC officials also removed credentials from Helwani’s longtime colleagues, E. Casey Leydon and Esther Lin.
“We were escorted out of the arena before yesterday’s main event,” Helwani told SI.com at the time. “In short, I was told I was banned for life from covering UFC events in person because I reported the news that Brock Lesnar was close to signing a deal to fight at UFC 200. Our credentials were physically taken away. That’s the general story.
“They said I should have had the 'professional courtesy' to clear the news with them before reporting the news. I had confirmed it with multiple sources and it ended up being right. They confirmed it on the broadcast around three hours after I reported it. This has never happened to any of us. Never even hinted at. I went back to my room. Esther and Casey are the very best at what they do. I would argue the best in all of sports. I’ve been working with them since 2009 and I wish this didn’t happen to them as well.”
UFC shortly thereafter lifted its ban on Helwani. “Following a conversation with the editorial team at SB Nation, UFC will not prevent MMAFighting.com from receiving media credentials to cover live UFC events,” a UFC spokesman told reporters.
Incensed over the ban of reporters and photographers, an email chain started with a large group of MMA journalists following Helwani’s ban. That was followed by a smaller group working on the bylaws and charter of a potential media organization. The association (MMAJA) will formally announce this week and has created a website that is live. Here is the group’s constitution.
“Our initial efforts in 2009 never got off the ground, but we're doing this now because it's become increasingly obvious that it's long overdue,” said interim MMAJA president Dann Stupp, who covers MMA for USA Today Sports and MMAJunkie.com. “We're stronger together, and we want to continue raising the ethics and professionalism among those who cover MMA for a living. It's a diverse group but one that shares many of the same objectives. Thankfully, our initial group contains experienced and influential journalists, and they felt it was time to band together for the greater good.”
Stupp said forming the association was important to foster fellowship among the MMA media members, raise professional standards, assuring proper working conditions, and advocate for the interests of members as they navigate working relationships with promoters, fighters, managers, and the many other professionals who populate the sport of MMA. There are journalism associations for most major sports in the U.S. including the Baseball Writers' Association of America (BBWAA) and Professional Football Writers of America.
“Compared to other major sports, MMA is very young,” Stupp said. “A journalists association is needed as the sport, as well as the media, mature and continue growing globally.”
The current MMAJA membership is small at the moment including an initial Board of Directors—Stupp, Helwani (MMAFighting.com); Josh Gross (The Guardian); Marc Raimondi (MMAFighting.com); Chad Dundas (Bleacher Report); and Ben Fowlkes (MMAJunkie.com). Helwani said that the group above worked with the support of more than 20 other media members, who are expected to apply for membership soon.