Thursday, June 30, 2022

Helwani Defends Stephen A. Smith Against “Silly” MMA Criticisms

MMA journalist Ariel Helwani has spoken out in defense of former ESPN colleague Stephen A. Smith, who has been a polarizing figure when it comes to the coverage of mixed martial arts.

Smith has established himself as one of America’s most well-known sports television personalities. Through his SportsCenter appearances and analysis of sports like basketball, the 54-year-old has amassed a large following, including close to four million on Instagram and over 5.5 million followers on Twitter.

But if there’s one sport that Smith has struggled to find a place in when it comes to the fanbase, it’s MMA.

Since ESPN became the exclusive broadcast partner of the UFC in January 2019, Smith has become a more active pundit in the sport, which has included appearances at some high-profile pay-per-views. Perhaps most notable was his work at UFC 246 in January 2020.

Following Conor McGregor‘s dominant and fast victory over Donald Cerrone, Smith suggested that “Cowboy” quit inside the Octagon, a comment that was disagreed with by color commentator Joe Rogan, sparking a brief social media feud between the two analysts.

While his appearances on UFC broadcasts have remained scarce, they still get fans talking, many of whom do so negatively, as was evident last July at UFC 264 when Smith joined Dominick Cruz and Michael Bisping at the ESPN desk.

But one of Smith’s former ESPN peers believes that he receives underserved slack.

During a recent episode of The MMA Hour, Ariel Helwani, who departed ESPN last year, praised Smith for his kindness and positive attitude. The Canadian also branded the controversy over Smith’s Cerrone comments as “silliness.”

“Stephen A isn’t a bad dude. Stephen A actually would come up to me — like, are his takes off? No, we could debate that. That’s all inconsequential crap,” said Helwani. “Stephen A, for me personally, every time I would see him at the Seaport, on campus, he would go out of his way to be kind to me, to give me props, text me, shout me out — why would I hate that man?

“As far as I’m concerned, Stephen A was a good teammate. Like what? So he spoke about Donald Cerrone, oh wow! Silliness,” concluded Helwani.

Interestingly, Cerrone later came out and admitted that he simply didn’t want to be inside the cage that night against McGregor, seemingly giving credence to Smith’s comments.

Do you agree with Ariel Helwani? Does Stephen A. Smith receive unnecessary criticism from MMA fans?

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