Ariel Helwani Tells Donn Davis The Issue With Disparaging Kayla Harrison Remarks: ‘If You Want To Be Known As The Fighter-First Organization…’

Renowned combat sports reporter Ariel Helwani has further expanded on his firm criticism of Professional Fighters League executive Donn Davis.

Throughout the PFL’s existence, the promotion’s higher-ups gave pushed forth the idea that the SmartCage is the place to be for fighters who want to valued and treated fairly.

That notion, however, has taken a hit in 2024.

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While the acquisition of Bellator MMA was advertised as the PFL going from strength to strength, the main topic of discussion in recent times has surrounded fighter complaints, particularly from some of those who crossed over as a result of the merger.

Both Gegard Mousasi and Douglas Lima have accused the promotion of keeping them sidelined due to the high figures on their contracts, with the former recently released as a result. Elsewhere, Sobah Homasi has bemoaned his struggle at getting reimbursed for medical bills, while both Larissa Pacheco and Cris Cyborg have spoken out about their struggle to secure a fight.

Most recently, the PFL’s “fighter-first” claim came into question after its founder and chairman opted to fire shots at one of his promotion’s all-time most successful fighters.

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Weeks on from Kayla Harrison’s successful Octagon debut at UFC 300, Davis branded her a “follower who needs validation.” The comments drew significant backlash, with Helwani among the most vocal…

Helwani Tells Davis: Take A Page Out Of Coker’s Book!

During a recent interview with UFC legend and current ONE Championship titleholder Demetrious Johnson, Helwani expanded on his criticism of Davis’ remarks and explained why the NBA analogy he used to fire shots at Harrison made little sense.

“Don’t get me started on this. This is crazy to me. When I saw that — it’s so crazy to me on so many different levels,” Helwani said. “Number one, the analogy doesn’t even fit… First of all, LeBron (James) left Cleveland to go join Miami and create a super team, and thus he won two championships with Miami. Doesn’t really fit there. But he’s taking a shot at Kayla by saying Kayla is more Kevin Durant… (Saying) the only way Kevin Durant could win a championship is by joining this super power… The analogy doesn’t work for multiple reasons. Number one, Kayla Harrison had already won championships with PFL!

“Who’s the big fight (for Harrison in the PFL)? Larissa Pacheco (because) she beat her? Guess what, Kayla beat her twice! You want them to fight a fourth time? None of those fights drew a dime!… Cyborg? Okay, first of all, as of right this moment, Cyborg isn’t on the same page as the PFL and is openly complaining. There’s no guarantee that that fight would ever happen as well,” Helwani continued. “Now let’s compare that to the UFC, where you have a slew of new blood, a slew of new faces.”

Helwani went on to reveal that he’d exchanged texts with the PFL chief after posting a tweet criticizing his remarks about Harrison. 

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Although he didn’t divulge both sides of the conversation, the Canadian journalist outlined the message he tried to hammer home to Davis.

“I like Donn Davis a lot… (But) if you want to be known as the fighter-first organization, you can’t be taking shots at a two-time gold medalist, a two-time champion in your organization. You can’t be doing that,” Helwani stated. “You need to do what Scott Coker did when Michael Chandler left, who was the face of Bellator. ‘Good luck, we wish you the best, we’ll be rooting for you.’

“I had a bit of a text conversation with Donn after I tweeted this. I’m not gonna talk about what we talked about, but what I tried to explain to him — I’ll say what I said to him, I won’t say what he said to me — we can debate who’s tougher, Pacheco or (Holly) Holm, Cyborg or (Amanda) Nunes, but here’s what your missing: Kayla Harrison going from 155 to 135 (pounds) is a challenge greater than all these people combined. That’s the part that you’re missing! … That challenge alone is worth our respect. You have to recognize that, Donn. The fact that you’re not, to me, will only tell other fighters and fans, hey, maybe this guy doesn’t get it,” Helwani concluded.

Davis is yet to publicly comment on his decision to slam Harrison in the way that he did. The PFL chairman has, however, rejected claims that his promotion is failing to honor contracts it inherited in the Bellator takeover.

Nevertheless, given the recent saga, it would appear that PFL has some work to do if it’s to convince the masses of its legitimacy as a fighter-first promotion.