Khabib Nurmagomedov returns to the Octagon on Saturday night in the main event of UFC 254, taking on Justin Gaethje in a lightweight unification bout that could cement the legacy of the undefeated Russian fighter.
The fight could be the biggest in MMA history, according to UFC president Dana White, who said this week that it was “trending bigger” than the previous record bout between Nurmagomedov and Conor McGregor in 2018.
The massive interest has once again raised concerns about online piracy, with the high PPV price pushing some fight fans to look for ways to watch the fight for free through online streams illegally.
Previous editions of UFC have seen thousands of streams shared across social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter, as well as on certain forums on Reddit and within messaging apps like Telegram and WhatsApp.
The proliferation of free streams is also aided by search engines like Google and DuckDuckGo, where sites that host pirated streams continue to be ranked and listed.
The emergence of devices like Kodi boxes and IPTV sticks has also facilitated new ways to circumvent paywalls, with some experts claiming that it has never been easier to watch free streams illicitly.
UFC 254 takes place on Abu Dhabi’s Was Island, also known as “Fight Island", with the main card starting at 7pm BST. It is available in the UK on BT Sport Box Office for a one-off fee of £19.95, and in the US on ESPN+ for a base fee (without including subscription) of $65.
Despite being a far more palatable time for fight fans in Europe, UFC boss White said the unusual timing of the event could impact interest in the US.
“One of the things that is a big negative for us is that it’s not prime time at home,” he said.
“It’s hard to message that to people, you know what I mean? This thing starts in the afternoon. So the main card starts at 2pm on the east coast.”
The timing of UFC 254 does not appear to have diminished excitement surrounding the event, nor the threat of free online streams spreading across the internet in the build-up to it.
Last month, police in the UK took the unprecedented step of issuing individual warning notices to thousands of people suspected of viewing illegal streams.
The notice stated that the maximum sentence for subscribing to pirated streaming services is up to five years in prison or a fine.
It marked a significant shift in strategy from law enforcement, who typically target the providers of illegal streams, not the consumers
Anti-piracy organisation FACT praised the move and called for the crackdown to continue.
“It sends a really clear message to those facilitating this illegal activity and additionally to those choosing to consume content in this way: Users of illegal services are accountable for their actions and they will be pursued,” Kieron Sharp, CEO of FACT, said in a statement shared with The Independent.
“This will be an alarming wake-up call for people who use illegal streams. No one wants the police knocking on their door.”