Diligently following top-tier Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) events has never been an inexpensive pastime.
From its modern roots in the early 1990s on a strictly PPV basis, MMA has become a huge draw around the globe. Dominated by the UFC, those PPVs today cost upwards of $60 in the US, albeit less in other countries where providers like BT Sport offer the events as part of much cheaper packages.
Nevertheless, there is no shortage of fans who’d prefer not to pay anything at all. That, of course, is entirely possible using various types of pirate streaming outlets, from dedicated sites to streaming torrents, from Kodi add-ons to ‘pirate’ IPTV services.
While these streams are in abundance most Saturdays, finding them isn’t always easy for the novice. However, acting as a human-powered link aggregator, that’s where Reddit’s /r/MMAStreams sub-Reddit came in handy. Visitors to the sub around event time were able to find free streams of most if not all events. Until this week, that is.
The nuking of the 165,000 member community shouldn’t have come as a surprise. Around a month ago, moderators of the sub posted a warning indicating that everyone was on borrowed time.
“Today, we were notified that r/MMAStreams is at high risk of being banned for copyright violation,” the announcement read.
“We are seeking clarity on the issue, but we must begin to take steps to move.”
The community began switching to /r/MMAStreamz but this week that too was banned for exactly the same reasons as its predecessor.
It isn’t clear who had been filing complaints against these subs but one can be pretty confident that the UFC had a fairly big part to play. While links to live events don’t hang around for long, Reddit doesn’t contest notices on behalf of users, particular when a sub is obviously centered around infringement.
Of course, many in the link-sharing community are looking for a scapegoat. From a strictly legal perspective, the obvious choice would be the people posting the streams (no pirate links, no notices – in theory) but to MMA fans, they certainly aren’t part of the problem.
There is another candidate, however. One with a very high profile and, many streaming fans believe, a mouth that should’ve stayed closed.
Brendan Schaub is a former UFC heavyweight contender but since his departure from the promotion, he hasn’t always been polite about the way it operates. He may have also stepped somewhat dramatically over the line in advance of UFC 236, the very first UFC PPV under its brand new and exclusive ESPN+ streaming deal.
In a nutshell, Schaub – who has more than 750,000 Twitter followers and a very successful podcast – hit the platform in a sweat last month because he couldn’t get the PPV on his TV. With the clock counting down, he then made a veiled threat to stream the event illegally. He was subsequently inundated with a couple of thousand messages from fans containing links to do just that.
In a post-event podcast, Schaub revealed that what he saw in the illegal streaming world should be a serious matter for the UFC.
“I don’t think they [the UFC] realize the level of pure professionalism these dark web dudes have to these links. I’m not gonna say I did watch it illegally, i’m not gonna say I didn’t. When I clicked on that link, that thing was better quality than I had [expletive]…ever seen.
“Here’s the thing that’s scary about it,” he continued. “I must have got 2,000 DMs with different links to illegally stream this thing.”
And then, the cardinal sin. He mentioned Reddit by name.
“Just for database and research I went through 10 to 15 [of the links]. How big is Reddit? Reddit has their MMA thread where [events get posted], and you’re talking clear as day. I saw the fight. I’m anti-illegal streaming, i’m against that,” he added, to balance things up a bit.
Whether Schaub did pirate the whole event isn’t known but in the days that followed he continued to mention the illegal streams available via Reddit and elsewhere to his considerable audience. That, some believe, is why MMAStreams suddenly felt even more heat than usual.
The reality is that we’ll probably never know for sure. It’s also likely that even without Schaub’s promotional ‘help’, MMAStreams would still find itself choked-out eventually. Previously, similar sports-focused sub-Reddit’s have closed down following complaints from other organizations.
Considering its size, there is zero chance that the UFC didn’t know about MMAStreams already and with ESPN on board, they almost certainly want to show what they’re capable of on the eyeballs front. Platforms like MMAStreams don’t help that effort and that’s probably part of the reason why they’re no longer around.
Not on Reddit, at least….