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UFC Fight Pass Adds Pancrase and Seven Other Promotions, Still Kind of Sucks As a Digital Service

(“What was your question? Are we looking to buy the entire Internet? I mean, yeah, we’ll see what happens.”/ Photo via Getty)

UFC’s digital subscription service, Fight Pass, has its fair share of pros and cons. The cost isn’t all that damaging to the wallet, but it’s not exactly the game-changer that promotion officials thought it would be.

The network allows you to watch free UFC cards, including FOX Sports 1 events, preliminary fights, and exclusive Fight Pass broadcasts that usually take place outside of North America. It also carries an extensive UFC library, containing an abundance of full main cards from UFC, as well as Pride, WEC, EliteXC, and those two Affliction MMA cards that were surprisingly fun, among others.

After reports surfaced that hackers stole login info and credit card numbers from tens of thousands of subscribers late last month (which confirms that early security concerns were never fully addressed), fight fans were met with a better announcement, as Zuffa announced hours before UFC 182 it has acquired eight fight libraries from well-known international and regional promotions, including legendary Japanese outfit Pancrase, as well as King of The Cage, HookNShoot, TKO, Cage Rage, Extreme Challenge, UCMMA, and XFO.

UFC Chief Content Officer Marshall Zelaznik announced the news in a press conference on Saturday, revealing that over 13,000 individual bouts are slated to be added to Fight Pass this upcoming spring. The content comes from the brain of UFC matchmaker Joe Silva, who apparently made his own list of what promotions he wanted to see on the digital service (according to MMA Fighting).

Now, the Pancrase library certainly gets us giddy, seeing that their current events are pretty difficult to find, without the availability to download those events after they take place. The rest is a nice treat, yet we’re still holding out for Yamma and Rhode Island Vale Tudo. With that said, Fight Pass is starting to shape up as definitive library of MMA fights from the most important promotions, and it’s apparently still growing.

This comes not too long after UFC’s inclusion of Invicta FC events, providing streaming of live events and past showcases from the leading all-female MMA promotion. We could really do without exclusive shows like The Ultimate Fighter: Whatever Country We’re In and MMA Mindset, but variety is never a bad thing.

On the other hand, this also means a boatload of free content will likely be pulled from YouTube and other free streaming sites. Zuffa legal teams will be out in full force and prohibiting fans from watching some old Bas Rutten and Frank Shamrock Pancrase fights because they now own that material.

In spite of that, it still feels like Fight Pass is “under construction,” since the search tool is fairly problematic; you’d think the service could at least rank the bouts you’re looking for in chronological order. It’s also incredibly glitchy, with a lot of complaints about getting bounced out of a live broadcast, only to have to sign back in. There are rewind functions, but it’s kind of annoying to be asked to log in again after the site freezes and have to reenter your password during the critical moments of a fight.

Also, for those that think pro wrestling isn’t direct competition to MMA, think again. Fight Pass was overshadowed by the WWE Network days after its launch, which isn’t doing so good itself, according to pundits. The reason WWE stole the glory was their inclusion of the 12 PPV events they put on a year (including WrestleMania, Royal Rumble, and Survivor Series), not to mention countless hours of WCW and ECW footage. By comparison, the UFC didn’t even have their complete fight library posted at first (nor did they have as much Pride material, which is sort of a deal-breaker if you’re going to monopolize the online MMA world). For what it’s worth, Japan’s top wrestling promotion, New Japan Pro Wrestling, launched its own digital network a few weeks ago, called NJPW World. The cost is similar, and since Puroresu is rising in North America, it’s a lot more compelling to watch old Antonio Inoki contests from decades ago, instead of an Ultimate Bigfoot Silva collection.

If that’s not enough, there’s no indication the new additions will help generate more subscribers. It’s a nice bonus for the MMA diehards who are already staying up all night to watch international UFC cards on the Internet, but is it a true selling point for those who are still on the fence? If the UFC was willing to take a little bit of a pay cut to include a couple of PPV events on the network, then the service would be a must for your typical UFC enthusiast. But apparently, PPV isn’t dead, despite more and more people cancelling their cable subscriptions in favor of laptops and HDMI wires.

Oh, and one other thing … word on the streets is that UFC had geoblocked the prelims for Canadian fans this past weekend, presumably in attempt to get Canucks to sign up for specialty channels like The Fight Network. Stemming from the new deal UFC signed for their Canadian broadcasts, this would absolutely suck if you had to pay extra to watch a handful of prelim bouts that you used to watch for free when the UFC was on Sportsnet.

I’d like to think all these issues will be resolved this year, but pessimism is one of my favorite pastimes.

-Alex G.

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