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Fight Pass begins a strong 2016 campaign with UFC Fight Night 81 prelims

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David Bowie died yesterday. While that has little to nothing to do with the world of mixed martial arts (unless you count the fact Rashad Evans walked out to a Bowie song back at UFC 78), I would feel remiss without at least mentioning it in some ancillary fashion.

So, while it’s no New York Times obit, here’s to Ziggy, fight fans. He played guitar after all.

Heartbreak aside, we won’t have to exist in the doldrums of mourning for too much longer, thanks to an excellent UFC Fight Night card this weekend headlined by current bantamweight champion TJ Dillashaw and former title holder Dominick Cruz.  

The main event alone should be enough to ensure no one leaves their house Saturday night, but the 13-fight card is surprisingly deep. In the co-main event slot, former lightweight champion Anthony “Showtime” Pettis makes his first appearance since losing his belt to Rafael dos Anjos in 2015 against former Bellator standout Eddie Alvarez.

Further anchored by a heavyweight clash between Travis Browne and Matt Mitrione, the UFC’s first Fox Sports 1 offering of 2016 is solid all around.

All the more interesting, though, is the UFC’s continued push of their online streaming service, Fight Pass. With five scheduled prelims exclusively broadcast online, its clear 2016 is the year of Fight Pass.

And why shouldn’t it be? When the UFC first inked their broadcast partnership with FOX and all of its various subsidiaries a few years ago, both sides were most likely patting themselves on the back for bringing the worlds “fastest growing sport” to a larger audience.

Now, several years into the deal, it’s becoming clear the UFC’s most prized demographic might not be so keen on paying nearly $100/month for channels they only watch once a week. That’s part of the reason why Zuffa would be smart to slowly, but purposefully, start moving their eggs from the cable TV basket, to the online subscription based model that is becoming more popular with younger viewers.

In fact, they already have. Former middleweight wizard Anderson Silva meets Michael Bisping in his native England in February of this year in what is hands down the biggest offering Fight Pass had made to date.

It’s part of the UFC’s larger plan with the service, and if they continue to invest in the program, it could eventually become one of the company’s largest revenue centers.

At only $10 a month, the subscription based service is designed for the generation that is consuming more and more of its media diet through the internet and devices like Apple TV or Sony’s PlayStation. Based on market research, the average age of a cable TV customer is between 45-55 years old. That’s a far cry from the UFC’s normal cash cow, the young, white male between 18 and 30.

This Saturday is yet another push for Fight Pass, with five exclusive prelims that, normally, would be featured on FOX Sports 1 are instead broadcast online.

And they’re not bad fights, either. Ilir Latifi meets burgeoning author Sean O’Connell early in the night, before striking dynamos Paul Felder and Daron Cruickshank face off in a promising lightweight scrap.

It’s further evidence that Zuffa is well aware of its pending contract renegotiations with FOX in a few years, and more than likely a sign of what’s to come in 2016.

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