Anthony Joshua is set to take on Bulgarian challenger Kubrat Pulev in a world heavyweight title bout this Saturday at a sparsely filled Wembley Arena.
Only around 1,000 fans have been permitted to watch the match in person, meaning nearly all fight fans will be forced to follow the contest from behind a screen.
As one of the boxing’s biggest stars, all Anthony Joshua’s fights attract a huge amount of demand. His last fight with Andy Ruiz Jr resulted in a vast number of illegal streams spreading online across social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter, as well as in dedicated forums on sites like Reddit.
Searching key words relating to the fight on popular search engines also leads to illegal websites hosting free live streams of the fight.
Data shows that more than 30,000 live streams were removed from the internet, which could have been viewed by hundreds of thousands or potentially millions of people seeking free ways to watch the contest.
Police in the UK recently took the unprecedented step of issuing warning notices to viewers of live streams, rather than simply targeting the people hosting them.
In September, police in Norfolk issued thousands of notices claiming that they risked up to five years in prison for watching pirated streams, though no such sentences are yet to be handed to people simply viewing illegal live streams.
“Many of us wait years to watch a high-profile boxing fight and this year, with only limited fans allowed in the stadium, more people than ever will be watching from the comfort of their own home,” said Detective Chief Inspector Nick Court from the City of London Police’s Intellectual Property Crime Unit.
“We are urging fans this year to ask themselves if the risk of watching an illegal link is worth it. Not only is it illegal to stream matches without paying for them, but it’s also unreliable and risky… By using legitimate providers these risks can easily be avoided.”
Security experts also warned of the threats posed by illicit streaming sites.
“Boxing fans keen to watch the Anthony Joshua fight for free still face serious cyber threats,” Joseph Woodruff, a threat intelligence analyst at the security firm EclecticIQ, told The Independent.
“In order to stay out of trouble, sport fans should avoid illegal streaming sites under any circumstances, even if it means they miss the live action.”