24.95 is steep for a freelancer. So when Showtime gave me a chance to navigate through their Strikeforce All Access site, I was pretty thrilled. Once I got home from San Jose, I poked around on the site all day long. When you purchase Strikeforce All Access, you get to relive the broadcast and all the angles for five days following the event.
Keeping in mind that most people would be paying to use this, I still found it a pretty swell feature and if I didn’t have cable and Showtime already, I think that’s a more worthy buy than the one-night PPV you can purchase from some cable/satellite providers and for pretty much just one feature: Ref Cam, with audio! Well, they call it CageCam, which is silly because all the cameras are technically some type of cage cam. I’m going to refer to it as ref cam, because that’s really what it is.
The facebook “chat” on the side, straight from the Inauguration and Presidential debate formats, was a nice feature and it’s nice to know those are all real people, with their names associated with them — so the comments are kept in line by the users themselves, knowing it’s not MMALVR6790, but Michael So-and-So from Des Moines, IA. I personally like to watch fights in a big group; I throw little barbecues and gather ’round the TV. So while I’m not used to sitting in front of my computer and watching fights alone because I feel it lacks the social aspect, the facebook interaction reminds me of watching streams from Japan at 3 am, chatting with other people crazy enough to stay up, and it’s fun.
I like the interface featuring photos below the video (I think my shots should be in that too, though admittedly I can’t update throughout the night), the news associated with the event just to the bottom right, and a twitter feed showing recent mentions of Strikeforce in the twittersphere.
The player is essentially streaming all 97+ minutes of the broadcast and the other camera angles are the same 97+ minutes, from their angle, unless they weren’t on — then they default to the broadcast. In addition to ref cam, there’s broadcast, red corner, roaming, and overhead. The overhead shot is pointless to me, because we’re always trying to get closer and closer to the action, I don’t want to look at little ants fighting. I’d rather have another corner camera or a backstage camera instead of the overhead.
The best part of the all-access is getting to watch fights the way they’re seen in the arena, without commentary and if you’re as close as I am, hearing everything the refs, corners, and doctors are saying. The best angle is the referee’s camera.
During Babalu Sobral vs Gegard Mousasi, the finish of the fight through Big John’s eyes is frightening. You see Babalu’s eyes go wild, hear Big John asking Babalu where he is, Babalu asking, “It’s all over?” You hear the doctors working to get him sitting up gently, the rather ominous music in the background, and see Babalu’s confusion. When the audio guy takes the mic from McCarthy before the arm raise of Mousasi/Sobral, I freak out, the audio really completes the ref cam. It’s amazing not just to see what the referee sees, but hear it too. It’s a very unique perspective into the end of a fight. I hope that Showtime incorporates it more into future broadcasts.
The roaming camera is just that, roaming, and often without any direction. However, during the fight, it plays like the view of a judge or cornerman. I would imagine, since I’ve shot from below and above the cage, and sat right next to judges, that this is how a judge views a bout. Sometimes you get a great view, the action is standing up or in front of you, sometimes it’s on the opposite side of the cage on the ground, and sometimes, it’s behind a pole. I wonder if judges ought to have monitors?
After the fight, it focuses on fan reactions, which can be comical. And every once in a while, the roaming cam goes backstage, you see stagehands sitting in front of monitors, waiting for cues, the corridors of the HP Pavilion, and 78 minutes into the show, you get to see Cris Cyborg, waiting to walkout, bouncing around, ready to fight. Through the camera man’s headset you hear Cristiane singing along to her music. Watching Cyborg high five the stage manager before she walks out, smiling, it’s so hard not to get excited, wins you over. Cyborg is ready to bang but she looks ready to go clubbing, dancing down the walkway too.
In contrast, Gina Carano waits backstage, nervous, face serious. This is a bare, intimate moment, the fighter alone. Unlike other promotions, Strikeforce and Showtime have the fighter walk down the elevated catwalk alone — so this instance before they walkout, is personal, private time. Having a camera here is amazing: I’m looking into their mindsets, this is something I never get to see since I’m always working by the cage. I don’t know if I perceive Gina as anxious because I know the result of the fight, or if it’s really there — but the polarity of Carano and Santos’ prefight disposition is clear. As soon as Gina walks out, the cameraman rushes into the crowd, getting the cheers, zooming in on children cheering for Gina, giving me a small pain in the pit of my stomach, since I know where this ends up. Then the camera comes up to Gina’s father and sister. I’ll admit, my eyes well up when I see him, eyes darting, yelling, “Go Gina! C’mon baby!” He looks scared for his little girl.
I’m glad I took the time to watch this angle, even though half the time it’s pointed at nothing. The roaming camera requires patience, but the captured moments are fascinating.
I switch back to ref cam and watch the fight from referee Josh Rosenthal’s eyes (or ear, rather). After the end of Carano Cyborg, you hear Rosenthal speaking with Jimmy Lennon Jr. about Gina turtling, not defending herself, Jimmy Lennon Jr. agreeing that the stoppage was just, as if Rosenthal knew there would be question over the stoppage, despite knowing he did the right thing. You get a glimpse into what it’s like to be a referee being able to hear and see their interactions after the fight is over. As the ref heads for the cage door, Big John tells Rosenthal he did a good job with the reffing. It’s just like being there at the fight. It’s akin to what it’s like for me to shoot a fight, the sounds I hear, the things I see over my box.
Through the red corner cam after the fight, you could see Gina holding back tears, graciously accepting everyone’s thanks and well-wishes, then politely declining the post-fight interview, shaking her head, quietly exiting. There’s more of Cyborg’s giant grin, her unending smile and her husband’s obvious relief and joy.
Overall? I really dig the ability to see the fighters backstage before their walkouts, it gives you this odd, rare intimate moment. There’s some great insight into what it’s like to be in the cage, near the cage, backstage, be a judge. Watching the fights without commentary or editing, from singular points of view, is nearly identical to the cageside experience. It makes the fights very immediate, gives you a little adrenaline rush. Which is pretty fancy but for 24.95, but I want to see the undercard fights too. I think the way to make this a popular feature, to “one up” the UFC’s (Free) Burger King All Access, if you will, is to let paying audiences watch all the fights. Also, Showtime subscribers ought to get this service for free or at a significant discount. I subscribe to Showtime and don’t think I should have to fork over another 25 bucks on top of my monthly fee. As I said earlier though, if you’re not a Showtime subscriber, I think the All-Access is a better way to watch the fights than just paying for the satellite PPV. Strikeforce All Access added to my already pretty full experience of working at the fight. If you can’t be cageside, I’d say this is as close as you can get for only 25 dollars.
You can find Strikeforce All Access at http://strikeforce.sho.com. Though, it’s only up for one more day — be sure to check it out for the next big card in October.