Highlights: Fight Week at Strikeforce

Photos from Strikeforce: Carano vs Cyborg went out all over the net/print world on Sunday, so I’m pretty late in getting to this.  I figured I’d recap my week with my favorite images.  As always, I had an absolute blast, because there’s probably nothing I enjoy more than shooting during fight week. I even confronted some guys toting a portfolio of much of my work, getting them signed by fighters — when they end up on eBay, I will be there to smack them down.  I asked if I get royalties when the images get sold and the dude actually said, “I’m not going to sell these,” despite my already having found a few, without even trying.

I digress.

Arriving on Tuesday, I went to shoot Ishida working out and Gina Carano answering a few questions from the media.  Miesha Tate showed up to say hello and check out the American Kickboxing Academy.

The next day I spent at the Showtime Feature Shoot, which yielded endless awesome images, that I’ve already posted about so I’ll just link the slide show here.  DP Jesse Cook, director Jason Bowers, and all the grips and other camera folk are amazing.  I can’t take credit for their lighting setup, just the shot of Babalu resting.  I get equipment jealousy when I’m around those guys.   They have toys I’ll never be able to afford, lights I get to see being used, never get to use ’em myself.  Key Grip Jeff was also at the shoot in Vegas I went to — he and the other grips were pretty familiar with MMA, so it was nice to talk shop in two fields.

After the feature shoot, I do my usual time sending out the selects, hanging out with the production staff, chit-chatting with very busy Strikeforce folk, and I did a short workout, only to be interrupted at the tail end by Gegard Mousasi, who was checking his weight on the broken hotel gym scale.  “220?” Mousasi looked puzzled.  He looked at me while I was putting away medicine balls.  “Is this right?”

I put myself on the scale.  It says 130.  I laugh, “No, no!  It’s very very wrong.”  I wonder what’s happened to that scale to make it say such horrible things, I wonder if it’s like that to encourage gym-goers to work harder.  Being 20 pounds off is kind of crazy though.  Demoralizing if you’re not pretty familiar with your weight already.

The next morning, Strikeforce staff are kind enough to help me pick up some items for my backdrop  before my studio sessions in the afternoon.  They all pretty much go as planned, though hardly anyone sticks to the schedule.  Only the undercard guys are on time, well, all except for one who didn’t even show.  They setup a workout room next door and I hear the Brazilians working out, shouting out “Hey!” everytime a pad is kicked.  I don’t get to eat until late in the evening, when I breakdown and order room service, since I can’t leave the shoot room until 9:30.  It was delicious.  I hid it from fighters that came through to be less of a jerk.

I spend the rest of the night organizing shots, cleaning my equipment, and finishing The Lurker At The Threshold.

Weigh-in day is full of anticipation!  I have breakfast with Ariel Helwani then sit with the Showtime PR staff, sending out photos until I notice the crowd gathering for the weigh-ins.  I run around getting shots, testing out my failing equipment, and getting nervous.  I can’t help it.  I’m always nervous.

Of course, I had nothing to worry about save the rather rowdy crowd and the photographer behind me who says my ponytail is in the way and wants to cut it off.  Then he taps me on the shoulder and shows me a shot of his that my lens is blocking.  Really?  Please.

My favorite shot is of Ishida (again) but out of sheer amusement.

My second favorite shot is of Gina making weight and reacting to the crowd’s screaming joy.  Some people say she’s making a stupid face but I disagree, it’s joy!  I love strong expressions.

After weigh-ins, I rush back to the office and send out photos, squash my heartburn, and continue to sift and send, sift and send.

Fight night comes too quickly and I find myself scrambling to rest before the event, only to be woken up every five minutes by different requests.  No matter, I’m ready as always.  The whole night goes well, the crowd is loud and enthusiastic (though they hate wrestling, apparently), and I miss a few key moments on the undercard but score with some nice closeups.  I curse the darker cage (there’s less light than usual) and start sprinting around, trying to catch fighters backstage, get glimpses of post-fight emotion.  It’s hectic and the show starts faster than I expect.  I’m excited to see Yuji Shimada ref.  He looks at home with the ref cam on.  Shimada-san stretches while Jimmy Lennon Jr. announces the fighters, doing lunges, stretching his back.  Awesome.

Despite only airing four fights, the pace is quick and there are no breaks.  I need breaks to run around and get pretty arena shots and I realize that it’s just not going to happen this time.

Every time I try to leave my post I hear the walkout music.  At one point, I’m backstage trying to steal a shot when I heard Andres, a jackal at Fightlinker, screaming, “ESTHER!! WALKOUTS!!  ESTHER!!!” At which point I take off running, weaving through the crowd to get back to my box, kneeing Andrei Arlovski in the leg while I jump onto the stairs, jamming my other knee into a metal chair.  I apologize to Andrei, he nods.

Some of the Showtime staff and commission folk said they worried I’d fall each time I ran.  I think that’s a horrible thing to say to someone who is running with expensive cameras on her neck.  I don’t need the suggestion.  Don’t be afraid for me, just help me get past the crowd.

When the time comes for Carano vs Santos, the crowd is electric.  Loud.  The cage is shaking from the people’s cheers.  I’m tense.  The entire fight is snap snap snap, eek!, snap snap snap.  I’m enthralled, hoping I remember to shoot, not just watch the fight.  It goes by very fast for me.  Instant.  I run into the cage and try to get everything I can.  The stage manager eyes me and tells me not to get in the way.  I know better than that, I love my job. Why would I not be careful?  I’m looking for everything, trying hard to get a shot of the two fighters together but there are too many people in the cage.  Suddenly, it’s all over.  Everyone’s leaving, the crowd is clearing, Cris is on her way backstage and I’m frantically changing cards, changing lenses, ready to get to the post-fight presser.

Here’s the photos from the fight (noticed I got real lazy all of a sudden?) and my favorites are of course Gina getting her head turned by Cristiane, which I remember very clearly from when I was shooting — and Mousasi’s momentary emotion after he beats Babalu Sobral.  Fightlinker posted their faves, and I pretty much agree with their list too.  I get pretty flustered when I’m emotionally invested — this is not to say I want someone to win or lose — but the event needed to do well for me to continue to have a job, and that kind of thing is out of my control, thus making me nervous.  Luckily for me and for MMA fans, Strikeforce’s first female headlined MMA card did amazingly.  Thanks everyone for supporting the event, I think overall it was a great success, and I can’t wait to do it again.

2009/08/19 | Filed under MMA, Photo and tagged with , , .

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