Big Fight Night For Cable, Web

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Showtime is hoping a new, premium interactive online service will give its April 11 mixed martial arts fight a revenue and awareness kick.

The pay service Saturday will stream its live Frank Shamrock-Nick Diaz MMA event in cyberspace via its Strikeforce: All Access site.

Showtime wants to expose its new Strikeforce franchise to MMA fans who are non-Showtime subscribers through the innovative PPV online offering.

The network is also hoping Showtime subscribers will tune in to the fight on the Web to take advantage of several interactive features, including viewing the bout from different camera angles as well as live chatting with other enthusiastic fight fans through Showtime’s Facebook application.

The catch? Showtime wants Webheads to cough up $24.95 for the event’s online stream. That’s not an unusually high price tag for a traditional linear TV pay-per-view ring sports event, and Showtime has had relative success in the late 1990s with offering several network-televised boxing matches on a PPV basis.

But in cyberspace, where most video and chat applications are accessible for free or for a low monthly fee, Showtime’s asking price might seem steep.

Still, kudos to Showtime for trying to capitalize on the growing number of consumers – particularly MMA’s target youth demo – who are watching video on the Web.

Showtime’s Strikeforce event will duke it out with an HBO Sports live Winky Wright-Paul Williams boxing event – part of a full night of boxing for the network, which also includes the premiere of the latest installment of its four-part, 24/7 franchise, this time focusing on the May 2 Manny Pacquiao-Ricky Hatton fight.

But the most entertaining and fascinating boxing-related program on HBO tomorrow night might be the documentary Thrilla In Manila, recapping the epic 1975 heavyweight fight between Joe Frazier and Muhammad Ali.

The story of the third and most physically brutal of the two iconic heavyweight champions’ fight trilogy is told mostly from the eyes of the 63-year old Frazier, who – in one of the many fascinating revelations in the brilliantly produced documentary – actually watches the fight for the first time during the 90-minute show.

Overall, the documentary brings a unique perspective to a fight that for most young people is but another win in the glorious career of boxing superstar Ali.

The documentary showcases what great ring warriors Ali and Frazier were, while also exposing both fighters’ shortcomings.

It shows a not so glamorous side of Ali. Befriended by Frazier while he was banished from boxing due to his stance against the Vietnam War, Ali would eventually belittle Frazier in an effort to climb back to the top of the boxing world.

As for Frazier, he is clearly still bitter decades later over how the then-boisterous Ali used racial politics and truly derogatory rhetoric to humiliate the Philadelphia-trained fighter. (Longtime boxing fans will remember Ali’s gorilla taunts at Frazier during the lead up to the fight.)

Interesting perspective from people involved in the fight – from Frazier’s son Marvis to then-“First Lady of the Philippines” Imelda Marcos – along with great footage of the classic fight make the documentary worth watching for hard core and casual boxing fans alike.