Shropshire Star

Gladiators: Modern reboot of TV's toughest test returns but pays homage to 90s original

I never thought I’d learn first-hand how intimidating it is to stand face-to-face with a Gladiator, writes Rachael Davis.

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Luckily for me, all I had to do was have a chat with these spandex-clad, athletic behemoths – the real fear, I imagine, comes when taking them on in demanding physical trials in a quest to become the Gladiators champion.

In a revival of the popular 90s game show, BBC One’s Gladiators sees father and son Bradley and Barney Walsh host as super-fit contenders battle it out against elite athletes and bodybuilders in a series of games that will test every ounce of their strength, fitness and resolve.

Prolific game show host Bradley, 63, says that this new version of the classic tournament brings “everything: drama, laughter, excitement, spectacle, all of the above”.

“It’s a proper event,” he says.

“They’ve done a great job of paying homage to the original but updating it for the modern generation. It’s really brilliant.”

While the Gladiators look impressive on-screen, nothing could have prepared me for being confronted with their bulging muscles and shiny, skin-tight costumes in the flesh – particularly as they swaggered around BBC Broadcasting House, their bulk all the more noticeable when contrasted with the mere mortals in their offices trying to get on with a hard day’s work.

Perhaps none truly understood their own superhuman status better than Matt Morsia, known as Legend – a powerlifter and bodybuilder who says he is “the ultra Gladiator”.

“I’ll train six days a week typically, although recently, I’ve actually had to rein it in a bit, because it got to the point where I was getting too good,” Legend boasts, with a cheeky arrogance befitting of a Gladiator.

“I spend a lot of time as well just looking in the mirror. I find, for me, that’s quite inspiring, when I see myself…

“I can just sit in the gym for three, three and a half, four hours just looking at myself in the mirror. And then I come out and I feel like I’m ready to go.”

In fairness to Legend, I’ve never felt so much like hitting the gym than after 16 astonishingly firm handshakes from the roster of Gladiators which, alongside Legend, includes Athena, Apollo, Comet, Bionic, Diamond, Giant, Dynamite, Electro, Nitro, Fire, Phantom, Fury, Steel, Sabre and Viper – each with their own astonishingly tough workout regimen.

“I’m a professional CrossFit athlete, so I train for three to four hours a day, six days a week – it’s like 11, 12 sessions a week, so it’s pretty high volume, which is perfect for being a Gladiator,” says Steel, also known as Zack George.

“I have to do weightlifting, running, swimming, strength work, bodyweight work, mobility, stretching.”

“I love to lift heavy, and I’m all about girl power and strength,” says Sabre, Scottish weightlifting champion Sheli McCoy, who can deadlift 160kg.

“I push the limits on skill, gymnastics, metabolic conditioning, weightlifting and lots of intricate skills like handstand walks, rope climbs, gymnastics and muscle ups. So for me, my body is ready for anything,” she adds.

“A Gladiator really does have to be someone that encompasses everything that a human could do.”

“I would generally wake up nice and early in the morning, probably 6am, and I’ve been known to do cold therapy in the ice bath, which is about five degrees at the minute, so it’s nice and cold,” says Giant, bodybuilder Jamie Christian Johal, whose personal best on bench press is 220kg, and 300kg on deadlift.

“And then I’ll do some cardio on the bike, and I’ll probably hit a weights workout later on in the day – about two hours worth of weights. And then the rest of my training involves eating. I eat a lot!”

“When I’m trying to get as big as possible, I’d eat up to 10,000 calories a day,” he explains.

“At the minute, to maintain the physique that I’ve got at about 20 stones, I’ll probably eat four and a half thousand calories a day – that’s across six meals, a lot of clean food, and then the odd pizza as well!”

Given how hard these Gladiators work to maintain their strength and physiques, going head-to-head with them in the arena is going to be unbelievably tough for the contenders.

The 2024 reboot sees the return of classic games Gladiators fans will know and love, like Hang Tough, Powerball, Duel and Gauntlet, as well as some new arrivals to spice things up, all culminating, of course, in The Eliminator.

“I think this will be an evolution of the Gladiators of (the) past,” says Phantom, Toby Olubi, who was part of the Team GB Bobsleigh team and competed in the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Olympics.

“We’re definitely not trying to be the same. We’re holding on to, obviously, the things that the nation loved from the past episodes and the past series, but we’re bringing a new element to it.”

No matter whether the games are old favourites or new challenges, the contenders are going to need real skill, grit and determination to make it past the Gladiators.

“I mean, it’s quite hard – we’re there for a reason, and it’s a big challenge,” says youngest Gladiator Dynamite, Emily Steel, of what it takes to beat Gladiators.

“If anyone comes up to us with the right mindset, (they) can maybe catch us out, which is very rare… Having confidence, backing themselves, backing their own abilities… that will be enough, hopefully.”

“Should they be expecting to beat us? I don’t know, because obviously we are meant to be a huge challenge for them!” says 6 foot 6 Middlesbrough native Bionic, also known as Matty Campbell.

“The mentality, I would say, is one of the most important things, because you can literally half your ability if you’re not feeling good about something or confident about something…

“But they need a bit of everything, physically. So agility, strength, power, endurance – they need the lot to get through this.”

“They need to bring their A+ game, because their A game is not enough,” adds Giant.

“And they need to hope that we’re having a bit of an off day as well!”

Gladiators starts on BBC One on Saturday January 13 at 5.50pm.

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