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10th Jul 2019

The definitive ranking of the Gladiators from worst to best

Kyle Picknell

Do you have the speed, the strength, the heart to be a winner? / It’s not for beginners / Deep down in your soul, are you a Gladiator?

So goes the greatest TV theme tune of all time, created for the greatest TV show of all time: Gladiators.

I was fortunate enough to see one of the last ever episodes of Gladiators during the infamous final run filmed at Birmingham’s National Indoor Arena, truly the closest modern-day equivalent to the Roman Colosseum, and let me tell you something. As a six-year-old boy, it was fucking spectacular. It was out of this world good.

I’ve seen a fair few incredible live performances since then, from Billy Connolly performing stand-up at the Apollo to seeing The Rolling Stones play in the flesh to watching my team win an FA Cup semi-final at the old Wembley Stadium. And yet. Yet.

None of it compares to sitting what felt like eight trillion rows up in the NIA with a giant yellow foam hand and watching Wolf or Rhino or Saracen launch themselves across the gymnastics rings to wrap their gigantic, ridiculous legs around a man called Mark who works at a leisure centre or something and swallow him whole, just fucking consume him, like a spider devouring a hapless fly.

Seeing Gladiators was a seminal event for me, even though, ostensibly, it was just a bunch of questionably-ripped personal trainers in spandex bashing each other with big foam weapons and running and climbing and jumping and falling off things. Let me ask you though, is that not the very definition of entertainment, at its hot, sticky, molten core?

No, even more than that: is that not, simply, art?

With all that hyperbole in mind, here are the titans, the colossi themselves, ranked from the very worst to the very best.

(Disclaimer: to qualify for this list the Gladiator must have appeared in a minimum of three series of Gladiators. I’m not spending my entire fucking day trying to remember who was the best Gladiator out of frauds like ‘Diesel’ and ‘Laser’. Thank you for your time. Thank you for your understanding.)

17. Ace

It’s difficult to really fault any Gladiator – each was appealing in their own way – but the problem with Ace was that, fundamentally, he looked like this. You didn’t watch Gladiators to see the perfect genetic offspring of the inside of an uncooked sausage, an NSYNC backup dancer and an entire middle-England gospel choir amalgamated into a single, representative, cherub face.

Not only that, but he had the most unimaginative name going. Ace. Ugh. ACE. It’s difficult to argue that there was, in fact, a bad Gladiator, but Ace was easily the closest to it.

(Also his real name was Warren. Warren! Have you ever seen a man who looked more like a Warren in your entire life? You haven’t. The answer is: no, you have not.)

16. Nightshade

I… I have to be honest here. I don’t remember Nightshade at all. I’m sorry. I simply do not remember her. I assume she was fine. I assume she was reasonably good.

15. Trojan

Trojan’s entire personality centred around being a large, strong, man. Now, I can’t speak for anyone else, but I liked my Gladiators to be more nuanced than that. I liked them to have depth. Substance. I liked them to bare their soul a little bit each time they lined up in the Gauntlet with their big, padded, battering ram things, ready to bash a random policeman from Leamington Spa into oblivion. That’s all.

Trojan just didn’t give me any of this. Sure, he was good at the bashing aspect, but he remained a closed, if astoundingly muscular, book, and therefore never truly earned my affections.

14. Zodiac

Zodiac was a champion pole vaulter alongside appearing on Gladiators, which yeah, was pretty cool, but also, to me, stinks of a lack of commitment to the TV show, which should have been her absolute priority over actual competitive athletics.

Why would you *checks notes* become the first British woman to vault over 3m and consequently break the British pole vault record 25 (twenty-five!) times when you could have been using all that time and energy to practice something important.

Like being able to chase someone up whilst rolling around in a hamster ball or perfecting your sprinting technique whilst attached to a bungee cord. The mind boggles.

13. Scorpio

Gave it the big’un with the whole ‘points her fingers towards the sky like they are actual talons’ routine before every match, but ultimately lost the respect of the true Gladiators fan after the infamous leg-grease debacle.

For the unaware, Scorpio lodged an official complaint after she couldn’t pull her contender off the wall because, in her own words, the contender had ‘deliberately greased her legs’, causing Scropio to slide off, the contender’s shoe still in grasp, and crumple onto the mat beneath like a deflating deflating balloon.

Unfortunately for her, there was nothing in the rules outlawing deliberate leg-greasing, and therefore no punishment was given to the contender – which you just love to see.

As everyone knows, shithousing makes any sport infinitely better, and Gladiators was no exception. Scorpio’s failure to accept this has, sadly, cost her several places in the rankings. Forza shithousery. Forza leg-greasing.

12. Warrior

Credit to Warrior – he was massive. Even in a lineup of aggressively massive men, he was always the most massive. He was just an exceptionally massive human being.

Was there anything else to him? Not really. He was from Liverpool and spoke with a very soft scouse accent, which made him at least semi-interesting, I guess, but ultimately he falls down in the ‘not actually having a personality’ stakes just like Trojan.

But then again. He was massive.

11. Cobra

In contrast, Cobra just had a lot of small man energy. He was desperately trying to be funny all the time and you could just tell that his height was rounded up to save him the horrendous embarrassment of being the only short lad Gladiator. He was, just like every other Hinge profile out there, a 5 foot 11 fraud masquerading as a six-footer.

He was, however, really good at all the running and the climbing and the crawling stuff due to his diminutive height and had a lot of interesting arm actions to visibly demonstrate his ‘Cobra’ moniker, which, as a small idiot child, I enjoyed. Fair play to him for that.

10. Vogue

Always did a load of backflips. It was sick. Vogue was sick.

9. Falcon

Had a mullet. It was sick. Falcon’s mullet was sick.

8. Rebel

Rebel, a genuine Olympic-level sprinter, was a bit of a joke, to be honest. She was the single fastest Gladiator in the entire thing. She was almost too fast. It kinda took the competitive spirit out of the whole thing, watching her climb The Wall in approximately 0.4 seconds every time to grab the contender by their ankle and smash them into the mat, no matter how high up they were, for the 100th time in a row. So it’s difficult. I have mixed feelings. She was so fast it took the fun out of certain events because you knew she was going to win every single time.

Sorry, what on earth am I saying, it was fucking class watching her dominate like that. A true Hall of Fame Gladiator. We stan.

7. Panther

Panther is an iconic Gladiator for a couple of reasons. First, and less importantly, is the fact that she has, at one point, reigned as the following: Miss Central Britain, Miss Europe, Miss North Britain, Miss England, Miss World, Miss Great Britain, Miss Russia and Miss Universe.

That list begs more questions than it answers, quite frankly. Questions such as ‘How on earth did she qualify for Miss Russia?’. But moving on.

Second, and more importantly, is that Panther came back from an honestly horrific neck injury sustained during the game Tilt which would have ended many a lesser athletes career. Instead of retiring, she worked hard during her rehabilitation period and came back for one final series. She’s basically Gladiators version of Charles Barkley. Put some respect on her name.

6. Rhino

Rhino is – and I don’t know how the science behind it works other than him being, how do I put it, ‘hench as fuck’ – completely immovable.

He simply cannot be moved. If Rhino is standing in a spot on the surface of the earth, which, as it happens, he usually is, then I’m sorry, that space is taken. He won’t be budging, I’m afraid. You could drive a Range Rover at him and it would bounce back like a bumper car. Watching him with that horizontal baton thing in Gauntlet was like watching Roger Federer hit a gorgeous forehand winner or prime Tiger Woods dissect the fairway with a 300-yard drive. You knew what you were seeing was a certain, incomprehensible, kind of genius.

And yeah, sure, Rhino’s genius almost exclusively revolved around shoving much smaller, weaker men on their arse over and over again, but who are we to judge? He also voiced a rhinoceros police officer in ZootropolisClearly, he was more multi-faceted than we ever gave him credit for.

5. Hunter

Here are some Hunter facts:

  • He was 19 when he joined Gladiators
  • He was a tank in just about every event
  • In the competition between the Gladiators to see which Gladiator was, in fact, the best Gladiator, he won. He only went and won the bloody thing

Quite comfortably an elite tier Gladiator. A legend of the game. But, alas, not the greatest ever. And if you require a proper explanation as to why that is, then I’m sorry, you just didn’t get Gladiators.

(It was his hair. It was his ridiculous hair.)

4. Lightning

The undisputed GOAT of Hang Tough, which is arguably the GOAT event in Gladiators itself, Lightning was a fucking monster on the rings.

I don’t know what else needs to be said: she actually used to give contestants dead legs due to the intensity with which she crushed them between her thighs, like a boa constrictor attempting to crack a chestnut.

She went undefeated in the event during her entire Gladiators career and for that, she will always rightfully own a place in the top four.

3. Saracen

Saracen was just a lovely man. An absolutely lovely bloke. If you were a contender he’d pummel you to smithereens and crush you like a tiny bug and beat you over and over again, in every way imaginable, with a huge, gleaming smile on his face. But afterwards? He’d charm the pants off you, in a way only Saracen could.

All it would take was him graciously holding out one of his presumably well-moisturised, bear-sized mitts and you were his. He’d pick your weary body up off the mat. He would shake your hand and look you in the eye and he would tell you “You did amazing, sweetie”. He’d smile.

And that was it. You were in love. You were in love with Saracen. As was everyone watching at home. It was impossible not to be. A true gentleman and scholar of the arena.

2. Jet

Jet was an icon. There are no two ways about it. Jet was a fucking icon.

She had more personality than anyone bar the Gladiator beneath us (we’ll get to him) and everything she did on the show she did with that lethal Gladiatorial mix of flamboyant acrobatics, polite English humour and an air of elegant sportsmanship. Somehow her hair was always perfect. Somehow she never, not once, got even the slightest bit sweaty.

And then there was her technical understanding of the events. Honestly. Listen to some of her post-match interviews fresh of the mat. She uses words like ‘inertia’ and ‘fulcrum’. Can you imagine? Fucking wheeling out ‘inertia’ to describe her success playing a glorified game of hide and seek on a giant orb dangling from the ceiling.

A completely and utterly outrageous Gladiator and one who can consider herself unfortunate to only finish as a runner-up on this list.

1. Wolf

You think of Gladiators and you think of Wolf. It’s really that simple. Wolf is Gladiators. When you were sat there, legs crossed on the carpet, listening to John Fashanu’s eloquent pre-amble about the contestants or the rules or whatever, who did you want to appear?

Who did you want to be the defending Gladiator? More than anybody else? Wolf. You just wanted Wolf. Wolf and his shithousery, and his crazy demeanour, and his bad-boy antics, in every single event, all of the time, forever. There was nobody more entertaining.

He was everything about the show that people loved. Those eyes. That hair. The never-ending, over the top spats with the referee. The prowling. The ‘literally thinking he was some kind of feral wolfman’ behaviour. The sheer energy of the man.

Wolf was, undoubtedly, the perfect Gladiator. And not a day goes by that I don’t think about how fucking good Gladiators was, largely because of him.

(Before you start, I didn’t forget Shadow. I was simply too afraid to rank him. Also steroids.)