"Some gyms are more inspirational than others," says Mark Rhino Smith. American Gladiators was a huge hit on television in the United States. But many Americans are unaware that versions of this program have been produced in a variety of other countries, also with great success and several stars who have become sports celebrities.
One of the stars of Gladiators in the UK was a bodybuilder named Mark Smith, known as Rhino on the TV show. Rhino was the nickname given to him by the boys at the Muscleworks gym in London in 1989 before he won the British Junior Under-21 Championships. "I was a serious, competitive bodybuilder," says Mark, "and I managed to put on quite a bit of size. But for the very real athletic demands of a gladiator, leanness helps in terms of speed, agility, and overall performance. So I realized that the kind of extreme mass that makes success in bodybuilding possible wasn't really required given the various sporting events in Gladiators. So I changed my training and diet accordingly.”
“I got serious about bodybuilding. I wanted to be another Dorian Yates or Ronnie Coleman. But while I made progress and won a few heavyweight titles, I began to suspect that maybe I hadn't won the "genetic lottery" that would allow me to go all the way as a professional bodybuilder. The difference between the winner of a Formula I race and second place can be as much as 1/100 of a second. In bodybuilding, that difference can just be an element of metabolism or the length of a muscle belly. Small differences can make a win extremely unlikely.
I also discovered, as any dedicated bodybuilder recognizes, that competing at a high level requires a lot of sacrifice. Everything else in your life has to come second - work, relationships, everything. At 18, that kind of victim looks different than it does at 10.”
When Mark Smith got the chance to try his hand at being a gladiator, he had a few advantages. “I was a boxer and won four fights. Importantly, while the Gladiator program is a show, it is also a very intense form of combat. You have people bumping into you and not everyone is able to endure that kind of contact and survive both physically and mentally. Many gladiators were injured just to prepare for gladiator tryouts. t everyone is able to survive and thrive when it comes to physical combat.”
It's also tiring to perform at one event after another. But Mark says he eventually ran multiple marathons. Extensive and strenuous physical exertion was therefore no stranger to him. While others got tired over time, Mark was the energizer bunny and just kept going. "If you can't beat your competitors," he says, "sometimes you just have to hold out!"
Mark Rhino Smith wasn't often muscular. He got a lot lighter and leaner for being a gladiator, but he was a strong heavyweight bodybuilder used to using massive weights on moves like the bench press, deadlift, and squat. Any competitors who attempted to match him on the basis of sheer strength were likely surprised and disappointed.
Whatever the case, one thing led to another in Mark Smith's career. Bodybuilding prepared him to be a gladiator, and getting lean and mean to do it motivated him to lose weight and build more muscle, which perfectly prepared him for an acting career.
"Everyone has heard that the camera enhances your looks," says Mark. "And that's true. Check out Sylvester Stallone in Rocky. He played heavyweight while barely remaining at light heavyweight. But he was so trim and muscular that he seemed a lot taller than he really was. When you're big and smooth on film, sometimes you just seem like a big lump.”
Born in London, Mark "Rhino" Smith comes from a very diverse heritage - Jamaican, Cherokee, White and Chinese. “In the age of international jet travel,” says Mark, “an ethnic mix is becoming more common. Look at someone like The Rock.” Mark starred in the IVT Gladiator series for five years, which led to more acting credits and eventually relocating to Los Angeles as an actor and producer. “I've been fortunate enough to have acted in Creed, Criminal Minds and other films and TV shows. But I was always aware that my body and my ability to train aesthetically muscular got me here.”
"I really enjoyed taking photos at the legendary Gold's Gym in Venice," he says. “I grew up reading magazines like Muscle & Fitness and Flex and seeing all my idols and role models working out in the gym. I think a good bodybuilder should be able to train in any well-equipped gym, but there is no doubt that some environments are more inspiring and stimulating than others.”