Let's Remember Some Guys: American Gladiators Beyond Thunderdome

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How smart do you want your sports to be, really? Not the athletes involved, who will invariably have the kind of fast and opportunistic and almost automatic intelligence that athletes display in the moment, but the sport itself. Do you want it to be complex and governed by arcane rules, or just so straight-up caveman simple that the very idea of someone attempting to coach it is laughable?

Sadly these questions are mostly academic, as they’re not making many new sports at this moment, but this second journey back into the decades-past heyday of American Gladiators was a nice reminder of just how dumb a sport can and maybe should be. The cards themselves, a product of an era when Topps was notably promiscuous about what it was willing to produce, are grandiose and luridly purple in their prose, kind of confusing in their general aesthetic approach, and in that regard probably as good an approximation of the broader American Gladiators thing as any card could be.

American Gladiators was just what it was—a glossy steroidal obstacle course defended by venous and crispy-haired people in weird patriotic singlets. It was honestly only barely a sport, despite featuring rules and balls and commentators and performance-enhancing drugs, and its delusions of grandeur and over-the-top vibe were probably the most sports-esque things about it. And yet both Dan and I watched and enjoyed it as kids, and enjoyed revisiting this beefy and idiotic dream palace through these cards. It is fun, and maybe even healthy, to remember just how stupid all this can get.