He seemed a strange choice for a sport looking to shed its reputation for brutality. Yet there he was before every UFC event, donning his armor and preparing himself for battle. Did the UFC Gladiator evoke thoughts of "human cockfighting"? Of the arenas in Rome where men too often fought to the death? Of excess, depravity, cruelty?
Of course he did. But there he was, nonetheless, paired with Stemme's song "Face the Pain," a constant before every UFC broadcast for more than a decade. When you saw him girding his loins for the fight of his life, surely your blood starting pumping a little faster. If you didn't feel a little rush, well, it's time to go back to watching tennis. The UFC Gladiator meant things were about to get raw.
No more. Starting tomorrow, the UFC will debut a new opening for their cage fighting events. It will no doubt be slick and modern, will no doubt pay homage to the great athletes who have graced the Octagon with their presence during the Zuffa era.
It won't be the same.
Sure, sometimes you hated the Gladiator. If you ever bought a UFC event on DVD, you know full well the pain of watching that introduction in toto every time you popped the disc in. There was no skipping the UFC Gladiator. He was there whether you wanted him or not.
I write this with no tears in my eyes. We knew it was coming. It was announced last year when we learned the little sport that could was going prime time, network style.
"We're gonna change everything, graphics, show openings for pay-per-views and fight nights," Dana White said. "We're going to enhance the look and feel. The gladiator opening is going away."
It's important to embrace progress. The UFC is looking to capture a brand new audience of fans. To them, the Gladiator is likely a relic. It's cheesy. It's undoubtedly homoerotic. And yet, it's a bridge to our past, to the days when the UFC was more spectacle than sport.
People who have seen it say the new intro is amazing. That it will get you ready to watch the greatest sport on earth. I'm sure it will. The UFC never does anything half way. But I'll miss the Gladiator. Godspeed, my iconic friend. And good luck.