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On January 6, 2008, American Gladiators redebuted on NBC. Due to the writers strike, AG became a relative hit and easily complemented NBC’s lineup with such shows as “Deal or No Deal.” "Hosted by Hulk Hogan and Laila Ali, the show matches amateur athletes against each other and the show's own "gladiators" in contests of strength, agility, and endurance. It is a revival of the original American Gladiators which ran from 1989-1996, with elements of the UK version of the 1990s. An average of 12 million people watched the two-hour premier" (Wikipedia).
Among the cast members, was a gladiator named “Wolf,” also known as Don “Hollywood” Yates, an eclectic man with not only a flair for showmanship, but the athletic ability to match. JuTMSY4 recently spent time e-mailing Hollywood:
Hi Hollywood. Thanks for taking the time to do this interview. Let’s get down to business. First off, your name is Don Yates, yet you go by “Hollywood” – is there a story behind this?
Yes. When I was working horses with some old cowboys, and we were chasing some cattle, it was my job to chase all the strays to get them back into the herd. By the end of the day, after going through all the brush and trees, I had ended up with a broken collar bone and had broken my arm open. By the end of the day, I had gotten myself cleaned up and set my own collar bone and they said man, you’re just a “Hollywood Cowboy.” And because they told me that I looked just like a Hollywood cowboy, from then on, they started calling me Hollywood for short.
You strike me as a Texan, but given all of your other training (such as dancing) it seems like you could hail from anywhere. Where are you from and what was your young life like?
I was born in Gallup, New Mexico, and then I later moved to Phoenix. I was a rough and tumble kid living on the west side and being a city boy. My grandfather had night clubs and race horses, so I grew up around the night clubs and horse tracks. I also started rodeoing in high school.
From what I’ve read, you’ve been a bull rider, rodeo clown, stuntman, actor, WWE wrestler and now gladiator (that’s quite an eclectic resume), how’d you end up as a Gladiator?
First of all, I was never a bull rider, I was a bull fighter, which is another way of saying rodeo clown. As far as being a gladiator, I was at the Mr. & Mrs. Olympia Bodybuilding show, spray tanning competitors, and when I was walking through the fix expo, the casting director saw me, approached me, and asked me if I wanted to try out.
You spent 23 years bull fighter, you must have some spectacular stories, is there one story that sticks out in your mind that you wouldn't mind telling.
I have had so many stories and different things to tell. The one that is most recent is when I was gored by a bull in Salinas, California and was almost killed. They did emergency surgery to save my life that night. I went home and recovered for a couple of months, and then had to go back for surgery again. I then recovered for another 4 months. So I really went from my death bed to becoming a gladiator a year later.
You've got a pretty signature look (anyone who says Fumanchus aren't badass are lying), where'd you get the idea and did it help you develop your current persona.
I’ve pretty much always kept the goatee and switched between Fumanchu’s, but I’ve always had facial hair. That’s the way that they decided my crying out signature howl, so that did help me get the name. They told me that I looked and acted like a wolf during training, so I guess it helped, but it’s all a part of who I am and it has been forever.
You also used to be a professional wrestler for the WWE, what was the professional wrestling circuit like and why did you end up leaving?
I wasn’t under contract with the WWE, I was actually independent, competing in the independent circuit and would do shows here and there. Once I talked with them about possibly signing a contract, at the time they weren’t sure what to do. So before any contract was signed, was when the gladiators opportunity came up, so I ended up trying out, and that was that. The circuit was rough because it was low-paying and I had to drive 7-15 hours depending on where the shows were for only maybe 150 dollars. I had to try to really make my money on selling t-shirts and pictures. You could split costs with other guys who were going to the shows as well to help pay for the trip. It was really rough on your body though especially if you were doing a 2 week tour. After all of that wrestling, your body is ready for a break and you might only get a few days break before you had to go to another show.
What type of training or preparing did you have to undertake prior to auditioning for and/or being on American Gladiators?
Luckily, I’ve been an athlete all of my life, so everything I’ve done up to this point has helped make me ready for gladiators. God has blessed me with a lot of athletic talent. I’m in the gym every day anyway so there wasn’t a lot of special training except for a few new things like the rings and wall which you don’t do every day of your life. Those things were new things to work on but, other than that I was just a natural born athlete and world class being a 2-time world champion bullfighter. Also, with the WWE background and dealing with crowds, I was luckier than all the other gladiators because I was already doing stuff similar to what they do. I had the character development already in my head on how to develop my character further. I think that’s why when the show aired I popped faster than anyone else because I’ve already had that kind of training.
On AG, you are known as "Wolf;" how did this persona come about, were you part of the development (or did they just hand them out) and were there any expectations as to how you would act during competition
Again, I got the name Wolf just because of my look and how I was perceived in training. They watched and tried to come up with names that fit our characters already. I attack like a rabid wolf, I let out yells, and I look like a wolf, so they came up with that name. The character is just how I am. I’m a trash talker, but I can back it up because I have athletic ability. When they gave the name, it allowed me to define my yells and howl and from there, everything else is just me. They don’t expect me to act like a wolf in any way or do anything in particular. They just liked who I am as a character period. They gave me the name, and everything else is who I am.
Numerous uninformed bloggers claim that AG is incredibly produced and ultimately staged, would you care to comment on any of this?
It is not staged. They have 30 different camera angles so they have to edit and cut from different cameras for visual effects, but the sport itself is straight up head-to-head competition. It’s not scripted in any way and nobody is winning that didn’t deserve it. If they get stopped by a gladiator, it isn’t because we let them or the producers said to let them. It’s only because they had the ability to get by at that time. My goal in season 2 is for nobody to get by me. I will try to go undefeated. When Tom Brady lost the Super Bowl, it wasn’t scripted; It just happens. So, no, the show is not scripted.
Were you a big fan of the show before you auditioned?
I watched the show when I was younger. I think it came out when I was 19 or somewhere around there and I watched it all the time. When they did the nation wide tours, my cousin Mike actually competed in Phoenix and won. So to be a part of the show and be a gladiator, I loved to be able to surpass my cousin and not just be able to be on the show, but become one of the gladiators. It’s been a fun time and I’ve gotten to meet and become good friends with a lot of the original gladiators. I’m friends with Ice, who is a very good friend of mine and also one of my managers. Everyone has been very nice and receptive and is very happy with what I’ve done on the show.
You've certainly had some of the best and most memorable lines on AG, do you write or come up with those yourself?
I come up with them in the heat of the moment. That’s why sometimes it seems like I’m trying to remember something when I’m not. I’m actually just trying to think of something to say.
Is AG filmed all in the matter of a day, or is it broken up?
It is broken up over a couple of days because of the functionality of the set itself. We have to move the big events in and out like the gauntlet and the rings, so it ends up being broken down into a few days to be able to change everything out.
How did you end up competing in the events you have been (are they handed out, do you pick them, etc?) and why did you end up in such events as the Pyramid
I’ve done just about every event; the pyramid, powerball, joust, wall, and hang tough. The only two I didn’t were earthquake and the assault. And that just goes to show that I’m diversified in my athleticism and I can do everyone if they need me to. They used me on the wall because I was faster than any other guy except Militia. And I was fast on the rings so they liked me on them. Because I excelled at them, and was in them more, they pulled me out of the other ones because the other guys had to have the opportunity to compete. Otherwise it would have been the “Wolf Show!”
You're certainly not the largest of your fellow Gladiators, what is your edge over your much larger comrades?
I feel like I’m a better natural, all around athlete. I’ve just got the heart and drive of a warrior. I’ve had over 130 broken bones, 3 knee surgeries, I’ve had a bull gore me almost dead, and have been in numerous hospitals. Every time I come back faster, harder and stronger. I have more heart and more drive and God blessed me with a lot of athletic ability, so I thank him every day for that.
Finally, I really appreciate the time, just one more question. Can you really smell blood and fear and if so, will you actually eat someone?
Yes, I really can. And come Season 2, you’ll have to watch and find out. I might just end up biting somebody.
Think you've got what it takes to beat a gladiator? Find out by auditioning here.
You can see Wolf and all the Gladiators on the return of “American Gladiators,” Sunday May 12 at 8:00PM on NBC.