“Some gyms are more inspirational than others,” says Mark Rhino Smith. American Gladiators was a big success on television in the US. But many Americans are not aware that versions of this program were produced in a variety of other countries, also with great success and producing several stars who became athletic celebrities.
One of the stars of “Gladiators” in the United Kingdom was a bodybuilder named Mark Smith, who was known on the TV show as “Rhino”. Rhino was the nickname the boys in Muscleworks gym in London gave him in 1989 before winning the Junior U21’s British Championships. “I was a serious, competitive bodybuilder,” Mark says, “and managed to put on quite a lot of size. But for the very real athletic demands of being a Gladiator, being lean helps in terms of speed, agility, and overall performance. So, I realized that the kind of extreme mass that allows for success in bodybuilding was not really called for, given the various athletic events in Gladiators. So, I changed my training and dieting accordingly.”
“I was seriously into bodybuilding. I wanted to be another Dorian Yates or Ronnie Coleman. But although I made progress and won some titles as a heavyweight, I began to suspect I might not have won the “genetic lottery” that would allow me to go all the way as a pro bodybuilder. The difference between the winner of a Formula I race and second place can be as little as 1/100 of a second. In bodybuilding, that difference can be just one element of the metabolism or the length of a muscle belly. Small differences can make winning extremely unlikely.
Plus, I discovered as any committed bodybuilder realizes, that competing at high levels involves a great deal of sacrifice. Everything else in your life must take second place – work, relationships, everything. When you are 18 years old that kind of sacrifice looks different than it does when you are 10 years older.”
When Mark Smith got the opportunity to try out as a Gladiator, he had some advantages. “I had been a boxer and won four bouts. The importance of this is that, while the Gladiator program is a show, it is also a very intense form of combat. You have people crashing into you and not everybody is able to take that kind of contact and survive both physically and mentally. There have been a lot of Gladiators injured just preparing for Gladiator tryouts. Not everybody is able to survive and thrive when it comes to physical combat.”
Performing in one event after another is also tiring. But Mark says at one point he ran several marathons. So, he was no stranger to extended and exhausting physical effort. While others would tire over time, Mark was the “energizer bunny” and just kept going. “If you can’t out-muscle competitors,” he says, “sometimes you just have to out-last them!”
Mark Rhino Smith was not often outmuscled. He got a lot lighter and leaner to be a Gladiator, but he had been a powerful heavyweight bodybuilder, used to using massive weights in exercises like bench presses, deadlifts, and squats. Any competitors who tried to go head-to-head with him based on pure strength were likely to be surprised and disappointed.
Anyway, one thing led to another when it came to Mark Smith’s career. Bodybuilding prepared him for being a Gladiator and getting lean and mean for that motivated him to slim down and develop more muscularity, which perfectly prepared him for an acting career.
“Everybody has heard that the camera ads weight to your appearance,” Mark says. “And that’s true. Look at Sylvester Stallone in Rocky. He played a heavyweight while he was barely even a light-heavyweight. But he was so defined and muscular that he came across as much bigger than he really was. When you are big and smooth on film, sometimes you just come across as a large lump.”
Mark “Rhino” Smith was born in London and has a hugely colorful heritage – Jamaican, Cherokee Indian, White, and Chinese. “In this age of international jet travel,” Mark says, “ethnic mixture is becoming more and more common. Just look at somebody like The Rock.” Mark starred in the IVT Gladiator series for five years, which led to other acting gigs and finally relocation to Los Angeles as an actor and producer. “I have been fortunate to appear in Creed, Criminal Minds, and other movies and TV shows. But I have always stayed aware that what got me here was my body and my ability to train to be aesthetically muscular.”
“I really enjoyed shooting photos in 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 properly equipped gym but there is no double that some environments are more inspiring and stimulating than others.”