In the brief time that the revamped “American Gladiators” has been on the air, Don “Hollywood” Yates, better known by his gladiatorial name of Wolf, has established himself as a fan favorite, perhaps even the face of the show. With a mane of scraggly, possibly feathered hair, a blood curdling howl, an arsenal of smack-rich one-liners — all his own creations — and a ferocious approach to the competition, Hollywood's character of Wolf has inspired fear from contestants and awe from audiences. Here's the thing though: Hollywood and Wolf — they're one in the same.
“Really, the character is me,” says Hollywood, who got the Wolf nickname from his wife because of his facial similarities with one of the couples' five dogs, a wolf/husky mix. “I always let out a guttural yell when I'm competing, I just refined it to a howl.”
Hollywood's imposing personality left its mark on the show even before the cameras started rolling. After being recruited for “Gladiators” while walking around a Mr. and Ms. Olympia show in Las Vegas, Hollywood made quite the impression at his interview.
“I kind of kicked in the door, jumped in the room and let out a yell,” he recalls. “Three people either ducked or tried to run out of the room.”
Prior to signing on with “Gladiators,” Hollywood enjoyed a stint as a wrestler with the WWE. He also worked the rodeo circuit, where he spent 20-plus years of his life. There he competed as a bull fighter, a sport created to demonstrate that rodeo clowns — of which Hollywood was one — were more than “idiots running around the ring and telling jokes,” as he puts it. “[Bull fighting] is basically a 20-second game of tag between rodeo clowns and the bull,” he elaborates. “The closer you could get without getting hit, the more points you would get.”
If you're already questioning the sanity of anyone willing to play “tag” with a one-ton animal, consider how Hollywood would finish his fights with the bulls: “I would end my routine by running straight at the bull, and at the last second, I'd hurdle him. I'd jump him head to tail.”
I'll pause now to allow you to recover your jaw from the floor.
It's fairly safe to say that “fear” is not a popular word in Hollywood's vocabulary. Rather than viewing his bull fights as a good opportunity to die — a possibility he acknowledges and with which he is comfortable — he actually enjoys it.
“When a bull gets a hold of you and starts hooking you around the arena, that's when you know you're in there,” he says.
It's at this point in the interview that I feel confident that I can write the following: Don “Hollywood” Yates is cut from a different cloth than most. Most people, even thrill seekers, would be content to get the feeling of being “in there” without the bull being in them. Such was the case when Hollywood was gored in 2006, the bull impaling him nine-inches deep on one horn. Still, six months later, Hollywood was back in the bull fighting ring. A few months after that he was training to be an American Gladiator.
So yeah, fear, not so much. I'm not sure the same should be said for “Gladiator” contestants going up against Wolf however.
“I'm not trying to break their backs or kill them,” he says. “But I am trying to hurt them.
“When I wrap my legs around them [on the rings in Hang Tough] and they know they can't get away, I look into their eyes and just watch their soul leave them. That's pretty enjoyable.”
Hollywood didn't always occupy the role of the bully. In fact, as a freshman in high school he had barely cracked five feet in height, making him a choice target for abuse. He grew a little by sophomore year, but despite the lack of height, he put an end to the bullying.
“Sophomore year I stepped up,” Hollywood says. “I threw a few guys into lockers, a few guys into cars. I made it clear that if you messed with me, you're going to limp home, or not get home at all.”
By the time he was 23, Hollywood had shot up to 6-foot-4. But even after he packed on pounds to reach his current weight of 225, some people still haven't gotten the memo that Wolf is not one to be trifled with. Take the example of one pompous contestant from the show's first season.
“I don't mind contestants coming in cocky, but one guy was just a jerk to everyone, even the wardrobe people,” Hollywood says. “When you're walking around the lot thinking you're Brad Pitt, that's not right. So I took it upon myself to do everything in my power to hurt him.”
By the end of the competition, the arrogant contestant left with a bloodied shoulder, several bumps and bruises, and even cried on camera.
“That was very satisfying,” Hollywood says.
Wolf Hungry for a Few Changes in Season Two
While Hollywood notes that he loves the way the show has turned out thus far, he had a few suggestions for season two:
• Move the Earthquake ring higher off the ground and/or put it over the water tank. “I understand why it's only seven feet off the ground, because the contestants aren't trained athletes and might not rotate right when they fall and come down on their neck, but it should be higher. You can put it over the tank and make it 20 feet high.”
• Add two more rows of rings to Hang Tough. “That way if a contender gets by you, you can get back and recover. It's like playing football on a 20-yard field instead of 100. One move and they can get past you.”