The two hosts of the revamped program

The American Gladiators are back! Starting on January 6, NBC is bringing back the popular athletic competition with a brand new version of the show, hosted by Hulk Hogan and Laila Ali. I was fortunate enough to be in on a conference call with the two hosts, and here's what they had to say.

As the hosts, have you gotten a chance to try any of the events, and which ones do you think you'd be good at?

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Laila Ali: I actually have tried the Joust, but I was just playing around with one of the guys who came to the show for an interview, so it was nothing serious. It was more challenging than I thought it would be. That is the one event that I thought I would be good at, because it's kind of like fighting, but there's a whole lot more involved with the balance you need, and you've got the headgear and the giant sticks, so it was pretty challenging.

Hulk Hogan: Well, as for me, when nobody was around, the first rehearsal day I was in there with a couple of the grips and the electricians when they were finishing up the big setup, the big rigging. I made an attempt to climb to the top of the Pyramid, with my fake knee and my fake hip. I did get to the top, but I kind of crawled up slowly, and when I did get to the top I was sweating like a dog. It made me realize that, the Gladiators on top of the Pyramid, and the contestants running up and being thrown down over and over and over again, that when I when I was interviewing them, I knew in the back of my mind that, if that would've been me, I wouldn't even be able to talk. It brought me back to the real world, because sometimes if you don't physically attempt something, you don't realize how sick to your stomach or how hard it is. I actually made an attempt to go up the Pyramid when nobody was looking, and I failed miserably.

Laila, did you grow up watching the show as a kid? Were you a fan of the show?

Laila Ali: I did watch the show. I've always like watching competition and athleticism. Just seeing the average person going up against these Gladiators, is always something I enjoy. I'm not really a big sports fan, but I do enjoy the show.

What can we expect from both of you as the hosts of the show?

Hulk Hogan: I think that we both bring a couple dimensions and change the parameters of the show. We've both been in the combat zone, in one form or another. I think Laila is a constant. She's a professional. I think she's very grounded and always on track and she knows right where she wants to be, in the groove. That gives me the artistic liberty to be Hulk Hogan, or not be Hulk Hogan or bounce all over the place. I think she kind of keeps me in line, and I have the chance to bounce all over the place because I know she's gonna be right on track, and always on the money. I think we bring the element of being in this arena, with a little experience and a little bit of level-headedness. We also, on an artistic creative level, have a chance to bring an entertainment value as a team.

Laila Ali: Well said Hulk. For me, I pretty much just tell it like it is. I've had the audience boo me a couple of times (Laughs). Some of the comments I've made to the competitors, you know. I remember there was one competitor, for example, anything that had to do with upper-body strength, she just didn't do well on. At one point I told her, 'You know, you need to go to some push-ups or some pull-ups.' and the audience kind of booed me, and said, 'O.K. maybe I shouldn't have said that.' I just say what I feel at that time, in that moment. I'm honest. You never know... I never know what I'm going to say.

Hulk, how demanding is it being the host of a regular series, as compared to being an active wrestler?

Hulk Hogan: Well, the wrestling, even though I would only wrestle for 15 or 20 or 30 minutes at a time, and it would look like that was the only time I was in it, was really a 24-hour job. Keeping yourself alive, reinventing yourself, staying physically in shape, the traveling, all the other commitments with being a wrestler, it was a crossover situation where it became sports entertainment and you actually became a media star, so it was very demanding. I'm just now dabbling into being the host of the show. The only thing I have, really, are the last two and a half weeks that I've spent with Laila, and the 14 or 15 hour days that we put in, so I'm just getting my feet wet with this one. It's a lot of fun, but it's a lot of work too.

Hulk, are you still pursuing acting, when you can?

Hulk Hogan: Once in a while, you know. I don't get the action... well, I never did get the big action hero parts. I was always locked into making the kids movies, which were a lot of fun. They haven't given me the supporting actor, new millenium Sean Connery parts yet. But there's always hope. Maybe if I completely shaved my head and get the frost out of my moustache, maybe I could get one of those serious acting jobs.

Both of you, how does this compare to the original? What are the differences in the new one?

Laila Ali: Mainly, there's a lot of the same games that there was on the first show, but then there's going to be some different games. Everything is improved, and it's harder. For example, with the Joust, where they stand on these little perches and they have to try to fight each other with these large sticks. Now, instead of falling into pillows, they actually fall 15 feet into water. There are these underwater cameras and everything. There's fire involved in the show, and the whole set itself is just very impressive when you walk in and see it. I was watching reruns of the old show, and it looks so different now. It's a whole different show. The Gladiators and new and improved, more athletic, the men and the women. The competitors, I think one of the big differences is you're really gonna get to know the competitors and their background stories. They're very dynamic people and everyone has this great reason why they want to win this money. One guy just stands out, his mom served in the Iraq war and she's older and he wants to help retire her. He wants to win this money to help her do that. You really want to get behind these people and you really want to see them win.

Hulk, obviously nobody had a better on-screen persona than you did. Have any of the Gladiators come to you and asked for advice on how they can build their on-screen persona?

Hulk Hogan: Well, we've had those discussions. That was one of the creative things, that when we first started rolling with this thing. Laila and I talked about the format that we were given, that basically after each event, we would just interview the competitors. We kind of talked and we went, 'Oh my gosh. These Gladiators are larger than life and they have their own personalities and attitudes.' Laila and I were saying, 'Man, we need to be talking to the Gladiators,' so we can build the brand and so the fans can have their favorite Gladiators, like I used to have when I used to watch the old show. Basically, we had initial discussions with the creative people and the producers and said, 'You know guys, we have to get this dialed in and have some larger than life personalities," so we addressed that pretty quickly.

Which of the Gladiators do you see being the breakout stars?

Hulk Hogan: Well, I know crowd reaction. There's the initial crowd reaction, then there's the guy or girl that gets established and then they become larger than life. Initially, we've got a real big Gladiator called Helga. She's like the big German character, I don't know if she's German or whatever she is, like a brewmaster type, bar waitress type thing. She comes out and she's in good shape, she's big, and she gets good crowd reaction. On the male side there's this guy named Wolf that comes out howling. He gets good reaction. Initially, those two are the most popular, but the more I watch it, there are these girls named Siren and Venom and Crush, this black-haired, cage-fighter-type girl from MMA or UFC of whatever. I think these personalities are gonna build slow. On the male side there's Titan and Mayhem and, I just don't wanna make a judgement yet, but initially Helga and Wolf stood out, but everybody else started creeping up on them by the 8th episode. We've got some larger than life characters coming at you.

American Gladiators premeires on January 6th on NBC at 9 p.m. ET.