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‘Fight Only’
The Deadliest Warrior: Apache versus Gladiator, Concept Bruno Diaz, Analysis James LaFond

In this, the first episode of this excellent series, we learn the testing methodology and get to see Chuck Liddell punch bags and beef with a cestus and scissor.

The Apache weapon set was well-represented and was intended for tactical integration in a maneuver scenario, which was the scenario chosen. The gladiator authority predicted his template’s demise when he stated that the gladiator did not train for “flight” but only “fight,” and of course, when in trouble, the Apache simply ran and started again from the range that favored him. The Apache bow was authentically weak but nasty and the knife throwing was just ridiculously effective. The hand-to-hand knife work was unremarkable but effective, with footwork inadequate for facing an edged extension weapon. The tomahawk throwing was also very skilled and powerful, with the hand-to-hand work with it and the club crude and immobile.

The gladiator was a composite of a Pax Romana pugilist, a slinger, [I suppose a member of the Roman mob] a scissor, a thraex, a myrmillo and retiarius.

The pugilist and slinger were not gadiators. Indeed, the entire dilemma a gladiator would have as a combat infantryman rather than as a prize-fighter, was his lack of missile weapons. In actual combat outside the arena he was employed as a bodyguard, a murderer, and as a swordsman to hold a position.

The scissor was so over specialized he would never be employed outside the arena, and probably never fought any type of gladiator other than his own.

The retiarius was never used outside the arena, being a special type of fighter developed for the spectacles. Ironically the retiarius was the most effective in the arena against the widest range of opponents.

In terms of the combat situation depicted at the end, the only gladiator types deployed in such situations by the Romans or slave rebels, were various types of swordsmen wielding obsolete weapon sets, the preserved, weaponry of previously defeated tribes, all of which were inferior to the Roman Legion kit. When Spartacus and his men escaped they immediately equipped themselves with legionary kits.

The myrmillo was the chump gladiator, the victim against the thraex and the retiarius.

This leaves us the thraex, armed with a small spiked shield [parma] and the sica shown in the demonstration and wearing the armor worn in this scenario. The most important part of any Roman swordsman’s kit was his shield, not his sword, and this weapon was wholly neglected by the fighters and testers. It would ironically be the most important weapon in this scenario. Thankfully, the thraex was based on the Thracian infantry who had an excellent combat record against light, missile-armed troops, fought the Romans in three wars, were highly mobile, and when converted to a prize-fighting set, provided the best gladiator of antiquity, Aptus of Alexandria, who won 37 combats. Keep in mind, that once Aptus had won his first 3 duels he would only be matched against the very best opponent. Essentially he was undefeated in 34 championship bouts.

Most importantly, Spartacus, who won nine battles against Roman forces, was a Thracian chief and a master of maneuver. The only rational match for the Apache is the Thracian, who would be an underdog at long- and mid-range and an overwhelming favorite at close range. The speed of the real gladiators of antiquity in the lighter weapon sets, such as the retiarius and thraex, would be equal to modern Major League Baseball short stops and NBA guards. At close quarters, with a thraex who knows how to use his shield, the Apache is dog meat.

I would have to favor the Apache by 6-4 odds overall, but if the Thracian gets in he has it at 9-1.


1. The trident was used one-handed, initially and throughout against light types. Against heavy types, like the secutor [chaser], the trident is used two-handed after the net is cast. The retiarus did not finish with the trident but with a large knife. The trident itself was of lighter construction and much softer forks than the one shown and often had to be straightened out after striking a shield.

2. The sica would never be used to stab under a shield but to stab over and around and slash under with a pass. The shield will snap the sword wrist in a half beat and such thrusts cannot be risked against equal opposition.

3. The use of the Viking shield by the musclehead gladiator in the tree line was really, really bad. With my bum hip, I could pick up a machete and buckler right now and butcher this fellow.

Throughout the series poor shield use is common among most of the weaponry experts and stunt men.

The video below is from Spartacus, starring Kirk Douglas, in which he is pitted against the retiarius [net fighter], as a Thracian armed with a heavy Spartan-style war knife instead of the sica. Obviously the trident used in The Deadliest Warrior was based on this version, rather than on ancient artwork depictions, which demonstrate pliable forks and one-piece metal construction, with the stave often bent ergonomically to the taste of the individual gladiator. Michael Jordan would have the perfect body for such a weapon system, with this actor a fine example of the type. the net work here is very realistic. Kirk’s shield use is terrible. In any case, the Thracian weapon set is minimized down to practice weapons in this scene for dramatic effect, with the actual parma spiked and 14-inches across and the sica as depicted in The Deadliest Warrior as essentially this blade as a base, with another blade welded on at an angle to stab around shields and slash. Note that working your blade around your own shield, with the hand behind that shield, is skill number one, before you worry about defeating his shield. The attire and hair style in this movie are excellent.

Ages: Stone versus steel

Twerps, Goons and Meatshields: The Basics of Full Contact Stick-Fighting

Add Comment
Sam J.November 11, 2016 5:19 PM UTC

No doubt the Apache would win. Apaches were tough. The only way we beat them was having lots of supplies and just running them down constantly and never giving them a chance to regroup.
Bruno DiasNovember 10, 2016 8:12 PM UTC

Great post James.

I thought the same think as you when i first watched this episode. In an Open field, The Apache would win probably 70% of the fights.

By the way, most of the "specialists" on this show don't know what the fuck they're talking about. I think the best exemple of the are the Medieval Knights especialist.
responds:November 11, 2016 9:32 AM UTC

I'm glad you got me to do this Bruno. I'll do all three seasons.

The lack of expertise is troubling with many of the specialists. It's a shame they didn't get John Clements in on this.