Feature image for article in August 1996 issue of Fair Lady featuring Lee-Anne Liebenberg as a gladiator contender representing South Africa

Steel Magnolias


… which the contenders battle each other over an extraordinary obstacle course. There are also ‘theme’ games in which teams from various walks of life (the police, lifeguards or even Penthouse Pets) challenge the gladiators.

Last year South Africa made its debut appearance in Birmingham in an international challenge. Along with four gladiators – Sahara, Delilah, Impi (personal trainer Bible Mhiza) and Samson (body building champion Robert Dahmen) – South Africa sent three contenders, Prince Sunny, Peter Brits and Lee-Anne Liebenberg.

All of them have various attributes that stand them in good stead in the gladiator arena – and one of them has even taken on a lion!

Donovan Marsh of Shaw Pictures, which owns the African rights to Gladiators, says they would like to establish a local series but the cost (about R12 million) of building an arena and setting up the infrastructure and the very specialised equipment, has held them back. “We want to do it properly, so we are looking for sponsors,” he says.

This month’s international in Birmingham will see South Africa represented by 12 gladiators and contenders, selected in a nationwide search. “They have to be camera-friendly, good-looking, fit and able to do the games,” says Marsh.

Delilah (34) was chosen because she’s a well-known bodybuilder and personal trainer. Tall, raven-haired and scarlet-lipped like her Biblical namesake, she rates high in the glamour stakes that are so important to the show. “They didn’t really know what they needed, so they went for strong, fit people with a bit of a background.” Her shoulders are decorated with tattoos: a rose and a butterfly on one; a panther on the other.

“We had no tome to prepare as we all have jobs, and we couldn’t practise the games because we don’t have the set-up here. All we had was a video showing some of the games, so we were thrown in an the deep end.” The team had just two weeks before the games to practice in the Birmingham arena and to get to know each other. Being professionals, they were able to pull together and did surprisingly well, coming fourth, with one of the contenders making it to the semi-finals.

Delilah says she’s good at atlas spheres, in which opponents are locked into big round metal cages. “You roll around fighting each other, bashing the cages against one another.” But she finds the “duel” difficult: “It’s not my idea of fun to bash another woman 20 times over the head – not that I can’t do it; but it’s just not me. I’m not an aggressive person and I don’t think that aggression is a necessary quality in the games. You can see immediately who the aggressive individuals are. None of the Brits is like that; they are friendly and professional, with a great attitude.”

Although it’s imperative to be fit and strong, technique is even more important, and gladiators who are familiar with the games clearly have an advantage. Delilah laughs as she remembers asking how much of the show is stunt work as wrestling matches are. She knows better now: “It’s totally and utterly for real, and you can get badly injured, especially when you play every week and don’t have time to train your body in ..

Posted in Fair Lady.