The American Gladiators have Nitro, but Millersville has the Chazmanian Devil.
Tonight, the Chaz-man, aka Charles "Chaz" Riddle, goes muscle-to-muscle with the real gladiators -- hulks with names like Zap, Thunder and Ice -- in a quest to capture the coveted title of "American Gladiator Live Tour National Champion."
Riddle, a 27-year-old health club employee and sometime stand-up comic, has already survived the tryout phase of the first-ever American Gladiators national tour, a spinoff of the TV show. The tour, which started this month, will hit 100 cities before ending next May.
About 400 would-be super heroes competed in the Baltimore tryout, held at the Baltimore Arena a month ago. Fewer than half made it throughthe first two of four physical tests. Of those who completed all four, Riddle was one of only four men, four women and four alternates selected to move on to tonight's contest, scheduled for 8 p.m. at the arena.
Riddle is 6 feet tall and weighs 205 pounds. He's broad in the shoulder, narrow at the hips, with bulging arm muscles and not a trace of fat. As well-built as he is, he's a far cry from the behemothGladiators, who look as though they could bounce bullets off their comic-book physiques.
Still, Riddle has no doubts about his chancesat such events as The Joust (Gladiators and challengers go at it with what appear to be giant Q-Tips), Atlasphere (opponents get inside huge metal spheres and try to roll over each other), The Wall (challengers scale a wall with a Gladiator in hot pursuit) and Hang Tough (contestants swing from rings to a series of platforms while Gladiators try to knock them off).
"I'm looking forward to The Wall and Hang Tough," he says. "I think I'll be good at those."
Tonight's contest will not be televised, nor is it an audition for the syndicated television show, broadcast on 160 stations nationwide; all the shows forthis season have already been taped in Hollywood.
The tour is a promotional gimmick that gives winners a shot at $50,000 in cash and prizes, and the chance to compete next year for the national title in Las Vegas, said Maren Blum, assistant public relations director for the Baltimore Arena. That final competition will be televised nationally.
Riddle hopes to be there. "I want to be televised. I want to show the world how mighty I am," he says. "I'm getting my 15 minutes of fame."
A Howard County native, former high school football player and ex-Marine, Riddle moved to Millersville three months ago with his wife, Sharon, who is expecting their first child in December.
Always interested in sports, Riddle turned physical fitness into a career in 1986 when he left a job in a shoe store to go to work at a health club. Today, he manages and instructs at Harbor Nautilus in Baltimore, where he lifts weights for two hours every morning.
Except for an occasional run up the stairs at the Harbor Nautilus building, he hasn't added to that routine to train for the Gladiator contest. Hedoesn't think he needs to.
Riddle already has been through the tryouts twice -- he went to the New York competition before he knew theGladiators were coming to Baltimore. "I did great," he says. "I wentthrough all the events, but I wasn't picked as a finalist. It's verysubjective, like a prettiest baby contest."
The tryouts, which have attracted hundreds of people in every city the Gladiators have visited, consist of four physical tests: push-ups (45 for men, 25 for women, in 60 seconds); a 40-yard -- in 5 seconds (6 for women); wind sprints in 15 and 17 seconds, respectively; and a game of "Powerball," in which you try to stuff a ball in a trash can while a Gladiator tries to stop you.
Riddle said the tryout was no sweat. He's just as cool about tonight's impending battle.
"The butterflies will probably start early Wednesday morning. But I played football for many years, and once you are out there you forget the crowds," he says. "The best thing to do is just take (the Gladiators) one at a time. If you let emotions get into it, you're dead."