I went to a gladiator talk by the celebrated Roman scholar Garrett Fagan, author of: http://www.amazon.com/s?ie=UTF8&field-author=Garrett%20G.%20Fagan&page=1&rh=n%3A283155%2Cp_27%3AGarrett%20G.%20Fagan
It was quite entertaining, but that seemed to be the point more than shedding much light. But I will try to share a few points, esp on new unpublished findings. Well, he showed some stone carvings of arena antics freshly unearthed. I forget if old or new, but there was a lot of bear vs man battles. Not lethal, but actual boxing matches or just a guy hiding from a bear behind a screen that rotated on a pivot. Kind of like a bullfighters cloth, but fancier.
Anyway, he seemed to drive at the artificial theatricality of the animal and human battles... not so much actual violence. Half way to modern wrestling for TV, it could even approach circus type acts with people or animals suspended in the air with ropes. Gladiator losers seemed to frequently be given mercy, and their costumes were not that of actual foreign fighters. Just fantasy costumes, but they would be highly trained in that role and no other. Showed much rigging for releasing animals, etc, and some strange but common setup for "ramp fighters".
Then in the q and a portion, he seemed to lose the plot. Serious issues were raised, like were christians really never executed in colluseum, which he seemed to dodge or give flippant or sensational answers. I think he did know the answers, but wanted to keep the jovial tone. Or his jokes about his water bottle containing gin were really true. He gave the impression of a common phenom of a UK scholar (including Dublin in UK, ha ha) who goes on to higher income in the US with crowd pleasing skills... probably gets perfect approval scores by his amused but not too educated students. He did give some nice "great courses" lecture series on Romans though.