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Victor Cruz Lauds ‘Titan Games’ as Nothing Like That ‘Awful’ 2008 ‘American Gladiators’ Reboot

With The Rock’s brand on the line, NBC series ”has no choice but to be top notch,“ former NFL star tells TheWrap

Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson’s “The Titan Games” debuts its second season Monday, an installment that features former New York Giants wide receiver Victor Cruz among the six pro-athlete competitors that the show’s “everyday” contestants go head-to-head with in hopes of winning the “Titan Champion” title and a $100,000 prize.

Fans could smell the new level of intensity The Rock was cooking up for Season 2 of his NBC competition series when he announced the addition of elite athletes — including Cruz, Claressa Shields, Joe Thomas, Cruz, Hannah Teter, Jessie Graff and Tyron Woodley — as an obstacle for “The Titan Games'” amateur contestants. And if the everyday people vs. pros aspect, a pro-wrestling legend as host, and a humongous set piece for the final challenge made you draw a comparison between The Rock’s series and the network’s short-lived Hulk Hogan-hosted “American Gladiators” reboot, Cruz is here to vouch for how different the two are.

“I remember [the ‘Gladiators’ reboot] being awful. I remember that. I remember not having the same feeling that I had as a kid watching ‘American Gladiators,'” Cruz told TheWrap. “I think the difference in this is that The Rock has a certain brand about him. His brand is always about toughness, hard work, blood, sweat and tears. Those are all the things that he embodies. And I think when you put a show together like “Titan Games”…it has no choice but to be top-notch and above and beyond.”

The original “American Gladiators” was a syndicated series that aired from 1989-1996 and matched amateurs against each other, as well as against the show’s “gladiators.” NBC’s Hogan and Laila Ali-hosted remake, which aired in 2008, had the same premise but was not comparable to the original in Cruz’s eyes.

The Super Bowl champ says that when you see the Mount Olympus obstacle course on “The Titan Games,” you “understand the difference” between The Rock’s show — which is inspired by his own intensive workout regimen — and the “Gladiators” reboot “almost immediately.”

“This is newer, fresher, a whole new vibe,” Cruz continued, with “renewed, refreshed energy.” Whereas the “American Gladiators” remake “felt stale” and couldn’t live up to the original, he said.

As for Cruz’s brand, we asked the former NFL star how much his famous salsa end zone celebration dance raised his profile, paving the way for an ESPN stint and now an E! News gig.

“I’d be lying to you if I told you the salsa didn’t raise awareness to Latino fans and bring more Latino fans to the sport and start watching the game because of what I was doing,” he said. “Not just having the salsa dance be my thing, but the salsa dance being so organic and so true to my actual heritage and my actual background, that it made it all just come full circle. And I think that’s what people gravitated to, along with the dance.”

“First it was like, ‘Who’s the guy doing this dance?’ Then they’re like, ‘Tell me more about him,'” Cruz continued. “‘Oh, he’s actually Spanish, he actually learned it from his grandmother, he actually lives 15 minutes away from Giants Stadium. Oh OK, then it makes sense, let’s show him the love and the credit he deserves for what he does on the football field.'”

The Season 2 of “The Titan Games” premieres tonight, Monday, at 8/7c on NBC.