Gladiators as Athletes
Excellent article. All reasonable points and well thought out.
So many professional historians tend to find a bit of data and come to the conclusion that, "because of this scrap of evidence, 'X' must have been the norm." Meanwhile excluding common sense and reason.
The Romans were above all pragmatic, and recognized what worked and what didn't. They weren't some alien species that ignored human realities and did things willy-nilly.
So it seems likely, that just as modern MMA fighters are treated, the untested fighters at the bottom would have existed on the edge of poverty, i.e. barley and sardines being the modern equivalent of canned tuna and ramen noodles.
But it also seems reasonable the championship contenders would be given the finest meats, women, trainers, doctors, etc. by their owners.
Common sense tells us that you can't build a winner by starving and mistreating them. Heck, that even applies to horses and show dogs, let alone champion fighters.