Hollywood movies and television shows often depict gladiatorial bouts as a bloody free-for-all, but most fights operate under strict rules and regulations. Contests were typically single combat between two men of similar size and experience. Referees oversaw the action and probably stopped the fight as soon as one of the participants was seriously wounded. A match could even end in a stalemate if the crowd became bored by a long and drawn-out battle, and in rare cases, both warriors were allowed to leave the arena with honor if they had put on an exciting show for the crowd.
Since gladiators were expensive to house, feed, and train, their promoters were loath to see them needlessly killed. Trainers may have taught their fighters to wound, not kill, and the combatants may have taken it upon themselves to avoid seriously hurting their brothers-in-arms. Nevertheless, the life of a gladiator was usually brutal and short. Most only lived to their mid-20s, and historians have estimated that somewhere between one in five or one in 10 bouts left one of its participants dead.