Its still not that common unless you're on one of these pvp hub type of realms such as SS, Outland or Aegwyn, but the overall quality most certainly deteriorated over the last couple of seasons. It becomes increasingly hard to judge whether a gladiator is truly better than someone without a title and you don't often (if ever) get that get sense of accomplishment you used to get for beating an "allstar" team anymore. But non the less, Gladiator is still a well respected title overall and those of us that feel its lost the weight it once carried are in the smallest minority.
I would have to 100% agree on you with the first part of your post, Players such as Hydra and key players from the early days really have shaped the way we PvP, by pushing the bounds and breaking away from the norm they have created some very useful and cunning tactics which can be found amongst almost all players these days. It was those early days, and those early players that helped shape and grow the PvP scene, those are the players i will always respect, Those are the true Gladiators.
It is also refreshing to see someone recognise and relate to the fact that although a majority of us here have become sour and put off by the illegitimate players out there and the somewhat degraded value of a Gladiator title, that there are still people out there who look up to those players, who when they see a Gladiator title do not immediately think of ways to falsify their accomplishment but look at them with a sense of respect and look at them as a HUB for information, as someone they can approach for advice and help in their current struggle and endeavours to advance, to break out of a place that all of us started from, The learning process.