At 21 years old, Gable Steveson just completed the mother of all runs in amateur wrestling over the last 18 months. Starting last March, he won the Big 10 Conference Heavyweight Wrestling Championship. Earlier this year, he took up top honors at the Big 10 Championships, NCAA National Championships in the winter. Also winning the Dan Hodge Trophy (Collegiate Wrestling Heisman Equivalent) in the process. Later in May, Steveson went on to win gold at the Pan-American Games in the Heavyweight class. He completed an event sweep for the United States in the process.
The final piece of hardware he added to his collection came on the world’s biggest stage. In the early hours of Friday morning, Steveson made a miraculous last-second comeback to win the freestyle gold at the Tokyo Olympic Games. By doing so, he becomes the first American to win gold at 100kg or higher since Kurt Angle did it (with a broken neck) in 1996. Certainly, Steveson has earned a nice rest after this unprecedented run, but his next move will be most interesting. A plethora of options are coming his way and they are all enticing. That begs the question for Steveson: What is next?
A Return to Minnesota?
With the pandemic throwing a wrench into a vast array of winter sports, countless athletes got an extra year of eligibility. This includes Steveson, who would be a senior if he decides to return to Minnesota for one last run as a collegiate wrestler. He touts an NCCA win-loss record of 67-2, with his only two defeats coming from Anthony Cassar, who currently is preparing for a Mixed Martial Arts run with the American Top Team camp. Steveson, however, is undefeated in his last 34 matchups at the collegiate level with back-to-back undefeated seasons. While this feels like an unlikely option with his stock through the roof, it is certainly available to him if he so chooses.
Mixed Martial Arts
The pipeline from being an NCAA Wrestling Champion to becoming either UFC or Bellator champion does exist. Just some of the names who have done both include Mark Coleman, Johnny “Big Rig” Hendrick, Ben Askren, among others. Grappling and the overall ground game can be a dangerous weapon inside the octagon. Khabib Nurmagomedov is perhaps the best example in that regard.
The prospect of Steveson, who already is an elite wrestler at just 21, gaining proficient striking and submission ability is downright horrifying. The limit of his potential in MMA is somewhere at the edge of our galaxy. The only worry, however, would be him being rushed into fights before he is truly ready. Most would rather not see him thrown out into the deep end when he is clearly not prepared personally. In any case, he has the potential to be an all-time great fighter, but there is yet another option.
If your only exposure to Steveson was during this year’s Olympics, you may be scratching your head right now. Fret not however, this will make sense shortly. Some of the best professional wrestlers to ever live were amateur wrestlers beforehand. Lou Thez, Karl Gotch, Ric Flair, The Steiner Brothers, Mick Foley, Bret Hart, Shelton Benjamin, “Dr. Death” Steve Williams, and of course, Angle and Brock Lesnar. Lesnar is even a mentor to the young Steveson. Both wrestled and won National titles at Minnesota. In a video interview with Trackwrestling.com in 2020, Steveson went as far as saying he wants to follow in his footsteps.
Lesnar, of course, went on to have a combined nine world title reigns in WWE and New-Japan Pro Wrestling. There is another gentleman who has had his eye on Steveson for some time now. as well. Coincidentally, he was also a huge part of Lesnar’s career. Enter Paul Heyman, the brainchild behind Extreme Championship Wrestling, the golden age of SmackDown in the early 2000s, and one of the best personalities in wrestling history. Steveson, a lifelong wrestling fan, has known Heyman for several years now, and Heyman is a big believer in the new Olympic gold medalist.
— Paul Heyman (@HeymanHustle) April 12, 2021
(We at Prime Time Sports Talk acknowledge Roman Reigns as “The Tribal Chief”)
GABLE STEVESON WINS OLYMPIC GOLD!#PaulHeymanGuy @GableSteveson captures #OlympicGold in the most dramatic fashion imaginable!@WWE @TripleH @bobby_steveson @WWEonFox @btsportwwe @arielhelwani @NBCSports @jacobu https://t.co/ztDm4YoCcy
— Paul Heyman (@HeymanHustle) August 6, 2021
Steveson also has Triple H in his corner, who now heads the company’s successful developmental brand NXT. With the proper training and presentation, Steveson would be a near-lock to become one of pro wrestling’s elite in short order. While Tony Khan’s All Elite Wrestling is a legitimate option, WWE feels like the better landing spot. Steveson seems like a guy that Vince McMahon (despite him losing the proverbial fastball), cannot possibly screw up.
Follow Jack Gaffney on Twitter @JackGaffneyPTST
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