Gable Steveson showed again Monday why WWE coveted the Gophers heavyweight to join their stable of pro wrestlers.
Last week, Steveson signed a name image and likeness deal with World Wrestling Entertainment, and the former Apple Valley High School star will come back for one final collegiate wrestling season this winter. On Monday, Steveson offered charisma and meaty soundbites — elements WWE will love once he joins the organization full time next spring.
Asked at a news conference if he is entertaining any stage names once he turns pro, he spoke slowly and enunciated into the microphone: “Gable. Steveson.”
The wrestling gold medalist in the Summer Olympics was offered the suggestion of a moniker involving his trademark backflip, which he uncorked after his last-second takedown of Georgian Geno Petriashvili to win it all in the 125-kg division in Tokyo in August.
“Right now, I’m Gable Steveson,” he said. “I hope to keep that name forever.”
Given his upcoming swan song in NCAA wrestling, Steveson was asked if he’s looking to rekindle any “rivalries,” perhaps with Michigan’s Mason Parris. He paused, then said: “Yeah, I guess so. … Is it a rivalry?”
Zing. Steveson was undefeated in NCAA matches last season and plans to run it back with a second consecutive national championship. For WWE, Steveson also will train locally and make TV appearances elsewhere over the next few months, but his comment about where his priorities rest this winter wasn’t nearly as spicy. U wrestling fans, however, will like it.
“Gopher responsibilities are No. 1; that is what we talked about first with the WWE,” Steveson said. “Being able to compete here with my last go. I don’t owe Minnesota myself, but I feel like I owe all the fans that show up and want to watch me and sellout crowds. That is what I feel like I owe back to the people.”
The showman made a decision to return to Minnesota “a long time ago” but admitted he leaned into the will he/won’t he storyline. “I had to build the anticipation, I had to build a draw of people thinking I was going to leave,” Steveson said with a smirk. (The Pioneer Press reported last spring that Steveson was coming back for the 2021-22 season.)
But on the supposed drama circulating about a rift between him and UFC’s Dana White? Well, Steveson quickly downplayed that.
“There was no conflict with me and Dana White,” Steveson said. “People came out in articles saying I ditched him in Vegas when I was actually in (Las) Vegas to go see WWE. You can’t see two major corporations in one day. I landed in Vegas and I had obligations I had to do with them, so me and Dana were never on a bad foot. I hope we cross paths soon, and that time will come.”
ESPN reported last week UFC wanted Steveson to first join a regional MMA training spot before possibly bringing him onto White’s Contender Series, where Steveson could compete for a contract. But Steveson said in the ESPN story, “We never talked about that, so I have no clue.”
Steveson said Monday the proposition to play football for the Gophers wasn’t an attention-grabbing ploy. “100%,” Steveson said on whether it was a real possibility. “I actually went to football practice two times. I was watching the (defensive) line because that was my position that I was going to play. I learned all the techniques and stuff.”
But Steveson said he was being pulled in too many directions to make a side project on the football field work out.
Steveson said some of the business aspects of his new life, like how the WWE deal took weeks to complete (instead of a day), and how he had to learn the dollar figures on his NIL deal wasn’t what he was going to take home due to taxes. “I’m like, ‘Wait, what?’” Steveson said.
While that lack of understanding is naive, it didn’t seem to be a coincidence that Stevson wore a T-shirt Monday repping another one of his NIL deals, Kill Cliff energy drinks, in front of the cameras.
The biggest showmanship bit Steveson had in his 15-minute media session was about a connection to former Gophers heavyweight and current WWE wrestler Brock Lesnar. The Wrestling Observer Newsletter said there have been discussions about Lesnar wrestling Steveson in a “passing-of-the-torch-type of moment.”
Asked about getting into the ring with Lesnar, Steveson’s eyes grew wide as he slowly looked around the room of journalists on the U campus.
Steveson has admired Lesnar, a former NCAA champion himself, for many years. During Seveson’s senior year of high school, Lesnar invited the genuinely wide-eyed kid to Target Center to watch WWE.
“Ever since then, he’s just been a figure that I can talk to,” Steveson said. “A person that points me in the in the right direction.”