American heavyweight wrestler Gable Steveson was crowned the 125kg freestyle champion on Friday and having accomplished the sport’s highest honour at the age of 21 many members of the media have already speculated what could be next for the Minnesota native.
Winning the Games, in wrestling’s marquee heavyweight category at such a young age has ensured that Steveson will not be short of offers and will have even more suitors looking for him to change sports.
Freestyle wrestling is a great base for athletes to make a smooth transition to professional wrestling and mixed martial arts while being such a physical specimen he is almost surely also on the radar of NFL scouts who could offer him a tryout. The NCAA champion could also elect to remain in freestyle wrestling and make a run for Paris 2024 where he would still only be 25.
Steveson, who defeated Georgia’s Geno Petriashvili in pulsating gold medal match, was tight-lipped about his future following his spectacular gold medal exploits but he is known to be a fan of World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE), the world’s leading and most powerful professional wrestling company.
His older brother Bobby, a former University of Minnesota heavyweight, is training at the WWE Performance Center and Steveson, on his official Tokyo 2020 profile, cites fellow Olympic wrestling champion Kurt Angle and famed pro wrestlers Brock Lesnar, Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson, and ‘Stone Cold’ Steve Austin as his heroes.
WWE congratulated Steveson for the victory on Twitter
WWE’s Executive Vice President Triple H tweeted: “GOLD-MEDAL celebration!!! Congratulations to @GableSteveson on his performance at the #TokyoOlympics. Focused until the last second, another gold medal for USA Wrestling and Team USA.”
A GOLD-MEDAL celebration!!!— Triple H (@TripleH) August 6, 2021
Congratulations to @GableSteveson on his performance at the #TokyoOlympics. Focused until the last second, another gold meal for @USAWrestling and #TeamUSA!!!! https://t.co/3ngH9Mrbok
Steveson has all the physical attributes and a well-rounded skillset to achieve superstardom in almost any arena he chooses.
The 6ft 1in, 260-pounder, has a legitimate background, size, he has charisma in abundance and he’s a fast learner.
There’s also a long precedent for amateur wrestlers switching to the pro ranks such as Danny Hodge, Lou Thesz, Karl Gotch, Masa Saito, Yoshiaki Yatsu, Jumbo Tsuruta, Chad Gable and Jeff Cobb.
The most famous switch was made by American Kurt Angle who won Atlanta 1996 freestyle wrestling gold and then joined WWE in 1998 where he embarked upon a Hall of Fame career as a four-time WWE World Heavyweight Champion.
Journalist Dave Meltzer, founder and editor of the Wrestling Observer Newsletter, has closely followed Steveson’s progression through the domestic ranks onto the world stage and believes that WWE are in pole position to land the signature of the heavyweight in the future.
“WWE knows Steveson and its top executives know him. Everyone in WWE was following his performance at the Olympics.
“Paul Heyman (former wrestling promoter and currently an on-screen manager) has known about him long before anyone else has, back to high school and Steveson said he wants Heyman to manage him. Plus his brother Bobby is already with WWE, and he’s already been on WWE television and in the crowd at shows.”
While all signs point to Steveson showing up in WWE and becoming a pro wrestler, there is another professional wrestling organization now with mainstream exposure, momentum and the funds to bring in someone like the freestyle star.
“I haven’t heard him mentioned in All Elite Wrestling (AEW) circles but he would be a great get for them particularly if he does well,” Meltzer told Around The Rings.
“To get a guy WWE badly wants would be a great sign to the world that they are serious competition. They have advantages to sell on him, such as a better schedule and a better record in recent years of producing stars. But in this case I don’t see it happening.”
Steveson could also be tailor-made for a mixed martial arts (MMA) career, as fellow National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Division I heavyweight wrestling champion Brock Lesnar did successfully as he became the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) Heavyweight Champion in only his fourth MMA bout either side of stints in WWE.
MMA companies don’t tend to recruit accomplished amateur champions but in Steveson’s case you would expect the sport’s leading agents to make a play for his services while the top MMA gyms in America could make a proposal to the sought after wrestler.
“He should try and spark a bidding war,” added Meltzer.
“The issue is that UFC doesn’t really do recruiting, they just take people who have been successful on smaller shows that don’t pay much. Really, for him to have a shot at making big money in MMA, his best road would be like Lesnar, to build a name for a few years in pro wrestling and with that name, walk into MMA as a marketable commodity and sign a big deal. But he’d be very smart to talk with AEW and try and up his value with multiple suitors.
“I’m not sure the advice Brock Lesnar would give him but I suppose it would be to take the best deal and do your best to control your destiny and try and get as many people bidding for your services as possible.”
USA Wrestling, the sport’s national governing body, which paid Steveson $250,000 in prize money for his gold medal, said it’s unclear what their star man will do next.
“Gable has not said what he is going to do,” said USA Wrestling spokesman Gary Abbott
“He drops a lot of hints. He is interested in pro wrestling, but he also has started participating in NIL (NCAA’s name, image and likeness scheme where athletes can sign deals) so he might still continue to wrestle in college.
“Gable will be able to accept the prize money even if he stays in college, because the NCAA allows athletes to take their largest bonus from their national team program. We have given out over $2.5 million since the Living the Dream Medal Fund program was created in 2009.”