Gable Steveson achieved his longtime dream of joining World Wrestling Entertainment, but he never lost his desire to entertain on the amateur mat.
In his early 20s, Steveson seemed to already have done it all in amateur wrestling and moved on. He claimed an Olympic gold medal at heavyweight at the Tokyo Games and won two college national titles at Minnesota. After his second college championship, he left his shoes in the center of the mat symbolizing his retirement from amateur wrestling. After that, he made some appearances with WWE, most notably at SummerSlam in 2021 and at WrestleMania 38 in 2022.
But Steveson still had his foot in the amateur door. He has split his time between training in Minneapolis with Brandon Eggum, his college coach at the University of Minnesota, and the WWE Performance Training Center in Orlando, Florida. Though still with WWE, the urge to try to position himself as one of amateur wrestling’s all-time greats became too much. He now will chase a spot at next year’s Paris Olympics.
“The itch and fire will never go away,” Steveson said. “And I feel like if you ask any competitor, old or young, I think it’s always there. But some people just don’t have the bodies to do it because they’re a little older. But I think me just turning 23, I still had that extra fire and I want to see what I could do. I wanted to test my limits. And so I stayed ready just in case the time came where I could come back.”
Steveson is a showman known for his backflips after his biggest victories. With crowds limited at the Tokyo Games because of the pandemic, he felt he didn’t get the full Olympic experience and wants to provide it for his fans and his family.
“I need to have that Paris experience in front of a packed house,” he said. “I need to have them see what it’s like to see Gable Steveson in person. Having been in Tokyo and having no fans was — it was okay because I still won an Olympic gold. But I want to have that experience of having my family in the front row. They need to see it live.”
It looks like a possibility. Steveson returned to amateur action at the U.S. Open in April and dominated some of the nation’s best heavyweights by a combined score of 44-1.
“To watch him come out and compete that way — I’m not going to say I was surprised because I knew he was the best wrestler,” Eggum said. “But it’s been quite a while since he stepped on the mat and competed, especially against the best guys in the country, and some of those guys, in the world. And to be that dominant was exciting. I was impressed. No doubt about it.”
The performance in Las Vegas earned him a spot at Final X Saturday at the Prudential Center in Newark, New Jersey, against Mason Parris. Steveson beat Parris for the NCAA title in 2021 and defeated him 11-1 in the U.S. Open semifinals.
The winner of each Final X best-of-three championship series will represent the United States at the 2023 Senior World Championships in Belgrade, Serbia.
The already dominant Steveson, who won Olympic gold at age 21, said fans will see the best version of him yet.
“I think body maturity is coming into play,” he said. “And I think now it’s at a stage where I have seen my true physical strength and my true physical attributes and everything is coming to light. I think now that this is a different person again, with things that people have not seen.”
Steveson expects to be seen on WWE programming soon, though he wouldn’t say when. He said the training process to become a pro wrestler takes longer than critics realize.
“I am still doing my thing,” he said. “I have changed my diet, my body appearance. I wanted to be the best thing ever so when I did go on TV, it was going to be a sight that nobody has seen before. My time is coming and it’s coming sooner than a lot of people think.”
Eggum believes Steveson’s future with WWE remains bright.
“He’ll do great and he’ll be a star there, no question about it,” Eggum said. “But I also knew that leaving the world of competing and going out and showing the people what he’s capable of doing on the mat, that would be something that wouldn’t be very easy for him as well. So when the opportunity came back … I guess I wasn’t super surprised by that.”
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