Gable Steveson’s Next Chapter: Future WWE star also returns to amateur mat … and perhaps more

Updated: June 9, 2023

Photo: In his first freestyle action since winning Olympic gold in 2021, Gable Steveson (left) dominated four bouts at the U.S. Open, including a 10-0 tech fall over Nick Gwiazdowski in the 125-kilogram final in Las Vegas in late April. Steveson will face Michigan’s Mason Parris at Final X in the best-of-3 series, with the winner represent Team USA at the 2023 UWW World Championships this September in Belgrade, Serbia. (Sam Janicki photo)

Note: Gable Steveson will be among nearly 60 wrestlers competing at Final X, June 10 in Newark, N.J. This story appeared in the recent issue of WIN Magazine.

By Mike Finn

The wrestling life story of Gable Steveson has actually been a short one; just 22 years since the native of Minnesota was given the name of another wrestling legend, Dan Gable. 

But plenty has happened to the heavyweight in his first two decades and few wrestlers — including his namesake — have accomplished more on the mat in such a short time than Steveson.

Among his accomplishments are four Minnesota state championships for Apple Valley High School, a Cadet and Junior World championship, two Hodge Trophies and two NCAA titles and a 2020 Olympic gold medal before he “retired” from amateur wrestling to focus on a WWE career after winning a second NCAA title for the Minnesota Gophers in 2022.

This story appeared in the late May issue of WIN Magazine. Click on the cover or call 888-305-0606 to subscribe.

And now he’s back on amateur wrestling mats … and perhaps may return to college wrestling.

Steveson, who admits his life is an open book, is now adding perhaps even more exciting chapters to his story as the heavyweight wrestler returned to freestyle in an impressive manner by dominating the U.S. Open field in April to qualify for the June 10 Final X in Newark, N.J. That’s where he hopes to make his first World Team, with the additional goal of wrestling in another Olympic tournament when the 2024 Games take place in Paris next summer.

Steveson said he also wants to be part of perhaps the best era for the United States in international wrestling.

“I have never been on a team with Jordan Burroughs,” Steveson said of the seven-time World/Olympic champ who will be trying to make the 2023 team at 79 kilograms in Newark.

Steveson said he is ready to compete after a break from competition.

“After the 2022 NCAA Championships, I took my shoes off (and left them at the center of the mat) and I was like, ‘Hey, this is it,’” Steveson said. “In wrestling, you get to a spot where you are checked out. At that time, I was in a spot where I wanted to win another title, then take on a new career path.

“And then one day, I woke up and realized that fire still burns, especially if you have a competitive side. I said to myself, ‘Do I think I can compete again? I asked the coaches at Minnesota of what were the chances.’ They said, ‘Slim, but we can try.’”

Steveson and his coaches certainly did more than try, especially in Las Vegas the last weekend of April when he dominated four foes by a 44-1 margin to earn a spot in June’s Final X in Newark, N.J., where he will face 2023 NCAA champ Mason Parris, who lost 12-1 to Steveson in the Open semifinals.

The 2023 Open was Steveson’s first freestyle competition since he rallied to defeat Geno Petriashvili of Georgia in the 125-kilogram gold-medal match in Tokyo in 2021 before jumping into the arms of his college coach Brandon Eggum. 

Gable Steveson performed his famous backflip after winning the U.S. Open, the first time he’s done this since winning an NCAA title in 2022. (Sam Janicki photo)

The Gopher head coach was just as welcoming to Steveson’s return to amateur wrestling, especially considering Steveson was continuing to train in the Gopher wrestling room.

“Gable has a lot of big dreams and a lot of big goals,” said Eggum. “He feels he is capable of doing so many things and he doesn’t want to limit himself to just one of those goals. Now he has a chance to make the World Team for the U.S., which is pretty amazing.”

Eggum was not surprised how strong Steveson looked in Las Vegas after being away from it for almost two years.

“You have to remember he is only 22 years old and is still growing into his prime,” Eggum said. “Physically, he’s getting stronger each year. Then on top of that, he’s continued to train and work in our room.”

Steveson said he even considered returning to college wrestling this past January, but “things did not work out,” he said, adding there is a chance he could return to compete for the Gophers sometime in the future.

“I never redshirted in college and still have an extra year of eligibility and let’s just leave it as that.” 

Another reason Steveson is competing again in freestyle is that the WWE, which signed him to a contract before his final college season, gave him the OK to proceed in amateur wrestling while also training for his WWE professional wrestling debut.

“It’s coming really, really shortly,” said Steveson about his national introduction to professional wrestling after learning those skills in Orlando, Fla., at the WWE Performance Center. “I’m proud of how everything’s going. I feel like my steps are going forward in the right direction. I know I’ve said I’ve been close (to wrestling professionally) several times, but right now, we have the light to go. I can’t tell you a realistic time frame because it’s just full of surprises.

“Right now, it’s enjoyable and fun. It’s a new chapter, a new journey that I was always looking forward to and absolutely love the performance side of it. I’m learning something new. And, being able to progress in something that is not amateur wrestling is really good for me too.”

Among those helping Steveson adjust to professional wrestling is his older brother Bobby, also a former Gopher wrestler, who competed under the name Damon Kemp for WWE. Bobby told Gable to take on amateur wrestling again while he prepares for the WWE.

“I told him, ‘You won (the Olympics) one time and you were only 20 years old, so why stop?’” recalled Bobby. “I told him to keep competing, ‘until someone beats you. Keep trying to rack up as much as you can.’ There is no one in the world that is close to him, so why stop?

“It’s funny, people talk about him being gone for a long time, but he will become just 23 years old on May 31 and he’s young for his age. A lot of people are still in college at age 23. It’s not like he’s 32 and trying to make a comeback.”

Bobby also believes this return will rank his brother among the best-ever in amateur wrestling.

“I’ve heard some people talking about him as the greatest of all time,” Bobby said. “I say, ‘Do it as much as you want so that when people talk about who was the greatest heavyweight or greatest American wrestler of all time, there’s no argument. Try to solidify your name at the top.’”

Bobby also points out the differences between amateur wrestling and professional wrestling.

“In amateur wrestling, you are taught to be tough and show no emotion,” Bobby said. “I know the tough thing for me to push through my comfort zone was putting yourself out there. Don’t be afraid to look dumb or silly or have people laughing at you. 

“When you are in the WWE, you have to learn how to put on a show. Work a crowd. You need to put yourself out there like something you never thought you would do. Coaches here at the Performance Center will tell you, ‘Anyone can do the moves. It’s how you do it.’ When you shoot a single leg, can you get a little fancy and put your own little taste on it so that the crowd goes, ‘Ooo, Wow’ and you have a connection with the crowd.”

“I have to remember that this job is not a one-year thing,” Gable said about the WWE. “It’s a 20-year career or maybe longer. There are guys like John Cena or Brock Lesnar, who are still going until this day. I want to have a nice little run that leads into their spots. I’m taking things slowly and being mindful. I have my eyes open, ears open, listening to the coaches and finding who can lead me in the right direction.”

Based on Gable Steveson’s performances on the NCAA or international mat, that should be no problem as fans continually ask him to perform backflips after winning championships. That was the case in Las Vegas, where he performed a similar flip to what he did in Detroit after the 2022 NCAA finals.

“Man, it was like all my energy got brought back out,” he said. “It was a wow factor. I’m really doing this again.”

And all fans, no matter what level he competes or performs at, will enjoy this wrestling life of Gable Steveson.