Olympic gold medalist Gable Steveson always had an idea that WWE would be his future home.
Following his stunning victory at the 2020 Olympic games, the 21-year-old phenom quickly became a coveted free agent as he flirted with a potential move into professional wrestling, mixed martial arts or perhaps even trying his hand at football.
In the end, Steveson inked a three-year contract with WWE under an NIL (name, image, likeness rights) deal that will allow him to start training for his career in pro wrestling while still returning to the University of Minnesota where he hopes to capture a second consecutive NCAA title.
According to Steveson, he always intended on returning to college wrestling for at least another year but then it just became a process to figure out who was going to support that endeavor.
“The going back to school thing came way before the Olympic games,” Steveson revealed while appearing on The MMA Hour. “I wanted to go back and win another national title. Along with WWE, it came really quick because they allowed me to come back and I was like why wouldn’t I wrestle one more year and go on stage with WWE? It was a win-win. I had to take the opportunity.
“I told them that I wanted to go back and finish school and their No. 1 priority was like ‘you can do that.’ So I was like OK, let’s do a name, image, likeness deal because it came out in July. So I told them I wanted to go back. Vince [McMahon], Nick Khan and Triple H all said go ahead and win another national title, regardless everything will still be in place for you, we’ll do this, this and this for you and you go back, get your degree and we’ll see you after that. A part of my deal is I can go on stage during my school year time so that’s kind of cool, too.”
As part of new rules ratified by the NCAA earlier this year, student athletes can now start to earn additional income from these NIL deals, which has suddenly become a very lucrative business. As long as the deals are under the NIL guidelines, athletes can earn money while still participating in college sports.
Steveson made a return to the University of Minnesota to win another championship a top priority for his career but now with WWE on his side, he’ll be able to start working towards his future in pro wrestling at the same time.
Add to that, Steveson will also be allowed to make TV appearances with WWE because he’s not actually graduating to a professional sport like athletes playing football or basketball.
“Minnesota signed off really quick on it and since it’s sports entertainment, it’s not like I’m going out there and doing the NFL with college football,” Steveson explained. “You can’t do that.
“The way the NCAA rule works, I was able to work it that I can make an on stage appearance against whoever and then wrestle a duel the next day if I get back in time. My first obligation is to compete at Minnesota but I got two big obligations.”
Prior to the announcement that he was signing with WWE, Steveson had hinted at a possible future in mixed martial arts as well with plans to actually sit down and speak with UFC president Dana White.
Unfortunately, Steveson never got to cross paths with White and while his primary focus remains on WWE for now, he’s certainly not closing the door on a future in fighting.
“It would be cool to hold a UFC belt,” Steveson said. “I know there’s a lot of people on Twitter ‘oh he’s soft, he didn’t want to go to the UFC right way’ but I want to pave my own way. I don’t want to follow what no one else does. I don’t even read Twitter comments anymore. They’re just terrible. I’m just getting a lot of hate.
“If that time came, I would love to fight. I secured the Olympic gold in wrestling … why not go out there and get the UFC belt?”
Just after the deal with WWE was announced, ESPN had reported that the UFC was interested in Steveson getting some fight experience on the regional circuit before then perhaps competing on The Contender Series for the chance to earn a contract with the promotion.
Steveson refuted those rumors while adding he never really had much of a conversation with White or the UFC about possibly fighting for them.
“I’ve seen a lot of tweets that Dana wanted me in Contender Series but I don’t even know because me and Dana only had a couple of text messages saying like ‘hey come to Vegas’ but I was at SummerSlam and I couldn’t make it to him,” Steveson said. “I didn’t ditch him. We barely spoke. I know he wanted me to come.
“I don’t know where the Contender Series thing came about on the news and stuff. We barely spoke and Vince had the upper hand. I’ve been knowing WWE longer than UFC so I wanted to start my path there. I had no clue about [the Contender Series].”
Now that the deal is done, Steveson couldn’t be any happier with the trajectory his career is taking with hopes to become a huge superstar with WWE following the success of past wrestling standouts such as Brock Lesnar and Kurt Angle.
That said, Steveson admits he hoped for a bigger push from the UFC to actually sign him for a move into MMA but it appears the promotion just wasn’t interested in pursuing him.
“I was hoping that Dana would have come a lot stronger,” Steveson said. “I was hoping that he would push the pace a little more. I would love to fight. I’m not scared of fighting. I’m not scared of getting punched. I’m not scared of going out there and losing in front of a big crowd or winning in front of a big crowd. It doesn’t matter to me. I go out there to entertain people and for me, myself, to do something I love. I mean I love fighting and I love WWE. I love both.
“I wish Dana came a little harder. I wish he would have had more push on me to go that way but that time is up for now. I’m 100 percent with Vince McMahon and that team. I’m excited to be where I’m at.”