MINNEAPOLIS - It’s been a lifelong dream for Apple Valley native Gable Steveson to one day be a professional wrestler.
That dream recently became a reality, and thanks to new NIL rules, Steveson could sign his first professional contract and still maintain his college eligibility. Coming off winning his second straight Big Ten title at heavyweight, his first national title and a stunning run to Olympic gold, Steveson made it official last week he’s returning to the Gophers for one more season.
He also signed a deal with World Wrestling Entertainment. He’ll profit off his name, image and likeness by making appearances, being promoted on social media and eventually getting in the ring. Both Steveson and coach Brandon Eggum have known for some time his future plans, but it became public last week.
"I made that decision a long time ago. A while ago, I wanted to come back, but I had to build the anticipation, I had to build a draw, people thinking I was going to leave. I’m thankful WWE allowed me to come back and have one last go at the national title,’ Steveson said Monday.
As you might expect, his coach, Brandon Eggum, was thrilled when the news was official.
"We had a strong sense that he was going to return to the University of Minnesota, but until he made it official, anything could happen. We were just excited," Eggum said last week. "We knew this day was coming or hoped that it was. It just says a lot about his character that he really feels he can still play a major role in the development of our program."
So how will he balance his WWE duties and wrestling for the Gophers? He’ll train locally and says Minnesota is his top priority.
"That’s what we talked about first with WWE. Being able to compete here with my last go, I feel like I owe all the fans that show up and want to watch me and sellout crowds, that’s what I feel like I owe back to the people," Steveson said. "Being able to come back is what I really wanted. I didn’t want to leave the University, I wanted to spend my four years and leave my legacy here."
It’s been a whirlwind year for the Gophers’ star. After winning the NCAA title, he went to Wrestlemania and then got ready for the Olympic Trials. He earned his spot on the U.S. Olympic team, then made a stunning run to the gold medal match. Trailing a three-time world champion 8-5 in the final period, Steveson rallied for four straight points and got a gold medal-winning takedown just before the buzzer.
Always the entertainer, he celebrated with a back flip.
From there, his future included all kinds of options. He had the WWE and UFC calling, and even flirted with joining the Gophers’ football team and playing for PJ Fleck. He ultimately wanted to wear his wrestling gear for one more season, and defend his national title.
"WWE was my calling, after this Gophers season I’m all tuned in with them 100 percent. It’s crazy that this is going to be my last time putting on the straps for the Gophers one more time," Steveson said.
Steveson’s success has had quite the impact on the Gophers. Eggum said he’s seen a noticeable uptick in recruiting, and fans flooded the airport to welcome him home from Tokyo after winning gold.
Casual fans got up at 5 a.m. to watch Steveson wrestle for gold. He hopes it translates to full crowds at Maturi Pavilion during the wrestling season.
"Being a national champion, being an Olympic gold medalist, I hope people understand how great that is for the University," Steveson said. "I hope ticket sales ramp up, not just for me, I hope they ramp up just to see the whole team go out there and do something special."