Gable Steveson is already an Olympic gold medalist, now he’s set to be collegiate wrestling’s biggest earner in the NIL era.
As the clock wound down on his gold medal freestyle heavyweight match, Gable Steveson saw the medal slipping away. He was facing a more experienced opponent in Geno Petriashvili, but in the final 13 seconds, Steveson pulled out a thrilling victory just before the death, securing him the top spot on the podium in Tokyo.
Then, he did a backflip, one of an increasingly long list of things a man his size should not be able to do.
Coming home to Minnesota, the 2020 NCAA heavyweight wrestling champion announced he is signing a big-time name, image, and likeness deal. But it’s not just big in terms of dollars lining his pockets — we’ve actually never seen anything like it before.
After a flirtation with the world of professional mixed martial arts, Steveson’s joining up with the WWE as its first-ever NIL superstar.
(As if being an Olympic gold medalist didn’t put him in a sufficiently exclusive club already.)
And since the terms are fully compliant with NCAA and Minnesota state regulations, the 21-year-old phenom will be able to return to the University of Minnesota for his senior year.
Yes, the Golden Gophers’ golden boy is running it back.
Making His Own Name
Steveson’s first name was inspired by Dan Gable, a three-time NCAA Division I champion, 1972 Olympic gold medalist in freestyle wrestling, and recent Presidential Medal of Freedom recipient — truly one of the legends of the sport. Hoping to continue to build on his own name, he had already signed a deal with the energy drink company Kill Cliff on the heels of his Tokyo triumph. But in just six short weeks since then, his fame and influence are on a different level.
Steveson has been a star in the wrestling world since he first stepped onto campus in the Twin Cities. Now with Olympic gold around his neck and WWE superstar status on his resume, it’s off to the races.
His charisma is palpable. He channels the energy of former MLB legend Ozzie Smith with his celebratory backflips. And if there was still any doubt, he’s as confident as anyone that he was absolutely built for the biggest stages.
In an interview with WrestlingTalk, he shared his longtime penchant for the spotlight. “A lot of people who know me know I love the cameras. I thrive in it. Ever since I was young, I looked having the cameras on me,” he said.
Well, mission accomplished.
As he grows in name and game, the cameras will certainly find their way to him. He’s already developing his promo skills, joining Cameo — an app where consumers can purchase a personal message from entertainment figures, digital influencers, and athletes.
For Steveson, it is $100 for a personal message and $700 for business campaigns. But a few years from now, those rates might look like some kind of steal by comparison,
The Next Brock Lesnar?
Brock Lesnar, a college wrestling success story himself at Minnesota before becoming a champion in both WWE and the UFC, has notably taken Steveson under his wing.
“He’s helped me a lot,” Steveson told WrestlingTalk in a YouTube interview. “Someone of that caliber to come and talk to me is outstanding. He tells me what it takes to be the best, and I took every word he said.”
Steveson could do a lot worse than following in the big man’s footsteps regarding earning potential. Lesnar is worth an estimated $28 million, including $20 million in WWE salary, making him the highest-paid talent on the current roster based on available figures.
And leaving for Tokyo to compete in the Olympics, Steveson signed with famed MMA agent Dave Martin, who represents top fighters like former Bellator champ Michael Chandler and former UFC champ Robbie Lawler. This forges a path to an eventual mixed martial arts career, only furthering the Lesnar parallels.
In fact, the rumors are already flying.
Steveson carries a trait not always seen in collegiate athletes, especially outside the so-called “revenue sports”: He’s comfortable in front of the microphone and knows how to cut a promo. It’s one thing to enjoy performing under the spotlight, but another to be engaging at the drop of a hat.
The ventures he’s begun to explore fit that verbal moxie that he displays.
The University of Minnesota has its own long tradition of being a top wrestling school. 32 wrestlers have received at least one All-Big Ten selection. In 2020, Steveson became the second winner of the Dan Hodge Trophy, given to the nation’s top wrestler.
Last year, every match the Golden Gophers had was televised or streamed on either the Big Ten Network or an ESPN channel. The ability to market Steveson and leverage the attention he brings will surely bring more casual eyes to Minnesota wrestling than ever before — especially when the postseason rolls around in March 2022.
And before too long, he might just be the backflippinest man in sports entertainment, too.