Olympic gold medalist Gable Steveson will be taking the ring as a professional wrestler in the near future, but not before he defends his NCAA heavyweight title with the Gophers this season.
Steveson, who gained worldwide fame with his dominance in the Tokyo Olympics this summer and last second win in the final, announced Thursday that he signed a deal with WWE, the popular pro wrestling circuit.
"Childhood dream accomplished," Steveson tweeted. "I have officially signed with the WWE!!! Thank you for the opportunity!! LETS WORK."
In the new era of college sports, Steveson was also able to tell the Gophers, "I'm back." He'll compete in college but also will be allowed to be featured in commercials and profit off his name, image, and likeness (NIL).
The 21-year-old from Apple Valley is expected to finish his senior season and graduate at the U with a business degree in the spring. At that point, he'll become a full-time performer for WWE, which announced an exclusive agreement Thursday for him to join its promotional roster now as part of its "first-ever NIL deal."
"Without NIL, the chances of him returning would have been small," Gophers wrestling coach Brandon Eggum said on a video call Thursday. "He's always said to us that he was coming back, but I wonder without NIL and some of those opportunities that presented itself from a financial standpoint, it might have been really difficult to say no."
Steveson will join former Gophers and NCAA champion Brock Lesnar in the WWE, but Steveson's three-year record of 67-2 surpassed even Lesnar's success. He won his first NCAA championship this March, capping an undefeated season and winning the Hodge Trophy, given to the nation's top college wrestler.
“I'm trying to leave a trail for everyone who is up and coming and wants to do what I do. To be able to have the platform to do all that is awesome.”
Eggum said Thursday that Steveson has two years of college eligibility remaining because of the extra year allowed during the pandemic. The Gophers are looking to determine whether or not WWE counts as a pro sport or falls under amateur sports or entertainment.
"There is that opportunity from my understanding, the ability to do both if he wanted to," Eggum said, referring to Steveson competing both with the WWE and Gophers wrestling. "But this year, he signed an NIL with them. He'll have to do some appearances with [the WWE]. I don't know the details."
Steveson's dominance with the Gophers continued to roll right through Tokyo, all the way until a dramatic Aug. 6 gold medal match. In that moment, he trailed Georgia's Geno Petriashvili 8-5 with 13 seconds remaining but made two late moves to pull out the stunning win. He followed with his trademark backflip celebration before wrapping himself in the American flag.
That victory gave Steveson $250,000 from USA Wrestling, the slated amount awarded to any Olympic gold medalist. He was already thinking bigger, saying, "There are a lot of possibilities for me with this gold medal. … The whole world is open for me."
Steveson had fun with his fans on social media after the Olympics, asking them their thoughts on his options, including possibly the MMA or the NFL.
Pro wrestling seemed the most likely destination, though. Steveson attended the prestigious Summer Slam and posed with WWE's legendary chairman Vince McMahon. Steveson's older brother, Bobby, also began training at the WWE Performance Center in Orlando.
"I love the WWE and what they bring to the table," Steveson said earlier this year. "I just love entertainment, and I love being able to put on a show for a lot of people and have them tune in every time I wrestle.''
Before he flies off the top rope and hears fans chanting his name at WWE events across the country, Steveson's talent and showmanship will be on display one last time at the U's Maturi Pavilion.
"We plan to sell out the Pavilion," Eggum said. "It's going to be an awesome atmosphere this season. Not only Gable Steveson ... we've just got a really solid team that we're excited to watch grow."
Finishing his career and education at Minnesota was something his family pushed for even before Steveson's official announcement Thursday. He was flourishing under Eggum and Gophers assistant Trevor Brandvold, who both went to Japan to watch him wrestle.
With his historic WWE deal and return to Gophers wrestling this year, Steveson can be the role model he hoped to be after coming home following the Olympics.
"I'm trying to leave a trail for everyone who is up and coming and wants to do what I do," Steveson said earlier this summer. "To be able to have the platform to do all that is awesome."