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Olympic Gold Medalist Gable Steveson Contemplates Future in WWE

The Week in Wrestling: what’s next for the Minnesota star who won the men’s freestyle 125kg event in Tokyo, what NXT’s recent cuts mean for WWE as a whole and more.

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Gable Steveson: “If I ever go to WWE, I’d be a ‘Paul Heyman Guy’ ”

What is the best way to celebrate winning an Olympic gold medal? For Gable Steveson, it’s going to SummerSlam.

“I’m heading over to Vegas to watch the champ Roman Reigns do his thing,” says Steveson, the 21-year-old sensation who captured the gold last week, becoming the first U.S. heavyweight to win the men’s freestyle 125kg event since 1992. “John Cena is great, but he’s still going to have to acknowledge Roman Reigns.”

Steveson won gold in the most astonishing manner, turning certain defeat into an improbable victory by securing a final takedown with a half of a second remaining in the match—and then punctuating it with a backflip.

“It was an emotional rollercoaster,” Steveson says. “Very quickly, I had so many thoughts rushing through my head. When I was losing, I reminded myself I didn’t come that far to be second. I went to Japan to bring home the gold. So I put my heart out there and followed my instincts, and thankfully it worked.”

Following his historic last-second takedown, Steveson heard from Paul Heyman and Brock Lesnar, who have been positive influences in his life since he was in high school. A future in WWE is possible for Steveson, and he already knows who he would align himself with on- and off-camera.

“If I ever go to WWE, I’d be a ‘Paul Heyman Guy,’ ” says Steveson, whose older brother Bobby—who, like Gable, starred for the wrestling team at Minnesota—reports next week to train at the WWE Performance Center. “Heyman is a legend. We’d be two people doing great things, and that would be a tough team to beat.

“And I’ve known Brock since I was in high school. He’s been there for me for a long time, making sure I do things the right way and put my best foot forward.”

Steveson took the toughest route imaginable to winning the gold, defeating defending Olympic champion Taha Akgül, 2019 U23 world medalist Mönkhtöriin Lkhagvagerel and Geno Petriashvili, the three-time and reigning world champion in men’s freestyle wrestling. Steveson and a devastated Petriashvili shared a moment after the gold-medal match, where Steveson expressed unrelenting admiration for his opponent.

“Straight up, I told him he was a legend and one of the best ever,” Steveson says. “He had tears in his eyes, but if the roles were reversed, I hope he would have done the same thing.”

Already the reigning NCAA Division I national champion, Steveson has become even more heavily sought after since winning the gold. His future options include a return to the Golden Gophers, signing a contract with WWE or UFC, or even joining the NFL.

“WWE has been so great to me,” Steveson says. “Triple H, Brock, Heyman, Ric Flair and so many others have been so supportive. So have people from UFC, like Daniel Cormier, Jon Jones and Henry Cejudo, who have also sent me congratulations.

“So many great organizations and teams have reached out. A scout from the Bills, there is a connection with the Ravens. The Olympic gold medal is helping me see the world, so my next step is going to be a big decision. I’m going to decompress now and think about it.”

Steveson’s future remains unwritten, but he is active in the present representing Kill Cliff energy drink, which he is able to do without jeopardizing his NCAA eligibility thanks to the new name, image and likeness (NIL) rights for collegiate athletes.

“I’m proud to be associated,” Steveson says. “We’re official partners with the Navy SEAL Foundation, and I’m locked in with them. We’re going to have a memorabilia can with my gold medal signature on it, and we’re going to have fun with it. You can’t beat the Navy SEALs. They’re the baddest people on the planet, and I’m so proud to be aligned with them to make something great.”

Life has been a whirlwind since winning the gold. Steveson has refused to lose sight of his newly won medal, even taking it with him to bed.

“When I first got it, I didn’t take it off,” Steveson says. “I even slept with it right by my pillow. It didn’t come off for like three days, until I got home and my mom put it on.

“I’m so grateful to represent the greatest country on earth, and I hope I made everybody proud. It’s special to represent the University of Minnesota, and I’m so happy to make my mom proud, too. It’s a memory for a lifetime, and I’m going to work to make even more great moments after this.”

Recent NXT releases potentially signify a different direction for the brand

WWE made more than a dozen releases from the NXT roster Friday. That included talent who had been prominently featured on its programming, most notably Bronson Reed, who was North American champion in the spring and wrestled in the main event of NXT just two weeks ago.

The list of people cut is long and distinguished, including Mercedes Martinez, who is extremely talented and always presented herself as a major piece of the women’s division. Bobby Fish, who had wrestled Roderick Strong on the edition of NXT that aired only two days before, was cut. The releases also included Tyler Rust, who was part of the new Diamond Mine faction. Leon Ruff was cut, which was peculiar, considering he was a beloved member of the NXT community and showed value every time he appeared on camera. Jake Atlas was also on the list, which was surprising, considering it seemed there were plans for him to be a major star in NXT.

As others have reported, this was the work of Vince McMahon. He is seeking to make his developmental brand younger and bigger. Clearly, McMahon does not see stardom in the future for his released collection of talent, which is inevitably going to be a decision that backfires. How can you come away unimpressed from a Mercedes Martinez match? Or not see emerging stars in Bronson Reed or Jake Atlas? Why dismiss the overall contributions to the brand and in-ring charisma of Leon Ruff?

A mystifying part of these recent releases is that McMahon is either not receiving—or not listening to—better advice. Today’s marketplace is looking for people who can carry it in the ring. The marketplace has evolved, which Paul “Triple H” Levesque and Shawn Michaels have recognized in NXT, but McMahon and his team are not capitalizing on these current trends. This is visible each week on Raw, but something different was occurring with NXT. Levesque and Michaels built an old-school, balanced show where every segment accomplished something. AEW soundly won the ratings battle when they squared off head-to-head on Wednesdays, which is more of a credit to AEW and its innovative, creative approach to putting on an entertaining show and continually generating buzz. But this experience has been a transition for the NXT brand, which had always been a show built solely around its TakeOver events, not week-to-week television.

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Therein lies the problem. McMahon and his team of associates, which includes Bruce Prichard, have no problem cutting talent and changing the business model of NXT. But that is complicated, as that brand is supposed to be led by Paul “Triple H” Levesque. So now the question becomes: What happens next? Will Levesque have no choice but to allow McMahon to cut even more talent he has helped harness and cultivate? Or is there middle ground to be found?

Last week’s NXT releases continue to make me think of Raw. Why is McMahon so fixated on NXT when his flagship show on Monday night needs the most attention? In this particular case, the world of WWE behind the curtain continues to be more fascinating than the product we consume on television.

The (online) week in wrestling

  • Daniel Garcia and Wheeler Yuta represented the entire pro wrestling industry with pride in their title match at this past Sunday’s IWTV 100 card. 
  • What surprise will AEW have this Friday for its Rampage debut? 
  • The Randy Orton–Matt Riddle story line is the best part of Raw. Will this program run through next year’s WrestleMania?
  • The upcoming TakeOver match pitting Walter against Ilja Dragunov has the potential to be career-defining.
  • Cody Rhodes did the honors last week on Dynamite for Malakai Black, who has looked like an absolute star so far in AEW.
  • The wrestling world mourned the loss of the great Bobby Eaton. If you haven’t already read it, Mike Johnson wrote a heartfelt eulogy capturing the brilliance of Eaton’s life and career.
  • Kayfabe News continually finds a creative way to capture the current story lines in WWE, which happened again with its story on the Bobby Lashley–Bill Goldberg match. 
  • The NWA Empowerrr show continues to build interest, especially with the addition of Debbie Malenko. 
  • Congratulations to AC Mack, the 2021 Scenic City Invitational Tournament winner. 

PBR airs wrestling-inspired commercial on AEW Dynamite

A Pabst Blue Ribbon commercial made its TNT debut last Wednesday during Dynamite.

PBR sponsors Matt Cardona and Brian Myers’s Major Wrestling Figure Podcast, and the commercial was filmed at Cardona’s pool in June. The original intent was to run the commercial on the web, but PBR brand manager Corey Smale saw an even bigger opportunity.

“We’d planned on running it on the internet, then we saw this opening and opportunity to run it on TNT,” Smale says. “Filming that commercial, we had so much fun with it. We hung out, partied, and the next day we went to Disney World.

“I’m not sure if there were any other commercials getting tweeted about last Wednesday. We’re so grateful to Tony Khan for letting it happen.”

PBR originally had a three-month partnership with the Major Wrestling Figure Podcast, which was extended through the end of the year. The brand received considerable attention two weeks ago when Cardona defeated Nick Gage to win the GCW title, and Small sees a direct correlation between indie wrestling and PBR.

“Matt Cardona embodies the PBR brand, which is bet on yourself, and prove yourself and your fans right,” Smale says. “The owner of Pabst even thought that the GCW title win was cool. We have real trust built with Matt, and we value the DIY culture of independent wrestling. We’re lucky to be a part of it.”

Tweet of the Week

Perfectly stated by Kyle O’Reilly.

Justin Barrasso can be reached at JBarrasso@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter @JustinBarrasso.