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Gable Steveson, with gold medal in hand, weighs future in UFC or WWE

·Combat columnist
·5-min read
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In two tweets that in total included just 25 characters, Gable Steveson may have ignited a bidding war between the WWE and the UFC that will secure the 21-year-old’s future.

Not bad work if you can get it.

On Monday, Steveson "waved" at UFC president Dana White on Twitter. On Wednesday, seconds before he was to begin an interview with Yahoo Sports, he did the same to Vince McMahon, the chairman and CEO of the WWE.

Steveson would be a great addition to the UFC’s suddenly outstanding heavyweight division. But he’d also be a natural in the WWE, where so many great amateur wrestlers, like Brock Lesnar and Kurt Angle, have gone before.

“A lot of doors have been opened for me,” Steveson told Yahoo Sports.

He, of course, did not need to tweet at either White or McMahon to get interest. They had that long before he ever went to Tokyo to compete in the heavyweight division in freestyle wrestling.

But when he won the gold medal in a literal buzzer-beater with two-tenths of a second left to defeat a three-time world champion, it only enhanced his marketability.

Further enhancing his bargaining position is the fact he has eligibility remaining at the University of Minnesota, for whom he won the 285-pound heavyweight title in 2021 and the Hodge Award, college wrestling’s version of the Heisman.

The NCAA’s new name, image and likeness rules, which enable athletes to profit off of their notoriety, will make it easier for him to return to college and prepare for a repeat in Paris 2024 if that’s what he chooses to do.

He has these options because he refused to give up when it appeared to all who were watching that his gold medal dream had gone poof.

CHIBA, JAPAN AUGUST 6, 2021: Gold medalist USA's Gable Dan Steveson celebrates the golden medal after the men's freestyle 125kg wrestling competition during the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games at the Makuhari Messe in Tokyo on August 6, 2021. ( (Photo by Stringer/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)
Gable Steveson celebrates after winning the gold medal in the men's freestyle 125kg wrestling competition during the 2020 Olympic Games at the Makuhari Messe in Tokyo on Aug. 6, 2021. (Photo by Stringer/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

Steveson on the moment he changed gears: 'I need gold'

The most notable line of the late basketball coach Jim Valvano’s final public speech was, “Don’t give up. Don’t ever give up.”

That was the approach Steveson had as the clocked ticked down on his gold medal match last week in Tokyo with Geno Petriashvili of Georgia in the heavyweight final of freestyle wrestling in the Olympic Games.

Steveson led most of the match, but with 90 seconds left, Petriashvili scored six points and turned a 5-2 deficit into an 8-5 lead. With 15 seconds left, it was still 8-5 and it seemed that Steveson was destined to go home with a silver medal.

That would have been a huge accomplishment, given his age and relative inexperience. Steveson, though, wasn’t about to settle.

As a dying Valvano said, “Don’t give up. Don’t ever give up.”

Steveson scored a takedown with 10 seconds left to get to within a point. He kept pushing. With literally less than a second left, he scored another takedown to get the win. There was a protest by Georgia, but the ruling was upheld and Steveson had a 10-8 win that made him a gold medal winner.

“That match was actually a roller coaster,” Steveson said. “I was winning [most of the way] but then I was down 8-5 with 30 seconds left. In the last 30 seconds, I said, ‘I didn’t come here for silver.’ I switched a gear from me losing to ‘I need to get a gold medal,’ and ‘I need to pull it off in 30 seconds, so how am I going to pull this off?’

“Right after that, I scored a quick takedown and there were six seconds left. I was like, ‘There’s no silver here. I need gold.’ I spent three weeks in Tokyo. I took 12-hour flights. The gold medal was the only thing I wanted to come home with. That was the difference right there, that mindset, that heart.”

It’s what makes him appealing to the UFC and the WWE. Steveson told Yahoo Sports he will attend SummerSlam, the WWE’s Aug. 21 event in Las Vegas, as a guest of the company.

He added, “I may speak to some other important people.” White is the most important person in the UFC and it’s based in Las Vegas, so they’ll probably chat, too.

Steveson said he’s been working on his striking and has been for a while, in the event he decided to go into MMA. But he’s got the personality to be a pro wrestler if that’s the route he wants to go.

He tweeted to McMahon and White because he knew the attention it would attract.

“You know me, I’m about the showmanship,” Steveson said. “I like to put on a show. … By me going out and tweeting at the different sides and making sure there’s speculation on all sides, it brings more hype to myself and it brings more hype to wrestling. I’m sure wrestling hasn’t had someone like this in a long time.”

He said he feels he could be a factor in MMA quickly and pointed out how many wrestlers have won UFC titles. Ex-UFC heavyweight champion Daniel Cormier has reached out to him and talked to him about what it would take to be an MMA fighter.

Steveson, though, has plenty of two things: Time and options, and so he doesn’t have to be forced into a decision.

He will, he said, weigh everything and come up with a plan for his career in the next few weeks.

It is, though, good to be Gable Steveson these days. And it’s in large part because he wouldn’t ever give up.

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