Swan song? Gophers wrestler Gable Steveson could hang up his varsity jersey after NCAAs

Steveson is the clear favorite to win his first national title at the Enterprise Center in St. Louis, with the opening rounds Thursday morning until the championship games on Saturday night.

If the Apple Valley junior wins the NCAA title, then qualifies and performs well at the Summer Olympics in Tokyo, that streak of success could spell the end of his amateur career.

“The questions are all in the air with this,” Steveson said last week. “I love WWE. I love the organization and what it brings, and it will be a difficult process. There are going to be a lot of opportunities for me to grab, but for now, I just stick to staying here and staying active in the wrestling scene. We will see what happens at the Olympics.

At the Big Ten Championships in early March, first Steveson outscored No. 2 Mason Parris of Michigan to win 12-4 in the final. These two remain the top two seeds this weekend, but that’s only on paper.

“It’s not a rivalry,” Steveson told Big Ten Network after winning the conference title. “I came to do my job, and I’m 2-0 against him. I’ll see him (at the NCAAs). I don’t worry about anything. I am exhibiting my skills here. It will happen again.

Former Gophers heavyweight Tony Nelson, who won NCAA titles in 2012 and 2013, has trained with Steveson in recent years. Nelson, another Olympic prospect, has seen different equipment from Steveson this season.

After finishing third in the NCAA as a freshman in 2019, Steveson’s perfect season a year ago came to an end when the national tournament, which was to be held at US Bank Stadium, was called off due to the pandemic.

“I saw an ultra focus,” Nelson said of Steveson. “Last year he was easily winning games, but he wasn’t doing what I think he was capable of. This year he focused on winning this Hodge Trophy. You can see how he’s going there to be dominated. Every game hasn’t even been close. He really has that in mind, and he’s tackling it.

The Hodge Trophy goes to the nation’s top varsity wrestler every year, and only one Gopher has won it: the 133-pound Jayson Ness in 2010.

Hodge’s reigning winner is Spencer Lee of Iowa, 125 pounds, and he’s the only wrestler Steveson doesn’t want to face – even in a fictional match where Lee won or Steveson lost weight only to end up in a certain weight class in the middle.

“Keep (Lee) at 125, I don’t want any part of him !!” Steveson tweeted in January.

Last week Steveson added, “I love watching Spencer Lee. The way he wrestles and the way he goes about his business on the mat is phenomenal. He’s parted so deep in the 125 field that there is literally no one else who can compete with him overall, and everyone believes him too. I want to take what he did and put him in the heavyweight division.

Steveson’s 12-0 record this season didn’t have a close game, and he was named the Big Ten Championship’s Most Outstanding Wrestler – an accolade he won against Lee.

BTN analyst Tim Johnson said ahead of the Big Ten tournament that Steveson’s attack efficiency rate was around 75%. Johnson then put that number into perspective. “If you complete 50% of your shots, you will be very successful,” he said.

Steveson’s extravagant success comes from a speed and athleticism rarely seen in a heavyweight. To show the 285-pounder could still do it, Steveson recently backflipped into the Minnesota wrestling room.

“A lot of that goes back to his childhood” in Apple Valley, Nelson said. “He always attacked a lot. Even when I started working with him when I was just out of college and he was still young in high school, being guys from Minnesota, he still shoots (for eliminations). I think he struggled in a way that allowed him to develop and continually increase his score rate.

Steveson’s impressive career – which now stands at 62 wins, 2 losses – could soon have that elusive national title. Will that be his swan song in a Gophers tank top?

Gophers coach Brandon Eggum is of course hoping that’s not the case. He spoke to Steveson about how WWE can wait, when college and Olympic wrestling has only been around for so long. .

“The big part is building your resume,” Eggum said. “For these guys and what they want to sell (to WWE), the more accolades you have, the better the draw for them. He has a little window of time where he can compete and win three national titles.”

With Nelson and Cole Konrad each winning two NCAA Championships for the Gophers, Eggum challenges Steveson to be the best of the best in Heavyweight U.


Tony Nelson – 2012, 2013
Cole Konrad – 2006, 2007
Brock Lesnar – 2000
Verne Gagn̩ Р1949
L̩onard L̩vy Р1941

Robert J. King