Looking At Gable Steveson’s Exit

(Photo Credit: WWE)

Last week, former Olympic gold medalist, Gable Steveson was released from the WWE,ending a nearly three-year tenure with the company. After Steveson won the gold on the amateur mat in 2020, he signed a developmental deal with the organization the following year. Given his outstanding collegiate record and Olympic achievements, there was a lot of hype around the recruitment of Steveson as a pro wrestler, specifically because he was only the second gold medalist to ink a contract with the sports entertainment corporation behind Kurt Angle.

There’s only one Kurt Angle, and the lack of overall progress in Steveson’s pro career proves that, but even if it was unintentionally unfair, he drew comparisons to Angle since they both won amatuer gold before they transitioned to the pro ranks.

To say that Steveson’s career was undistinguished would be an understatement.

There was a promotional push for his arrival, with a handful of appearances on WWE programming, including a spot at Wrestlemania a few years ago and he was even drafted to the Raw brand, but never officially made it to the main roster.

It goes without saying that the heavyweight wrestler is a tremendous athlete and will be known as one of the best US amateurs in Olympic history, but for whatever reason, that just didn’t translate to sports entertainment. That’s not to say that he didn’t put in the effort or that the coaches at the performance center didn’t give him a worthwhile sports entertainment education. In fact, it was probably a combination of factors that prevented him from making the progress required to either stay in the developmental system or remain under contract.

Keep in mind, while the terms of the contract weren’t public, you can safely assume that the company offered him a decent amount of cash to pursue pro wrestling. Remember, he had a lot of publicity after winning gold so the WWE would’ve had to offer at least comparable money to what other projects could’ve offered him at the time.

Of course, it made sense for management to recruit Steveson because best case scenario, they could’ve found the next Kurt Angle, and Chad Gable is another example of Olympic wrestlers that became stellar pros. Granted, Chad Gable is really only getting the chance to truly showcase his talent in the past few years, but the point being, there’s enough of a track record of success in the WWE from the Olympics that you can see why Steveson was offered a deal.

As trivial as it might sound, sports entertainment goes against everything that Steveson would’ve learned his entire career as an amateur. The intricacies of the amateur style, aspects that are emphasized exponentially at the highest levels of Olympic competition, are designed to prevent an opponent from completing any offensive maneuver. The basis of Steveson’s tremendous athleticism and years of training honed his skills to naturally prevent what his opponent tried to accomplish on the mat. At the Olympic level, the reaction time for that is instant and becomes second nature in competition.

On the flip side, sports entertainment utilizes working directly with an opponent to complete a maneuver. It’s quite literally competition opposed to cooperation. The muscle memory of how to react to someone’s movements is ingrained in the reaction type of such athletes so in many ways, the coaches at the Performance Center not only had to “deprogram” Steveson’s amateur instincts, but also try to teach him the proper techniques of sports entertainment. Furthermore, it wasn’t simply the task of Matt Bloom, Norman Smiley, and Robbie Brookside to train Steveson to become a pro, but also get him to a level of being ready for national television in a relatively short time. Don’t forget, the office wasn’t paying him that hefty cash to be a preliminary wrestler in a dark match before a TV taping, they invested that money to develop a marketable superstar that would theoretically draw money for a return on the investment of the contract.

On one hand, trying to take someone with zero pro experience and get them to the point of being ready for the main stage of WWE is a tough task. On the other hand, you could reasonably expect that if Steveson will have an aptitude for sports entertainment then his incredible athletic ability would be able to compensate for at least some of the inexperience. Infamously, he worked a match against Baron Corbin on an NXT special last year, and the performance was so subpar that the live audience, diehard WWE fans, turned on him about halfway through the contest, jeering loudly throughout the duration of the segment. For as much as Corbin was portrayed as a goof during most of his WWE tenure, make no mistake about it, the guy can go in the ring and there was a reason that he was chosen to to work with Steveson for his first live match. Steveson looked a little overwhelmed with the moment, moving rather deliberately as if you could see him trying to run through the sequences in his mind before the next spot in the match. His selling exposure a lot of his inexperience, and the overall presentation was just flat. Considering that this was about two years after he had the chance to train within the WWE system full-time, it wasn’t a good indication for his potential in the WWE.

Following the flop on television, he worked almost a dozen more matches on the NXT live event circuit last year. He actually had another five dark matches at Smackdown tapings earlier this year, but hadn’t made any appearances in the past few months. Clearly, if the office had seen enough progress, they would’ve done more with him than just the dark matches, but it almost looks like they knew that his time on the roster was limited since he hasn’t worked any matches in recent months. He was under contract for three years, and obviously, he wasn’t at a level that justified keeping him on the payroll. It could’ve been that he didn’t have the chance to work enough matches in front of a live crowd, less than twenty bouts is hardly enough to judge the potential of someone’s entire career, or it could be that perhaps Gable Steveson just isn’t suited for pro wrestling. Again, with less than twenty matches, there’s not a way to determine if sports entertainment isn’t for him, but again, the company paid him for three years so there had to be some type of results to justify the contract.

Steveson’s manager, Dave Martin sent a statement to the MMA Hour show after the news of his WWE release, saying that a few NFL teams had contracted him and that the former Olympic wrestler had started training in MMA. Taking into account that his release just happened, if he was already training in MMA, perhaps his exit from the WWE was decided a few months ago and the official release was just a formality since it appears that he already decided to pursue other ventures. I’m not shocked to hear that the NFL might try to recruit him since there’s nothing to lose on either side to give him a tryout, but to my knowledge, Steveson has no prior football experience so it’s doubtful that he would make an NFL team. Sure, there might be an opportunity on a practice squad somewhere, but he’d probably have other options to make significantly more money than the league minimum of a practice squad player.

If I had to guess, I’d say that he will probably pursue MMA on a full-time basis since his Olympic wrestling background can directly translate to the sport. If he will be successful in mixed martial arts remains to be seen because possibly getting punched in the face is a tough gig. At the same time, it wouldn’t be entirely shocking if he eventually returns to the WWE system at some point in the future. At 23, Steveson still has his athletic prime ahead of him and perhaps other ventures outside of pro wrestling will generate some hype for him and then he can return to the company for a fresh start in a few years.

What do you think? Share your thoughts, opinions, feedback, and anything else that was raised on Twitter @PWMania and Facebook.com/PWMania.

Until next week
-Jim LaMotta

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