When Gable Steveson wrapped up his second consecutive NCAA championship this past Saturday night then left his shoes on the mat to signify his retirement from the sport of wrestling, Daniel Cormier admittedly had conflicted feelings about the decision.
The former two-division UFC champion served as a color commentator for Steveson’s final match, which came just seven months after a gold medal win at the 2020 Olympic games to cap off one of the most incredible runs in American wrestling history. Steveson’s retirement now allows him to make a full-time transition into professional wrestling after he inked an NIL deal (name, image and likeness rights) with WWE ahead of the college season.
As a lifelong advocate for U.S. wrestling, Cormier knows the kind of impact Steveson could have made if he stuck around for another Olympic cycle, but he also understands why the 21-year-old phenom would want to jump to WWE sooner rather than later.
“He’s the type of kid, with all the NIL deals, who could truly cash out without much challenge,” Cormier told MMA Fighting. “Like, he could legitimately wrestle this tournament another year maybe, I don’t know how many years he has left [for] eligibility, but he could wrestle the same tournament next year, same results, and make a ton of money.
“Because now with the NIL deals, he’s so marketable. He could still cash in, but the reality is it seems he’s made his mind up to go on to bigger and better things. I believe that he’s going to be fantastic. The kid is an entertainer. He gets it.”
Shortly after claiming his Olympic gold medal in Japan, Steveson told MMA Fighting that he was looking at all possible options for his future, with a potential move into either pro wrestling or mixed martial arts. Steveson had even called for a meeting with UFC president Dana White in hopes of enticing the promotion to pursue his services.
Ultimately, the University of Minnesota standout opted for pro wrestling over MMA, but much like his fellow Golden Gopher Brock Lesnar, who was a superstar in WWE before becoming a UFC champion, he could eventually test himself in fighting a few years down the road.
While that option is certainly available, Cormier believes Steveson would have actually been better served to move into fighting while he’s still the best wrestler in the world rather than following the same path that Lesnar took.
“Gable Steveson in fighting would be a world champion,” Cormier said. “Here’s the thing — when you look at Brock leaving college and going into the WWE, making the WWE name and then coming back to fighting, fantastic. Gable’s more equipped to fight first than WWE.
“Now, like I said, I think he’ll do fine [in WWE], but he’s more equipped to do the professional fighting side of the equation and then take that over to WWE, as opposed to WWE first and the UFC. But we’ll see.”
Cormier also knows that Steveson will have far less control over his future in WWE because the creative team behind the scenes, led by longtime chairman Vince McMahon, will decide the kind of push he’ll receive inside the ring.
Thus far, WWE has been loud in its support of Steveson since he inked his NIL deal with the company, but that still doesn’t mean he’ll just instantly become a superstar.
“The kid knows how to entertain,” Cormier said. “But the reality is — and this is the only thing that I caution when you walk away from something that you can control, because he can control being the best in the world in wrestling and the best in the national tournament — he’s got to be booked right in WWE.
“I know those guys do a fantastic job and they’ll take care of him, but there are more Shelton Benjamins, Chad Gables, there’s more of those guys than there are of Kurt Angles. There’s just more wrestlers that were high-level guys that went over [to WWE] and weren’t booked in the best way than there are guys that kind of clicked like Kurt. I hope Gable falls into the Kurt category and gets booked the right way and has a long career and makes a ton of money. He seems to fit the bill. There’s been a lot of guys that have gone over and haven’t had the most success.”
As Cormier mentioned, WWE has pursued many past wrestling champions like Angle, who was an Olympic gold medalist in 1996, as well as Lesnar after he claimed an NCAA title at heavyweight back in 2000.
Lesnar has arguably had the most successful career over a longer period of time than any amateur wrestler to make the move into WWE, but Cormier knows that’s an awfully high bar to set for Steveson or anyone else.
“I think with Gable’s personality and his abilities, he can go to the absolute top,” Cormier said. “Look, I don’t know if you can ever replicate what Brock [Lesnar] has done or even Roman Reigns — the way Roman Reigns has been booked through his whole career, he’s been a monster since day one. You don’t generally get those guys.
“Even a guy like Drew McIntyre, who’s physically gifted, you can tell that they love him — he still doesn’t get booked like Brock and Roman. I believe [Gable] can go to the top, but it’s just a matter of, again, the creative department’s going to get together and they’re going to go, ‘What do we do with this kid?’”
More than anything, Cormier knows that Steveson’s fate will likely end up in the hands of the fans, because his ability to connect with the audience will drive the WWE to push him in bigger and better ways, or bury him if the reaction to his arrival is muted.
“A lot of it’s going to be based on reception also,” Cormier said. “The crowd dictates where you go in WWE. We both know that.
“I just hope that he is over with the crowd right away or completely on the opposite site and booed like Kurt was and then they play off of that.”