After more than a week of speculation, WWE announced the signing of the 2020 Olympic Gold medalist Gable Steveson. The signing comes as no surprise as the company, and Paul Heyman in particular, has been actively recruiting the Minnesota junior since his days as a four-time state champion at Apple Valley High School. However, it’s the circumstances behind Steveson’s signing that could be a potential game-changer as far as recruiting talent.
Along with signing, the WWE has agreed to let Steveson finish his collegiate career with the University of Minnesota, where Steveson is a defending NCAA Champion. A year ago, this wouldn’t be possible. However, the new Name Image Likeness rule made this possible.
The NIL rules allow NCAA college athletes to receive compensation for the use of their personage. This rule allows college sports stars to sign endorsement deals while competing keeping their eligibility intact. It was expected to radically alter the face of football and basketball, which draw significant revenue for member institutions. Many predicted second-tier sports like wrestling would be less likely to see any money-altering deals. However, many returning wrestling All-Americans have signed deals with apparel companies. Barstool Sports has also signed several athletes as well.
Best wrestler in the world coming to the best wrestling company in the world!!! Love to see it! Gable Steveson is WWE! https://t.co/CDDttbwX8J
— Seth Rollins (@WWERollins) September 9, 2021
With the WWE’s new initiative to create a cradle-to-grave training system, it makes sense for the company not only to use the NCAA as a recruiting bed, but also allows WWE to stake their claim on athletes while they’re still competing.
If WWE is serious about finding the next generation of talent outside the independent wrestling world, the world of NCAA athletics gives them an endless supply of potential signees. The NXT debuts of Julius and Brutus Creed (All-American brothers Jacob and Drew Kasper) showed what the company can do with the right talent. Michigan’s Mason Parris, who will represent the US in the World Championships with Steveson out, and Iowa’s Tony Cassioppi are two heavyweights who could fit the WWE well. The defending National Champion at 197 lbs, AJ Ferrari of Oklahoma State is another interesting prospect. Taller and leaner than Steveson, Ferrari’s verbal skills were on display this past spring during ESPN’s coverage of the NCAA Championships. Ferrari, a redshirt sophomore, is just as athletic as Steveson, but has shown far more charisma.
Steveson will defend his National championship next season and he’ll do so as the WWE’s top prospect. Every time Steveson steps on the Golden Gopher mat, he’ll do so as representative of WWE. With the WWE, Steveson will get an unprecedented spotlight for a college wrestler. Expect WWE social media to chronicle Gable’s final season and probable NCAA title, giving the sport of amateur wrestling a different audience.