As a Dan Hodge Trophy winner, NCAA Division I National Champion, Big Ten Conference champion (four-time finalist), an All-American out of the University of Minnesota, the accolades for Gable Steveson are countless as his WWE career is just underway. But as one man said, with great power comes great responsibility. Or, in the case of Steveson, with countless accolades comes a huge degree of expectation.
One of the clearest comparisons that has been made to start off Steveson’s WWE career has been with Kurt Angle. The WWE Hall of Famer, former WWE champion, and Olympic Gold Medalist did things in the industry that few could ever hope to achieve. So when Steveson is compared to Angle before stepping into the ring, it seems like an almost unrealistic expectation to live up to.
Before his career in the WWE began, Gable Steveson became the center of controversy. And rather than divulge the details of that controversy which readers could google if they so choose to, the WWE had remained committed to him despite them. So it says something as to what they believe Steveson is capable of and what his career trajectory would happen to be. But as much as the WWE has plans for Steveson, not everyone appears as optimistic about Steveson and his career. Former 5-time WCW Champion Booker T shared his thoughts on Steveson following his no-contest result in his debut match against Baron Corbin on NXT.
Well, he ain’t no Kurt Angle [laughs]. Kurt Angle came in, and he was willing to really fall in and dive into learning this business. Not that Gable Steveson isn’t, but I really think Gable Steveson has some unfinished business still left in the amateurs, I think he got unfinished business in the Olympics. That right there, that’s a legacy in itself. For him to be a two-time Olympic gold medalist, come on. That’s the Wheaties box. He’s never got to do nothing ever again in his life. So I understand,” – Booker T on Gable Steveson
It is a difficult spot to put someone in that is in his early twenties without the in-ring time on-screen to succeed. If we are making comparisons, Angle was in his late 20s when he won gold in the Atlanta 1996 Olympics. He was 27 years of age, in fact. Steveson is (as of this writing) 23. While four years may not make a difference, when you take into consideration, Angle was 30 when he was in the WWE’s developmental program, the comparison is unfair to make. That’s a difference of seven years of age from when Angle was developing (30) and when Steveson was learning on-screen (23).
With age comes knowledge, mistakes, and learning opportunities. In the case of Steveson, he hasn’t had nearly the time Kurt did, and it appears Booker likely forgot that. Who isn’t to say Steveson isn’t committed or unsure? As he’s still so young, he has the chance to still compete for his country in the Olympics and learn from those around him to make a promising showing for himself in the future.
After his initial match with Baron Corbin, a former football player who too has transitioned to professional wrestling, has also had his share of challenges. But in the case of Steveson, their match was met with mixed results at best. If fan appeal counted for anything, then it should be said that fans were firmly against him. He could be suffering a case of simply trying too hard or even being guilty of being a collegiate wrestler. The closest current wrestler to Steveson who has had the Kurt Angle comparison made to him, has been Chad Gable.
But unlike Steveson, Chad Gable has benefited from having time to apply a new spin on collegiate amateur wrestling. Even with Chad Gable’s incarnations of American Alpha and Alpha Academy, it has taken some time for him to be able to put it all together. And even with Gable putting it together, he has worked with a number of experienced individuals in tag teams in order for him to find his place today. Gable, fortunately, had charisma early on in his time in NXT, and it was evident. Chad Gable is, as of this writing, 37 years of age and has 10 years of experience behind him, including his training in NXT.
I ask again, is the comparison a fair one to make for Gable Steveson to Kurt Angle? It could very well be that the hope is that he could become the type of star that Angle was with his collegiate career behind him. But is a massive hope to have for someone that is not even in his mid-20s. Add to that the constant need to decide which pivot in his career is the right one he should be making. How often do we, as adults, need time to find ourselves? That is, when we come out of post-secondary school, we still aren’t sure what we want to do with the rest of our lives?
“I feel badly for him because he’s being compared to me at this point in time, and he hasn’t even barely started,” Angle said. “He just started out right now. I don’t know how his future’s going to be. I know he’s really talented, really athletic.
“I’m not sure how he is as far as entertainment-wise. But as far as in the ring, I heard he’s really good. But no, I don’t think it’s a fair assessment to compare him to me right now. I think down the line, you can do that.” – Kurt Angle on Gable Steveson being compared to him.
Even Kurt Angle doesn’t feel the comparison made of him to Gable Steveson was a fair one to make. But as much as it seems like things now are dark in the perception of fans, that isn’t to say all hope should be lost. There are options that could be explored for him and with him. Whether the decision is to allow him to build a following on NXT TV or to have him join Chad Gable, there is an in for him somewhere.
A heel turn may very well be what people may appreciate, but it’s tricky to do. In the event that this is the decision they’ve decided to go, then the comparisons to Angle will definitely be there. In the case of Chad Gable, he had the comparisons, sure, but he was aligned with Jason Jordan initially, and the two were working on being a successful tag team as part of American Alpha. Then when Gable and Jordan were split, Gable was moved away from his Olympic background and made to be a heel. But from his time with Jordan, he was seasoned enough to pull it off.
Kurt Angle, however, brought up an interesting point if having Gable Steveson emmulate him is a receipe for the heel he COULD be.
“I heard, this is crazy, but people have been coming to me and telling me, ‘Hey, he wrestled Baron Corbin in NXT and fans were booing the heck out of him. Then he pulled his straps down, and the fans were even more pissed. You know what, I think that is something that the WWE is actually doing. They want to make him a heel.
“I think they’re gonna have him copy and mimic me so he can piss the fans off so that he starts out as a heel because it’s easier to be a heel starting out than it is a babyface. So I think they’re the ones that told him to do this stuff. I really believe that. I think the WWE is brilliant for doing it.” – Kurt Angle on the potential heel turn direction that could be coming for Gable Steveson.
Whatever the course of action the WWE takes with Gable Steveson, it’s one they will do with careful consideration. As we know, wrestling’s success is measured over a long haul. Steveson is the one they are hoping will be that one for the future.