Gable Steveson with Brock Lesnar
It's not everyday that two brief videos of two heavyweights going at it in a college wrestling room could stir up so much interest -- and speculation -- well beyond the amateur wrestling world.
The two titans: Brock Lesnar ... and Gable Steveson.
This past week, Lesnar -- current WWE Universal Champ and former UFC titleholder -- returned to his college alma mater, University of Minnesota, to talk to the current Golden Gopher wrestling team. Then the 2000 NCAA champ did some sparring with Steveson, Minnesota's freshman heavyweight sensation, ranked No. 1 at 285 pounds by InterMat this past week. Videos of their mano-a-mano were posted at the official @GopherWrestling Twitter account -- one video weighing in at just under a half-minute, with a second at less than ten seconds. Each video has tallied over 220,000 views ... and generated articles at websites which usually focus on pro wrestling or mixed martial arts.
What non-wrestling websites had to say
A number of websites which normally don't cover college wrestling were agog about the Lesnar-Steveson training session. (To show how unfamiliar some are with the sport and one of its brightest stars, more than one website added an "n" to the current Minnesota big man's last name, seemingly making Gable a relative of McLean Stevenson, late star of the 1970s TV series M*A*S*H. InterMat has edited the excerpts to correct that typo.)
WWE offered its take on the Minnesota wrestling room training session featuring arguably one of the organization's biggest stars.
"University of Minnesota freshman Gable Steveson has shot to the top of the national rankings with a 20-0 start to his collegiate career, and another high-profile veteran of the program stopped by to drill with the ascendant star: Universal Champion Brock Lesnar. The Beast Incarnate, whose career as a Gopher helped him catch the eye of WWE talent scouts almost twenty years ago, sparred with the top-ranked heavyweight earlier today, as shown in a video posted by the team's official Twitter account," the official WWE website reported.
"The clip is a short glimpse of The Conqueror helping Steveson hone his cradles, but it's impressive nonetheless, with two very apparent takeaways: Lesnar's still got the speed, and Steveson is right there with him."
That wasn't the only account to sing the praises of the 41-year-old Lesnar.
"WWE Universal Champion Brock Lesnar is a decorated amateur wrestler in his own right, and he got to show off his skills this morning at his former college, the University of Minnesota," WrestleZone.com reported. "Lesnar wound up helping the current wrestlers at the school including Gable Steveson. Thankfully for us, the college posted an awesome video of the two working on wrestling technique. It really demonstrates what an amazing athlete Lesnar is."
At least one pro wrestling website speculated on a possible WWE career for Gable Steveson.
In an article titled "Brock Lesnar Helps Train College Wrestler For Possible WWE Run," RingsideNews.com wrote, "Due to WWE's desire to 'not make college wrestling their enemy,' the company has a policy where they will not recruit a Division I wrestler until they have completed their four years of college. Therefore, we might have a few years to wait for Gable Steveson, but WWE is reportedly already looking very heavily in his direction as another possible big star out of Minnesota."
The website also mentioned that the current Minnesota heavyweight has had contact with Lesnar and the WWE before college.
"Lesnar has brought Stevenson backstage in WWE before when Gable was still in high school. Paul Heyman (Lesnar's WWE manager) is said to know him as well as Gerald Briscoe (WWE talent scout, and former Oklahoma State wrestler). It was said that Lesnar might do more training with Stevenson down the line too."
TheSportster.com served up a similar sentiment: "The WWE has a policy in place which restricts them from signing Division I wrestlers. However, they are thought to be very interested in the student and hope to make him the next big star to hail from Minnesota and follow in Lesnar's footsteps."
At least one MMA website that covered the Lesnar-Steveson sparring session also provided speculation as to another career option for Gable Steveson beyond the squared circle.
MMAmania.com referenced Lesnar's in-the-Octagon confrontation with UFC heavyweight champ (and former college and Olympic wrestler) Daniel Cormier at UFC 226 last July, writing, "Six months on, its still unclear whether Lesnar will actually return to the cage. However, he did spend some time on the mats recently, which could be a good sign.
"The skillset that brought Lesnar his fame and glory was developed in his college wrestling days. Now, Brock is back on the mats, practicing with Gable Steveson at the University of Minnesota.
"Could his motivation be to train for a bout with two-time Olympic wrestler Daniel Cormier in the UFC's Octagon? We will get our answer in 2019."
Minnesota's heavyweight reputation
In the long history of wrestling at the University of Minnesota, the school can claim five individuals who won NCAA heavyweight titles. Only Oklahoma State has produced more national champs in the top weight class.
In addition to Brock Lesnar (who won the 285-pound crown at the 2000 NCAAs), the other Golden Gophers who earned NCAA heavyweight championships include Leonard Levy (1941), Verne Gagne (1949), Cole Konrad (2006, 2007) and Tony Nelson (2012). Three of these champs went on to careers in pro wrestling: Levy, Gagne and Lesnar. In addition, Cole Konrad became a heavyweight champ in MMA for Bellator. (You can read more about these Minnesota big men in an InterMat Rewind historical feature.)
Lesnar, Steveson: Sensational in amateur wrestling
Both Brock Lesnar and Gable Steveson generated headlines -- and considerable fan interest -- in their amateur wrestling careers.
Brock Edward Lesnar was a football and wrestling star at Webster High in South Dakota. He continued his mat career at Bismarck Community College in North Dakota, where in two years he built a 56-3 record, culminating in the 1998 NJCAA (National Junior College Athletic Association) heavyweight title. J Robinson, then head coach at University of Minnesota, saw Lesnar in action at a tournament, and signed him to complete his collegiate career with the Gophers, where Lesnar became a two-time Big Ten champ and two-time NCAA finalist, winning the national title at the 2000 NCAAs.
Lesnar grabbed the attention of the college wrestling community with his incredible physique and take-no-prisoners wrestling style. During a college wrestling TV broadcast, Dan Gable said "Lesnar turns more heads than Cindy Crawford in a thong." Minnesota wrestling produced a poster featuring a full-length photo of Lesnar in a singlet, with tale-of-the-tape call-outs pointing out his impressive measurements, including his 20" neck and 52" chest.
The amateur wrestling community has had its eye on Gable Dan Steveson (yes, he was named in honor of the legendary wrestler-coach Dan Gable) long before he enrolled at Minnesota. As a wrestler at the storied Apple Valley High School in the suburbs of the Twin Cities, he was a four-time Minnesota high school state champ with an incredible 210-3 record. In addition, Steveson was a two-time Cadet world champion and a Junior world champion.