In the world of heavyweight wrestling, Gable Steveson is the man right now.
However, three years ago, he ran into another wrestling great and he was momentarily shook.
Steveson is fresh off of a miraculous gold medal win at the Tokyo Olympics and he has reportedly signed a deal with the WWE after that triumph made him one of the hottest free agents in combat sports. In the weeks following the Olympics, Steveson also made visits to the UFC, Bellator, and PFL events.
Comparisons to fellow Minnesota Golden Gopher great Brock Lesnar — who also signed with the WWE before later becoming an MMA fighter — have been made and Steveson counts Lesnar as one of his confidants. It wasn’t always that way though and he recounted his first meeting with Lesnar during a recent appearance on The MMA Hour.
“I was scared as hell of him,” Steveson said. “Dude came up and he’s about 6-3, 6-4, he’s put together and he was actually ripped. I was like, he’s bigger than I thought, this was the first time I’d seen him in person. But honestly it’s cool to have that mentor, that role model in my life and have him do everything that I want to do in such a dominating fashion, it’s cool because he can tell me how he did it and things I can do better.
“But when I first saw him, I was like, come on now. You want me to wrestle you right now? But as the time went on and we got closer and got cooler, it was just an easier factor now.”
While training with Lesnar can only have helped Steveson, the former UFC champion has also provided Steveson with plenty of career advice. Lesnar is one of the most successful combat sports athletes in history, winning an NCAA Division I wrestling championship in 2000 and then becoming a headlining act for the WWE just two years later. He transitioned to MMA in 2007 and became UFC champion in his fourth pro bout.
After getting to know one another, Lesnar had one major pointer for Steveson.
“Brock came in one day and we were practicing,” Steveson said. “The first video you probably saw on Twitter of me and him wrestling, he was real tired and all that. He came in and he was like, ‘You gotta cut that s*it off your head.’ I was like, ‘My hair? What do you mean? I like it.’ And he was like, ‘No, no, no, you gotta look professional.’
“So I thought about it for a few months and mid-match I would get my hair pulled, because you know head gear and stuff. A few months later I went to a barber — It’s a barber I really don’t go to, I really don’t rock with him like that — he cut me up and I was like, just take the top down a little bit. My fade was good but he cut it off the wrong way. I thought maybe this is a sign that it’s time for me to cut it all down. So my mom cuts hair too and she took the rest of the top off and I had shorter hair and a few weeks later I was like, I’m going down to a short and I’m growing a beard out.”
Steveson didn’t forget Lesnar’s words of wisdom and he offered his own when Lesnar made a recent return to the WWE sporting a drastically different look.
“I was on the phone with him before I went to Tokyo, he was pumping me up and telling me the ins and outs of what to do and how to be a pro,” Steveson said. “He comes out at Summerslam, he’s got this ugly hair and beard and all that, and I was telling him, yo, remember you told me to cut my hair? I told him you gotta cut yours off now, it’s not looking good.”
Growing up, Steveson says he enjoyed watching both the WWE and the UFC equally, naming fighters such as Lesnar, Anderson Silva, Georges St-Pierre, Randy Couture, Chuck Liddell, and Tito Ortiz as favorites. And though he’s determined to carve out his own path, he could do a lot worse than following in Lesnar’s footsteps.
“I think that could be a good idea, that could be a pathway I could take,” Steveson said. “The Brock Lesnar blueprint and pathway has worked out for him very well, I think. Who knows?”