Gophers’ Gable Steveson can finish as most-dominant collegiate wrestler ever
Minnesota wrestler looking to become the first Division I wrestler to finish a season with a perfect bonus rate — meaning he has defeated all opponents by pin, technical fall or major decision
Gable Steveson can cap the most dominating college wrestling season ever at the NCAA Championship in Detroit this week.
After winning an Olympic gold medal in Japan last summer, the Gophers heavyweight has outscored his opponents 205-64 this season and is looking to become the first Division I wrestler to finish a season with a perfect bonus rate — meaning he has defeated all opponents by pin, technical fall or major decision.
“He’s wrestling with a free-flowing joy, and the thing that brings him the most joy is domination,” longtime college wrestling analyst Tim Johnson said in an interview with the Pioneer Press.
The Apple Valley, Minnesota, native is 13-0 this year, with one pin, four tech falls and seven major decisions. He won by medical forfeit in the Big Ten tournament title match in Lincoln, Neb., last weekend.
Penn State’s David Taylor posted the current bonus-rate record — 92.75 percent — in 2012, and Steveson could put up a perfect 100 percent as he rides off to start a full-time career in World Wrestling Entertainment after the season.
“I would love to go out there and do a 100 percent bonus rate for the whole season and be that legend that has done it, and the only person has ever done it,” Steveson said. “But at the end of the day, it’s postseason and everybody is going to give you the best.”
Steveson is on a 47-match win streak and is the overwhelming favorite to win the Hodge Trophy given to college wrestling’s finest, but he is most concerned about winning a second straight national title.
After his last-second win over Georgia’s Geno Petriashvili in the Olympic gold-medal match, Steveson capitalized on the opportunity afforded through the NCAA’s Name, Image and Likeness (NIL) rules to allow him the chance to stay in collegiate wrestling while also moonlighting in WWE.
“There’s a lot of money on the table there,” Gophers coach Brandon Eggum said last summer. “I think that there were opportunities that have been very difficult for him to pass up as a 21-year-old kid … Without NIL, I think the chances of him returning would have been small.”
On his farewell tour this season, Steveson has been shocked by the reception he has gotten from wrestling fans around the country. He drew a standing ovation at the Big Ten tournament after he was announced the heavyweight winner. He didn’t even have a championship match, winning by injury default. Still, the fans took advantage of one of the final chances they’ll have to let him know how much they have appreciated the dominance, showmanship, athleticism and celebratory backflips that have made him one-of-a-kind.
“It’s weird,” Steveson said. “I don’t know, it’s odd to have that love from everybody, every single fan base. You know, people are supposed to root for their team, and they’re out here — I go out there and get a forfeit and they’re on their feet going crazy … It’s outrageous.”
Steveson also received a standing ovation during a dual meet at Iowa — Minnesota’s wrestling arch rival — in January.
“I saw a joy in his countenance that he loves this sport,” Johnson said. “I get goosebumps talking about it. He was (moved) by the respect shown by the opposing fans at Iowa and other places … I saw humility.”
If Steveson has any competition — and “if” is a big word — it will most likely come from second-seeded Cohlton Schultz (18-0) of Arizona State, third-seeded Tony Cassioppi (15-2) of Iowa and fourth-seeded Greg Kerkvliet (18-2) of Penn State.
Steveson beat Kerkvliet, a former Simley High School star, 7-4 at the NCAA tournament last year. They have not faced each other this season but could square off in the semifinals on Friday night. Schultz or Cassioppi are favorites to be Steveson’s competition in the final on Saturday night.
“I just try to make sure I put my good heart out there and soul so that, I don’t know, so people can really see who Gable Steveson is, because I guess a lot of people really don’t know who he is,” Steveson said Wednesday. “I’m trying to put out that message that Gable is a figure for these little kids that are going to come and watch.
“The older people that are going to come and watch and the middle-aged people that are going to come and watch, there’s the variety that I’m trying to hit. It’s something special.”