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How WWE’s Gable Steveson became your favorite wrestler’s favorite wrestler

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How many 275-pound men do you know who can do a backflip?

While you’re ruminating on that seemingly trivial question, let’s take this thought exercise a step further: How many 275-pound men do you know who can backflip, capture the attention of Triple H and Ric Flair with their athletic prowess, win an Olympic gold medal and sign a multiyear deal with WWE before graduating college?

I reckon not many aside from Gable Steveson come to mind.

That’s because the tantalizing heavyweight freestyle wrestler is one-of-a-kind, a bona fide original.

“When and if I can win, put on a good show for America, that flip is coming,” Steveson teased to NBC Chicago of his signature post-victory backflip ahead of his awe-inducing run at the Tokyo Olympics in August.

In due time, the ultimate showman made good on his promise.

There’s a fine line between confidence and hubris, and Steveson walks it masterfully. The 21-year-old’s keen sense of self and his belief in his otherworldly abilities is what enabled him to cruise through the first three matches of his Olympic debut without giving up a point.

It’s a feat that’s particularly impressive when you consider one of his opponents was Taha Akgul of Turkey, the defending Olympic champion. Steveson — The University of Minnesota Gophers’ heavyweight, reigning NCAA Division I National Champion and winner of the Dan Hodge Trophy — made light work of Aiaal Lazarev of Kyrgyzstan in his opening match, taking only 2 minutes, 2 seconds to win 10-0. He followed that up with an 8-0 drubbing of Akgul before winning his semifinal match against Lkhagvagerel Munkhtur of Mongolia 5-0 to advance to the men’s freestyle 125kg wrestling final.

“He’s the best heavyweight wrestler to probably ever step foot (on the mat),” Steveson said of Akgul after their quarterfinal showdown last month. “But his time is up. I came here for business. I came here to win. … Ain’t nothing going to be given to me. I’ve got to go get it.”

And that’s exactly what he did in an incredible comeback win over Geno Petriashvili — the 2016 bronze-medalist and three-time world champion (2017-19) of Georgia — in the final.

Steveson was born in 2000, and America hadn’t won an Olympic gold medal in men’s heavyweight in his lifetime (Bruce Baumgartner, 1992). If you know his story, it’s not surprising that the Apple Valley, Minnesota, native would be the one to get it done.

That is not to say the Team USA standout’s mom set this all in motion by choosing to name her son after wrestling legend Dan Gable (Steveson’s middle name is Dan), who was a two-time national champion wrestler at Iowa State and an Olympic gold medalist in 1972.

Who am I kidding? That’s exactly what I’m saying. The whole thing felt preordained. Maybe that’s why the charismatic superstar was so fearless and brash about what he intended to do. He was born for it.

“You can see that when the lights get bright, Gable comes to perform,” he told the Associated Press. “And I think that’s number one with me. And I think that’s what people can expect with me wherever I go.”

If the wrestler choosing to address himself in the third person and the above quote gave you strong Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson vibes, you’re on the right track. The pinnacle of athletic achievement, winning an Olympic gold medal, was just the first item on a long list of aspirations for Gable — a stepping stone on the way to his ultimate goal: Becoming a WWE superstar.

It’s not presumptive to say the wrestler’s plan to use the accomplishment to springboard his WWE career was a resounding success. On Thursday, Steveson signed a NIL deal with WWE that will allow him to attend the University of Minnesota for his senior year and defend the Division I national championship at heavyweight. WWE will also set up a remote training facility for Steveson near campus where he’ll learn the finer points of in-ring work with WWE coaches.

While only time will tell if he will eventually be afforded opportunities like The Rock or Steveson’s mentor, fellow Minnesota great and WWE champion, Brock Lesnar, his ascension to superstardom feels about as certain as a post-victory backflip.

“When you’re a kid, you don’t really know how to make it to the WWE, but when I got to the University of Minnesota, I learned how Brock went about things and how to make connections,” Gable told Gopher Sports.

“My relationship with Brock has been awesome. It’s outstanding that a guy like that has noticed me and has gone out of his way to be there for me and guide me in the right direction.”

It was never a matter of if Steveson would go down the professional wrestling route, but when. Which is the same energy I’m bringing to the question of whether we will ever get to see him face off with Lesnar.

Steveson has already made a ton of noise in the professional wrestling space without ever stepping in the ring. From appearing in the crowd at NXT TakeOvers and WrestleMania to waving at Vince McMahon on Twitter (and eventually meeting up with him at SummerSlam 2021 after his Olympic victory), Gable kept his name top of mind among the WWE brass and stars alike.

Then there was the famed picture of the Team USA standout with Roman Reigns and his manager Paul Heyman.

“The picture of me, Paul (Heyman), and Roman Reigns is gonna go down as maybe one of the best wrestling photos in history,” Steveson said. “Just because the path that I’m taking with it and the path that Roman Reigns has set in stone being a champion, that’ll probably never be defeated again. The path that Paul Heyman has done for wrestling. He’s probably the greatest spokesperson. (He’s going to the) Hall of Fame.”

Steveson’s expectations for his future are larger-than-life, but why shouldn’t they be? Thus far he has been a walking, back-flipping testimonial for the benefits of doing it big.



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Olympic gold medalist Steveson signs with WWE

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Gable Steveson, the heavyweight freestyle wrestler who won a gold medal at the Olympics last month, has signed a multiyear deal with WWE, Stevenson told ESPN.

The 21-year-old signed an NIL deal with WWE that will allow him to attend University of Minnesota for his senior year and defend the Division I National Championship at heavyweight. WWE will set up a remote training facility for Steveson near campus where he’ll be able to learn the finer points of in-ring work with WWE coaches.

He’ll also have access to the WWE Performance Center in Orlando, Florida, where his brother, Bobby Steveson, currently trains. After Gable graduates in May, his multi-year talent contract with WWE begins; he’ll be a full-time performer with the company (but also appear on WWE programming during the school year.)

“I’ve been on WWE since I was really young,” said Stevenson, WWE’s first gold medalist since Kurt Angle. “I was on guys like Brock Lesnar and Paul Heyman for a very long time. So growing up watching them, me being an entertainer on the wrestling mat, it just felt like it was the right choice.”

The 6-foot-1, 265-pound Stevenson held talks with the UFC and also contemplated pursuing a career in the NFL; he was a hot commodity coming off the Olympic gold-medal win in Tokyo, a last-second victory over Geno Petriashvili that he celebrated with a backflip.

Sources told ESPN’s Marc Raimondi the UFC wanted Stevenson to gain experience on the regional MMA scene before potentially bringing him onto Dana White’s Contender Series to compete for a contract. The formula would have been similar to what the UFC did with former NFL All-Pro Greg Hardy. Stevenson said “we never talked about that so I have no clue.”

“We all saw his physical ability prior to and at the Olympics,” said Nick Khan, WWE President and Chief Revenue Officer. “What we also saw was that Gable has as much charisma as he does ability. Marketability and ability are both of great importance to us.”

“This is just the starting line and nowhere close to the finish line,” Khan added. “So our investment is based on how much we think of Gable now and how much bigger we think he can become.”

WWE has a rich history of transforming top freestyle wrestlers into main-event Superstars. Angle won a gold medal at the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta and parlayed that success into a long run as both a WWE champion and headline act. Lesnar, who like Stevenson, won the national championship at the University of Minnesota, is currently signed with WWE where he’s featured as one of the biggest stars in the company.

Stevenson calls the former UFC heavyweight champion a “great mentor to me,” and envisions a WrestleMania match against Lesnar in the not-too-distant future.

“Being able to learn how to take bumps and with the wrestling background I have right now, I think I can adapt to all of it really quick,” Stevenson said. “I think with the charisma and the confidence and the attitude that I bring to the wrestling mat, it will translate over to the WWE really fast and I feel that I can … go on screen and have a good role and know what to do perfectly.”

In the meantime, Gable will focus on the college wrestling mat, where he’ll defend his national championship while completing his studies. He grew up in Apple Valley, Minnesota, watching Triple H spit water in the air at WrestleMania as a member of D-Generation X. Now, he’ll learn the craft of a WWE Superstar, and that same man will be integral to his development.

“Gable impressed us well before he became a U.S. Olympic gold medalist,” said Paul “Triple H” Levesque, WWE EVP, Global Talent Strategy & Development. “He has all the tools to be a generational talent: a world-class athlete with size, speed, determination – and the ability to captivate an audience with his incredible charisma.

“The introduction of NIL allows us to create a more direct path from college to WWE, a benefit to athletes as well as the WWE Universe as Gable will have an immediate presence with our company while working towards earning his degree and defending his national championship. The future is bright for him in WWE.”

Stevenson said his breakthrough moment “might come sooner than you think.” And as for that all-important finishing move?

“I think I got one in mind,” he said. ” … It’s crazy how long I’ve been following them and now I’ve reached that point where I’m going to be walking out in front of WrestleManias and SummerSlams and people are going to do my signature look when I’m an old man, too.”

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Olympic gold medalist Stevenson signs with WWE

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Gable Stevenson, the heavyweight freestyle wrestler who won a gold medal at the Olympics last month, has signed a multi-year deal with WWE, Stevenson told ESPN.

The 21-year-old signed an NIL deal with WWE that will allow him to attend University of Minnesota for his senior year and defend the Division I National Championship at heavyweight. WWE will set up a remote training facility for Stevenson near campus where he’ll be able to learn the finer points of in-ring work with WWE coaches.

He’ll also have access to the WWE Performance Center in Orlando, Florida, where his brother, Bobby Stevenson, currently trains. After Gable graduates in May, his multi-year talent contract with WWE begins; he’ll be a full-time performer with the company (but also appear on WWE programming during the school year.)

“I’ve been on WWE since I was really young,” said Stevenson, WWE’s first gold medalist since Kurt Angle. “I was on guys like Brock Lesnar and Paul Heyman for a very long time. So growing up watching them, me being an entertainer on the wrestling mat, it just felt like it was the right choice.”

The 6-foot-1, 265-pound Stevenson held talks with the UFC and also contemplated pursuing a career in the NFL; he was a hot commodity coming off the Olympic gold-medal win in Tokyo, a last-second victory over Geno Petriashvili that he celebrated with a backflip.

Sources told ESPN’s Marc Raimondi the UFC wanted Stevenson to gain experience on the regional MMA scene before potentially bringing him onto Dana White’s Contender Series to compete for a contract. The formula would have been similar to what the UFC did with former NFL All-Pro Greg Hardy. Stevenson said “we never talked about that so I have no clue.”

“We all saw his physical ability prior to and at the Olympics,” said Nick Khan, WWE President and Chief Revenue Officer. “What we also saw was that Gable has as much charisma as he does ability. Marketability and ability are both of great importance to us.”

“This is just the starting line and nowhere close to the finish line,” Khan added. “So our investment is based on how much we think of Gable now and how much bigger we think he can become.”

WWE has a rich history of transforming top freestyle wrestlers into main-event Superstars. Angle won a gold medal at the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta and parlayed that success into a long run as both a WWE champion and headline act. Lesnar, who like Stevenson, won the national championship at the University of Minnesota, is currently signed with WWE where he’s featured as one of the biggest stars in the company.

Stevenson calls the former UFC heavyweight champion a “great mentor to me,” and envisions a WrestleMania match against Lesnar in the not-too-distant future.

“Being able to learn how to take bumps and with the wrestling background I have right now, I think I can adapt to all of it really quick,” Stevenson said. “I think with the charisma and the confidence and the attitude that I bring to the wrestling mat, it will translate over to the WWE really fast and I feel that I can … go on screen and have a good role and know what to do perfectly.”

In the meantime, Gable will focus on the college wrestling mat, where he’ll defend his national championship while completing his studies. He grew up in Apple Valley, Minnesota, watching Triple H spit water in the air at WrestleMania as a member of D-Generation X. Now, he’ll learn the craft of a WWE Superstar, and that same man will be integral to his development.

“Gable impressed us well before he became a U.S. Olympic gold medalist,” said Paul “Triple H” Levesque, WWE EVP, Global Talent Strategy & Development. “He has all the tools to be a generational talent: a world-class athlete with size, speed, determination – and the ability to captivate an audience with his incredible charisma.

“The introduction of NIL allows us to create a more direct path from college to WWE, a benefit to athletes as well as the WWE Universe as Gable will have an immediate presence with our company while working towards earning his degree and defending his national championship. The future is bright for him in WWE.”

Stevenson said his breakthrough moment “might come sooner than you think.” And as for that all-important finishing move?

“I think I got one in mind,” he said. ” … It’s crazy how long I’ve been following them and now I’ve reached that point where I’m going to be walking out in front of WrestleManias and SummerSlams and people are going to do my signature look when I’m an old man, too.”

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RB Ibrahim’s big night ends with lower leg injury

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MINNEAPOLIS — Minnesota star running back Mohamed Ibrahim left Thursday’s season-opening loss to No. 4 Ohio State with a lower left leg injury.

Ibrahim went down on a 1-yard run late in the third quarter and appeared to be injured as he planted his left foot. He limped off the field and went into Minnesota’s injury tent for several minutes. The fifth-year senior emerged with a walking boot on his leg as he went into the locker room for evaluation.

Gophers coach P.J. Fleck did not immediately have an update on Ibrahim’s status.

“Whatever it is, we’ll figure it out and we’ll row and we’ll get better,” Fleck said. “We’ll make sure he’s healthy at the point we bring him back. Hopefully, it’s nothing major, but we don’t know that just yet.”

Ibrahim had been brilliant for Minnesota before his injury, logging 30 carries for 163 yards and two touchdowns. His 56-yard run on fourth-and-1 early in the second quarter with Minnesota trailing 10-0 led to a touchdown to put the Gophers back in the game.

“Thirty carries, [163] yards, that’s what you expect of Mo,” Fleck said. “Just unfortunate he got kind of tangled up on a tackle.”

Ibrahim, a senior from Baltimore who was a third-team AP All-America selection in 2020, recorded his ninth consecutive 100-yard rushing performance, extending the longest streak in team history. His 33rd career rushing touchdown moved him past Laurence Maroney and into a tie for fourth on Minnesota’s all-time list. Ibrahim also eclipsed 3,000 career rushing yards Thursday, becoming the eighth Minnesota player to do so.

Ibrahim entered the season already holding team records for single-season rushing average (153.7 in 2020) and single-game rushing touchdowns (4).

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Answering the biggest questions about the ACC, Big Ten, Pac-12 alliance, and what comes next

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The SEC’s additions of Texas and Oklahoma from the Big 12 sent shock waves around the sport, and sparked plenty of theories about what would come next.

Would there be full-blown realignment? Which teams and leagues could be poached? How would the moves impact the next round of media rights negotiations? The Texas/OU addition undoubtedly strengthened the SEC and weakened the Big 12, but what would the other three Power 5 leagues do in response?

Some clues emerged Aug. 13, as The Athletic first reported and ESPN confirmed that the ACC, Big Ten and Pac-12 have been discussing an alliance around key topics in the sport. While the long-term implications could be immense, the immediate concerns appear to be about finding common ground in an emerging power battle between the SEC and everyone else.

“This is about seeing if there’s a philosophical alignment,” one AD told ESPN. “At this point, there’s no financial component.”

Added another AD: “No one is tearing up scheduling contracts at this point.”

The 41 schools (including Notre Dame, an ACC member in all sports except football) in the three conferences have some common traits and have partnered in the past, but large-scale agreements are far from a slam dunk. Even among conference members, philosophies can differ, as was evidenced when several Big Ten schools expressed frustration when the league decided against playing the 2020 season amid COVID-19 concerns last summer.

But with the NCAA’s role as a governing body in question in the aftermath of the Supreme Court’s ruling in NCAA v. Alston — in which Justice Brett Kavanaugh opened the door to future antitrust litigation against the NCAA — there’s at least a tacit understanding that the Big Ten, ACC and Pac-12 need to find common ground or cede significant political clout to the SEC as major issues including playoff expansion, name, image and likeness (NIL) and player compensation loom.

Sources said all three leagues began exploring options for a countermove to the SEC’s addition of Texas and Oklahoma last month, which led to a formal committee to analyze an alliance that includes the commissioners from the ACC, Big Ten and Pac-12, along with several ADs from each league. Members of that committee are expected to hold a phone call in the coming days to determine the specific language of a formal announcement, according to multiple administrators with direct knowledge of the talks.

Presidents and athletic directors from the ACC, Big Ten and Pac-12, along with the league commissioners, have been in discussions for several weeks on “philosophical issues” of alignment. ESPN spoke to sources in and around the ACC, Big Ten and Pac-12 to find out more about the alliance, answer key questions and forecast what could unfold over the coming weeks and months.

Why are these three leagues discussing an alliance?

The rationale is two-pronged, and would address both practical areas such as scheduling and larger, philosophical ones. Sources in the three leagues view an alliance as an alternative to expansion. They would work together rather than potentially hurt one another by poaching members.

Although the SEC’s moves sparked and accelerated conversations about an alliance, the ACC, Big Ten and Pac-12 also recognize there are many major changes in the sport, especially related to NCAA governance and whether a governing body will even exist in the near future.

“All this banter and talk about the new NCAA structure and governance, having 41 institutions that have similar values would be really important,” a veteran athletic director in one of the leagues said.

Added a source familiar with the alliance talks: “It allows for the focusing of points of view to the end that there may be more effectiveness for the 41, to the extent that they share a vision of what college sports should be.”

There also are commonalities among the three leagues. The Big Ten and Pac-12 are longtime partners around the Rose Bowl, while the ACC and Big Ten have held a basketball challenge since 1999. The institutions are also quite similar: 27 are members of the Association of American Universities, a group of leading research schools. Several non-AAU members, such as Notre Dame, Wake Forest and Boston College, are top-40 universities, according to US News’ rankings of best national universities.

While the ACC shares geography and some natural rivalries with the SEC, the league as a whole is more similar to the Pac-12 and Big Ten.

“Structure among similarly situated institutions makes some sense where the NCAA is shaky and where the SEC’s been aggressive,” one source said. “This is a pretty sensible way of proceeding. What’s the downside?”

At this point, numerous sources have said there is no financial component to the alliance, but the political portion is important. With the NCAA’s role in oversight all but evaporated, there’s a serious power vacuum in the sport, and the three newer commissioners — the ACC’s Jim Phillips, the Big Ten’s Kevin Warren and the Pac-12’s George Kliavkoff — don’t want to cede the entirety of that ground to Greg Sankey and the SEC. This is their way of pushing back.

Is there a downside?

The biggest concern with the alliance might be in what it doesn’t include — namely, money. With the addition of Texas and Oklahoma, the SEC could be in position to more than double the annual revenue of the ACC or Pac-12, and this alliance appears unlikely to address that issue in any significant way.

“I don’t see it as a revenue play,” a source said. “But it’s valuable down the road, any time you improve the quality of your games. The marketplace will recognize that.”

It’s also unclear what the SEC’s response to an alignment by the other leagues might be. If the end game is the creation of super conferences that include 24 or more teams each, this type of alliance could push the SEC to make even more moves toward that outcome. And as one AD said, even within his own league, it’s unlikely there will be uniform agreement on all issues, and leagues should “be prepared for a lot more 8-6 votes.” So if this alliance drives a wedge between, say, Ohio State and the rest of the Big Ten, or Clemson and the rest of the ACC, does that set the stage for the SEC to make another big move?

At this point, however, it’s all speculation. The early conversations are about establishing whether an alliance can work, and if any of the league’s commissioners sense a significant backlash within their membership, it’s likely the risks would quickly exceed the potential rewards.

What would be the focus of the alliance?

Football scheduling certainly would be part. Adding attractive nonleague games will help in multiple ways, especially for the Big Ten and Pac-12, who have media rights agreements expiring in 2023 and 2024. Marquee schedule additions also could help teams in an expanded playoff system. But there’s only so much flexibility since schedules are made so far in advance. While a few more games likely will be added between the leagues, dramatic changes are unlikely, and existing matchups against the SEC (ClemsonSouth Carolina, Florida StateFlorida, Georgia TechGeorgia, LouisvilleKentucky) and even the Big 12 (Iowa-Iowa State) are unlikely to change. “It’s not a boycott,” one administrator said.

The most immediate issue to be addressed, however, is the expansion of the College Football Playoff, with the 12-team plan designed in large part by Sankey and Notre Dame AD Jack Swarbrick up for a vote in September. Nearly every source ESPN spoke with on the issues said there is now significant trepidation about moving forward and that, while the plan could ultimately still pass, there’s a desire to “tap the brakes” and better understand how the plan would impact leagues in the aftermath of Oklahoma and Texas joining the SEC.

“You go back to all the great reasons that folks talked about why eight didn’t work, why 10 didn’t work and all these other things, you’ve really got to relook at it and say, ‘All right, well, we’re just gonna let this settle down a little bit, see where we are, and maybe come back and look at it in 12 months,'” one veteran AD in one of the conferences said.

The three leagues also could coalesce around creating an open bidding process for an expanded playoff, which could be divided between multiple media partners, similar to playoffs in professional leagues.

Perhaps the bigger question facing the alliance, however, is one of philosophy. According to multiple administrators directly involved in conversations, the advent of new name, image and likeness rules and the emphatic Supreme Court ruling in the Alston case have many schools concerned about the future of athlete compensation. As one AD noted, the SEC seems to have made its plans for the future known by adding Texas and Oklahoma in “a money grab,” and the immediate conversations among alliance members will hinge on questions of whether there’s another way forward that holds truer to the historic view of amateurism — both in the short and long term.

What does this mean for the Big 12?

The Big 12 remains in purgatory. As one source noted, the remaining teams in the league clearly align better with the SEC philosophically, but because of the now-fractured relationship between Oklahoma, Texas and the remaining eight schools, as well as the relatively limited revenue potential of those schools, there’s little incentive for the SEC to extend an olive branch. Right now, the alliance is about philosophy, and the reality is that the ACC, Big Ten and Pac-12, which prioritize academic profile and an expansive set of Olympic sports, don’t overlap much with universities like West Virginia and TCU.

“The connective tissue was between the Big 12 and the SEC,” a veteran administrator said. “They’re the ones that play in the Sugar Bowl. But the relationship between the SEC and the Big 12 must be strained.”

In the most immediate sense, however, the Big 12 is being left out of the conversation because of its role in planning the 12-team playoff expansion, according to one AD. Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby worked with Sankey, Swarbrick and others on the proposal, but the Big Ten, ACC and Pac-12 did not have representatives in the room. Given that playoff expansion is Issue No. 1 on the docket, there’s a sense that Bowlsby already had his say.

How would an alliance help these three leagues?

The SEC’s addition of Texas and Oklahoma is widely seen as the first step in an even bigger power play, whether it’s additional expansion or the formation of a super league. Sankey, who crafted the expanded playoff proposal, already is widely viewed as the most powerful person in college athletics. A three-league alliance could, when necessary, push back against the SEC on key topics like the expanded playoff.

“We can’t have college football all run out of the Southeast part of the country,” an AD in one of the three leagues said.

In the end, the key question will be about money. Right now, the Big Ten makes a good bit more than either the ACC or Pac-12, and with a new TV deal looming in 2023, those differences could become even larger. Is the Big Ten willing to share some of that revenue to maintain a power structure to counter the SEC? There’s some real doubt among ACC and Pac-12 administrators, which would ultimately mean the alliance offers incremental improvements for all concerned, but wouldn’t likely provide dramatic changes.

But if this is the first step toward a super league, one in which all three work as a single entity with shared revenue, then all bets are off.

Where does Notre Dame fit in with the alliance?

At this point, it doesn’t — and that’s fine by Notre Dame. Despite their association with the ACC in sports other than football, the Irish remain steadfast in maintaining their independence. But if this alliance becomes more firmly entrenched over time, it could force Notre Dame’s hand on several fronts.

For one, the three leagues include virtually all of Notre Dame’s regular rivals — USC, Stanford, Michigan and its five annual ACC games — so either the alliance could pave the way for Notre Dame to keep playing all those teams as a full alliance member or it could squeeze the Irish on scheduling to a point that it becomes impossible for them to remain independent.

The other big issue is, if the two big sources of political clout and, perhaps, playoff positioning, in college football are within an SEC and a Big Ten/Pac-12/ACC alliance, life as an independent becomes untenable. At this point, no league has enough leverage to make Notre Dame do something it doesn’t want to do, but if the alliance squeezed the Irish on playoff positioning, scheduling or TV revenue, that outlook could change.

For now, Notre Dame is one of the strongest advocates for the proposed 12-team playoff, which Swarbrick helped craft alongside Sankey. This could set up an interesting dynamic in late September if the ACC, Big Ten and Pac-12 choose to push back against the proposal.

ESPN’s Andrea Adelson contributed to this report.

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How Olympic gold medalist Gable Steveson became your favorite wrestler’s favorite wrestler

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How many 275-pound men do you know who can do a backflip?

While you’re ruminating on that seemingly trivial question, let’s take this thought exercise a step further: How many 275-pound men do you know who can backflip and capture the attention of Triple H and Ric Flair with their athletic prowess?

I reckon not many come to mind. That’s because Olympic gold medalist Gable Steveson is a rare breed. Scratch that, the tantalizing U.S. wrestler is one-of-a-kind, a bona fide original.

“When and if I can win, put on a good show for America, that flip is coming,” Steveson teased to NBC Chicago of his signature post-victory backflip ahead of his awe-inducing Tokyo run.

On Friday, the ultimate showman made good on his promise.

There’s a fine line between confidence and hubris, and Steveson walks it masterfully. The 21-year-old’s keen sense of self and his belief in his otherworldly abilities is what enabled him to cruise through the first three matches of his Olympic debut without giving up a point.

It’s a feat that’s particularly impressive when you consider one of his opponents was Taha Akgul of Turkey, the defending Olympic champion. Steveson — The University of Minnesota Gophers’ heavyweight, reigning NCAA Division I National Champion and winner of the Dan Hodge Trophy — made light work of Aiaal Lazarev of Kyrgyzstan in his opening match, taking only 2 minutes, 2 seconds to win 10-0. He followed that up with an 8-0 drubbing of Akgul before winning his semifinal match against Lkhagvagerel Munkhtur of Mongolia 5-0 to advance to the men’s freestyle 125kg wrestling final.

“He’s the best heavyweight wrestler to probably ever step foot (on the mat),” Steveson said of Akgul after their quarterfinal showdown. “But his time is up. I came here for business. I came here to win. … Ain’t nothing going to be given to me. I’ve got to go get it.”

And that’s exactly what he did in an incredible comeback win over Geno Petriashvili — the 2016 bronze-medalist and three-time world champion (2017-19) of Georgia — in the final.

Steveson was born in 2000, and America hadn’t won an Olympic gold medal in men’s heavyweight in his lifetime (Bruce Baumgartner, 1992). If you know his story, it’s not surprising that the Apple Valley, Minnesota, native would be the one to get it done.

I’m not saying the Team USA standout’s mom set this all in motion by choosing to name her son after wrestling legend Dan Gable (Steveson’s middle name is Dan), who was a two-time national champion wrestler at Iowa State and an Olympic gold medalist in 1972.

Who am I kidding? That’s exactly what I’m saying. This whole thing feels preordained. Maybe that’s why the charismatic superstar was so fearless and brash about what he intended to do. He was born for this.

“You can see that when the lights get bright, Gable comes to perform,” he told the Associated Press. “And I think that’s number one with me. And I think that’s what people can expect with me wherever I go.”

If the wrestler choosing to address himself in the third person and the above quote gave you strong Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson vibes, you’re on the right track. The pinnacle of athletic achievement, winning an Olympic gold medal, was just the first item on a long list of aspirations for Gable.

The wrestler plans to use the accomplishment to launch his WWE career and eventually hopes to be afforded opportunities like The Rock and his mentor, fellow Minnesota great and WWE champion, Brock Lesnar.

“When you’re a kid, you don’t really know how to make it to the WWE, but when I got to the University of Minnesota, I learned how Brock went about things and how to make connections,” Gable told Gopher Sports.

“My relationship with Brock has been awesome. It’s outstanding that a guy like that has noticed me and has gone out of his way to be there for me and guide me in the right direction.”

It’s not a matter of if he will go down the professional wrestling route, but when.

Steveson has already made a lot of noise in the professional wrestling space without ever stepping in the ring. From appearing in the crowd at NXT TakeOvers and WrestleMania to waving at Vince McMahon on Twitter, Gable has kept his name top of mind among the WWE brass and stars alike.

Then there’s the famed picture of the Team USA standout with Roman Reigns and his manager Paul Heyman.

“The picture of me, Paul (Heyman), and Roman Reigns is gonna go down as maybe one of the best wrestling photos in history,” Steveson said. “Just because the path that I’m taking with it and the path that Roman Reigns has set in stone being a champion, that’ll probably never be defeated again. The path that Paul Heyman has done for wrestling. He’s probably the greatest spokesperson. (He’s going to the) Hall of Fame.”

Steveson’s expectations for his future are larger-than-life, but why shouldn’t they be? He’s a walking, back-flipping testimonial for the benefits of doing it big.



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