KELLER’S TAKE: Fans rejected Gable Steveson as soon as they saw him, and he didn’t do anything to win them over after that

By Wade Keller, PWTorch editor

Gable Steveson


That Gable Steveson debut on Sunday night came with one big positive: There’s nowhere to go but up from there.


The highly credentialed Olympic Gold Medalist and NCAA Wrestling Champion fought Baron Corbin to a double-countout at Sunday night’s NXT Great American Bash event. The crowd, which had been mostly chanting for Corbin during the match and booing Steveson, chanted “Bullshit” at the finish.

Crowds, as Bryan Danielson has said, are fickle. That’s something Steveson can overcome. Or he can just turn heel and cut a promo blaming the fans for not recognizing his greatness.

The bigger problem is that he didn’t look like a natural in there. It was pretty clear early on he was nervous, taking a deep breath and just not giving off a feeling of being at ease and excited about this big moment. That was my reading, at least.

Once the match began, he was just awkward. Normally, of course, wrestlers get to grow into a comfort zone without the spotlight Steveson finds himself in. Steveson has been the subject of national stories and local stories, including the Minneapolis Star Tribune. His hometown paper’s headline after Sunday night’s performance was: Gable Steveson’s WWE television debut did not go well. Here are some reviews.

He didn’t have the luxury of learning the ropes on small indy shows as an anonymous prospect. He didn’t get to work his way into the NXT system on the undercard, making lower profile mistakes.

Rather, Steveson was paid big money by WWE and put on a fast-track to being a featured performer long before there was any evidence he’ll be any good at the unique craft that is being a top level pro wrestler. Does getting big money before taking his first bump reduce his incentive to get better? Not necessary, but maybe. There are a lot of pro wrestling prospects who so badly want to be signed to a big league contract that they dedicate every waking moment to trying to figure out the craft, getting better, and eventually catching someone’s eye who recommends them to a big time promotion. Steveson skipped past all of that – and it shows.

His initial punches were so awkward the director seemed to cut to a worse camera angle to hide it. His body language indicated he was thinking about what to do next, where to stand, and how to react. It didn’t help that the crowd was rejecting him from the start, chanting for and cheering for the otherwise utterly unpopular and unlikable Corbin.

Booker T went from saying during Steveson’s entrance that there was a reason for all the hype given his credentials to saying five minutes into the match, “The jury is still out on this kid Gable Steveson as far as I’m concerned.” A minute later, a “Let’s Go Corbin” chant broke out. Vic Joseph, perhaps sensing the rocky start, then said, “We knew it’d be an uphill battle somewhat for Stevenson to try to get used to the environment, to get used to what’s gonna happen inside the squared circle.”

His suplexes looked good, but fans consider suplexes a pretty basic pro wrestling move. When Steveson threw Corbin around the ring and played to the crowd, the boos intensified. Their message is: We don’t care what you did elsewhere; we paid good money to see pro wrestlers who are good at what they do, and you’re not that yet.

Late in the match, after a brawl at the announce table, Gable wandered aimlessly around ringside for a couple seconds awaiting Corbin to jump him. Seasoned wrestlers know how to make that look natural. Steveson isn’t seasoned and it just looked weird as he left his back turned to Corbin but sort of side-eyed him to see when he was coming at him before turning fully around to get crashed into.

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It’s way too early to say he’s a bust, but the initial performance made it clear this is going to be more of an uphill battle than it was for Kurt Angle, Brock Lesnar, and Logan Paul. His personality didn’t jump off the screen at all. He looked like someone who wouldn’t catch anyone’s eye if he was an anonymous rookie on the indy scene. Frankly, there’s nothing about being an elite Olympic wrestler that translates to having charisma and connecting with a crowd. Some people have it, some don’t. Angle had it, and it was pretty clear from the start.

Gable at this point does feel like a project, not a natural, in every key way. Even if charisma is an early weakness, though, he is a world class athlete who, with time and effort, should be able to be passable in the ring as a featured star. The charisma could be tougher to achieve, but it’s way too early to write him off.

Maybe Sunday night’s debut match was a humbling wake-up call and he’ll shift into a different gear now that he knows what he has to work on. Or maybe he’s doubting himself more than ever and is resigned to this being more of a grind of a job than a dream come true.

(Wade Keller is the founder and editor of Pro Wrestling Torch Newsletter and He was inducted into the George Tragos/Lou Thesz Pro Wrestling Hall of Fame in 2015 for Excellence in Writing on Professional Wrestling. He has covered pro wrestling for over 35 years and has interviewed some of pro wrestling biggest names in their longest insider interviews ever and has broken some of pro wrestling’s biggest stories.)

RECOMMENDED NEXT: KELLER’S TAKE: Why LA Knight isn’t being pushed to the top already, and why his sustained push is as much in his hands as anyone in power in WWE

OR CHECK THIS OUT AT PROWRESTLING.NET: NXT Great American Bash results: Moore’s live review of Steveson vs. Corbin, Carmelo vs. Dragunov for the NXT Title, Dominik vs. Wes Lee vs. Mustafa Ali,  Tiffany Stratton vs. Thea Hail

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