Top WWE talent Gable Steveson made his NXT debut at the Great American Bash one week ago. Even with WWE’s full support for the potential, the Gable Steveson WWE run is already in danger. Fans showed absolutely no interest in the Olympian’s debut game.
Some of the collective fan backlash could be from Steveson’s highly public legal trouble, with the charges later dropped. However, looking at the debut itself and its lead-up, there seems to be more to the negative response. In fact, most of the issue stems from the booking around Steveson, not anything he did inside a ring or out of it.
This Kurt Angle Approach Has Gable Steveson’s WWE Run in Trouble
WWE wanted fans to know that Gable Steveson is very similar to Kurt Angle. Victorious Olympians, roughly the same geographic region, and undeniable wrestling pedigree link the two instantly. Steveson has even tried to channel Angle in his wrestling and fights throughout his nearly three years with the company.
The company has put the two together for a couple of big WrestleMania segments to endorse further the idea that men are the same. Even his opponent, Baron Corbin, has a history with Angle. Drawing comparisons to a legend will always upset some fans, particularly fans dedicated to a product like NXT.
That legend is the universally beloved Kurt Angle, which makes it even more difficult. In very surface-level ways, the two men are the same. There are some notable differences, though, that WWE is ignoring and could be putting this Gable Steveson WWE run in trouble.
Angle wrestled for Clarion University, a state school in his home state. Steveson was recruited to the larger, more prestigious, University of Minnesota. Kurt Angle came up through a far less televised developmental process and even helped launch some independent promotions; Steveson signed one of WWE’s new NCAA NIL deals and started on TV and a featured match on a Premium Live Event.
Angle committed to the process of transitioning to professional wrestler once he agreed to a deal. Steveson was drafted to WWE Monday Night Raw, then went back to colligate wrestling and another shot at the Olympic games. None of these things are bad for Gable Steveson, but they all make him fundamentally different from the beloved Angle.
That WWE is promoting the similarities instead leaves an interesting story unexplored. A heel Steveson can easily claim he isn’t the same as Kurt; he’s better. That character has legs and would break the tie-in that is severely hurting Steveson with fans.
Steveson is Jumping the Line
WWE fans, especially the NXT faithful, have grown increasingly weary of superstars being “pushed down their throats.” What that looks like is highly subjective, but that doesn’t change the instant adverse reaction the WWE Universe has when they feel it is happening.
Steveson’s WWE journey thus far has been marked by preferential treatment, but in the build-up to this match, it became more apparent after working with his actual brother and NXT performer Damon Kemp. Damon has been a featured part of NXT on and off for a while. He has yet to take off, but his work with Diamond Mine was potentially star-making for Julius and Brutus Creed.
Damon Kemp has never been a fan favorite on NXT, but he is certainly putting in the time. Seeing Steveson vault over his brother and rival Eddy Thorpe for the opportunity at a PLE match is the sort of booking that fans negatively react to. Having been introduced to the fans again as part of that story, making it a tag team match may have been a more thoughtful way to go.
It would have got four men on the card instead of two. It also would have let Steveson work with Corbin still and tease some deeper tension with his older brother. Using his star power as a legitimate Olympic athlete to give three more talented performers a high-profile bout may have been met with significantly less hostility.
The Finish was Bland for a Debut Match
Watching the match without audience participation, Steveson actually did pretty well. There are certainly NXT performers who are less polished and athletic than the college standout. Although the booing started significantly before this, the ending of the match was a letdown.
A double count out is rarely a good PLE ending, and with the fans having shown they didn’t like the bout to begin with, the finish didn’t do him any favors. If this Gable Steveson WWE run is in trouble already, it is at least partly due to the finish he was given.
The negative reaction means Corbin vs. Stevenson is probably not a high priority. Likewise, he needs a match to prove himself in the ring, and a quick draw wouldn’t accomplish that. The more time he gets in the ring, the more time fans have to jeer at him. This is one of the few things they have a chance at changing, though, but his following singles match needs to deliver in a big way that may not be possible. If WWE and Steveson want to drown out the negative press and dull finish from the debut, he must stand out. That may not be entirely fair, but it is undoubtedly part of the issues surrounding Gable in the future.
NXT Nostalgia Effect Put Gable Steveson WWE Run is in Trouble
Baron Corbin on Raw or Smackdown is the perfect opponent for Gable Steveson. He is big, was around the main event for a time, and the WWE Universe typically dislikes him. On NXT, though, Baron Corbin is a nostalgia act from a previous era of the brand. The “Lone Wolf” Corbin is an original NXT act.
He fought at Full Sail alongside popular stars like Neville and Sami Zayn. NXT is a show within a show. It has its own lore and history that longtime fans are all very aware of. Unlike WWE, NXT is only a decade or so old, so almost all of the products fans have seen its rich history and moments of failure play out.
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