Just a few weeks ago, Gable Steveson gave every NCAA wrestling fan a storybook ending to applaud and sitting mat side with the Olympian’s family gave one Minnesota alumnus an even stronger feeling, one difficult to put into words.
24-year-old bantamweight Mitch McKee was donning a maroon and gold singlet next to the Olympic hero and two-time NCAA-champion just a couple short years ago. Despite being the elder statesman on the team, McKee and Steveson always had a friendly bond that has carried on to this day.
Turns out, uniting under the same NCAA banner was a welcomed change of pace for the two former rivals.
“Our towns are rivals and we wrestled on a lot of teams, like youth teams, middle school and high school teams growing up,” McKee explained. “It’s been great to watch just how he’s grown in the sport. I guess he’s done now, but as far as college wrestling, just to be able to see him grow, improve and mature, it’s been awesome to watch.”
Steveson came in and accomplished what everybody watching college wrestling all year knew he was going to accomplish and it was still a special moment. The win, the backflip and leaving the shoes on the mat made for one of the most memorable moments in the history of the sport.
Fans watching at home felt like the luckiest people on earth for witnessing a moment that will be talked about for decades to come. Somehow McKee’s experience put the typical experience to shame.
“I was sitting in the front row watching next to Gable’s brother, dad and mom,” McKee said. “It’s cool to know you’re watching him for the last time, and after all the times I’ve watched him, the fact that it’s going to be one of his last was really cool to watch. I’m sure not many people would be able to say 20 years from now they were able to watch his last NCAA tournament final in person, especially from the front row of the arena.”
If there was ever a way to shoot a fighter out of a cannon, it’s putting him front row on one of the biggest nights in the history of the sport next to the family of the man of the hour.
Gable captivated an entire country for years and it still didn’t feel like long enough for some. LFA 128 opponent Jalen Jackson better hope McKee didn’t absorb the energy of that final night of the 2021-2022 NCAA season, because if McKee trains with half the energy the arena felt that night, there’s not a bantamweight alive equipped to take out the former Gopher.
Maybe one day he’ll have a backflip moment of his own.
Catch the return of Mitch McKee to the LFA cage Friday, April 8, ONLY on UFC FIGHT PASS!