Bellator is giving another shot to a former WWE star, and no, CM Punk hasn’t jumped ship.
Say what you will about pro wrestlers making the jump to MMA, but thus far, they’ve been ratings gold. Brock Lesnar’s PPV buyrates were always strong (it helped that he was a UFC heavyweight champion), while Bobby Lashley has proven to be one of Bellator’s biggest draws. Even CM Punk’s lone UFC appearance seemed to boost UFC 203’s buyrate. Perhaps with that in mind, Bellator has signed former WWE star Jack Swagger, real name Jake Hager. Hager appeared on Monday’s edition of The MMA Hour with Ariel Helwani to announce the news.
Bellator officials later confirmed the announcement.
Hager (0-0 MMA) was a decorated dual-sport athlete in college, pulling double-duty in both football and wrestling. On the wrestling side, he was the fifth ranked junior under Wrestling USA in 1999 in high school, and went on to join Junior National USA wrestling team as a heavyweight in 2000. Recruited by the University of Oklahoma, he quit football his sophomore year to focus on wrestling, going on to become an NCAA Division I All-American. The WWE then recruited him after he graduated with a degree in finance.
Hager (under the Jack Swagger name) would have a relatively successful run in the WWE, staying with the promotion over a decade, from 2006 until his release in March of this year.
Swagger, who was a U.S. and Heavyweight champ in the WWE, intends to continue making pro wrestling appearances on the independent circuit while pursuing MMA. The 35-year old will compete in the heavyweight division, which could set up a very marketable showdown with former WWE star Bobby Lashley somewhere down the line. Lashley, however, would have a massive edge in experience, as he currently sits at 15-2 as a professional fighter. Lashley, who signed with Bellator in 2014, has won all five of his fights in the promotion.
It’s not clear whether Swagger/Hager will compete under his ring name. After leaving the WWE, he did appear at a number of independent wrestling shows using the moniker.
Just announced in studio on #TheMMAHour with @arielhelwani, @RealJackSwagger is now a part of the heavyweight division! #BellatorNation pic.twitter.com/6VXMACJQkX
— Bellator MMA (@BellatorMMA) November 13, 2017
With 30, Hager holds the University of Oklahoma single-season record for most pins in the 285lb weight class. No date has been set for his Bellator debut, though he is expected to appear sometime in 2018.