The former Jack Swagger, properly Jake Hager, knows people may not like his presence at Bellator 214, or what he gets paid. And in the end, after the work he has put in making the transition from pro wrestling to MMA, he doesn’t care.
Los Angeles, CA — Jack Swagger already feels like a winner. Make that Jake Hager. Hager performed under the ring name Jack Swagger in the WWE, and still uses the moniker wrestling on the indy circuit. On Saturday, at Bellator 214, he makes the transition to MMA, following in a long line of pro wrestlers before him. Brock Lesnar. Bobby Lashley. The unfortunate CM Punk experiment.
What Hager has in common with the likes of Lesnar and Lashley — successful mixed martial artists — is a collegiate wrestling background. He set the University of Oklahoma record for most pins in a season, and was an NCAA All-American in 2006. That should serve him well when he makes his debut against little-known J.W. Kiser at Bellator 214.
But again, Hager already feels like a winner. “It has been a very special journey for me. I already feel like I won, because of this journey that I’ve been on. I’ve been able to better myself in so many ways, mentally and physically,” Hager said of the move to MMA at Wednesday’s Bellator 214 media day.
“I think Saturday is going to be the icing on the cake. It’s going to be one of those things that I’ll always remember in my life,” he told the assembled media outlets, including Cageside Press.
“A lot of people aren’t going to like me being on this card or what I get paid for this, but that’s not my problem,” Hager added. He admits that a lot of pro wrestlers don’t get the warmest welcome jumping from the squared circle to the cage. However, he feels his background, as a collegiate wrestler, has helped with that.
And he still has the support of his old family. “As far as pro wrestlers, everybody from Vince McMahon, to Rey Mysterio, Roman Reigns,” have reached out to him. “I’m name dropping here, no big deal,” he quipped.
As to what advice the billionaire owner of the WWE gave him, “he said don’t lose,” Hager said with a laugh.
“I have relied a lot on my pro wrestling background, a lot on my amateur wrestling background, to get me here,” Hager explained of the move to MMA. “I don’t have an amateur fight, [but] honestly, I don’t feel like I need it. I have thousands of amateur wrestling matches that I’m going to rely on to get me that experience.”
And yes, he believes pro wrestling has helped prepare him for his MMA debut. “As far as pro wrestling, I absolutely 100% think it makes me a better pro fighter,” explained Hager. After all, both are spectator sports. “Because I’m used to the bright lights. I’m used to that, you tell me when, and where, and I’m going to be there performing at a high level, every time.”
First night jitters? He might have an edge. That said, Hager is approaching his transition knowing that he can’t simply boast to be the best, pro wrestling style. “I don’t think I can just step right in and say I’m the greatest of all time. But that’s what I’m going after. That’s what I intend to prove.”
Nor does he feel like leaving the ring for the cage takes him out of his element. “I think it’s right where I belong,” Hager concluded.
Bellator 214 takes place January 26 at The Forum in Los Angeles. The card airs live on Paramount Netork and DAZN online.