Bellator 214’s Jake Hager Talks Humbling, Exciting Transition from Wrestling to MMA

If you didn’t know Jack Swagger before, well, you should know Jack now. The WWE star impressed in his debut at Bellator 214 on Saturday, and after the fight, spoke of what comes next.

Los Angeles, CA — On a night full of surprising outcomes and quick finishes, the MMA debut of former WWE champion Jack Swagger may have been the biggest. Because Swagger, fighting under his real name Jake Hager, did exactly what was expected of him. He went out, took opponent J.W. Kiser down, and won.

What surprised many is how good Hager looked doing it. Legit elbows from the top. A decent submission game. Of course, he was fighting 1-1 (as a pro, anyway) Kiser, not a world-beater by any stretch of the imagination. Still, Hager showed enough to make observers cautiously optimistic about his future in the sport.

Ken Shamrock, Dan Severn, Brock Lesnar, and Bobby Lashley, to date, have had the most success making the jump. Shamrock and Severn, though, juggled both careers early on, and were never looked at as purely pro wrestlers. Swagger, like Lesner, Lashley, and CM Punk, was seen by some as “just a pro wrestling guy.” Which ignores his amateur wrestling credentials.

Following Bellator 214, Swagger spoke of making the jump to MMA, calling it “an amazing opportunity that they [Bellator] gave me, to showcase something that I believed in myself.”

“I had so much fun out there,” he continued. “Really enjoyed this whole week, and the past year and a half have been such a positive experience on me and my whole family.”

Hager, as Jack Swagger, is the current Lucha Underground champion in the pro wrestling world, and has continued to find success there. MMA, however, appears to be his future. “I want to make this my main focus, I want to fight again very soon,” he told reporters, including Cageside Press, on Saturday. “I know I’ve got a lot of work to do. After tonight I’m very very eager to get back in with my coaches and my team and get back to work.”

Saying decisions on when and who he fights next are above his pay grade, Hager called his transition to the sport humbling. “One of the reasons why I wanted to cross over and do it with Bellator is because I knew we could make a big splash,” he said. “But I think the response this week has been way more than I ever expected. I had so many wrestling fans, so many of my friends that I’ve worked with over the last 12 years there reach out to me, it was really humbling, and at the same time exciting. This is very cool.”

“I’ll be the first to say I have a lot, a lot to improve on,” he went on to say. “I think it’s very exciting where I’m going to be in six months, where I’m going to be in a year, where I’m going to be in a year and a half. Maybe at that time I could fight someone like Ryan Bader. What a great performance tonight.”

Bader, of course, knocked out the legendary Fedor Emelianenko to win the Heavyweight Grand Prix, capping off an exciting evening.

So how did Hager prepare for his debut? “We really focused on my nutrition. Had a nice cold glass of oatmeal like right before we got on the show,” he revealed. “I feel like that really helped me with the warm-up and getting that first win going. Calm, relaxed, a slept a little bit, then had some cold oatmeal.”

As for opponent Kiser, Hager said that “I felt like he was doing a good job from the bottom, getting some shots in on there, and his hands did feel a little heavy at that time.” Other than that, he wasn’t really hit, perhaps once before the takedown.

Walking out, Hager/Swagger had another WWE star accompany him: R-Truth. Who provided Hager’s intro music. “Ron Killings, R-Truth, what an amazing performer,” Hager said of his pro wrestling pal. “His music career, it’s so fun to watch. It’s very cool to have one of your best friends out there.”

Killings even performed live during Hager’s entrance. “It’s like a storybook moment that just happened. I told him I wasn’t going to listen to him, because I might tear up,” he added.