Bellator heavyweight Jake Hager was at a very different point in his career when he signed on with the promotion. While news of the former WWE Superstar, then known as Jack Swagger, trying a new career path came in November of 2017, he wouldn’t make his MMA debut for over a year — finally stepping into the cage in January 2019.
He won that fight. And the next one. Then something rather unexpected happened: Hager found perhaps an even greater level of stardom with an upstart pro wrestling promotion known as All Elite Wrestling.
AEW’s high-flying style and quirky humor has given the WWE something it hasn’t had in years: real competition. Hager quickly found himself booked in a faction with wrestling icon Chris Jericho — and suddenly, it felt like the sky was the limit for the University of Oklahoma All-American.
“This last year with AEW, I really consider like the best year of my career,” Hager told Cageside Press during the Bellator 250 media day this week. Hager’s fourth professional bout will be part of the event, which once again takes place at the Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, CT. “Being able to win two fights with Bellator and then sign with them. And to have the year of ratings we’ve had on TNT [where AEW Dynamite airs], it really has been special in my heart. The Stadium Stampede that we did in May, one of my favorite matches.”
But of course, as AEW took off, questions naturally arose about whether Hager would stick around the fight business. While fans and pundits may have asked those questions, however, Hager himself never did. “I never doubted that I would come back to to fighting. I believe right now at 38 years old, I have a unique window where I can really capitalize on something special,” the heavyweight suggested. Realistically, he would have been back in action already if he could have. “We were originally scheduled for May 9, and we were one of the first cards to be cancelled during the pandemic. Since then, we’ve been staying ready and Bellator, it never ceases to give me an opportunity.”
Hager noted that he signed a six fight deal when he signed on with Bellator. It seems like, at the very least, he plans to finish that out. “So there’s plenty more to go,” Hager said Tuesday. “And I’m very happy with Bellator.”
Things haven’t always been perfect, mind you. After two wins over low-level competition in his first two bouts, Hager hit a snag in his third. Against the more experienced Anthony Garrett last October at Bellator 231, Hager connected low with a knee, resulting in the fight being declared a no contest.
Asked what he learned from that bout, Hager replied by saying that “the finish alone is a big takeaway from me. This is sanctioned violence, but at the same time, it needs to be controlled. It needs to be like a controlled chaos in there.”
“You always need to be aware of what you’re thinking and what your body is doing,” Hager continued. “A lot of it needs to rely on instinct, to where you don’t think, and where you can just react— that way you’re ahead of it and you’re leading the charge there in the cage.” The wrestler admitted that he was “personally upset” about the low blow in the Garrett fight afterwards. “But at this point, it is what it is. Definitely lesson learned and [I’ve] definitely improved in the areas that have cost me.”
Hager (as Jack Swagger) was well known for his patriotic character back in the WWE. That’s an angle that is gone from his character in AEW. But he’s said in the past that he planned to have three wins in Bellator by the time Donald Trump is re-elected (should that come to pass). He’ll have the chance on Thursday, against Brandon Calton, to make that happen.
He also channeled a little Swagger when asked about the President. “I love Donald Trump simply because he loves America. He loves the American people,” proclaimed Hager. “He wants my children to have freedom and he wants my children’s children to have freedom. And I don’t think you could say that about who he’s running against.”
Whatever your political slant, Hager’s fight Thursday at Bellator 250 is likely to be more entertaining than any election.
Watch the full Bellator 250 virtual media day press scrum with Jake Hager above.