Former WWE Star Jack Claffey on Hexagone 8 Fight, and Which Is More Gruelling: MMA or Pro Wrestling

The former “Gentleman” Jack Gallagher of WWE fame, a.k.a. Jack Toxic, is going by Jack Claffey these days as he prepares to enter his second professional fight in MMA.

Claffey is, of course, the family name, though legal restrictions and other factors also played into the decision to fight as Jack Claffey.

“It felt strange to use a fictional name for a real life sport,” Claffey told Cageside Press in a recent exclusive interview. “I don’t think Jack Toxic probably would have worked either.” The Jack Toxic name predates Claffey’s WWE run, but likely isn’t as well known to the average wrestling fan. “Frankly as well, the WWE has the copyright to Jack Gallagher. Might as well go with the family name, make things simple, just cut out the middleman.”

MMA and pro wrestling have had a long, often entwined history, which has led to debate among fans on all aspects of the two professions — including which is more gruelling on the body. Claffey, for his part, doesn’t think it’s the art itself that does the damage, however.

“I don’t think wrestling is more gruelling, I don’t think MMA is more gruelling. I think travel is more gruelling than anything else. And obviously with professional wrestling, there’s a significant travel portion.”

Claffey isn’t new to mixed martial arts — prior to his stint with the WWE, he took a pair of amateur fights, winning both. The plan, at the time, had been to continue down that path, following a successful run in pro wrestling on the indy scene.

“It was very interesting, because it was about, I think it was 2016 I had my last amateur fight, and I was scheduled to have a third coming up, and then I got the offer to be contracted with the WWE,” Claffey recalled. “So it was a case of, at the time I was considering winding down the pro wrestling and trying out MMA. because I’d had quite a semi-successful independent career, like I’d manage to travel to Japan, I’d done some stuff in Europe. I just had never done anything in America. I just didn’t think WWE was ever going to be a possibility.”

“So when the opportunity came around, I thought ‘okay, whatever happens with this, this will be the last thing I do in wrestling.'”

It was. Claffey finished his pro wrestling career under less than ideal circumstances, however. His WWE release in 2020 came about following an accusation that he had made “unwanted advances” during a New Year’s Eve party in 2014; Claffey responded with an apology, stating that it was an isolated incident after a night of drinking.

The only thing that would lure him back to the pro wrestling side, he told Cageside Press, would be the potential of a 205 Live reunion. Otherwise, it’s onward and upward into his combat sports career, which has seen him tackle both MMA and bare knuckle boxing.

“Obviously it’s not going to be the same, given that now I’m 33 as opposed to the youthful 26 I was when I was originally doing it,” admitted Claffey, “so now it’s just a little bit more of challenging myself, trying out something new. Trying to improve myself as well.”

As for what got him into the sport, “Bruce Lee and Dragon Ball Z” were the two biggest reasons Claffey made his way into martial arts originally. From a young age, the future WWE star began training in Taekwondo; at 16, he turned his focus to pro wrestling before starting training in catch wrestling in his 20s to shore up his skills in the ring.

At the same time, Claffey became an avid MMA fan. “I love PRIDE. That’s what originally got me into MMA, was watching Kazushi Sakuraba. He was like my original sort of love affair with MMA. I preferred PRIDE before the UFC, and I kind of hung on to ‘no, PRIDE is the best one and they always have the best people,’ for quite a while. I was very reticent to actually switch over and watch more American-focused MMA for quite some time.”

After his WWE release in 2020, Claffey eventually moved back to fighting. He signed on with BKFC, and found immediate success, winning his debut via knockout. He has not been back to the promotion since, however.

“I’d hoped to actually do some back-to-back fights with BKFC, but unfortunately, the very first punch I took burst a blood vessel in my eye,” Claffey explained. The injury was rare enough that doctors took a photo of it to show at conventions. And while Claffey eventually healed up, it did take him out of training for several months. “It threw off my training plans. Because originally, we’d hoped to do that fight, and they had a London card coming up quite soon afterwards, and I was attempting to get on that.”

With the London card no longer an option, even a subsequent date didn’t line up with the healing process. “I still hadn’t even got back to even semi-regular training at that point, and that’s when the MMA opportunities started opening up as well.”

After suffering a loss in his pro MMA debut last December, the lesson learned for Jack Claffey is that “I think featherweight is going to be the right weight class for me.” He admits that after looking at his physical attributes in terms of body proportions and reach, “I convinced myself that I should be a bantamweight. I think it was, I just pushed my body a little too much.”

By the time he’d realized it was the wrong weight class, Claffey was already committed to the fight.

Now, he faces Yassin Chtatou at Hexagone MMA 8 in Beziers, France on June 3. And despite his very British “Gentleman” Jack Character, Claffey has no plan to play up the English-French rivalry, or to pull from the pro wrestling playbook in terms of promoting the fight.

“I’m a little bit anti-nationalism, despite the fictional character that I played WWE. I think it’s a bit weird when people get very ‘rah rah’ about their country,” said Claffey. “So even though I get the English flag associated with me quite a bit, that’s why I’m just waving the pirate flag. Everybody can stand under the Jolly Roger.”

Claffey is waving that flag and taking on the Cap’n Jack nickname for good reason. “I live on a boat,” he noted — a houseboat. That stems from a love for the quiet life, and travel.

“I lived in Florida for about five years,” Claffey noted, in reference to his pro wrestling days. After spending those years “living in a very touristy, very hot city, I just kind of wanted to go somewhere quiet. And the love of travel as well. Every now and again we’ll get the cruising going when it’s not winter, and move up and down the canals just puttering somewhere. Obviously here in camp, we have to moor up for a few weeks where I’ve just got to be regular, but in between camps, we call it walkabout. We’ll just go walkabout for a few weeks and kind of disappear off the grid.”

Hexagone MMA 8 opponent Chtatou is known as a kickboxer, and that’s something Claffey has prepared for. “Obviously he has a particular strength. I think boxing in terms of a striking art is different from kickboxing, so I think I can approach the striking differently,” he stated. “And I’m pretty well versed in grappling. So if I do manage to take him down, I’m pretty confident in my ability to keep him down.”

Watch our full interview with Jack Claffey above. Hexagone MMA 8 takes place at the Arènes de Béziers in Béziers, France on June 8, 2023.