The line of demarcation between MMA and professional wrestling has faded in recent years. Brock Lesnar has shot several times and won championships in both worlds, while pioneer Ronda Rousey has moved from the UFC to one of the most fashionable acts of the WWE. CM Punk has been less successful in the other way, from the WWE to two unfortunate fights of the UFC, but the antecedents and fighting skills that intersect between the two universes will continue to see fighters with the desire to move from one to the other. .
Enter Jake Hager, who has spent the last 13 years traveling the world as a sports artist, primarily as WWE superstar Jack Swagger. If you do not think that the former WWE World Champion is coming to his MMA dreams with fewer qualifications than an average fighter, Hager has the kind of course that many fight fans would not want forget.
Although the WWE's planned battles and the actual fights in the MMA world have little in common, the antecedents of amateur wrestling and various martial arts have allowed stars to move from one world to another.
Jack Swagger, a former WWE Superstar, moves to Bellator MMA, where he will compete as a heavyweight. He joins Brock Lesnar and CM Punk as WWE Superstars who have moved on to the MMA competition.
As he prepares for his first fight at Bellator 214, as part of the heavyweight final of the Grand Prix Fedor Emelianenko-Ryan Bader in Los Angeles, a look at the Hager's past says a lot about what you can expect from him inside the cage. He attended Oklahoma University and started as an athlete in two football and wrestling sports, before focusing on it in his last three years. As a senior, Hager set the season record in Oklahoma with the most bowling in a season and eventually became an American player.
Hager was not sure of the next step as he was preparing to graduate, but even then, MMA was starting to occupy an important place in his life.
"When I was leaving university and preparing for my degree in finance, I had hired job interviews for months and months, and nothing really happened like a real opportunity," Hager told ESPN. "In the meantime, many of my Oklahoma wrestling teammates started training at the MMA, and after the end of the season they would have a lot of jiu-jitsu in the room, and even [going] as much as having striking practices in the fight room.
"It was definitely gaining popularity.We are in 2006. It was at that point that Iceman and Tito were making waves and really put the MMA on the map." My junior and senior year is the one where I first realized what MMA is and really started to like that, "said Hager. "I went the other way – I went into the entertainment business and started fighting professionally, and I did it for about 11 years."
Hager was picked up by the legendary Jim Ross and spent more than a decade working out in the WWE world. He was an ECW champion, a US champion, won a Money in the Bank match and eventually Hager became world champion.
There were ups and downs in his tenure there, but even though he enjoyed the success and financial gain of a long run with the WWE, the opportunity to compete again as represented by the MMA was beginning to manifest itself in the spirit of Hager.
"Halfway through [my time in WWE], one of my college teammates, Danny Rubenstein, became director of MMA and really started being very busy, "said Hager. I live in Tampa, Florida, and one of my college roommates, Matt Grice, was fighting for another company. Was here in Tampa, so we had to go to the fight, my wife and me. "
Hager was beginning to feel the urge to train and fight as early as 2013, but his contract with WWE and other obligations prevented him from performing during this period of his career.
"Since then, we had planned to go in. For us, it was not if we were going to do it, it was a matter of time because we felt as if I belonged to it. to this world and that I could do very well, "said Hager. "It was about five years of contract work with WWE and trying to fight fathers' time at the same time, because I know I'm late for the party, luckily for me, I'm late I still have a lot of growth to do. "
Finally, in March 2017, Hager tweaked the details of his WWE release. He started full-time MMA training the following month and, after a few months, he announced that he had signed a contract with Bellator.
Over the last 20 months, Hager has transformed his body and honed his fighting skills to become a more complete fighter with an intensity that shows how seriously he is pursuing this new stage in his life and career.
"It really started when I left [WWE] and I started coaching with Josh Rafferty, "Hager said. Of course, I am in the form of entertainment at this time. I probably could not even do a two-minute tour. More than a year and a half, [from] April 2017 [to] October 17 when the announcement was made in January 2019, it was unbelievable. It was a real transformation of the body. I have competed at very high levels in college, [but] I am in the best shape of my life because of this.
"It's really a special trip, probably one of the most incredible trips of my life," continued Hager. "Leaving a job that brought in hundreds of thousands of dollars, investing in yourself and sacrificing your family so you can get into another field and compete professionally again in the world's most demanding sport – that's all you need to do. was a big leap. "
Of course, there are people who wonder why he would make such a jump at this stage of his life. He will be 36 years old when he fights J.W. Kiser (0-1-0) on Saturday and had a rather comfortable life traveling the world with WWE. The appeal of the competition and the feeling that he needed a major change of scenery were too difficult to ignore for Hager.
"There were a lot of questions at the beginning," admitted Hager. "Why do that? And I feel very lucky to have around me a lot of people who have believed in me and who would make this special trip with me."
"I will not tell you it was easy, because it was not, I have been practically two days since September, Monday to Friday," Hager said.
That does not mean that he has completely left the world of professional wrestling. He has played 47 games in 2018, across the United States, as well as in Canada, England and Puerto Rico. In Lucha Underground, Swagger (as Jake Strong), the wrestling series on the El Rey network, ended his fourth season as the best champion.
Between his MMA training and his weekend work on the professional wrestling ring, Hager has the impression of taking his career and his life into his hands – and he loves every minute.
"Saturday and Sunday, I still struggle professionally on weekends.It's what pays the bills.Of often, when I bang my head against a wall, I wonder what I'm doing, [but] There have been many great advances and platforms.
"It was so much fun to move from a company where I did not have much control over my future to direct control over my future and my hard work," said Hager. "And it's the most rewarding part of it, getting to choose who I'm working with.
Even though he's seriously starting his career in the MMA, Hager does not plan to completely retire from professional wrestling no matter how Saturday's fight goes and all that goes after.
"I've been struggling since I was 4 years old, so I've spent more than 30 years in a form of constant struggle in my life.For me, that's who I am," he said. Hager. "I have to fight, I have to compete, I think it's a very special moment both in professional wrestling and in professional MMA.The two enjoy a peak of popularity and do not slow down. will only enlarge. "
Hager's appearances in the world of professional wrestling have been the opportunity to show dramatic changes to his body since the end of his WWE career. He is leaner than he has ever been since the end of his career in Oklahoma, and he has found a way to handle MMA and professional wrestling in a symbiotic way.
"When you get to perform in a great professional wrestling show, it's awesome.It's hard not to enjoy it.One of the reasons I did that, it was that I knew that becoming a professional Bellator MMA fighter would make me a better professional wrestler, and as a professional wrestler, I really feel like I'm a better MMA fighter. both hands really help and complement each other, and it's hard work, but what's not? "
Some fighting fans will mock the attitude of Hager, who occupies one of Bellator's most important cards to date in a prestigious venue like The Forum in Los Angeles. In the run-up to this fight, Hager insisted that he would not act from a CM Punk situation in which he would fall for some fighting, would strive to adapt and then move away.
"It's very exciting to be on the map." What Fedor and Bader did in the Grand Prix was so much fun, "said Hager. "But make no mistake: people are not going to like it, I'm going to start with this card, they will not like what I'm paid to be on this card, but make no mistake – I know that I am I'm going to go out there and I'm going to try to steal the limelight and make sure everyone else raises the bar once they see how I'm fighting – and a lot of things are going on. excitement – and I can not wait to prove myself. "