Jake Hager, better known as Jack Swagger, was recently interviewed by ESPN ahead of his MMA debut with Bellator. During the interview, he discussed his transition to MMA as well as his desire to continue wrestling. Here are the highlights:
On How He First Got Into MMA:
When I was leaving college, getting ready to graduate with a degree in finance, I had job interviews for months and months — and nothing really was moving like a real opportunity. Meanwhile, a lot of my wrestling teammates at Oklahoma had started getting into MMA training. They would, you know, after the season was over they were having a lot of jiu-jitsu in the room, and even [going] as far as having striking practices in the wrestling room.
It was definitely gaining popularity there. This is ’06. This is when Iceman and Tito were making waves and really putting MMA on the map. My junior and senior year in college is when I first realized what MMA is and really started liking it. I went the other route — I went into the entertainment field and started wrestling professionally, and I did that for about 11 years.
On Getting The MMA Itch:
Halfway through [my time in WWE], one of my college teammates, Danny Rubenstein, became a MMA manager and really started getting busy. I live in Tampa, Florida, and one of my other college roommates named Matt Grice was fighting for another company, and it was here in Tampa, so we got to go to the fights, my wife and I.
On WWE & Other Obligations Preventing Him From Fighting Earlier In His Career:
Since then, we have been planning when we were going to go into it. For us it wasn’t if we were going to do it, it was a matter of time because we felt like I belong in this world and that I could do very well at it. It was about five years of working out contract situations with the WWE and trying to fight father time at the same time, because I know I’m late to the party. Luckily for me I’m a late bloomer, so I still got a lot of growing to do.
On Transforming His Body & Rounding Out His Skills:
It really started when I left [WWE] and I started training with Josh Rafferty. Of course, I’m in entertainment shape at this time. I probably couldn’t even gone a two-minute round. Over a year and a half, [from] April of 2017 [to] October of ’17 when we made the announcement to January 2019, it’s been incredible. It’s been a true body transformation. I competed at very high levels in college, [but] I’m in the best shape of my life because of it.
It really has been a special journey. Probably one of the most incredible journeys of my life. From leaving a job making hundreds of thousands of dollars to investing in yourself and having your family really sacrifice so you can go into another field and compete again professionally at the most demanding sport in the world — it was a big jump.
On His Skeptics:
There were a lot of questions at the beginning. Why do this? And I feel like I was very fortunate to get a lot of people around me that believed in me, and that would go on the special journey with me.
I won’t tell you that it was easy, because it wasn’t. I practically have been doing two-a-days since September, Monday through Friday.
On Loving Every Minute Of The Journey:
Saturday and Sunday I go and wrestle professionally still on the weekends — that’s what pays the bills. There’s a lot of times when I’m banging my head against a wall, I’m wondering what am I doing, [but] there’s been a lot of great breakthroughs and platforms.
It’s just been so much fun to really go from a company where I didn’t have a lot of control over my future to being directly in control of my future and my hard work. And that’s been the most gratifying part about it, getting to choose who I work with.
On Wanting To Continue His Wrestling Career Regardless Of MMA Success:
I’ve been wrestling since I was 4 years old, so I have over 30 years in some form of wrestling, non-stop in my life. For me, it’s who I am. I need to wrestle, I need to compete. I think it’s a very special moment in both professional wrestling and professional MMA right now. Both are at a peak of popularity and they’re not slowing down. It’s only going to get bigger.
On How He Plans To Juggle Both:
When you get to go out and perform on a great pro wrestling show, it’s awesome. It’s hard not to enjoy it. One of the reasons why I did this is I knew becoming a Bellator professional MMA fighter would make me a better professional wrestler. And being a professional wrestler, I feel like definitely makes me a better MMA fighter. So the two hands really help each other and they complement each other, and it’s a lot of hard work — but what isn’t?
On Why He Won’t End Up Like C.M. Punk:
Very exciting to be on the card. What Fedor and Bader did in the Grand Prix was so entertaining. But make no mistake about it — people aren’t going to like that I get to debut on this card. They’re not going to like what I get paid for being on this card. But make no mistake about it — I know I belong here, I’m going to go out there and I’m going to try to steal the show and I’m going to try to make everyone else raise their bar once they see how I fight. A lot of opportunity and a lot of excitement — and I can’t wait to prove myself.
You can read the full interview by clicking HERE