In an interview with Ariel Helwani, new Bellator signee Jake Hager had an idea for his pro-wrestling character Jack Swagger a few years ago. Hager, a former All-American amateur wrestler at the University of Oklahoma, pitched to WWE that he should be booked in a legitimate fight.
“For the longest time there, I felt like I was literally the toughest guy in the locker room,” Hager told Ariel Helwani on a recent edition of The MMA Hour.
“Yet, I would go out there and have two-minute matches with guys that couldn’t hold my jock. It even got to the point where I pitched to them, I was like, ‘Look, I got something to prove. You guys are a great platform. Let me prove it. Pick the fighter — I’ll fight anybody. Put them on your show and I’ll fight them.’ They didn’t really want to go down that route.”
And while what Hager is asking for was a bit out there for the world of pro wrestling, it had been done before. Not only did pro wrestling up until the George Hackenschmidt and Frank Gotch matchups of the late 1910’s legitimate, but Hager’s former employers the WWE, developed a concept known as the “Brawl For All” in 1998. The tournament was patterned after early UFC and Toughman style competitions featured some of the more “legit” tough guys in the company including Dan Severn. The tournament was snake-bit from the very beginning as a majority of the talent who competed in the competition would end up severely injured as a result, including former University Of Oklahoma wrestler and football standout, “Dr. Death” Steve Williams.
Williams was propped up by the promotion to be the star of the tournament, but would be knocked out (literally and metaphorically) in the second round of the tournament by journeyman wrestler, Bart Gunn.
Gunn would go on to win the tournament, and Hager believes that he would be able to beat anyone in the locker room, and was a contributing factor to leaving the WWE and joining Bellator.
“I don’t know if they just didn’t believe in my abilities, but now we’re here to show it. It’s crazy. Stuff like that always happens and it just got pushed to the side and I was like, Alright, well I’m still here. I’m gonna do do it. It’s a great opportunity that I’m gonna take advantage of.”
Hager, 35, said he and his manager Daniel Rubenstein, a fellow Oklahoma graduate, reached out to the UFC, but they felt all along that Bellator would make the most sense.
“We reached out to the UFC, but in our heads the whole time Bellator was the end run,” Hager said.
“That’s where we wanted to go. Like I said, they just seem like a company that values its talents and its assets. I think it’s on the rise. You see what Bellator is doing, with the roster that they bring in. Not only at heavyweight, at all weights. It’s really becoming great and tough all the way through. It’s very exciting to be a part of that.”
Hager said he signed a three-year, six-fight deal with Bellator and the plan is for him to debut in April or May. Currently, he’s training at the Ybor City Jiu Jitsu Club in Tampa and doing his strength and conditioning with former Ultimate Fighter castmate Josh Rafferty. Hager is 6-foot-5 and weighs north of 270 pounds, so he said he plans on bulking up and cutting down to the 265-pound heavyweight maximum for MMA.
“For the longest time, it was like, ‘Why did I leave?’ And I think it’s become very obvious. This is why I left the WWE. I wasn’t allowed to really compete up there, even though I felt like I can take anyone in the locker room. And now it’s such a popular time to be a pro wrestler, to be in combat sports, to be an MMA fighter, where you can really take your opportunity and put it in your own hands, your own hard work. That’s really why I left.”
“I think there’s certain types of guys that just need to be punched in the face, want to taste blood. And I think I’m definitely like that. Maybe I got away from that for too long. Always been a fan of MMA. I’ve been wrestling since I was 5 years old. Some form of that always transcends to me.”