As previously reported, Jake Hager, better known as former WWE World Heavyweight Champion Jack Swagger, has signed with Bellator MMA. He spoke with Wrestling Inc. owner Raj Giri about his transition from pro-wrestling to MMA.
Since leaving the WWE in March, Hager has hinted at pursuing a career in MMA. He said he always new he would eventually become a fighter, but it just came down to finding the right time. After reaching out to Bellator over the summer, he was offered a deal.
"I have a Manager named Dan Rubenstein. I was fortunate enough to wrestle with him at Oklahoma, so we have known each other for a while. As you know, rise in popularity; kind of been discussing it for five years now, ever since we went to a fight together in Tampa, FL," Hager explained. "So, it was looking for the right time and making the move. It started when we approached Bellator this summer and they were very receptive and we got the deal done a couple of months later."
Hager's run in WWE saw him undergo a slew of halted pushes for various reasons. He said he likes the fact that he can control how big of a star he becomes in MMA. He feels like he gave his all to pro-wrestling night in and night out, but he couldn't reach the level of stardom he wanted for reasons beyond his control.
"I definitely had a lot of start and stops; a lot of it, hey, this can be good, and get a lot of natural momentum built with it, but for one reason or another they decided to go in a different direction. I think that is a good point that you made how it is up to you in the MMA world to become a star and of course you need luck, and need to be healthy, and need the right fights, but that is exactly why I went into the MMA world because I can control it," Hager said. "It sucks, you pro-wrestle and go out there every night. You have to want to go out there and tear down the house every night. It has to be a part of you, otherwise you are in the wrong industry. Constantly try to do that and put your heart out there, and then to have it squashed definitely leaves you with a sour taste."
Hager also feels more financially stable now than when he was with the WWE because he doesn't have to deal with the constant fluctuation of his salary.
"It is very difficult to plan financially with the WWE because every week the salary was different. Every month the salary was different. It's based on the house shows and the attendance, and any extra stuff that goes in there. It makes it difficult to be consistent with your budget because it fluctuates," he said. "It is a couple of thousand each month, but sometimes and a lot of times it is lower and that makes it tough. Once you make it up to a certain income level and you acquire and buy certain things and have a certain way of life, it is really tough on your family to go back below that income level because you have certain things set as far as private schools and things like that."
Hager said the introduction of the WWE Network did increase his pay slightly but it was still very similar to what he was already receiving from pay-per-view royalties.
"We were always told that the Network was going to be the future of the WWE so anything you can do for that it would be in your best interest. I never really got an explanation as far as how you got paid from the Network or anything like that. At first it started off as them not knowing how they were going to make money off of it and they passed it on to us like that, which doesn't make any sense how Vince [McMahon] doesn't know how he is going to make money off of this huge investment he made so I honestly saw a little bit of an increase from the Network pay per views as much as talking trash of not knowing how it worked."
Hager will compete as a heavyweight with Bellator. As an 0-0 fighter, it's likely his first opponent would also be someone who lacks experience. But Hager said he's not concerned with who he's fighting because he cares more about being ready for when he's offered a fight.
"Honestly, that is above my paygrade. I put that into the hands of my camp and trust their judgement with it," he said. "Really, all I am worried about is the date and am ready to fight, so I'm not going to be picky. If they want this guy then let's do it."
Hager is expected to make his debut in 2018 and said he hopes to fight twice next year.
"I would like to fight twice in 2018 barring any setbacks," he said. "Maybe, end of first quarter, beginning of second for the first one and everything will play off of that."
Peter Bahi contributed to this article.