On a recent episode of Talk Is Jericho, former WWE World Heavyweight Champion Jake Hager was on to discuss his final run in WWE with Dutch Mantel, as well as his WWE release. Hager was known as Jack Swagger in WWE, and he explained where the name originally came from.
"It was just from WWE creative," Hager revealed. "It came after I had a meeting with Vince, and I was smiling too much I guess. He's like, 'see that smile? It pisses me off.' I wipe it off immediately, being a rookie, and he said, 'no, no, it's great. It's going to piss them off too.' So, I think something from that smile, 'Swagger', came out."
On his partnership with Mantel, Hager said that it was comparable to winning the World Heavyweight Championship. He reflected on that run and learning so much from someone with so much experience in the business.
"I'll put working with Dutch up there with winning a World Heavyweight Championship," Hager admitted. "It really was an honor. One of the first nights we worked together, he was like, 'come on, let's get on the road.' I was like, 'well, they kind of want us to watch the show.' And he was like, 'you can learn more with me driving five minutes down the road than you can watching this little show.' And I was like, 'okay, I'll pack my bags.' I got to drive him for two years.
"We got to work with Cesaro, who is an amazing talent, amazing tag team wrestler, and that group that we had was really cool with how it came together. Dutch is one of those guys to where he has so much knowledge. He almost doesn't care about how he looks, I feel like."
Hager and Mantel's partnership was known for their "We The People" catchphrase. Hager revealed that the phrase was purely Mantel's thinking, and it was not written down by anyone.
"We had a little video promo, and no one told him to say it. He did one promo, took some notes from Triple H, and then on the second one, at the end of it, he put 'We The People' on it," Hager recalled. "No one told him say it. It wasn't written, and it was just really cool like, how it felt. And everyone was like, 'ooh, that's it.' And so we did one more and then we finalized how we wanted we the people, and it just stuck. And it was really cool.
"Every week that we went out there, he would cut a promo and they would be booing during the entire promo, but then we would say, 'We The People.' They would all say it with us, and we would come in the back and be like, 'oh my gosh, you said this, and this, and this, but they still said We The People with us at the end.' So, it was really cool. I think we knew how big it was getting; I don't think WWE understood how big it was getting, and just one of those things where I feel like today, if you wanted to, you could go back to and it'd be just as lively."
Hager explained the storyline and how it was inspired by right-wing, Libertarian politics. He also noted that it started out as a political storyline and grew into something for the audience to chant at shows.
"So, at first, it started off as a heel storyline, and of course with WWE, there was a lot of facets to it. But they just went with the immigration storyline on it," Hager explained. "And it was pretty much a Libertarian political thing that was very topical at the time, about immigration, and shortly thereafter, [Donald Trump] started talking about building a wall. He was actually at that WrestleMania where I wrestled Alberto [Del Rio]. He was front row for it, and so, who knows? Maybe he took some policies from Dutch Mantel.
"So, it started off as a political thing, and then it kind of ran with it. But really, the cool thing with it was it was taken over by the audience. The wrestling fans around the world really took it from a political thing and made it something [where] if you were there that day and you got stay 'We The People' with them, it was theirs. It was no longer ours - we were just kind of a part of it."
Hager discussed leaving WWE, noting that he was nearing the end of his second five-year deal with the company and WWE had an option to pick up his contract. He noted the big decision to leave WWE and forego the income that comes from being a WWE Superstar. However, he was granted his release when he asked it, and he believes it was due to his good standing with Vince McMahon and the higher-ups.
"So in 2017, the company had an option in my contract where they only had the option to pick it up and pay me at the same price. I was finishing up my second five-year contract with them, and so I was a little fed up," Hager recalled. "I finally grew some balls, and stood up for myself, and said, 'no, we're going to renegotiate now.' This was December '16, and then by February '17, I finally got some straight answers out of them. That's just how it works, and what they offered me was ridiculous.
"It was insulting, and I knew that's where I stood with them, and so, it was kind of not as insulting as it was like, 'okay, this is clear to me.' And so, I was off. I had like a skin rash all over my body. I was at home anyways, which worked out well. I could talk with my wife and we could figure out what we want to do because, honestly, to substitute that type of income - it's very scary, especially for a young professional with no other experience besides wrestling on TV... But that time, what they offered us, we didn't even make a counter.
"It was one of those things where I just immediately asked for my release, and two days later, they gave it to me. I was really surprised, actually, that they gave it to me. I think, at the time, I was still kind of in good standing with Vince and the higher-ups to where they were just like, 'let's let him go.' And so that was March '17 that they finally granted me my release, right before WrestleMania, and I was on the indies for about a year and a half."
If you use any quotes from this article, please credit Talk Is Jericho with a h/t to Wrestling Inc. for the transcription.