Despite the fact that he doesn’t have a single MMA fight to his name at 35, former WWE superstar Jake Hager, or Jack Swagger as he was known during his days in sports entertainment’s premier promotion, has signed with Bellator MMA.
Hager made the move public on Monday’s edition of The MMA Hour shortly after he was revealed as Ariel Helwani’s ‘mystery guest’ and Bellator subsequently shared a video of the Perry, Oklahoma native putting pen to paper via their official Twitter account.
— Bellator MMA (@BellatorMMA) November 13, 2017
Hager’s is a familiar story, as we have seen countless professional wrestlers attempt the crossover to MMA down through the years (there has been plenty of traffic in the opposite direction as well, mind). However, when it comes to athletic pedigree, Hager has a lot more in common with Brock Lesnar – who went from WWE champion to UFC champion – than he does with CM Punk – who, well, didn’t.
Like Lesnar, the 6’5 Hager was a top-notch wrestler in high-school and college. In his senior year at the University of Oklahoma in 2006, Hager placed seventh at the NCAA nationals and was an All-American in the 285-pound weight-class(via MMAFighting). So, he is starting with an ideal base, unlike Punk, real name Phil Brooks, who had an awful lot of catching up to do when he made the brave decision to pursue MMA almost from scratch at the age of 36 in 2014.
Hager signed with WWE developmental shortly after graduating with a Bachelors Degree in Finance and went on to spend over a decade with the promotion, before requesting and subsequently receiving his release earlier this year.
Since departing the WWE, Hager has been performing on pro-wrestling’s independent circuit but from now on he intends to split his time between faux and legitimate combat.
“We have been working and talking with [Bellator] through the summer. We started negotiations and what not” said Hager, who admitted that he had reached out to the Scott Coker-led promotion rather than vice versa. “It literally got finalized this weekend. We came to terms and we’re excited. The next step would be to set a date.”
Hager also said that he and his management reached out to the UFC, but claimed that Bellator was the best fit for him.
“I’ve been training with Ybor City jiu-jitsu in Tampa,” said Hager about his current regimen. “I’ve been doing strength and conditioning with Josh Rafferty – former Ultimate Fighter [alumnus], mad scientist. I think he knows amateur wrestlers, so I think it’s a great fit for me and him to get together and go on this journey together.”
“I have a lot to learn but we’re learning fast and it’s very exciting. And then I’ve been doing a lot of boxing as well,” added Hager.
Hager plans to make his MMA debut in 2018.