It’s Oklahoma University, you’re a young, athletic amateur wrestler with bags of potential, and you’ve just broken the all time record of pins in a season. 30 as an All American. Unheard of. Spectacular. The future was always going to be bright for Jake Hager, his amateur record is second to none and the numbers speak for themselves. His transitions, his arches, his angles they’re all up there with other MMA wrestling greats like Couture. So what took him so long? Why wait until you’re 36 years old to utilise your natural gift? The short and simple answer is pro wrestling. Not to knock pro wrestling, we’re huge fans, and absolutely love the work of other great amateurs that have gone pro, Kurt Angle, Brock Lesnar, even as far back to Danny Hodge, the list goes on. The former have gone on to be huge crossover stars, and luckily for Swagger he could very well do the same thing. Or not. It would have been a safer bet to go the reverse, capitalise on your great wrestling, become a mixed martial artist, then transition to pro wrestling once you feel like you’ve given everything you can and left it all in the cage. You have MMA icons retiring before their 40 whereas legendary wrestlers like The Undertaker (who’s gogoplata finisher would put Royce to shame) and Triple H have managed to perform at the highest standard well into their 40s. Even Lesnar is still selling out arenas worldwide stomach or no stomach. Rousey got the timeline right. Absolutely captivated the world and was at one time probably the biggest draw in MMA, placing near the top of everyone’s P4P list. Once that came to an end, she’s transitioned seamlessly into the pro wrestling world, and is Lesnar like in the way she’s selling out arenas and main eventing PPVs.
Not to say you can’t go from pro wrestling to MMA successfully, the huge 280, ripped to shreds elephant in the room is Lesnar. An incredibly successful wrestler who managed to break into the MMA world, quickly drawing mass appeal and drawing millions of eyes to the product. Yes, his title reign was short lived. Yes, he got humbly destroyed by arguably the greatest heavyweight of his era (sea level Cain), as well as The Reem, but his health and size played a massive part in that. And say what you want about his ability, he drew, and he drew big. He drew so much he openly doped against Hunt and UFC still don’t seem to care, and are still talking about booking him in fights he clearly has no chance of winning. The skills he learnt from the WWE, showmanship, athleticism, dedication, are all transferable. We could even talk about Shamrock and how he masterfully balanced both art forms, transferring skills from each to the other. Being a pro-wrestler before a mixed martial artist can be very beneficial, being both at the same time, like what Swagger is doing, can also be possible and successful, but it can also be bad. Very bad. Exhibit A, CM Punk. We all know he’s never gonna live this down, and there’s no way to sugar coat this. Punk was terrible. Absolutely terrible. He may be the most untalented individual I’ve ever seen step foot in an octagon: uncoordinated, unfit, sloppy and overall looked as lost as Jon Jones in an AA meeting. And he was, at a time, the hottest, arguably most talented pro wrestler in the world. We’re not suggesting Swagger will follow in the same steps as CM Punk, but entering the octagon at 36 years olds with no experience can be very daunting and very dangerous. He does however have the same benefit Lesnar had, a tremendous amateur wrestler and clearly a very talented athlete. And at 6ft 7’, 265 the similarities with Lesnar don’t stop at their amateur background.
Quite impressively, Swagger is oozing with confidence. He’s committed himself to the sport and Bellator is no easy place to start. He’s fully prepared for the task at hand. Despite this, you gotta think Lesnar and his pro wrestling peer Bobby Lashley managed to have at least one tune up fight at smaller organisations before hitting the big leagues. I know Swagger’s opponent is 1-1, but Jesus, it’s still Bellator, and it’s still huge. Any card that Fedor is main eventing is massive in my eyes, and his performance in this will set the bar for his MMA career. A loss could mean a lot of making up to do and could put a question mark on his head straight away. Pro wrestlers always have a lot to prove moving to MMA, and there is still a stigma moving into a “real” sport. Swagger has all the credentials to do this. He has an amazing amateur wrestling base, he’s crazy athletic, from his interviews it’s easy to see he’s motivated and respects the craft. But it is a little too late for the 36 year old to get the ball rolling?