Former WWE World Heavyweight Champion Jack Swagger recently spoke with The New York Post to promote his MMA debut against JW Kiser at Bellator 214 on January 26 in Inglewood, California. The full interview is at this link and below are highlights:
What kind of emotions are you feeling with the fight growing closer?
Man, it’s funny. I’m just so excited to get out there and get in that cage for the first time. When I was competing at Oklahoma in college, I remember always getting a lot of anxiety before wrestling matches. Almost to the point where, “Oh my gosh, man, this is a lot.” And it’s completely different with this. Maybe it’s because I’m getting paid. Maybe because it’s on a huge platform. I can’t wait to get in there and show the world that I belong.
What made this the right time and opportunity for you to jump into MMA?
A lot of factors went into it. One of the main factors was Bellator and how they treat their talent, and you could see MMA fighters gravitating toward Bellator and to their system because they do treat their talent so well. When you find a company, a great company, like that and they were so eager to work with me and work around what I was already doing (in pro wrestling). It was just a great opportunity.
For me, the biggest thing was the ability to cross over into another sport to establish my brand in another sport is such a good opportunity. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, really. And I feel like I’ll be in the driver’s seat to be a really good pro MMA fighter and still a high-level professional wrestler because they are going to help each other across the board.
You’ve talked about not wanting people to think of you as CM Punk going into MMA. Does your college wrestling background put you more in line with a Brock Lesnar and Bobby Lashley, who were wrestlers before transitioning to MMA?
I look at it like this. I had Division I (wrestling) coaches in junior high. I had Olympic coaches training me in middle school, so for most of my life I’ve been preparing for this exact moment. And without realizing it, it’s brought me here. So, I really don’t think there is a comparison between me and Punk. You can compare me with Brock because we were both Division I wrestlers. Bobby was an NAIA guy, still a very great competitor. But I feel like my striking and my ability and my conditioning in the cage is going to put me on top of both of those guys.
For people who tune in to watch your fight on Jan. 26, what do you want them to take away from watching you?
I want them to take away that Jack Swagger could have been a multiple-time WWE world heavyweight champion. I want them to take away that they dropped the ball in letting me go. And I want then to take away that Jack Swagger, Jake Hager, belongs.
You’ve said R-Truth may perform on your way to the cage and other WWE talent may be in attendance. As you start your MMA career, why was it important to embrace your WWE past?
Because that’s who I am. That’s my brand. I am Jack Swagger. My background, it’s there for the world to see, and you look at MMA today, you look at boxing today, you look at professional kickboxing today, you need that entertainment value. You want people to relate to you as a character, as a personality. Honestly, that’s what they’re going to remember. Look at Chael Sonnen, who can get past a loss so easily because he can talk and he can speak and he makes you forget about it. He runs his mouth and you go, “This guy, it’s time for him to get punched in the face again.” So now more than ever, I feel like my entertainment background is going to be a key aspect of my success.
How do you look back on your time in WWE?
It’s such an honor to work for them and be a part of something that affects so many people around the world. It’s crazy, I traveled so much with them and one thing I realized is wrestling is a universal language, much like MMA. Whether you speak English, Spanish, Chinese, Russian, everybody can speak wrestling and it’s really cool to go to different cultures and societies and see how the littlest things we do as performers influence the biggest things. You see that now more than ever with celebrities and jumping on bandwagons.
It used to have this stigma to it where you had to be a closet fan because you would get publicly scrutinized. Where now, it’s cool to be a professional wrestler. It’s cool to be a professional wrestling fan, and I think that’s only gonna grow.
With that said, what are your thoughts on where the independent wrestling scene is right now, especially with All Elite Wrestling getting announced?
I believe they’re gonna change the landscape of professional wrestling. I think they’re finally going to bring some competition to the big dog. I believe competition makes everybody better and I think it’s really cool. We’re in an unprecedented period of internet streams and peak in popularity on professional wrestling.
Is AEW someplace you would be interested in working in the future?
Absolutely, you see what guys like Cody Rhodes, guys like The Young Bucks have done. Guys like Kenny Omega, who is expected to sign with them. They bring in Chris Jericho and he’s like the world, you know, universal greatest of all time.
It’s so cool to see the momentum. Honestly, I feel like it started a couple of years ago with Drew McIntyre doing such a good job on the independent scene and really showing, at least a lot of the wrestlers in WWE, that there is life outside of the WWE and that the independent scene is a viable place to make consistent money where you can provide for you family. I absolutely would love to work with Cody and the Bucks. I invited them to the Bellator fight. So we will have to see if they show up.
You’ve posted opinions on immigration kind of in line with President Trump and Republicans on your Twitter account. Your “Real American” character in WWE was a nationalist with anti-immigration overtones. How would you describe your personal views?
I’m a conservative. I voted for Donald Trump and back in 2016 everybody was talking about, “Oh my God, here’s another TV character trying to run for the presidency.” They didn’t really take him seriously. He made some outrageous claims like, “Make America Great Again” and build this wall and stuff like that. I was somewhat on the fence then but two years later going into his third year, I am so happy about the progress that he has made and I really don’t understand why so much of the media and everybody wants to portray him as such a negative president when it’s unprecedented what he’s done.