Former WWE World Heavyweight Champion Jack Swagger was finally granted his release from WWE back in March. After months on the independent wrestling circuit, in an interview with MMA Fighting’s Ariel Helwani, the man behind Jack Swagger, Jake Hagar, announced that he would be signing a multi-fight deal with the MMA promotion Bellator. That’s right, Jack Swagger is joining the likes of Brock Lesnar, Bobby Lashley, and CM Punk in his pursuit of a career in mixed martial arts.
Like Lesnar and Lashley, Swagger has an impressive collegiate wrestling background. He isn’t Lesnar, to be clear, but Hagar’s transition to MMA should be significantly smoother than someone like CM Punk who had little-to-no shoot fighting experience prior to his jump to the UFC.
In the same interview where Hagar told Helwani his plans for a career in MMA, Hagar revealed that he actually approached Vince McMahon with a pitch for a shoot fight while he was a member of the WWE roster. According to Hagar, the idea never gained any traction. WWE just wasn’t interested.
“For the longest time there, I felt like I was literally the toughest guy in the locker room. Yet, I would go out there and have two-minute matches with guys that couldn’t hold my jock. It even got to the point where I pitched to them, I was like, ‘Look, I got something to prove. You guys are a great platform. Let me prove it. Pick the fighter — I’ll fight anybody. Put them on your show and I’ll fight them.’ They didn’t really want to go down that route.”
“Let’s do something different, along those lines. I don’t know if they just didn’t believe in my abilities, but now we’re here to show it. It’s crazy. Stuff like that always happens and it just got pushed to the side and I was like, Alright, well I’m still here. I’m gonna do do it. It’s a great opportunity that I’m gonna take advantage of.”
While Swagger’s idea is certainly interesting, it’s pretty easy to understand why WWE would turn something like this down. This isn’t what WWE does, and their last attempt at real shoot fighting, WWF’s Brawl For All that took place in 1998, was kind of a disaster. It’s a fascinating concept, but in practice, multiple WWF Superstars got injured, and the tournament culminated in Bart Gunn getting knocked out by Butterbean at WrestleMania XV.
In fairness to Swagger, he didn’t suggest a big tournament with WWE superstars that don’t know how to fight like the Brawl For All. I’d imagine Swagger was talking about a one-off fight with an amateur fighter outside of WWE, or a shoot fight with another WWE superstar that has some sort of mixed martial arts or wrestling background, but even still, that seems like an awfully risky proposition for WWE. How does one shoot fight under the WWE umbrella for Jack Swagger move the needle long-term? Would hosting a shoot fight dilute the rest of WWE’s normal programming?
Regardless of why WWE said no to Swagger’s idea, this outcome is probably best for everyone. Swagger gets to fight for Bellator, a legitimate MMA company, and WWE can always pursue a new deal with Swagger if his MMA career takes off, and he turns himself into a hot wrestling commodity again.