Editorial Columns

The Reinvention of Jake Hager

Neville Triplett profiles All Elite Wrestling’s newest star and the enforcer of ‘The Inner Circle’, Jake Hager.

AEW’s weekly show Dynamite debuted last Wednesday night on TNT with lofty expectations from fans and insiders alike.

The first-ever women’s champion was crowned when Riho defeated Nyla Rose by pinfall to claim the coveted title. Episode 1 of Dynamite lived up to the hype and fanfare created by the powers that be at AEW. One of the night’s surprises came when Sammy Guevara appeared to be paying respect to Cody Rhodes who had pinned Guevara earlier in the night. This would ultimately prove to be a setup for Chirs Jericho to ambush Rhodes and make a statement prior to their title match at Full Gear from Baltimore, Maryland on November 9th.

 Near the conclusion of the 6 man tag team match between Jericho, Ortiz, and Santana v The Young Bucks and Kenny Omega Cody Rhodes stormed the ring in an attempt to return the favor. This led to Guevara giving Rhodes a stunner before Dustin Rhodes disposed of everyone in the ring. Dustin was the lone man standing in the ring when Jake Hager arrived to deliver a message of his own: I am back, this is my world and you are lucky to be living in it.

Hager single-handedly disposed of both Rhodes brothers and the Young Bucks before appearing to forge an alliance with Chris Jericho, Ortiz, and Santana. So what do we really know about the 6’7” former MMA fighter from Oklahoma? Keep reading to find out.

37-year-old Jake Hager is neither an unknown nor a newcomer to the world of professional wrestling and mixed martial arts. He is a current undefeated MMA fighter with a 2-0 record in the mixed martial arts arena with both of his victories coming by way of submission. Neither of his MMA fights made it out of the first round with each contest lasting just over two minutes. Hager will put his unbeaten record on the line when he squares off against Anthony Garrett at Bellator 231 from Mohegan Sun in Uncasville, Connecticut on October 25th as part of the main card.

Jake Hager made his professional wrestling debut in 2006 for Deep South Wrestling (DSW). Hager would wrestle for several regional promotions through 2008 including Florida Championship Wrestling (FCW) as well as Ohio Valley Wrestling (OVW). The journey and ascent through the regional territories led him to face off against well-known names such as William Regal and D’Lo Brown and he also faced off against Ted Dibase Jr. The character Jake Swagger was born in 2008 as Swagger debuted for Extreme Championship Wrestling (ECW). Swagger would eventually move to WWE in 2009 where he would work until requesting his release from the company in March of 2017. The wrestler known as Swagger would return to the indie circuit wrestling for a variety of companies until 2018. Swagger changed characters and appeared as Jake Strong for Lucha Underground beginning in 2018. On October 2nd, 2019, Jake Hager made his AEW debut as part of the company’s inaugural weekly show, Dynamite,  on TNT.

Jake Swagger’s character never seemed to resonate with fans and although his time in WWE was unremarkable he does boast an impressive championship resume with multiple titles from a variety of promotions. He was a one-time ECW Champion, WWE world heavyweight champion, WWE Mr. Money in the Bank (MTIB), and WWE United States Champion. Hager is the current Lucha Underground Champion and has also accumulated multiple regional and independent championships during his rise through the ranks of professional wrestling. Fans of Jake Hager seem thrilled that he is back in mainstream professional wrestling. Many in the wrestling community felt that he was underutilized and undervalued during his tenure with WWE.

Fans of Jake Hager are hoping to see him get a much bigger push from AEW as Dynamite looks to establish itself as the premier wrestling show this fall. For its part, AEW seems to have embraced the idea of having Hager play a central role in the ongoing feud between Jericho and Cody Rhodes.

Not all fans of AEW are thrilled with the addition of Jake Hager. AEW has been a brand of inclusion among its wrestlers and has made great strides to create an environment of acceptance in the sports entertainment universe. AEW states “AEW fully supports and celebrates our athletes and fans, regardless of sexual orientation, race, gender, religion or ethnicity – and we expect our fans and athletes to do the same.  We want fans attending our wrestling events to enjoy the experience in a responsible manner, while also being who you are and coming as you are. Please treat all athletes and fans with respect and courtesy” as part of its mission and fan partnership statement on the company’s website. Many fans have been critical of Hager for liking an apparently transphobic tweet from conservative commentator Candace Ownes and further critical of AEW for bringing in someone with similar views.

Some fans have questioned whether or not the signing of Jake Hager is in line with its stated mission and fan partnership statement. I think that given AEW’s brief but impressive track record on inclusion and acceptance that they deserve the benefit of the doubt. Not every wrestler has to have the same views as one another as long as they can treat each other with respect and dignity.  Ellen DeGeneres made a similar point when she received criticism for sitting with former President George W. Bush at a Dallas Cowboys football game this past Sunday.

The former President’s spokesperson had this to say “President and Mrs. Bush really enjoyed being with Ellen and Portia (de Rossi) and appreciated Ellen’s comments about respecting one another. They respect her. ” Perhaps dialogue between people can help foster a culture of mutual respect between people despite their differences.”

Jake Hager certainly will be busy in the near future as he prepares to do battle in the square circle for AEW and trains in anticipation of his next MMA match in October. The question is will he be able to balance the rigors of both a professional wrestler as well as an MMA fighter? Others have done it with mixed results but most have eventually committed to one of the professions over the other. Hopefully, we don’t devolve into a Brock Lesnar situation where Hager is a part-time participant for AEW only competing in high profile pay-per-view (PPV) events. AEW has demonstrated that it is an extremely fan-centric company so I would not expect them to follow a similar path with Hager that WWE took with Lesnar.

Hager has all the physical attributes you could want in a professional wrestler, he is 6’7” 245 pounds and can move around like a much smaller competitor. I will be anxious to see his skills on the mic and how he adjusts to the weekly grind of professional wrestling. I think his introduction to AEW at the end of the first episode of Dynamite and as a heel was a savvy move. This angle gives the fans a full week to digest his appearance and discuss his future before he makes an official appearance. I, like the rest of the wrestling universe, will be waiting to see what the wrestling gods have in store for Jake Hager.

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You can find me on Twitter @ngtriplett. Thanks for reading.

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