Jake Hager, Jack Swagger

Jake Hager on Fedor “I definitely hope I’m the fight in Russia next Summer”

Jake Hager will make his return to the cage at Bellator 231. Hager will go toe to toe with Anthony Garrett on Friday, October 25th. Hager has been a polarizing figure in his relatively short mixed-martial-arts career. The fact that he has simultaneously been doing pro wrestling and MMA has drawn the ire of some but has conversely garnered him supporters. In his third MMA outing, he will face the most experienced opponent of his pro run so far. Hager looks to maintain his unbeaten record and one hundred percent finishing rate on Friday night.

MMA journey

Jake Hager sent a ripple effect through the pro wrestling and MMA industries when his signing with Bellator was initially announced. Hager is now 2-0 so far in his combat career and maintains a voracious appetite for learning more.

Hager said, “I mean I’m a student of the game. I love MMA. So I love watching it and I love to learn. So I study the opponent. Trying some strategy to exploit. A lot of the strategy is left up to the coaches but we all watch film together. We all break it down together. Not only the opponent’s film but a lot of our practice film is recorded. I am so new to pro fighting. Being that it’s 2019 and we can record practices very easily now, it’s been a huge advantage for us to sit down and watch the mistakes I made. It goes directly into our strategy for fight night.”

Jake Hager is also quite appreciative of those who work hard with him during training camps. He said, “Man, I’m so lucky. I’ve got a great team. Josh Rafferty was pretty much the head coach. Rob Radford is the mad scientist of striking, kickboxing. He’s got so many world title fights under his belt. The other madman is Joey Best, he’s a black belt in jiu-jitsu. Get to train with him frequently and attend as many classes of his as I can. As a wrestler, I thought jiu-jitsu would be something I wouldn’t have to work very hard at. But I was wrong with that. Each discipline requires the same amount of hard work.”

The learning curve was a bit of an unexpected one for Hager but that did not dissuade him. He stayed the course and recently got his BJJ Blue Belt. Hager said, “I had to roll with 43 people that day. You have to roll with everyone for a minute when you get upgraded. So they brought everybody out of the woodwork for that. It was really special. I think I had a smile on my face the whole time. Even though it was 45 minutes of people pulling on you and trying to tap you out. It was amazing.”

Childhood dreams/ Adult accomplishments

Hager’s amateur wrestling background is noteworthy to say the least. His University run set a school record with 30 pins in a single season during his 2006 campaign. His amateur wrestling accomplishments were the by-product of unwavering laser focus to achieve a childhood dream. Now Hager has his own branded wrestling mats which is still kind of surreal for him.

Hager stated, “I think back to when I moved to Perry, Oklahoma back when I was five years old and how I ate, slept, and breathed everything Perry High School wrestling. And to walk onto a Perry High School wrestling mat was such an incredible honor. I still get goosebumps talking about it to this day. As a little kid, things like that seem larger than life to you.”

Setting new goals to recreate those larger than life moments is a must for an athlete like Hager. To that point, Jake Hager indicated in a past interview that a Bellator title in 2020 was something he was eyeballing.

When I asked about goals for the new year, Hager said “I haven’t tackled the goals quite yet. I would not be doing this if that was not one of my goals. I think everyone who steps into a cage. Everyone who steps into a pro wrestling ring or onto an amateur wrestling mat. Or onto a football field, we all have this sickness. It’s called love of the game and you want to be the best no matter what. I got into this two and a half years ago because I saw pro wrestling and MMA becoming two hot markets that I could capitalize on. But I also saw it as something I could do very well in. That I could rely on my background with. And that I could go to the top with if I had the right amount of time.”

In addition to all of these MMA goals, Hager is still very much involved in the pro wrestling industry. Hager recently made his debut for All Elite Wrestling and made an immediate splash on their debut TV show Dynamite. Hager now finds himself as one of the key players in AEW having aligned himself in a faction called The Inner Circle alongside AEW champion Chris Jericho.

When I asked about the confluence between MMA and pro wrestling, Hager quipped “There’s a huge opportunity for both companies to cross-promote and help each other. They’re in two very attractive industries right now. Two industries that are growing. Pro wrestling may be bigger than it’s ever been. MMA is expanding across the globe. It’s definitely reaching for that number one spot as far as number one sport in the world. It’s incredible to see what these two industries are doing. I don’t see why there can’t be Bellator fighters coming on to AEW. Or AEW guys at the fights, watching my fight, making sure I look good. Sky’s the limit. It’s really exciting. I know TNT is signed with ONE Championship so there may be some bounds there. But I think both companies are willing to work together.”

Another example of MMA and pro wrestling intersecting is the upcoming El Patron vs Ortiz fight. Combate Americas is bringing back Tito Ortiz to take on a returning Alberto El Patron and Hager has a history working El Patron in WWE. When I asked for his thoughts on this bout, Jake Hager said “I worked Alberto a couple times in 2018 as well. You mentioned he was thinking about training again but I have not spoken to him since the announcement. I wish him nothing but the best and I’m sure he’ll do great.”

Hager’s AEW/ Bellator schedule has allowed him to now be home more often. No more unforgiving WWE road schedule. Now he has much more time for a work/ life balance where he can be the husband and father he wants to be. To that point, Hager mentioned during our talk that this fight is a dedication to his son’s birthday which is around his next fight date.

Goals for 2020

Although has yet to tackle express goals for 2020, Hager seemed intrigued by some ideas I ran by him. One of those ideas involved taking on Fedor Emelianenko as part of The Last Emperor’s retirement tour in Bellator.



Jake Hager said, “Oh hell yeah. I don’t think there’s a heavyweight in the Bellator roster that wouldn’t want to get in the cage with Fedor. He signed three fights. I definitely hope I’m one of those fights. I definitely hope I’m the fight in Russia next Summer. I’m going to do a lot in my power to get myself ready and make myself a viable option for that. Hopefully with my TV exposure on wrestling and my continued improvement in the cage, I’ll be able to do so.”

Conversely, there were some ideas I put out to Hager that he seemed to instantly throw cold water on. One of these ideas was fighting Canadian MMA legend Lee Mein (father of UFC fighter Jordan Mein) at some point in the new year. The two have had a bit of back and forth on social media with industry names like Ariel Helwani stirring the pot a bit further. When I asked about a fight with Lee Mein, Hager succinctly stated: “I don’t see any benefit to me fighting a 52-year-old man.”

I also asked the obligatory question centered around Bellator and Rizin’s relationship through the lens of if Hager would ever want to fight in Rizin. Hager quipped, “I’m so new to MMA. I need to stick to where I’m at and not branch out right now. Maybe down the line if I’m able to stay healthy and I’m still fighting in four or five years then absolutely. Right now I’m going to stick to what I know and the little I know of that.”

For now, Hager is looking to make incremental forward progressions. To keep getting in those hard training sessions and just being a sponge for knowledge in the training room. All Hager can do now is continue to grind and enjoy that chocolate milk recuperation at the end of the day.

Jake Hager is faced with the quandary of getting people ‘rock hard with emotion’ whether it’s in an MMA cage or a pro wrestling ring. Hager said, “It’s a tricky thing to do. I’m just trying to express happiness then everybody gets rock hard. It’s uncomfortable after that but we just need to deal with our emotional bulges, as they may say, and move on.”

Jake Hager and Anthony Garrett lock horns in a heavyweight bout slated for this Friday. It’s one of the main card bouts for Bellator 231 with that portion of the event kicking off at 9:00 PM ET. The pugilistic proceedings being simulcast on Paramount Network as well as DAZN.

author avatar
Dylan Bowker
I've been enamored with combat sports for as long as I can remember. I've hosted MMA talk shows Lights Out and Pure Fight Radio with featured guests like Jens Pulver, Roy Nelson, Miesha Tate, Mark Coleman, and more. I've been an MMA broadcaster for XFFC as well as BTC and have done play by play commentary on live pay per view on GFL as well as FITE TV. I've provided written, audio, and video content covering some of the biggest MMA promotions like Rumble in the Cage, Unified MMA, and King of the Cage. I've worked as a sports entertainment personality for over five years and given play-by-play or featured promotions of KSW, ONE Championship, TKO, and Invicta FC. My work can be found in the USA Today Sports affiliate MMA Torch, Cageside Press, MMA Sucka, and Liberty Multimedia.