The move from WWE to MMA will be a decidedly uphill one, but it’s not best to bet against Jack Swagger.
We have seen a long line of pro wrestlers stumble during that climb. CM Punk continued that tradition last fall when he crash-landed in the Octagon during his UFC debut. But Swagger (real name: Donald Jacob Hager) has the tools to surpass Punk.
The powerhouse has size and a background in college wrestling at his side.
Swagger has been wrestling on the independent circuit since WWE released the former world champion in March. The powerhouse now has another venture ahead. On Monday, Swagger announced on The MMA Hour he has signed with Bellator MMA and will fight as a heavyweight.
Pro Wrestling Sheet @WrestlingSheet
(VIDEO) Jack Swagger Signs With Bellator MMA, Announces He’ll Fight Heavyweight in 2018: https://t.co/inbGeCFGRU https://t.co/Fbmfpt6G9k
One can’t blame MMA fans for rolling their eyes. They have watched pro wrestler after pro wrestler fail to make it in the cage over the years.
Before Punk’s embarrassing loss to Mickey Gall, WWE stars like Dr. Death Steve Williams, Bam Bam Bigelow and Tony Halme (Ludvig Borga) flopped in MMA.
Williams fell in mere seconds in his one and only MMA fight. Per Sherdog, Halme went 0-4 as a fighter. Bigelow looked like a disaster against Kimo Leopoldo in 1996.
More recently, former WWE cruiserweight champ Kid Kash suffered a match-ending uppercut at Valor Fights 38 just 39 seconds into the bout.
Kid Kash went from pro wrestling to #MMA at #ValorFights38.
It didn’t end well. https://t.co/EJSEsVgU4f
Swagger, though, has an advantage guys like Kash and Halmer didn’t have: he will be the bigger man in many a bout. WWE.com lists him as 6’7″, 275 pounds.
And unlike Punk, The Real American preceded his sports entertainment career with one in athletics.
In addition to being a backup on the football team, Swagger was a standout wrestler for the University of Oklahoma. He was named an All-American in 2006 and “defeated the eventual heavyweight national champion, Dustin Fox from Northwestern,” as noted by OUDaily.com’s Peter Davis. Swagger also scored a school-record 30 pins in a season, per MMA Junkie.
Denny Burkholder of CBS Sports pointed out the former Mr. Money in the Bank at least has a good starting point athletically:
Denny Burkholder @DennyBurkholder
I’ll be interested to see how Jack Swagger does in MMA. Time isn’t on his side, but he’s starting from a much stronger foundation than many newcomers have.
So did Dr. Death, though. Williams was also a wrestler at Oklahoma and a big, barrel-chested bruiser you didn’t want to mess with.
A key difference between Williams and Swagger, however, is that the former waited until his 40s to try MMA. The result may have been far different if a younger Dr. Death went on the prowl in the cage.
At 35, Swagger’s not entering MMA at the ideal age, but he doesn’t have the kind of miles on his tires that Punk or Williams did ahead of their fighting debuts.
He is confident his skills will translate. Before the Bellator announcement, Swagger told The Wrestling Estate he was considering moving into MMA.
“It’s something I’ve done all my life,” he said. “Maybe not MMA totally, but it’s very similar to competing in wrestling, just with punches. It’s kind of a natural transition for me.“
Will that be enough to avoid following in the footsteps of MMA’s failures from WWE? That’s hard to say. It will be a challenging ride, but there’s a better chance Swagger joins Bobby Lashley and Brock Lesnar as the exceptions to the usual pattern.