He was a graduate of the University of Oklahoma and born Donald Jacob ‘Jake’ Hager Jr. Jake Hager was a two-sport athlete while in college. As both a wrestler and a football player, he excelled. He was a second-string defensive tackle with the University. However, in his sophomore year, he pursued wrestling alone. While at the University, Hager set a record at the time for most pins in a second season with 30. During his second year of university, he was introduced to, ironically enough, current AEW commentator Jim Ross.
Ross has long supported the Sooners University football team. Their meeting came about through a mutual friend, a member of the team as well in Dusty Dvoracek. It was at the time when Ross encouraged Hager to be in touch with him after he graduated. He graduated in 2006 with a Bachelor’s degree in Finance. Hager was in contact with Ross and the rest, as they say, is history. Jake Hager then had a professional tryout with the WWE at the time. After signing with the company in 2006, he was dubbed Jack Swagger. His rise in the company was quite meteoric. By holding the World Heavyweight and the rebranded ECW Championship by the WWE.
However, before he could be a member of the Raw, Smackdown, or ECW brands, Jake Hager needed to develop in the WWE system to help him make the transition from amateur to professional wrestling.
The Deep South Wrestling Years
In 2006, Hager began to develop in Deep South Wrestling. He debuted under his actual name but transitioned to the Jack Swagger one after. The following year Jake Hager moved on to Ohio Valley Wrestling and then finally Florida Championship Wrestling. It was as part of a twenty-three-man battle royal where Hager eliminated Ted DiBiase Jr to become the Florida Championship Wrestling Heavyweight Champion in 2008. After losing the title to Sheamus O’Shaunessy (aka Sheamus), Hager debuted for the ECW brand in 2008.
When Jake Hager debuted on the main roster, it was for the ECW brand (as mentioned earlier) under the Jack Swagger moniker. A fresh face in a new place was how Swagger could be recognized. However, as any new face, they need someone notable to ensure that they develop and achieve the right way. This, in turn, brought out a feud with the Innovator of Violence, Tommy Dreamer. Their rivalry concluded with Hager defeating Dream in a match that Dreamer would all be too familiar with, an Extreme Rules match.
Feud with Matt Hardy
This feud brought about a feud with the former WWE United States and Tag Team Champion, Matt Hardy. Their feud, however, had much higher stakes. The two men would feud over the ECW Heavyweight Championship. On January 13th, 2009, Hager defeated Hardy to capture the ECW Championship. After three-month plus reign as champion, Hager lost the title to Christian.
After moving over to the Raw brand, Swagger feuded with the likes of MVP and Randy Orton. This eventually leads to a qualifying match for the Money in the Bank ladder match at WrestleMania XXVI against Santino Marella. He won the match and earned himself a title match anywhere and anytime for the title. He eventually cashed in his title shot in against Chris Jericho after Edge speared the then champion. The win also signaled a change in character. Swagger was maturing and it was showing in his character’s growth. He held the title until losing it to Rey Mysterio in a fatal four-way match for the title. The win culminated with several attacks at the hands of Swagger leading up to this contest. Despite not regaining the title against Mysterio his pursuit for the title and subsequent match was celebrated.
The All-American American
As a means of capitalizing on the All-American American of Swagger, the Swagger Soaring Eagle and Jack began to move forward. He helped to prepare Michael Cole for his match against Jerry Lawler at the next WrestleMania XXVII. Swager was once again redrafted to Raw and began another pursuit.
After going through a bit of a transition of feuds with the likes of Evan Bourne (Matt Sydal), Swagger enlisted the aid of Vickie Guerrero as a manager. Swagger and Dolph Ziggler (Vickie Guerrero’s other client) faced off with one another as part of a match for Ziggler’s United States Championship. It was at Night of Champions when Ziggler faced Swagger, John Morrison, and Alex Riley. Despite not capturing the title, Swagger certainly made a statement. Swagger attempted on several occasions to help Ziggler retain the title and was successful in the process. However, after Ziggler lost the title, it became clear that Swagger had his sights set on the United States Championship himself. At the start of 2012, Swagger defeated Zack Ryder to capture the championship.
Swagger was successful in his defenses against the likes of Justin Gabriel for instance. However, after holding for nearly two months, Swagger lost the title to Santino Marella. Despite attempting to recapture the title, Swagger was unsuccessful. He then was made the captain of Team Johnny for John Laurinaitis, leading the charge against Team Teddy. While there were several attempts at capturing the Tag Team Championship with Dolph Ziggler, Swagger was also unsuccessful there as well.
With constant bickering between them all, Vicki Guerrero arranged for a match between Ziggler and Swagger. Ziggler won the match and Swagger was no longer under the services of Guerrero after this. His loss to Santino Marella once again for the United States Championship also spawned a losing streak. This led to a break on-screen for Swagger’s character and a needed and newfound resurgence of character and direction.
The Return to Smackdown
When Swagger returned to Smackdown he brought with him a new sense of confidence. After a couple of weeks of his return, he was accompanied to the ring by Zeb Colter. Colter spoke on behalf of Swagger. Together they came together and would advocate against anti-immigration. Together they would proclaim ‘We The People’. The characters were not without controversy as they generated mainstream publication with their character’s depiction.
Eventually, Swagger would engage in a program with Alberto Del Rio. It would be a storyline where the American was the villain, and the immigrant was who the one that embraced his culture yet being respectful of the USA in the process.
After a program challenging for the championship, Swagger had to take some time away to have surgery for an injury. When he returned, Swagger was paired with Colter’s other client Cesaro; the duo would contend for the Tag Team Championship. After some time together animosity began to show between the two. Between professional jealousy and fans showing their support for Cesaro within this team. Cesaro won the Andre the Giant Memorial Battle Royal. That was met with an attack by Jack Swagger the following night and the destruction of the trophy in the process. These actions spelled the end of Cesaro and Swagger as a tandem.
The Jack Swagger On-Screen Departure
After the team split, it appeared as though Swagger’s role on-screen had taken a bit of a departure. While he remained with Colter and feuded with the likes of Adam Rose, he would become a face and battle Rusev for America’s honor. Unfortunately, his loss to Rusev also inexplicably led to Zeb Colter no longer being his manager either.
Colter and Swagger interacted but it was Alberto Del Rio who Zeb would now managed. The formation of Mex-America, while leaving something to be desired, became another avenue to showcase Swagger and his skills. In the end, Del Rio was successful in their feud. For Swagger, he remained in a state of limbo. His appearances on-screen were few and far between. Finally, a storyline was developed highlighting his ‘contract status’. This allowed for his movement from Raw to Smackdown. After eventually not being shown at all on television, Swagger went onto the Chael Sonnen’ Podcast and stated that he had asked for his release. Despite some jockeying back and forth between Swagger and WWE management, his release was officially announced in the middle of March 2017.
After leaving Hager, he competed with a new sense of life and meaning. He wrestled all over the world. Whether it was against Nick Aldis for the NWA World Heavyweight Championship, MVP to become the IWR champion, or as part of House of Hardcore’s tour of Australia, he was getting around.
Towards the latter half of 2017, Hager had embarked on an MMA career. He competed for Bellator MMA and fought in their Heavyweight division. Hager faced J.W. Kiser at Bellator 214 and was successful with a win in just over the second minute of the first round in their match. In May 2017, Hager faced T.J Jones and was successful once again, in the first round. While marred with some controversy for holding the submission longer than he should have, Hager had a third fight for the company. This past Fall, Hager’s fight with Anthony Garrett was deemed a no-contest.
His time in Major League Wrestling.
He faced the likes of Jeff Cobb, Simon Gotch, and fellow MMA competitor in ‘Filthy’ Tom Lawlor. While this was taking place, Jake Hager debuted with the program Lucha Underground. He appeared on screen as, ‘The Savage’ Jake Strong. Hager was ironically aligned with someone that he would later be affiliated with. With Sammy Guevara by his side it seemed as though things were fine. However, after losing, he destroyed everyone within the group. He eventually defeated then Lucha Underground Champion. After cashing in his Gift of the Gods Championship, Hager defeating Pentagon Dark to win the title.
This leads us to today. Jake Hager joined All Elite Wrestling this past Fall on AEW’s debut episode of Dynamite. When he arrived, he joined AEW Champion Chris Jericho, Sammy Guevara and Santana and Ortiz of Pride and Powerful to form the Inner Circle. Hager’s sheer size and strength immediately has proven to be a factor in AEW and certainly as part of the Inner Circle. His future in All Elite Wrestling shows that he continues to evolve as a character, wrestler, and a performer.
Previous AEW Talent Previews:
Dustin Rhodes, Part 1 Part 2 Part 3