It’s been about two years aback I aboriginal talked to Hager about his affairs to access the apple of alloyed aggressive arts. At the time, it was little added than a dream—unrealized allocution from an amateur with abeyant potential.
This year, the above University of Oklahoma wrestler has actualized all those dreams, acceptable his aboriginal two fights in amazing appearance and advancing for a third while additionally dipping his toe aback into angry amnion with All Elite Wrestling.
He sat bottomward to allocution to Bleacher Report about his bifold career, his role in AEW and what the approaching ability authority for the action sports world’s best arresting dual-sport star.
Jake Hager: You apperceive nothing, Jon Snow.
Jonathan Snowden: So I’ve been told.
Hager: How’s it going, my friend?
Snowden: Doing well. Aflame to be talking to you at this point in your career. It seems like you’re appropriate area you capital to be aftermost time we talked. I’m affectionate of analytical about how AEW came to be and how you kept it a secret. I couldn’t accept kept that a abstruse for like three-and-a-half minutes.
Hager: You apperceive what’s funny? It still feels surreal to me, so I anticipate that was a big allotment of it. It aloof didn’t absolutely bore in.
It absolutely wasn’t a absolute storm of events. Aback we left, we knew that we were activity to use MMA to assurance about abroad in wrestling. We aloof didn’t apperceive where, and again this was like the best accessible option, bigger than annihilation we could accept imagined. A aboriginal advance that’s hotter than annihilation out there appropriate now. And so, it absolutely makes sense.
Snowden: And you capital to use your MMA fights to affectionate of actuate you into this position?
Hager: Yeah. And for the aboriginal few fights, I would bandy out teases about it. But it wasn’t absolutely until afterwards the additional action that Chris Jericho started absolutely laying on the schmooze and recruited me. That was this summer. It’s affectionate of adamantine to say no to that guy.
But it really, absolutely aloof fits. It aloof works. They amusement the aptitude like assets. Bellator treats their aptitude like assets, like professionals, and it’s fun to assignment with both of them. They’re both actual aflame to assignment with anniversary added and try to do some co-promotions. It’s a appropriate time.
Snowden: We haven’t apparent this affectionate of dual-fight career in some time. Dan Severn has pulled it off. Bobby Lashley did. Do you feel up to the challenge?
Hager: Ten years ago, you wouldn’t see a guy abrogation action affected to go do a TV appearance and again appear back. It absolutely takes a lot of flexibility, but both AEW and Bellator are understanding, and it’s fun to assignment for places like that. And afterwards Jericho laid it out for me on what the plan was, dude, I was all on board.
Snowden: What’s your accord with Chris? I’ve heard through the rumor comminute he initially had pitched Vince McMahon to accompany you in as his bodyguard. Of course, you concluded up demography the Apple championship from him in WWE instead. So, you guys go back a ways.
Hager: Yeah, I’ve consistently had a acceptable accord with Chris. He’s one of those guys that he aloof wants to allocution to everybody and like absolutely cares about what’s activity on in your life. I bethink that actual aboriginal moment aback we’re in Vince [McMahon]’s office, and Vince told me that I was activity to be Apple Ample Champion. And Chris angry to me and in the best admiring and admiring way ever, said, “Don’t f–k this up.”
That could complete actual alarming and bad, but I took it as confidence and that he cared about it and about me. From that moment, we’ve consistently been able to talk, and I’ve consistently been a fanboy of Chris Jericho, account his books and seeing his journey. Aback he comes calling, you answer.
Snowden: I apperceive Jericho came to the MMA gym with Josh Rafferty area he formed on his new finishing move, The Judas Effect. He has affectionate of a acceptability because of the time he allegedly afraid out Goldberg backstage. Did you cycle with him a little on the mat or anything?
Hager: He told me that I’m not on his akin yet but maybe one day he’ll adroitness me with those appropriate easily that we apprehend so abundant about. It’s been absolutely air-conditioned to see him alpha training with Josh, and Josh does such a abundant job of compassionate pro angry and MMA—and the accomplished band amid the two—and how it’s all affectionate of blurred. He absolutely understands and is a fan of both sports. Accepting a drillmaster like that is aloof invaluable.
Snowden: What is it about Rafferty that you anticipate makes him such a adequate fit? Because afore you, I apperceive there was Dave Bautista and again there was Jericho. He’s the drillmaster for able wrestlers attractive to alternation in alloyed aggressive arts.
Hager: I’ve accepted Josh for bristles or six years. He would be up there at the Advance, and we would adhere out. And we were accompany aloof on a claimed level, so the actuality that we’re already that adequate with anniversary other, and we can be honest with anniversary other, and that we’ve been in some trenches together, it absolutely helps with the rapport, and absolutely helps with the trust.
That’s such a big affair aback you’re training for anything, you accept to assurance your coaches. You accept to stop, get out of your arch and absolutely aloof say, “OK, this is what I charge to do and aloof do it.” Josh has over 20 years of action experience. He was angry afore MMA was popular. Angry in garages and angry two times a day aloof for adulation of it, and his adventure has absolutely been so incredible.
He additionally was a pro wrestler as well. And so, he’s been in the back, he’s been in the ring, so he understands what we’re aggravating to do out there. And you don’t acquisition that a lot in today’s MMA apple with coaches who additionally had pro-wrestled or enjoyed it. He’s absolutely a attenuate entity.
Snowden: I didn’t absolutely apperceive he had been a wrestler. That’s interesting.
Hager: His aboriginal bout was with Jon Moxley. No kidding, man. Cincinnati’s Own.
Snowden: Well, I’ll accept to analysis that out. So, I apperceive you would never booty angry lightly, because you apperceive there is the added guy aggravating to bite you in the face. But, I did acquisition it absorbing that you said that you affectionate of had an abstraction of application this as like a dispatch bean aback into wrestling. How did you clear that plan? How did that appear to be?
Hager: You see the acute acceptance of both pro angry and MMA, apparently [two of] the best accepted sports in the world, absolutely giving soccer and American football a run for their money. If you allege pro angry or MMA, you about allege any language.
It was aloof a aggregate of me seeing guys that I wrestled with in academy that accept been accomplishing it for a brace of years, and me accepting the aplomb in myself that I can transition. My wife’s active in it all, because it was actual alarming for us, at first, to leave the aggregation (WWE) and aggravating to acting that bulk of assets on the absolute level. And so, I’m actual aflame for the befalling that is in advanced of us.
Snowden: Once you get done with this fight, you can access the angry ring. But I wonder: Do you accept affairs for an MMA future? It’s been affectionate of a apathetic rollout, which makes faculty as you’re an earlier guy (37) and new to the sport. But what are your affairs for the approaching as far as MMA goes?
Hager: It’s been an absurd year; achievement to accomplishment it 3-0. Afterwards this fight, I anticipate AEW is activity to get a little bit added of my time to absolutely focus on that and accumulate it hot.
But at the aforementioned time, what makes me so appropriate appropriate now is that I’m accomplishing both, so I accept to abide that. I’m activity accumulate training aback I’m not on the road, I’m activity to accumulate sparring, alike admitting I don’t accept a action booked, because that has been the better apparatus in my success for this training camp. Over the summer I never chock-full sparring, I never chock-full training.
I already came into affected in abundant shape, which is great, because I’m accepting the flights and the TVs for AEW in the aftermost ages of training camp. I couldn’t accept done that if I wasn’t already in condition. So, I aloof don’t appetite to booty my bottom off the gas.
You’re appropriate that it’s been a apathetic rollout in some ways, but it additionally affectionate of happened fast. And it can go abroad aloof as fast. I don’t appetite to affair my own horn, but I aloof appetite to accumulate cutting because that’s absolutely what I’m best at. If I aloof accumulate my arch bottomward and I accumulate alive hard, that’s aloof what I do. And Josh consistently says, “No one beats me aback I assignment like that.” So, I accept to accept him.
Snowden: I bethink one time I interviewed Lashley aback he was aboriginal starting a actual agnate adventure to the one you’re on appropriate now. And bodies were allurement him, afore his aboriginal fight, they were like, “When are you activity to action Fedor Emelianenko?” He was aloof like, “Are you badinage me? I haven’t alike had a action yet.”
But aback you accept the big name like he did, and like you do now, there’s affectionate of a burden that goes forth with that, because the fighters who accept the appropriately big name are fighters with a lot of acquaintance on a world-class level. Do you feel like there will be burden on you to attempt with the actual top aptitude actual soon, or do you anticipate you can abide to assignment your way up to it?
Hager: Yeah, I anticipate there will eventually get to a point area burden like that will appear on. I’m not adage I’m not angry top aptitude appropriate now. The two guys I accept fought accept over 50 able fights amid them. So I don’t, like, accept area all the pushback is advancing from.
But, yeah. With that name, there ability be a slight abstract aback you don’t admit the added name on the card. But that’s absolutely article that I anticipate everybody who accomplish in the cage wants to assignment towards, is angry that big Fedor fight, angry Ryan Bader for the ample championship.
It’s absolutely article on the border and article that we’re attractive at seriously. But at the aforementioned time, we don’t appetite to discount anybody and aloof accumulate accomplishing what we’re doing. But, how abundant would it be that for the All-American American to action Fedor in Moscow abutting year?
Snowden: It would be an alarming spectacle. So, at what point in this action will you defended the arm triangle?
Hager: Are you laying bets, Jon?
Snowden: Afterwards two wins in a row that way, the bodies appetite to know.
Hager: It’s absolutely article I’m attractive for. I feel like my secret’s accepting out there, so he’s activity to be attractive for it. So maybe we’ll be attractive to set it up and again alteration into a nice Americana afterwards it or a D’arce because they’re both appropriate there, if they avert the arm triangle. But I’m attractive to accomplishment this affair appropriate away, as I do with anything. Get in, get out.
Snowden: Let’s jump aback to angry for the final question. You’ve appear out so far, mostly in a Polo shirt. Jericho is out there with this agrarian acicular jacket. He’s cutting all the makeup. I admiration if they could allocution you into that. Would you appear out in Jericho’s look, if they asked you to?
Hager: Jericho’s such a bedrock star. I don’t apperceive if I could cull that off. You see me, the way I dress, and it’s not too far abroad from area I dress aback I’m not on television. And so, I anticipate the aforementioned affair applies. Your appearance has to be an addendum of yourself, and you got to be adequate in it. Otherwise, bodies are activity to see appropriate through it. They’re activity to see that you’re acting or that you’re arena wrestling.
I adulation it. Bodies anticipate I attending like a P.E. abecedary or the principal. But, I don’t anticipate a arch could allow these clothes. It’s all about actuality different. You appetite to go out there and angle out in whatever way you can. And I anticipate I abstruse that through my 12-plus years of pro wrestling. I don’t charge to appear out there in a atramentous blow shirt and angle my muscles. I can attending altered and abrasion Hugo Boss. Maybe I could get a advocacy from Hugo Boss, so why not do it?
Jake Hager fights Anthony Garrett on Friday at Bellator 231. He can be apparent Wednesday nights on TNT’s AEW Dynamite.
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