Former University of Oklahoma All-American wrestler Jake Hager -- who, more recently, was a WWE pro wrestling star under the name Jack Swagger -- has signed a deal with Bellator MMA, the mixed martial arts organization announced Monday.
It will be the pro MMA debut for Hager, 35, who will compete as heavyweight and is expected to make his debut in 2018.
The 6'6", 260-pound Hager brings an impressive amateur wrestling resume to Bellator. A native of Perry, Okla., one of the nation's leading wrestling hotbeds, Hager was a two-sport athlete at Perry High School, competing in football and wrestling. He was a two-time finalist at the Oklahoma state wrestling championships, winning the 215-pound title as a junior.
Hager was recruited by Oklahoma for both football and wrestling, but quit football as a sophomore to concentrate on wrestling. He was a runner-up at the 2006 Big 12 conference championships, falling to Oklahoma State's Steve Mocco in the finals. Hager was a two-time NCAA championships qualifier, earning All-American honors as a senior, placing seventh in the 285-pound bracket at the 2006 NCAAs, defeating future heavyweight champ Dustin Fox of Northwestern along the way before losing to defending national champ Mocco. That year, Hager set a Sooner record for the most pins in one season, with 30.
After graduating from Oklahoma in 2006, Hager launched his career in professional wrestling. He was a former WWE World Heavyweight champion and U.S. champion before being granted his release in March 2017.
"This is something I've wanted to do for a long time," Hager said in the statement issued by Bellator. "It's something that's a part of me, so it makes sense. I'm very happy with the deal. I've felt a lot of love from Bellator. I think there are certain types of guys who need to be punched in the face and taste blood. I've always been a fan of MMA, I've been wrestling since I was five years old. It's awesome to be with Bellator. They're really going to put 100 percent towards it!"
"I'm excited to see Jake Hager debut for Bellator in 2018," Bellator President Scott Coker said. "When I heard he was seriously interested in competing in MMA and when you look at what he did at the collegiate level, I was very interested in having him on our roster. I think Jake will expose new fans to Bellator from his previous run with WWE and he will be given every opportunity to prove that he's the real deal inside the cage."
"Jake Hager is just one of a long list of Perry wrestlers who has gone on to achieve great personal and professional success," said Chance Leonard, creator and executive producer of "The Price of Legacy: Wrestling with a Dynasty" documentary about Perry, Okla. and its rich wrestling legacy, including being the home of two Olympic mat medalists, Jack VanBebber (gold, 1932) and Dan Hodge (silver, 1956). "He has utilized the core values he was taught in the Perry wrestling program to achieve in his highly visible career."
"It's not at all surprising that he will be transitioning to competing in Bellator MMA. Competing is a lifelong requirement and it's what we do. The Perry community is proud of Jake and his accomplishments and we fully support him and his family in his new endeavor," Leonard continued. "We are excited to bring you more of his story, especially his earlier years, in our film releases in 2018."
In recent years, Bellator has signed a number of former college wrestling standouts to its roster, including past NCAA champs Phil Davis and Ed Ruth -- both for Penn State -- as well as NCAA All-Americans Chris Honeycutt (Edinboro) and Logan Storley (Minnesota).