Former WWE world heavyweight champion Jack Swagger made his name in the wrestling industry, but he is using his collegiate wrestling background to make the jump to Bellator MMA.
Swagger is following in the footsteps of other wrestlers who made the transition to mixed martial arts, including Brock Lesnar, Bobby Lashley, Dave Bautista and CM Punk.
In an interview promoting his signing with Bellator, Swagger spoke to Ring Rust Radio about the move from wrestling to MMA, his WWE storyline with Zeb Colter and an angle he pitched to WWE CEO Vince McMahon about U.S. President Donald Trump.
When Swagger announced he would be signing with Bellator in mid-November, the comparisons to other former collegiate wrestlers who made the transition to mixed martial arts began. As a former star at Oklahoma and with a decade in the WWE and its developmental program, Swagger is hoping to make an instant impact in MMA.
"I really like Bellator and them as a company and how they are run," Swagger said. "It's a popular place for fighters to go to. It seems there has been a mass exodus from UFC-controlled contracts, and I really like that—especially coming from the WWE—to have a little more freedom and feel a little more love as a talent.
"As far as why MMA, I have been a pro wrestler for 10 years now but an amateur wrestler for 25 years. It's really who I am and something that has been a part of me. I have been thinking about doing it for a long time and wanting to do it, and combat sports are so popular right now."
Scheduled to make his Bellator debut as part of the promotion's heavyweight division in 2018, Swagger becomes part of a roster that already includes Bobby Lashley, Roy Nelson and Fedor Emelianenko, among others.
If Swagger is going to find success, he will have to square off against some of the best heavyweight fighters in the world.
For the WWE Universe, Swagger will always be remembered for his "We the People" gimmick and the many memorable feuds it was associated with. From the storyline against Rusev and Lana to his tag team work with Cesaro as The Real Americans, Swagger was a big part of WWE programming for around two years.
"I'm very honored to be a part of that storyline," he said. "It's definitely one of my best parts of my career. To be able to change from being essentially a bad guy into a really hot babyface overnight is very hard to do. So that proves how special that group was and that storyline was. Zeb, Lana, Rusev and I had a special dynamic that came together there, and it's hard to replicate. Why [WWE] didn't go further with that I don't know."
Unfortunately, Swagger's success with Colter stalled, and he wallowed on the main roster until he was granted his release on March 13.
While Swagger doesn't understand why his Real American storyline wasn't better utilized toward the end of his time with the company, he did recall an angle he pitched to McMahon in 2015 in which he would emulate Donald Trump in order to garner heat from crowds.
"Yeah, actually it's funny because I pitched an angle to Vince," he said. "Zeb was away, and I said let's bring him back and let's do a Donald Trump angle where we mimic everything he does, says and whatever he tweets. It's essentially a storyline that would write itself, and he wanted to stay away from it. I went to him and said, 'Hey, Vince, how would you like to put Donald Trump in the White House?' So maybe that wasn't the best pitch.
"I thought it was really something special. I wrote it up, and I showed Zeb. And he added his little stuff to it, and it could've really been explosive right now. There's so much anger towards his tweets, towards him, his behavior, and that would've been like electric heat. I can't even imagine it. It would've been good, and just for the record, I pitched that in 2015."
In today's political landscape, Swagger's Trump-inspired gimmick would generate legitimate heat. But as interesting as the storyline would have been, avoiding political issues was most likely the best for the company.
Regardless of why Swagger's WWE career didn't reach its potential, the notoriety he gained while working with the company has helped him create a buzz following his signing with Bellator.
Swagger has the potential to make a large impact on the world of MMA, and thanks to the fanbase he has already built, his mainstream notoriety will only continue to rise as he finds success with Bellator.
For more wrestling talk, listen to Ring Rust Radio for all of the hot topics or catch the latest episode in the player above (some language NSFW).