In the ring, he’s all business

After saying no to a desk job, Jack Swagger chose vaults to WWE world heavyweight title

April 23, 2010|By Kevin Eck, The Baltimore Sun

Jake Hager was all set to enter the real world after graduating from the University of Oklahoma four years ago with a degree in business finance. As he was about to begin working full time at a finance firm in Dallas, however, a piece of mail came to his home that drastically altered his plans.

It was a contract offer to wrestle for World Wrestling Entertainment. Goodbye, real world; hello, surreal world.

"I had to call [the finance firm] and tell them that I was going to wear spandex and baby oil for a living," he said.

So instead of crunching numbers sitting behind a desk, the 28-year-old from Perry, Okla., collects a paycheck by engaging in the bone-crunching action of WWE, where he is known as "The All-American American" Jack Swagger, the current world heavyweight champion.

He will defend his title against Randy Orton in one of the featured matches at WWE's "Extreme Rules" pay-per-view event Sunday night at 1st Mariner Arena.

Swagger said his parents were taken aback at first by his decision to give up his suit-and-tie gig for the scripted mayhem of WWE, but they came around after seeing him perform in the ring in person.

"They saw the whole live interaction with the crowd and the impact that we have on kids, and they were really taken away by it," he said. Working for WWE "really is a great opportunity for young individuals to see the world and learn the entertainment business."

Before making his mark in WWE, Swagger was a standout amateur wrestler. While at Oklahoma on an athletic scholarship for wrestling and football, Swagger met fellow Oklahoma native Jim Ross, a longtime WWE commentator and former WWE executive. Ross was impressed with the 6-foot-6, 263-pound athlete and thought he had the potential to make it in WWE, so he arranged for Swagger to get a tryout.

"I've always believed that when you recruit someone to WWE, they have to be physically tough, mentally tough and have the desire to excel," Ross said. "I saw all those qualities in him. And he had a good look. I also thought from talking to him and getting to know him that he was a good kid and his values were good."

After signing with WWE, Swagger was sent to the company's minor league circuit to learn the ropes. He began appearing on WWE television programs two years later, and three weeks ago he became world champion.

While there are glaring differences between the sport of amateur wrestling and the spectacle that is pro wrestling, Swagger said his background on the mat -- he began wrestling when he was 5 -- helped prepare him for a career in "sports entertainment."

"As far as the work in the ring, it's so much technique and spacing and timing, and that's what amateur wrestling is, too," said Swagger, who was an All-American wrestler and an Academic All-American in college. "So I felt like I learned very fast and a lot of things came naturally for me."

Mastering the showmanship aspect of pro wrestling proved to be a bigger challenge.

"The toughest part was the character development and in-ring psychology," Swagger said. "I still remember when I first signed, it was very overwhelming to get on a microphone and just talk and have it come across as real and believable."

As his ring name suggests, Swagger plays the role of a cocky villain in WWE. He must be doing a convincing job, because he certainly is a guy wrestling fans love to hate.

In the future, he hopes to put his acting skills to use in a bigger medium. With WWE having its own film division and a number of pro wrestlers crossing over into acting, don't be surprised if you see the former aspiring financial analyst in movies one day, he said.

"If the opportunity presents itself, I would jump at it," Swagger said. "I think I still have a ways to go before I'm ready for that transition, but it's definitely a possibility. I look like a winner, I smell like a winner, so why not put it on the big screen?"

If you go WWE's Extreme Rules pay-per-view begins at 7:45 p.m. Sunday at 1st Mariner Arena. For ticket information, go to Ticket prices range from $20 to $250.

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