Jake Hager was never finished with professional wrestling.
The 37-year old former All-American from Oklahoma spent several years on the roster at World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) before his contract ended and he decided to turn his attention to a career in MMA.
Hager made his fighting debut in Bellator earlier this year while amassing 2-0 in his career with a pair of first-round submissions on his resume with his third fight scheduled for Oct. 25.
Just weeks away from his return at Bellator 231, Hager made a surprise appearance on Wednesday night as part of the upstart All Elite Wrestling (AEW) promotion’s new weekly series on TNT, “Dynamite.” Afterwards, AEW executive Tony Khan revealed Hager had been signed to the promotion for quite some time – but didn’t actually debut until the promotion launched its new television show this week.
Just days before Hager showed up at AEW “Dynamite,” he spoke to MMA Fighting about his long-term plans to work again with a major pro-wrestling organization while keeping it a secret.
“It’s very exciting in both worlds, especially with Bellator and in pro wrestling with AEW coming around the corner,” Hager said prior to the reveal of his contract with AEW. “You see NXT on Wednesday nights trying to compete with them, but I think AEW’s just going to give the wrestling fans something new and fresh. It’s going to be cool, so who wouldn’t want to be a part of that?
“Really what it comes down to is the opportunity at hand. I’ve got this fight Oct. 25. Hopefully, we keep doing what we’re doing, and I think the rest will kind of take care of itself as far as where to go. I’m definitely planning on wrestling for a long time after this, and it’s just a matter of when it starts again.”
The start came on Wednesday night with Hager expected to split his time between dates for AEW and fights in his new career as an MMA fighter.
The good news for Hager is that Bellator is open to allowing athletes to crossover to other endeavors while under contract; his move to AEW was approved long before he showed up on “Dynamite.”
That appealed to Hager when he first signed with the Viacom-owned promotion, and now it’s paying off as he joins the roster at AEW.
“I think they really get it – Scott [Coker] especially – (and) it’s really cool to see,” Hager said. “Especially coming from WWE, where they put their thumb on everybody, except the people they want to become stars. They worked almost as hard not building stars with certain people as they did in building other people.
“Bellator (encourages people), because it’s my belief (that) if I become a bigger star, then the company I work for also becomes bigger. That might just be logic – and that’s just silly to apply that to WWE – but it’s so nice. It’s so refreshing to be able to have that, and be able to go to them and have a conversation where I don’t know the answer beforehand. It’s refreshing.”
Hager is still fighting on Oct. 25 when he faces Anthony Garrett on the main card from the Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, Conn.