Bellator MMA returns to this Saturday, bringing one of their more stacked cards of the year to the Allstate Arena in Chicago.
The main event will feature a legitimate superfight as Bellator lightweight champion Michael Chandler defends his title against Bellator featherweight cahmpion Patricky Pitbull in a battle of the two winningest fighters in Bellator history. Also on the card, the second round of Bellator Welterweight Grand Prix kicks off with Michael ‘Venom’ Page taking a huge step up in class against former Bellator welterweight champion Douglas Lima.
Yet Saturday is also the return of one of the more interesting entrees into the Bellator world as Jake Hager, better known as former world heavyweight champion wrestler Jack Swagger, makes his second start as a MMA fighter against TJ Jones, a 29-year-old heavyweight fighting out of Kansas.
Hager, who before embarking on a successful nine year run in WWE was a star amateur wrestler at the University of Oklahoma, twice defeating Cain Velasquez and in senior year setting the school record for most pins in a season. So unlike his fellow former WWE Superstar CM Punk, Hager entered the cage with the kind of athletic credentials that most aspiring MMA fighters long.
Making his pro debut on January 26 in Los Angeles at Bellator 214, Hager faced 41-year-old JW Kiser. That night Hager ate one big shot from Kiser before taking down his older foe and quickly passing to half guard. After using some timely ground and pound, Hager applied an arm triangle and didn’t even to fully pass half guard to get enough torque to force Kiser to tap out. While some people were down on Hager because the quality of his opposition, Bellator did this right. Hager brings a lot of fans to the cage, especially since many WWE fans feel he was short-changed during his run, and there’s no need to rush someone with his potential and credentials.
His opponent for this fight, TJ Jones, does represent a slight step up in class. He’s 1-1 as a pro, being finished in his pro debut by Derek Bohl in March 2015 (he also took a clear knee to the face while on the ground, right in front of the referee) before rebounding to submit Erick Braly in October 2017.
Everything about this faceoff is incredible. It makes it look like Jack Swagger is fighting a dude they found loitering outside a shopping mall 20 minutes before the press conference. pic.twitter.com/imc22ot3tN
— Ben Fowlkes (@benfowlkesMMA) May 9, 2019
Jones could have the advantage on his feet however, as he does have 12 pro fights as a boxer. Yes, he went 4-8 in those fights, but Hager hasn’t been training stand up for that long. If he can actually defend a takedown (and that’s a big if), he will have a puncher’s chance.
Yet most expect this to be another quick win for Hager, and that’s okay. He’s got plenty of time to make some noise in MMA, he’s a great shape, and has had the time to heal any nagging injuries he had in WWE.
There’s no need to rush.