Problematic himbo Jake Hager was last night’s surprise debut, appearing at the end of AEW Dynamite to aid Chris Jericho, Santana, Ortiz, and Sammy Guevara in beating up The Young Bucks and Cody and Dustin Rhodes. Like when Shawn Spears appeared at Fight For the Fallen and whacked Cody upside the head with a chair, AEW is treating this like a big deal. Is it, though? Let’s look at who he is and what he brings to the table to figure that out.
Who is Jake Hager?
In a former life, Hager was WWE Superstar Jack Swagger. A product of the University of Oklahoma, Hager signed with the company in 2006 and, over the course of his 11 year career with the company, won the ECW Championship, World Heavyweight Championship, and the United States Championship. His greatest success, however, was his tag team with Cesaro, the Real Americans. Managed by wrestling legend Dutch Mantell (under the moniker Zeb Coulter), the Real Americans rose to prominence by waving Gadsden flags and reciting the first three words of the constitution before their matches. The “WE THE PEOPLE” routine was so successful that he was greeted by the crowd at Dynamite with that chant.
What’s odd about the team is that, despite their popularity, they never won the tag team championship. The gimmick–an extremely xenophobic one where Coulter exalted Swagger as an American superman and Cesaro as the right kind of immigrant–was booked as a heel act, but they were cheered as faces despite feuding with the likes of the Rhodes brothers. The Real Americans established Cesaro as a cult favorite, but their break-up did nothing for Swagger. He floundered for a few years, like plenty of talented WWE midcarders do, before leaving the company in 2017. Since then, he’s been in two MMA bouts in the Bellator promotion and won the Lucha Underground Gift of the Gods Championship a few years after everybody stopped watching Lucha Underground.
What he brings to AEW.
It’s hard to say, honestly. Given his time in WWE, he’s a name, but one whose situation was less missed opportunity and more failure to launch. He’s got the look and the skillset, and divorced from the other gigantic hunks on the WWE roster, he looks legitimately dangerous in a way he never did on Raw or Smackdown. His kind of size is something AEW can actually use. Also of use is the fact that Hager is a legitimate All American collegiate wrestler and that he’s currently undefeated in MMA. Previously, his athletic credentials meant dressing him in a singlet and giving him an ankle lock and hoping fans might mistake him for Kurt Angle. Now, AEW hopes, it will make him look like a threat.
But he’s also a former WWE midcarder on a roster that’s loaded with former WWE midcarders. That’s slightly troubling given that AEW is trying to establish themselves as something different. Unlike Jon Moxley and Pac, there’s no evidence to the idea that Hager is a draw, and unless you’re a true devotee to Lucha Underground, hardly any evidence of his work outside of the WWE system. Other ex-WWE guys who left the company with some buzz–Damien Sandow and Ryback, for example–never showed the same spark after their release. It’s a gamble, especially given that he’s been plugged in at the top of the card.
That said, if he, Jericho, Santana, Ortiz, and Guevara are going to war with the Rhodes Family and the Bucks, we’re one man shy of a War Games cage match. I love War Games cage matches. I hunger for War Games cage matches. And War Games cage matches unilaterally demand at least one slab of beef capable of absentmindedly hitting a dude’s head on the ceiling of the cage during a powerbomb. That demand has been satisfied. Give the people (me) what I want. At the very least, ban Jim Ross from saying “Boomer Sooner” when he’s on screen.