Filed under: Interviews, News

Imagine you were tasked with creating the ultimate American college athlete. Within seconds you’ll have an image in your head of a towering accomplishment of speed, power and agility with a mouthful of pristine white teeth, a set of shoulders broader than the Grand Canyon and enough confidence to fill it. In other words, you’ve just pieced together WWE superstar Jack Swagger.

Swagger is known as the ‘All American American’, the duplication of his nationality necessary in order to inform people of the 34-year-old Oklahoman’s achievements in NCAA amateur wrestling at the University of Oklahoma (who also recruited him in American football), where he was crowned an ‘All American’ scholar in his junior and senior years as well as receiving the same distinction for his wrestling pursuits, setting the Oklahoma record for most pins in a single season with 30, having been ranked the fifth best 215-pound wrestler in the United States in 1999.
In 2006 Swagger graduated from the University of Oklahoma with a bachelor’s degree in finance and was almost immediately offered a job with a firm in Dallas, Texas before a meeting with fellow Sooner state resident, WWE Hall of Famer Jim Ross swayed Swagger towards the bright lights of sports entertainment.

So that’s world class athleticism and a heap of intelligence to go with it. If you didn’t know any better, you’d peg Swagger as the archetypal ‘jock’ who plays the villain in almost every high school film you’ve ever seen. And when I meet the former ECW, United States and World Heavyweight Champion, I mentally prepare for the reality that this 6’6, 260 pound behemoth is going to flush my head down the nearest toilet before disposing of me in the nearest locker.

Thankfully, as Swagger enters the room located within the freezing, soulless bowels of the Manchester Arena before a WWE Live Event (part of the ‘WrestleMania Revenge’ tour the company undertakes every year), the former World Champion cuts a relaxed, charming figure who, over the course of the 20 or so minutes I spend in his company, proves himself to be one of the most engaging and refreshingly honest people I’ve ever had the pleasure of interviewing.

TheSPORTbible: Jack, thanks for taking the time to talk to us before the show tonight. You’ve travelled to the UK many times on these tours with the WWE. What is it you look forward to the most about these trips across the Atlantic?

Jack Swagger: There’s a couple of things. The crowds over here are so much more fun because we only come here a couple of times a year. It’s a little bit easier to wrestle and perform for 14 straight nights because the energy they bring is a lot different to what we experience on a domestic tour in the States.

TheSPORTbible: With that in mind, given how passionate the crowds are in the UK, do you ever see a WrestleMania being hosted over here in the same way SummerSlam was in 1992 at Wembley Stadium?

Jack Swagger: I’d say it’s a case of not if, but when. When WrestleMania goes international the first place we’ve got to go is the UK, definitely. It’s our second biggest market outside the United States so it just makes sense to come here and do it. And obviously, you guys over here love to hijack the show so we’ll have to be prepared for that (laughs).

TheSPORTbible: You debuted on the main roster on the (now defunct) ECW brand in September 2008 and by March 2010 you’d won the ECW World Title, the Money In The Bank Ladder match at WrestleMania 26 and the World Heavyweight Championship. How did you deal with so much success so soon into your career?

Jack Swagger: Poorly! (laughs) Oh man, there was a lot of bad decisions! But seriously, what an honour. I was so fortunate coming in to work with a lot of non-selfish veterans who let me know ‘hey, this storyline is about you, we’re here to build you’ and they just thrust decades of knowledge upon me. In that short period of time I had Tommy Dreamer, Matt Hardy, Christian, Edge, Chris Jericho, Rey Mysterio and ‘Taker to work with, so it was a hell of an 18 months.

TheSPORTbible: And what was the best piece of advice you received during that time?

Jack Swagger: There were different things from different people, so Tommy Dreamer always instilled it in me to protect my size in the ring and it wasn’t until much later in my career that I realised how important that was. And y’know ‘Taker has been at the top of this business since he’s been the Undertaker so the advice he has is from a different perspective from most guys, so when you sit down and talk to him he’s always teaching you something, whether that’s through him breaking balls or pulling you to one side and saying ‘hey, you fucked up’ or ‘hey, you’re doing good’. But that generation of wrestlers are gone now and lost on this next generation so I feel very fortunate to have benefited from them.

TheSPORTbible: You touched upon some ‘bad decisions’ that you made, what exactly were the bad decisions you made?

Jack Swagger: I mean, who doesn’t make a bad decision, right? It was anything from using the wrong accountant to not becoming a Marriott Hotel guy. These are the types of thing that help you in the long run and set us up and I didn’t really do any of that at the time.

TheSPORTbible: You’ve worked with pretty much everyone there is to work with during your time with the WWE. Is there anyone not on that list who you’d want to step into the ring with?

Jack Swagger: I recently met Kurt Angle. We were in Pittsburgh and I was working out with R Truth and Kurt was in the same gym. So Truth knows him and he told him I was here and wanted to meet him. It was just before he did the match at that event with Mysterio with all the boxing and MMA fights on the card (laughs). When I first started watching wrestling he was the guy I watched ‘cos he was an amateur and an Olympian and that’s why I watch wrestling, for the technical aspect so yeah, I’d choose Kurt Angle.

Kurt Angle
TheSPORTbible: And did he mention you using the ankle lock at all?

Jack Swagger: No, no, no, nothing like that. I mean, there was some stuff on Twitter about it but he didn’t say anything, he was a real class act. It’s crazy, my high school girlfriend, her stepdad was the head Olympic coach in 1996 who coached Kurt to the gold medal in Atlanta, so when I was breaking into the business he would always be like ‘you want me to introduce you to Kurt?’ and I was so intimidated back then so I’d say ‘Erm, nah it’s OK’. But yeah, when I eventually met him he was a real class guy.

TheSPORTbible: Do you ever see him coming back to the WWE?

Jack Swagger: Ah man, anything’s possible, it’s all we do now is bring people back and honestly, it’s cool. You can go away for a little bit, come back and make some additions to your character, try out some fun new stuff and the crowd loves it. So yeah, anything’s possible with him returning.

TheSPORTbible: What would you have become if you weren’t a WWE superstar?

Jack Swagger: A banker. Or a ‘banker wanker’ as you guys like to call it (laughs)! I just got my masters in business so it’s 10 more years of wrestling and then, I dunno, interest rates I guess (laughs).

TheSPORTbible: Who’s been the biggest influence on your career?

Jack Swagger: I got a pretty good crew that helps keep me sane. Being away from my family a lot, I got two young’uns and it’s tough not seeing them so the people I ride with between shows help me maintain my sanity because it’d very easy to be down and get complacent about things. That’s why you need people who can help to push you and get you through the bumps and stuff. The people who know you and can talk to you are so important. Mike Chioda especially, who’s been a referee in the business for over 30 years has had the biggest influence on my career. When I first broke into the biz I had a few friends say to me to go get tight with ‘Cici’ we call him or ‘Coyote’. I mean, he’s been around since before the first WrestleMania, so anything you need to know about the road or the shows, he’s the man to go to.

As our time draws to an end, Swagger makes a request, “Oh and remember to let people know that I’m a Spurs fan! Big Tottenham fan!” as we spend a couple of minutes extoling the virtues of the rise of Major League Soccer and Tim Howard’s performance for the USA at the 2014 World Cup.

While the ‘All American American’ may be experiencing fading fortunes on screen at the moment, with world title opportunities hard to come by since his red hot ‘We The People’ angle took off in 2013 in a feud against then World Heavyweight Champion Alberto Del Rio, Swagger’s performance in a losing effort to Rusev a couple of hours after we talk is yet another indication of how important a talent he is, whipping the capacity crowd inside the Manchester Arena into a frenzy, countering his Bulgarian opponent’s antagonistic waving of the Bulgarian flag (which, despite England having absolutely no qualms with Bulgaria, was booed relentlessly) with some ecstatically received waving of a Union Jack.

With his ‘bad decisions’ firmly behind him, Swagger could yet have another run at the top. Who knows, maybe it’ll even come against Kurt Angle?