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CHICAGO – Jake Hager knows his MMA career is a little different than most. He also knows the fact he’s now facing his second career bout doesn’t change much from the first time around.
He’s getting the big push from Bellator primarily because of his fame as a former WWE star. His legit wrestling pedigree at the University of Oklahoma certainly doesn’t hurt, but his name – or at least his stage name of Jack Swagger – helped him get placed in spots like his heavyweight main-card bout against T.J. Jones on Saturday night at Bellator 221.
Hager (1-0 MMA, 1-0 BMMA) knows all he can do about this situation is keep his head down, work hard and appreciate what he’s got. So that’s exactly what he’s doing.
“One of the best pieces of advice I got as a rookie up there because, look at this, this is cool: We’re at Mike Ditka’s, downtown Chicago, the press on us.” Hager said this week at the Bellator 221 news conference. “This is really cool, so I try to really enjoy the fight week. I definitely enjoyed the first one, it feels really natural to be up here and a natural transition. This week feels like it’s going be a lot faster than the last one. And I’m sure the next one will go be even faster. I’m becoming very comfortable.”
That said, if Hager gets too comfortable, things can go south fast in a sport like MMA. So he’s treating this no different than the first time he showed up on Oklahoma’s wrestling mats, or for his pro wrestling training.
“I think the whole scope of it, there’s so many things that you have to master and that it’s not just going to come overnight,” Hager said. “It’s going to take years and years. (I’m) up here very honored to be on this card because every single one of these guys has devoted their lives to mixed martial arts and getting better every time, and so for me, I think it’s consistency and staying consistent with your training, with your mental focus, and not taking your foot off the gas. Because once you do that, you can lose.”
No offense to Jones (1-1 MMA, 0-0 BMMA), but this means that, at this stage of the game, Hager needs to focus more on himself and less on the challenges his opponent might present.
“Right now where I’m at in my MMA career it’s easier to focus on my skill set and me improving and five percent on your opponent and structuring your game plan around that,” Hager said. “What I like to do is go out there and wrestle, that’s no secret, and I think we’re going to see that whether you put your back on the cage or not.”
Bellator 221 takes place at Allstate Arena in Rosemont, Ill. The main card streams on DAZN following prelims on MMA Junkie.
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