SI.com’s Week in Wrestling is published every week and provides beneath the surface coverage of the business of pro wrestling.
Lost in WWE, Jake Hager Finds Starring Role With AEW
Jake Hager emerged as the first big surprise for All Elite Wrestling on Dynamite, debuting at the end of the TNT television premiere and, like Lex Luger on WCW’s Nitro, forever etched his name into AEW lore.
Once a key piece of WWE, Hager—who rose to prominence as Jack Swagger—wrestled for the World Heavyweight Championship at WrestleMania 29 in 2013. But he soon fell out of the world title picture, then dropped entirely from WWE’s future plans. Hager requested his release from WWE, and was granted it with little fanfare in March 2017.
Hager spent the last two years working tirelessly to re-establish himself as a star, working the indies, making appearances for Major League Wrestling, and even debuting on the most recent season of Lucha Underground. But he could never gain any traction in pro wrestling until his surprise debut in AEW.
“I’ve worked very hard to get back to this point,” said Hager. “It took time for it to pay off, but I feel so vindicated that I left that job and bet on myself.”
AEW is all in on Hager, which includes supporting his mixed martial arts career in Bellator. Hager (2–0) looks to remain undefeated this Friday night at Bellator 231 when he fights heavyweight Anthony Garrett (4–2).
“[AEW owner] Tony Khan wants me to keep fighting and keep winning,” said Hager, whose fight this Friday will air on the Paramount Network. “As a fighter, I’m not one of those people that wants to prove I can go out and throw strikes. I’ve heard that I’m a wrestler and not a real fighter, but I have nothing to prove to anybody. All I want to do is go out there and win. That’s all that is important to me. Winning is a statement, and the rest will take care of itself.”
Hager made an emphatic statement following his most recent Bellator victory in May, when he announced to the crowd at the Allstate Arena in Rosemont, Ill., that he was “rock-hard with emotion.” He promised that his upcoming victory speech will be just as memorable.
“That is 15 seconds of free advertising, and I’m able to say whatever I want,” said Hager. “To me, that’s just as important as being able to throw punches. So am I going to be rock-hard with emotion again after the fight? Most likely.”
Hager can return to in-ring pro wrestling matches following the fight, and he is currently scheduled to be part of AEW’s “Full Gear” pay-per-view card on Nov. 9. Since Hager is serving as the muscle in Chris Jericho’s Inner Circle faction, he will play an integral role in the storyline moving forward.
“The development of the Inner Circle is a very cool factor,” said Hager. “We know this is big and we’re getting hot, but it’s still so young. We have a level of mystique about us, and there are so many directions we can go. All my focus is building upon that and giving the fans a different taste, something that is more raw emotion and less overproduced.
“When that means me getting in the ring, I’ll be ready. I want to go singles with Rey Fenix, Penta, singles with the Bucks, Kenny, PAC, Moxley and Hangman. Those could all be month-long feuds, they’re all such fresh matchups for me.”
Hager believes Jericho’s body of work in wrestling ranks among the all-time greats.
“Chris Jericho is on the Mount Rushmore of professional wrestling,” said Hager. “He is AEW’s biggest asset. Chris is so good, especially with his timing, that he makes everyone raise their game. I also admire that he’s not afraid to take risks and say, ‘F--- it, let’s do this.’”
Hager noted that, following a disappointing end with WWE, he feels reinvigorated knowing he still adds value to the pro wrestling business.
“I was lost in the mix there [in WWE],” said Hager. “When I look now at guys like Cesaro, guys like Bobby Lashley, they’re just lost. When I look at them, that whole cloud of doom comes right back over me. I’m so glad I’m not in that. It’s something you deal with within big companies, but it’s also about how they treat their talent. They know exactly what they’re doing, and I hate to say it, but it’s on purpose.
“They want you lost in there so they can control you. They don’t control me anymore. Now, I’m finally being portrayed in the way I always should have.”
Hager now plays a starring role for Bellator and AEW, and looks to further establish his dominance with a win in the cage on Friday night.
“This journey keeps on getting better and better, and it’s going to continue this Friday night,” said Hager. “There is a feeling building in that AEW locker room that we are part of professional wrestling history, and I also have the chance to train and compete in Bellator. Plus, I can be with my wife and kids throughout the week.
“This is what I always dreamed about. Now that it’s here, I’m coming out on Friday to make a huge statement and win.”
Marty The Moth Looking for a Future in AEW
Marty “The Moth” Martinez is seeking a new home.
A former Lucha Underground star, Martin Casaus has been recovering the past four months from two herniated discs in his spine. His rehabilitation process is taking time; even though Casaus still cannot fully jog, he will be returning to the ring next week in Spokane on the “Downtown Destruction” indie card on Twitch.
“The match is a little earlier than I want, but it’s going to be a good test to see where I’m at,” said Casaus, who is only 34 and had just begun to hit his peak before sustaining the injury. “I didn’t want to have fusion surgery on my back because I have plenty of years left of wrestling, so I got stem cells shot directly into my spine last week.”
Casaus’ injury is especially painful, as it hit his sciatic nerve and shoots pain down his right side, but he is optimistic that he will be back to full operating capacity within a couple months.
Once he returns to full health, Casaus is determined to emerge as a star for All Elite Wrestling.
“My intention is to get as healthy as I can so I can say what’s up to AEW,” said Casaus, who would add a uniquely sadistic character to the promotion. “It’s going to be a crazy war against WWE. I have friends on both sides, but black and gold are more of my colors. And I’d love to get in the ring with Jon Moxley.”
In addition to staying dedicated to his physical rehab, Casaus also made a significant life choice two weeks ago when he proposed to his girlfriend of eight years.
“I forgot all the lines I’d been thinking about for two straight days the second I went down on one knee,” said Casaus. “Since I have the herniated disc, my girlfriend thought I was getting on my knee because I was hurt. I had this long proposal ready, and it ended up being a failed promo, but she said yes.”
Casaus has big plans ahead of the June 2021 wedding date that center around his future in a wrestling ring.
“I’ve been rehabbing hard for four months, and there are very big things to come,” he said. “My goal is to do whatever it takes to get to the black and gold of AEW. I’ll have to do some slight changes to my character, and I’m going to bring some pieces of my Twitch channel into wrestling, too. There will be a little bit different branding, but trust me when I say you’ll still see that same type of crazy.”
The (Online) Week in Wrestling
- A picture of a young “Flex” McMahon has surfaced on the internet.
- Randy Orton is having fun hinting that his future is in AEW, which could completely reinvigorate his career.
- Ali, who was named to Team Hogan at WWE’s upcoming Crown Jewel show in Saudi Arabia, is donating his paycheck from the show, which he also did following his appearance at the prior Saudi show.
- This past Monday’s Raw had Paul Heyman’s fingerprints all over it, especially in a competitive world title match between Seth Rollins and Humberto Carrillo.
- Though Rollins-Carrillo was good, the best match of the past week was the Kenny Omega-Fenix bout from the AAA Heroes Immortales XIII show on Saturday, which saw Omega win the AAA Mega Championship.
- Omega’s former employer, New Japan Pro Wrestling, made headlines of its own by announcing the creation of a new U.S.-based company, New Japan Pro Wrestling of America.
- Chris Jericho put together a fascinating string of texts capturing his feelings on Marko Stunt, who helped put on a really entertaining match last week on AEW’s Dynamite.
- Speaking of controversial wrestling stars, Joey Ryan has signed with Impact Wrestling.
- Becky Lynch celebrated her first anniversary as “The Man.”
- Is there a better advocate for wrestlers than Daniel Bryan?
Celebrating 200 Weeks of The Week in Wrestling
Next week, this column hits a milestone with our 200 consecutive column.
I remember a phone call with longtime wrestling announcer Mike Tenay in December of 2015, which led to one of my favorite features, and during the call, Tenay asked if I had any future plans to cover wrestling on a weekly basis.
My goal, I mentioned, was to write a weekly column—which led us to a conversation about Tenay’s weekly news, The Mat News, which he started in 1966 (a young Dave Meltzer was one of his subscribers). Tenay mentioned how a weekly piece, especially with Sports Illustrated, would provide an opportunity to highlight a different side of the business.
For the past 200 weeks, that is what I have strived to do.
I thoroughly enjoy covering WWE, but it has been a pleasure to also spotlight other promotions, too, including a number of stories on New Japan Pro Wrestling. My favorite part is covering the indies, watching in awe as the women and men of pro wrestling scratch, claw and fight to meet their dreams. And I am fortunate to have the chance to cover it.
Thank you to all those who read The Week in Wrestling.
Tweet of the Week
In wrestling, the heels are often the real babyfaces.