Riding the wave of “We The People” across the indy scene, Jack Swagger is now helping in the fight against childhood cancer. The former World Heavyweight Champion headlines WrestleJam 16, a special wrestling event honoring childhood cancer survivor Lynette Ely. The matches take place at Ferrara Elementary School in East Haven, Connecticut on November 4th. A portion of the proceeds benefit the Mikey’s Way Foundation, a local organization that donates electronic gifts to children forced to leave the outside world while under the care of special units.
General admission is $20 and $10 for kids 12 and under. To purchase tickets, email WrestlejamCT@gmail.com. For more information, visit www.facebook.com/wrestlejam1.
Swagger spoke with The Wrestling Estate ahead of WrestleJam 16.
This is a very special event coming up. Do you have any personal attachment to childhood cancer?
Jack Swagger: “I don’t have any personal attachment with it, luckily for me and my family. I’ve been around Make-A-Wish when I was with WWE multiple times. You hear about kids being down in the dumps, not wanting anything, and then you go to meet them and it makes them so happy. They have so much personality, and it really shows their strength. It’s very impressive.”
That’s something people don’t think about when they’re training to become pro wrestlers. You’re not just phenomenal athletes – you’re also role models to so many kids.
Swagger: “It was definitely one of the best parts of the job. Pro wrestling is going toward an older audience, but in WWE, they are specifically marketing to that G, PG crowd. It puts you on a spotlight with kids seeing you on TV doing something that looks so cool. I remember when I was a kid and I got an autograph from Fred McGriff and I just thought it was the best thing ever.
It can be tedious at times, but you really have to put things in perspective on how lucky you are that you’re not in this person’s shoes. Anything you can do to help, like a smile for five minutes, really goes a long way.”
How has life been since you left WWE?
Swagger: “Exciting, very exciting. I didn’t really know what to expect on this side of things, but what I found is that pro wrestling is very popular right now. Combat sports in general is very popular right now. I’ve found a lot of people working together to be a part of it and help grow it. I’ve been to many locker rooms across the states and in the U.K., across all the promotions, there seems to be no egos and people just want to help each other. Really, you get to have a lot of fun and be more intimate with the fans.
Every crowd is different and it’s even more the truth on the indy scene. You have to feel the crowd and adjust to the area in which you’re wrestling. You can’t just go out there and rest on your laurels and rest on a name. You really have to go out there and work, especially when you see the talent on these shows. Some of these guys can do so much, and I don’t want to be left behind. It’s the competitor in me. It’s fun and challenging. When you get bored with something or don’t like it anymore, don’t do it. That’s not the case for me because it feels like overnight I’ve fallen in love with pro wrestling again.”
You’ve also made it a family affair by having your wife Catalina join you on the road as your valet.
Swagger: “(laughs) Well, she’s always been with me and she’s the boss, so she kind of made the decision. No, I’m kidding. Pro wrestling can be a very lonely business so it’s such an added bonus when I get to travel with my best friend, my wife. I had to sacrifice being away from my family for the last 10 years, but she was the one at home with the kids really making the sacrifices. So it’s nice that we get to use those sacrifices and find a silver lining to help promote her and help get her going in the way she wants to use the popularity of pro wrestling.
Gosh, she’s hot, isn’t she?”
(Laughs) I was watching the home improvement videos of you two on the ladders.
Swagger: “Oh my gosh, yeah. We’re trying to do a Youtube channel right now. The Bucks are doing a great job documenting their journey and they’re kind of like the only ones doing it. So we’re trying to create more content and man, that’s a lot of work. Hats off to the Bucks because they always have good stuff on there. There might be a Swagger Home Video channel coming out.”
Speaking of Swagger, what are we supposed to call you? Are you “formerly known as Jack Swagger?”
Swagger: “It just kind of depends. I left on good terms so I haven’t had much problem with it. I know other guys have and I know they’re known for it. I’ve been Jack Swagger since I left. It’s one of those things that’s really silly but it comes down to dollars. I’ll always be recognized as that so we’ll just have to deal with that when it comes. Hopefully, it doesn’t.”
Was there a certain moment when you decided to leave or was it a bunch of factors piled up?
Swagger: “I’m very grateful for the career I’ve had, but I’ve seen a lot of friends go and I had been passed over for opportunities. I don’t want to blame anyone else for something that I didn’t achieve because that’s just not the way to go through life. But it did get frustrating not even being on the playing field, not being allowed to compete. So it was a combination of that and pro wrestling being as popular as it is now that I felt I could take advantage of 10 years of TV exposure. I want to move forward and see where that takes me.
I don’t regret it. I’m very glad that I did it because I needed a change. I needed to find a way to push myself again. This is definitely doing it. Be careful what you ask for. (laughs) It’s a lot less stressful, but at the same time, a lot more work. Now you’re handling everything. We handled a bunch before, but now it seems like more. But it’s been fun. I have 100% creative control over my character and merchandise.”
Tell me about this new website you launched: LFRLife.com.
Swagger: “It’s going to be a place where you can buy my merchandise and also your favorite wrestler’s merchandise. We started our own retail company and are going to create a bunch of merch for the boys. Because I was on the road so much and we have two kids at home, it was really hard to find time for another business. But now that we moved on, we’re like, why not?”
Do you guys have a background in designing apparel?
Swagger: “Catalina’s father has been in retail for 30-plus years. So when we made the move, we went right to him and he hooked us up with all his supply people and wholesale connections. We’re really bringing a discount to our customers along with any wrestlers that will do it. He had a great graphic design artist – she only draws for him and us now, along with her day job. She’s just amazing. If you come to her with an idea, she’ll take that idea and make it what it should be, not just something on paper.
I grew up with two sisters so I always have fashion and clothes around, so it’s been really easy for me to talk about. Catalina has always wanted her own clothing line, I think every woman does. Hopefully, we want to use this brand to grow and become more than just a T-shirt/swag company and more into full-fledged clothing and whatnot.”
You’ve told my favorite story about wrestling merchandise recently, when you revealed that you wore a “We The People” T-shirt at Money in the Bank 2013 and after your match, WWE’s merchandise team hounded you about putting it on WWEShop. Was that your plan all along?
Swagger: “I thought it was such a cool idea and it’s really hard to get to the decision-makers at TV days. As long as it’s not infringing on any other contracts they have with retail, they don’t care. I thought it was force of hand. It was such a simple shirt that you could make so easily. I took a chance and made a prototype of it. As soon as I came back through the curtain, I had everybody at merch saying the office wanted to talk to me. Where did it come from, whose idea was it, etc.
It’s a good lesson for all the young guys up there that want to get noticed. It’s easier to ask for forgiveness than permission. If you believe in an idea, commit to it and wear it on TV.”
Do you consider that one of your proudest moments there?
Swagger: “(laughs) I think that’s one of the only things I won when I fought for something up there. Of course, you fought in the ring a lot, but it’s a whole other wrestling match to get things through. But yeah, I was very happy with the shirt. I can’t put it up there as one of my proudest moments, though.”
Give me a few of them.
Swagger: “Winning Money in the Bank, winning the World Heavyweight Championship against Jericho, wrestling Rusev. I just thought that was a very cool moment – the flip from being a bad guy my whole career to being a babyface, just being so accepted and having the whole 1980s USA/USSR back up.
One of the proudest of my career is the transformation of ‘We The People.’ It’s still as popular as it was in 2013. It went from a really nasty political storyline and through Cesaro and maybe a little bit of me, it really turned into something else. It really highlights why people love pro wrestling. Anything can happen and you’re not going to make fans like something they don’t like. If they do like it, then they take it and it becomes theirs.
‘We The People’ is really not mine anymore, and it’s not Dutch’s. It’s the fans and it’s turned into a movement amongst them. I hope I don’t sound arrogant when I say this but whatever country I go to – Australia, Mexico, Canada, U.K. – these places stand up and recognize it. To be a part of that, when our shows are centered on all the fans, I’m really honored.”
Were you surprised that it went into such a different direction?
Swagger: “Yeah, it’s kind of surprising from where we started and the language we were using. It was just meant to offend. Through Dutch’s uncharacteristically nastiness, but also the guy is so endearing that he can almost get away with it because you still kind of like him. That personality had a lot to do with it. Then you add this amazing, talented worker like Cesaro to it, and he was on a rocket ship at the time. It was his own rocket ship, it wasn’t the company putting it behind him. It was him electrifying the crowd every time he went out there. The final nail in the coffin was the Rusev angle where it officially became something cool to say.
I really think it’s funny how many times you saw ‘We The People’ in the election campaigns. It’s like, okay, you want to make fun of pro wrestling, but now you’re using it in political campaigns.”
It’s remarkable how that was just a couple years before Trump’s campaign.
Swagger: “Yeah, it really was. Trump was at WrestleMania 29 ringside when Alberto and I fought. He sat behind my wife and she got a picture with him.”
Swagger: “Yeah, but there was no grabbing of any kind.”
(laughs) Do you still keep in touch with Dutch?
Swagger: “Yup, we talk regularly, just kind of catch up with each other. Riding with him and him becoming my friend outside the wrestling business, I’ll put that up with winning the World Heavyweight Championship because it means that much to me. He helped me that much. I learned so much without even realizing it in those two years I got to drive around with him.
He’s in the Hager family college pick-em for the second year in a row. He thinks he’s pretty good. (laughs) He picks Clemson at #10 every time.”
Another guy I wanted to get your thoughts on is Jim Ross. He was always very supportive of you in his writings.
Swagger: “Jim is one of the first people I met in the wrestling business. I met him and Jerry Brisco about the same time during sophomore/junior year of college. They were always like, finish school and if you want to try this out, we think you’ll be great at it. I had a friendship with both of those guys and a business relationship. It was very nice early on having those guys keep me away because I was like a bull in a china shop, I go right toward the trouble. Jim is a great guy and I’m very sorry about his wife Jan. I knew her well and she was just the nicest lady.”
Are you considering joining Bellator?
Swagger: “I’m considering going into MMA. Like I said earlier, combat sports is at an all-time high in popularity. I’m lucky that I still can go and have exposure outside of MMA. I’ve been training. I’m still trying to figure out the best route. I’m 100% serious about it because the reward that could come from it would be astronomical. Plus, it’s something I’ve done all my life. Maybe not MMA-totally, but it’s very similar to competing in wrestling, just with punches. It’s kind of a natural transition for me. When you leave WWE, you need to find a way to use that exposure for whatever you want. This would be a great way – I just have to learn to bob and weave a little bit, and don’t get tapped out. But I’m very excited about it. The sky is the limit and my body has never felt better, which is surprising at 35 and after 10 years of traveling.”
Were you surprised that CM Punk tried his hand at MMA?
Swagger: “A little bit, but at the same time, he made so much money from it that it’s not surprising. If you knew you were going to get that type of money and you’re that type of draw, hats off to you, my friend. I don’t think you’re going to find many pro wrestlers who are mad at him for doing it.”
Your Twitter name is “You Don’t Know Jack.” What’s something fans don’t know about Jack Swagger?
Swagger: “(laughs) Well, it’s something I used in that notorious last Smackdown promo. I really liked it and thought it was a nice play on words for me leaving the company. I had been wrestling with WWE for almost 11 years and that’s the only style I know. There’s so much pro wrestling out there. Right now, I’m on my journey, it has its ups and downs, but I’m trying to learn as fast as I can. I’m trying to grow and change. Something that didn’t work in the past, well, it’s going to work now because we added something to it. It’s almost like I’m back in school and trying to find this potential I know I have. You don’t know Jack is like saying you haven’t seen anything yet.”