Jack Swagger Staying Humble as Champion Heading Into Extreme Rules
So when the WWE began recruiting him four years ago, he decided that it was too good of an opportunity to pass up. Now, it's really starting to pay off. Last month at WrestleMania 26, he won the Money in the Bank ladder match to earn a shot a championship of his choosing whenever he wanted. It only took him a few days before he cashed that in and defeated Chris Jericho to become the World Heavyweight Champion.
This Sunday night, Swagger will defend his championship against Randy Orton at the WWE Extreme Rules pay-per-view (8PM ET / 5PM PT). FanHouse spoke with the 'All-American American' to discuss his whirlwind month, the recent tour in Europe which got interrupted by the Icelandic volcano eruptions, getting advice from some wrestling legends, being a lifelong fan and more.
Brian Fritz: Have you recovered from the fun trip over in Europe yet?
Jack Swagger: (laughs) Yes! I got home yesterday (Wednesday), was able to get some rest and a nice workout in at the gym. The champ is ready to go.
So what where those last couple of days like overseas with the travel restricted and you having to take buses and ferries to get around to find a way to get back home?
You know, it was truly something for the record book; an unbelievable experience. We ended up going from Friday night to Sunday morning when we got back so it was like 54 hours straight without a bed, all just to make our show here in New Jersey. It was quite an ordeal and it definitely tested whether or not you wanted to be in the business.
People always talk about how grueling the schedule can be at times. This just seemed like a situation where all you could do is try to make the best of the situation.
Yeah, it really was one of those situations. Who knew that a volcano was going to erupt three times over the course of a week and a half. On the bright side of it, we were in Europe, we were getting to see some amazing sites. It was sort of cramped inside of a bus but what are you going to do? We get to perform in front of thousands and thousands of fans every day in Europe. Overall, it was a great trip.
It was just a few weeks back when you won the World Heavyweight Title. You've been a long time fan of wrestling. What was that moment like for you?
Oh man, unbelievable. I'll tell you what...this whole last month has been just a surreal moment and I've been just trying to sit back and enjoy it as much as possible. What an honor it really is to be the World Heavyweight Champion. One of the first things I did after winning it after the show, I texted my parents. It was a cool little moment like hey your son is now a World Heavyweight Champion because they've been by my side since the beginning, dragging me to wrestling tournament since I was 5, 6 years old and now look where we're at. It really is very cool.
You've been with the WWE now for a few years. Did you ever think this would happen so quickly?
You know what? I knew I was a champion. They knew I was a champion. I thought it was only a matter of time. If you go back to the December issue of the WWE Magazine, they asked me when I was going to win my first World Heavyweight Championship and I said WrestleMania. So I was only about a week off.
You've been a longtime wrestling fan and were a very accomplished amateur wrestler in high school and in college at Oklahoma. At that time, did you think your next step would be with the WWE?
Well, it really wasn't until I met Jerry Brisco and Jim Ross that I realized the incredible opportunity that the WWE offers to young professionals. I interviewed for several jobs; I have a degree in finance. I actually had a job lined up with a firm and I turned that down to come do this because the opportunity was better, I get to travel to see the world and really have a life changing experience. I really didn't know what I was getting into but I knew it was big.
What kind of advice did both of them give you not only to get you into the WWE but once you got there?
Well, they knew I was an amateur wrestler so they knew the principles upon which I was successful which was be passionate about what you want and work hard to get it. And they told me to do the same things coming up in the ranks in college and high school and you'll be successful at this.
Early on in your career, I believe you got the opportunity to speak with both Danny Hodge and 'Dr. Death' Steve Williams. What was that experience like?
Well, God rest his soul, 'Dr. Death' Steve Williams was a great friend of mine. I had the honor to tag-team with him coming up through the ranks. It was amazing just being in the ring with him. I'll tell you what – that guy would just raise up his hand and the whole crowd would go crazy. It was very sad to hear about his passing this past year. I hope nothing but the best for his family because he truly was an inspiration upon me and my family. And Danny Hodge, the living legend! He still lives two blocks from my parents in Perry, Oklahoma. I've known Danny for a long time. I grew up with his grandsons. They were in my grade. We wrestled together and Danny would be at all the events, all the tournaments. Every year, we come back to OU and play in the fundraising golf tournament for the Oklahoma wrestling team. What a great guy and the advice he has given me stands for itself. Hopefully, it shows in my work.
Has he ever gotten you on a mat and stretched you?
(laughs) Luckily no! I don't think I'd be able to get out of it. That guy is pretty strong.
Every week, WWE fans get an opportunity to see Jack Swagger, the All-American American. How much of that is the real you?
A lot of it is. You gotta be yourself out there. Otherwise, the fans will see through you. Our WWE Universe is very smart, very educated these days and if they don't believe what you're saying they're going to tell you about it. And they're not going to accept it. So, a lot of it is me. A lot of it is amplified as well.
So you must really dig the name Jack Swagger?
I love the name Jack Swagger. Jack was my grandpa's name and Swagger is one of the hottest words or names in pop culture right now. Every song you listen to these days has some sort of swagger in it.
Since you have been a longtime fan, have you ever been overwhelmed just looking around and seeing the guys you get an opportunity to work with now?
Yeah. The last year was really eye-opening. I had matches with Triple H, Shawn Michaels, John Cena, some of the guys I grew up watching like The Undertaker last Monday night. It was unbelievable; just an honor to be in the ring with him. You really have to sit back and enjoy what you have and sometimes it's hard to do. People lose sight of that. I stay very humble and enjoy every minute I have because it really is a life changing experience working with this company.
You mentioned The Undertaker. When you see him coming out and you're waiting for him in the ring, do you catch yourself thinking 'wow, I'm going to be in the ring with Taker' but then have to snap out of it and get focused?
You know, he has such a presence that I don't care who you are; he commands respect. He commands it. As soon as he comes into the arena, the whole audience feels it. So, you have to step back. You can't prepare for the Dead Man; you can only hope that you're ready.
With you now being the champion, is there even more pressure on you to step up your game?
You know what? I think I'm more dangerous now than I've ever been. So the way I look at it, the pressure is on the other people to prove that I'm not a respectable champion, to prove that they can beat me. Otherwise, I'm going to stand victorious with my hand in the air and have the championship around my waist.
It's a job but at the same time, how much fun are you having right now?
Unbelievable! Like I said, this last month has just been so surreal. I've really just tried to enjoy it for what it is and have fun with it because if you don't love what you do, it makes it much tougher. I absolutely love what I do.
WWE is going to have the draft next Monday night on Raw. Do you care what brand you end up on?
Am I going to go to Monday Night Raw or Friday Night Smackdown? As long as I have the World Title, I don't care. Both shows are great with talented rosters and it's going to be a challenge wherever I go. I'm ready for that. I'm ready for whatever possibility. It should be exciting. That's the great thing about the WWE and our shows; you never know what's going to happen.
Well, I'm looking forward to see your match on Sunday at the Extreme Rules pay-per-view against Randy Orton.
Thank you man. It's going to be an unbelievable show this Sunday. Top to bottom it's a great card. I'll call it right now, me and the Legend Killer – instant classic.