After a run of almost nine years with the WWE, former World Heavyweight Champion Jack Swagger requested his release from the promotion where he had spent most of his career.
By most measures, Swagger's run with the promotion was a successful one, picking up the ECW Championship, WWE United States Championship, winning Money in the Bank, and subsequently, the WWE World Heavyweight Championship during his time. But in early 2017, had come to a crossroads. His decision to leave of his own accord was relatively unheard of at the time and a huge leap into the unknown.
Since leaving, Swagger has reinvented himself on the independent scene, finding a new love for the sport which has been aided by sharing the ring with some of the very best talents around the globe, including the likes of Michael Elgin, Doug Williams, Donovan Dijak & Zack Sabre Jr.
Walking into a new locker room can be a daunting experience, especially for those coming from the heights of the WWE, but Swagger told FloSlam he has been blown away by the support he has found among the fans and locker rooms, and is finding learning opportunities every time he steps between the ropes.
“I mean, in essence it’s almost like starting all over again," Swagger said. "To get back your momentum, you have to reach all fans bases and it really did feel like starting again from scratch. But as of now, everything has been exactly what I had expected. A majority of the fans are glad to see me and I have been getting good receptions which I am happy with and it hasn’t deflated my ego.
“The hospitality I have received from every single roster I have been a part of has been amazing. This is a brand new side of things that I am learning and I am having to learn on my feet and it's awesome. So many of the guys and girls have been so helpful at letting me pick their brains and every show has been so different.”
Having come from a background sharing the locker room with some of the very best in the world made it slightly easier for him to reach out for advice when moving on to the next chapter in his career.
“I have been fortunate to work with so many great guys and lot of them have come and gone," Swagger said. "The first guy that I reached out to was Matt Hardy because I started at WWE with him and we had some great storylines including the ECW one. We became great friends. I also called Konnan and Rey Mysterio who were beyond helpful to me.”
Whilst Swagger was able to reach out to some of his peers for advice, he was also aware that he would need to adapt his style to suit his new audiences. Something he believes is best learnt by studying others who have been perfecting their craft on the indie scene for years.
"You have to have a different type of match in front of these crowds," he said. "For me to learn that you can only do so by watching. So I have been watching as much video and internet stuff as I can to see what everyone is doing. When I was in What Culture, I was watching guys like Will Ospreay and that dude is amazing in the ring. He can do a handstand without using his hands.
“Then guys like Zack Sabre Jr, Big Grizzly and Dave Mastiff were instrumental to me when I was in the UK. In America, I like to watch guys like Ricochet. Also Warbeard Hanson is one of my favourites, it’s just phenomenal to see what he does and how he brings everyone else’s game up around him.”
With names like Cody, Austin Aries and Swagger leaving WWE -- and rumors of Neville looking to follow -- it's becoming something of a trend in wrestling. With each person facing different challenges in making the leap, Swagger has one piece of advice for another contemplating moving on.
“You just have to remember that when you are with the WWE, it is a corporate job so you have certain benefits you need to get in line before you lose them. It’s real important to get stuff like your mortgage and insurance in check before you decide to leave. Stuff like that becomes very difficult when you become an independent star.”
Another aspect of being an independent star is taking control of your merchandise and maximizing any opportunity to make some extra money where possible. Luckily for Swagger, he and his wife have been focusing on releasing a range of clothing since leaving the WWE, a project he is very excited about..
“For my wife and I it was almost like a silver lining," Swagger said. "We had an idea for starting a clothing line years and years ago, but we just never had the time to actually start our own business until now. We have a new website that is about to launch soon and I am very excited about it. We're hoping to get it built up to a level where it won’t just be for me but for other wrestlers and hopefully we can branch off into a women’s apparel line and some other stuff.
“The whole LFR thing came about when we first got together. My wife is tougher than me and I think she knew that when we first started dating. She wanted to test me a bit and she dared me to get a tattoo and I don’t think she thought I would go through with it. But we got matching LFR tattoos within a week of knowing each other. LFR (Let’s Fucking Rage) is from a movie called Grandma’s Boy. Although when anyone asks what the tattoo means I tell them it’s my boyfriend Leon Robinson’s initials.”
Having now been an independent worker since his release in March, Swagger has been able to get a good oversight of the business and whilst it’s still the early days of this run, he still truly believes that the positives of being his own boss far outweigh the negatives.
“Being able to work with my wife is one of the main pros and one of the factors why I wanted to leave," he said. "It can be a very lonely business at times so it’s nice to be able to be with her and travel with her and also she is one hot momma.
“I also like working the smaller shows because they are much more intimate and intense and you can feel that. Everyone is on top of each other and that's awesome. You can interact with the same so much easier and do stuff right in front of their faces and I enjoy that side of it. I also like the challenge of learning the style of wrestling for these shows and being able to make it my own. I think the only downside to being an independent wrestler that I have noticed so far is making sure you stay healthy. Like I am out there Friday to Sunday and you have to go out there and put on a hell of a match each and every time.”
With the reduced schedule Swagger has been able to find more time to stay in shape, and more importantly, be at home to spend more quality time with his two kids and wife.
“It is definitely a great bonus to be home more and was a big reason to consider when I left," he said. "On the flip side, now that you are home more you still have to make a living. But my son just turned six and is real big into Disney and we were lucky enough to go there last week. He is big on the entertainment side of things and he can cut promo’s and knows how to stand and all that stuff. My daughter is two and a half and she is just super freakishly strong. Both of them are great swimmers so I love taking them swimming."
With 2017 nearing the end he has been very gracious about how he has been received on the scene, but will look to make more of an impact in 2018 in the form of capturing some Titles and potentially working a few more countries which we haven’t yet seen him work in.
“I am definitely still aiming on winning some titles and I’m not afraid to talk about it because everybody knows that," Swagger said. "Not only do I want to win a Title but I want to have a good run with it. I have already competed for a few including a match with Cody and I have another opportunity at APW against Jeff Cobb that I'm looking forward to.
“I’ve been to Mexico a few times but I think that Japan is really interesting for everyone. I would love to go over there and learn another style to help me grow. I don’t want to be bitter towards the company I used to work for a focus on what I didn’t achieve. I don’t blame anyone for anything. I only want to focus on what I can do from now.”
The mention of crossing over into MMA has been something that has been attached to Swagger's name for a long time given his amateur wrestling background. Confirming his departure from WWE on Chael Sonnen’s podcast probably added fuel to that rumour.. But it certainly feels like more than just a rumour as Swagger explains he has been in training and has weighed up the risk/reward of stepping inside an Octagon.
“I mean if you look at my background and how popular combat sports are now, then it is one hell of an opportunity but also one hell of a risk which could be an even greater reward," Swagger said. "I have been training for months now getting into shape but it’s been ten years since I competed at amateur wrestling levels. There are a lot of things to consider. I like what Bellator are doing right now and the roster is filling up and its not just top heavy, the guys in the middle of the rankings are very competitive and dangerous. My good friend Josh Rafferty has done MMA and pro-wrestling so we are always talking about it.”
This article was written by Tony Quant.