Pro wrestling star turned MMA fighter Jake Hager took a lot of hard, hard punches from Brandon Calton in the second round of his fourth professional fight. But he remembers well what his corner said as he sat down before the final frame.
“You wanna be a f*cking MMA fighter now, huh baby?” Hager said on What the Heck.
Hager gave his answer in the next five minutes. By the end of the fight, his face was a bloody mess as Calton continued to crack him. But he was also a winner.
Hager went back to his other job after that punishing night and traded real punches for staged ones. Now, he is campaigning for a long shot: A fight with Fedor Emelianenko.
Bellator and Emelianenko recently announced his next fight, set for Oct. 23 in Moscow, and several names were subsequently broached as potential opponents. Hager was not among them.
The former wrestling champ has no problem putting himself on the same plane as fighters such as Alistair Overeem, Junior Dos Santos, Fabricio Werdum or Josh Barnett. He’s calling out one of the most celebrated heavyweights in history, a man many believe is the all-time GOAT. And from a skills perspective, he might be worlds apart. But when it comes to name value, an attribute that carries a lot of weight in the fight business, he might not be that far off.
“Just because I have a shorter career doesn’t mean I’m not as worthy,” he said. “I have a bigger following, I have more excitement behind me, and I have a brighter future than all of those guys. So give it to me [Bellator President] Scott [Coker], because I’m the one that you’re going to build this company on, not those guys that are just coming in for a one-and-done. I’m here for the next 10 years. Let’s go.”
Hager has tasked his agent with getting Bellator’s ear, and he’s gone to social media to generate some buzz. Any fans who question his heart should take a look at his most recent cage appearance.
“I think the best way to describe that fight was almost three fights in one for me, which is great, because I’m a young fighter,” he said of his meeting with Calton. “I earned the experience in the cage. That fight was really great for me. It helped show the MMA world that I really want to do this. I’m going in there to bang, and I want to win with respect.
“I also think it helped me learn so I know how to dig deep when I get into the bigger matches in the tougher arenas in the unfriendly crowds in the foreign countries so I can dig deep and have that experience to rely upon and be ready to battle.”
If you’re picking up what Hager is putting down, that’s a trip to wintry Russia this fall.
Does he deserve it? Probably not. But getting big fights often has nothing to do with deserving.
“I really honestly believe that this is my fight,” Hager said. “It’s been my fight since I came to Bellator. ... Who else do you want to see him fight in the top-10. Tyrell Fortune? Give me a break.”