A little over ten years ago, Jake Hager was Jack Swagger, World Heavyweight Champion of SmackDown. He gained the belt after cashing in on Chris Jericho right after WrestleMania, and he would lose it 79 days later to Rey Mysterio. His brief flirtation with the world title picture was the highest he’d ever get on the card in WWE despite a well-liked character transformation years later.
It turns out that Hager wasn’t always supposed to cash in on Jericho. He was on RAW when he gained the briefcase and initially went after John Cena. However, according to Hager, Cena wasn’t willing to give him the 1-2-3.
The night before, I teased it on Raw. I hit Cena with the briefcase, I snuck up on him when he had one of his brilliant promo segments. Later, come to find out, he refused to do the job for me for the [WWE] Championship. We won’t talk about that. Ugh. ‘The most unselfish top man in the business.’
In the present day, Hager is the big man in Chris Jericho’s Inner Circle, seen most weeks on AEW Dynamite on TNT. As it turns out, the pairing was not a random one, and Jake recounted on Jericho’s podcast this week that he learned to respect Jericho during that briefcase cash-in.
We get to the building, I get there 30 minutes early so I’m waiting. I see [John Laurinaitis] go into the office, here you [Jericho] come, here Edge comes, I was going to come in behind you guys, then the door shuts. It was about five minutes, then I go in there. When we were in there and it was laid out, you turned to me and were like, ‘You better not fuck this up,’ and you were dead serious and very sincere. It always reminded me of my best wrestling coach. Once you said that, I looked up to you and knew I could trust you.
For more from Hager about his run in WWE and his time in the indies before AEW existed, you can check out the full episode of Talk is Jericho embedded below:
Thanks to our friends at Fightful for the above podcast quotes.