They gave him the moniker “Jack Swagger,” but at this point, it’s nothing more than a name. The man’s character was predicated on the notorious blustery, boastful nature of an accomplished natural athlete who has all the presence and self-assuredness of a champion. Earlier this year, Swagger’s character lived that name with reckless abandon, but that’s no longer the case. He maintained his push for a bit after the DUI, but you had to figure that the PG WWE wouldn’t let Swagger get away with a DUI without paying for it at some point. There’s a limit to how far the PG WWE will push a guy who has a legitimate mugshot in the top 10 results of a Google image search for his character’s name.
Thus, we don’t see the guy who oozes confidence, we see the guy who usually takes the pinfall when his tag team loses. We don’t see the guy who’s fearless and cocky, we see the guy who does little to impress while Cesaro and Colter shine time after time. We don’t see the wrestler who was supposed to be Kurt Angle’s successor in terms of translating amateur wrestling dexterity to professional dominance, we see the guy doing penance for an egregious error during the push of a lifetime. We don’t see the man ready to conquer the world with the ferocity of a cagey, skilled wrestler, we see someone struggling to gain relevancy in the landscape of the WWE.
That Swagger’s legs have been cut from under him is not a surprise, but Swagger was Vince’s pet project, and the prevailing notion was that Vince’s pet projects almost always get some level of prominence and leeway. Fandango lost his steam with creative after the concussion, and Swagger may have lost that completely with the bust. If longtime wrestling fans feel like they’re watching a repeat of a story they’ve seen with Swagger, it’s because they are. Before Swagger’s repackaging and win streak, he went on a lengthy streak of enhancement talent appearances that made you question how they could talk him up so highly at the announcer’s table and yet book him so poorly. It was as if your eyes saw something that betrayed everything you were being told. Swagger hasn’t won a singles match on Raw or Smackdown since May 2013, but beyond that, he’s rarely even featured in singles matches on any WWE programming, while tag partner Antonio Cesaro has had multiple matches in the past few months on Main Event, NXT, or Superstars.
If there’s a light at the end of the tunnel, this is it: Swagger doesn’t lack any of the tools needed to have resounding singles’ success and to become the champion that was derailed by outside of the ring issues. The intensity, wrestling ability, size, and no-frills personality are all still there. His singles run must occur with the help of Zeb Colter, however, as Zeb is the reason that Jack’s push was so highly discussed and highly visible. Zeb and Jack create a dynamic, stirring duo, because Zeb’s prowess on the mic matches Jack’s dynamic ability in the ring. But if Swagger goes on another lengthy dominant streak after the tag team splits, will fans be interested again or would they feel indifferent due to the confusion and mental fatigue from the see-saw booking that would have his character jump from Alpha male to doormat back to Alpha male over the course of 12-18 months?
To return Swagger to his former level of prominence will take a substantial shift; there’s a lot to overcome. Either he’ll have to have a signature on-screen moment with his character that turns him around (Zeb laces into him or an opponent berates him) or find a new dimension of his persona—e.g., sadistic Swagger and Zeb decide to get hands-on with their concept of protecting their idea of America and start to mercilessly attack random people at will.
At 31, Swagger is young, so everything that he’s gone through—lackluster World Title reign, multiple stints of persistent jobbing, weak booking—can be fodder for success down the road. I can’t pronounce doom over his career, because I respect his ability, but he’s had multiple chances at this point, and should be a two-time World Champion, not the weaker part of a solid tag team. Has he doomed himself past this tag team by short-circuiting the push that would have crowned him World Champion earlier this year at Wrestlemania? Would you be interested in Jack getting his swagger back once he’s solo?