Jack Swagger has made one of the biggest and most unexpected returns in recent professional wrestling history. After jobbing on a weekly basis, he took some time off. When he came back, he immediately inserted himself into the World Heavyweight Championship scene and cemented a spot for himself at WrestleMania 29. But is the push too much, too soon?
The Early Years
I've been a fan of Jack Swagger since Vince and company introduced the Oklahoma-born grappler as part of the ECW relaunch in 2008. I was ecstatic to be in attendance when he won Money in the Bank at WrestleMania 26 and went on to take the World Heavyweight Championship from Chris Jericho.
I had high hopes for him after he dropped his title, hoping he would remain a part of WWE's upper-echelon talent. I suffered through the Swagger Soaring Eagle, knowing this would not help his career. His program with Michael Cole, Jerry Lawler and Jim Ross kept him on television and the WrestleMania bill, but once the story ended, so did Swagger's relevance.
Then they teamed him up with Vickie Guerrero and Dolph Ziggler. I'm a big fan of managers and stables, so I had hoped Guerrero would add another superstar or two and they could really take over. The stable never grew, and nothing much came of their tag team attempts.
By this time, it was painfully clear that he was going to have to work his way back up again. I thought perhaps his United States Championship win over Zack Ryder would be the beginning of something big for the All-American American. But he dropped the title to Santino Marella less than two months later and looked like a fool when he unsuccessfully tried to regain the title from the Milan Miracle.
When he hit his horrible losing streak during the summer of 2012, I assumed his WWE career was all but done. When you've gone all the way from World Heavyweight Champion back down to jobbing on SmackDown, you rarely get back to the top.
When Swagger announced on September 3, 2012 that he was taking time off, it felt like he was finally being put out of his misery.
When he returned on February 1, 2013, I was excited since it seemed like he would be a part of the Elimination Chamber. He had tweaked his character and his look ever so slightly, showing us a darker side of the All-American, who now called himself a "Real American."
When Zeb Colter joined the story, spewing his anti-immigration rhetoric, it seemed obvious that Swagger would feud with the recently-turned-face Alberto Del Rio. Clearly, Del Rio would drop the title to Big Show or Ziggler, allowing Swagger to feud with the Mexican aristocrat at WrestleMania.
As I watched Del Rio defeat Big Show at Elimination Chamber, I waited for Show to knock Del Rio out post-match so that Ziggler could come down and cash in his MITB briefcase. When this didn't happen, I could only assume that he would drop the title in the next week or two so that he could move on to Swagger and Orton (who I assumed would win the Chamber match) could begin a program with the new champ.
As the Chamber match got underway, I was happy to see that Swagger was performing so well. He looked great when he found himself in there with Chris Jericho and Daniel Bryan. I was surprised that he outlasted both members of Team Hell No. I was happy for him when Henry was eliminated, making Swagger one of the final three.
As Orton pinned Jericho, leaving Swagger alone with Orton, I thought for sure that Swagger would go down and find some way to blame Del Rio, building towards a feud at WrestleMania.
There is almost nothing I like more in professional wrestling than being absolutely surprised. Over two-and-a-half months into 2013, I consider Swagger pinning Orton to win the Elimination Chamber to be the biggest shocker of the year.
The World Heavyweight Championship
Again, let me emphasize the fact that I'm a huge supporter of Jack Swagger. I couldn't believe that he was set for one of the biggest matches at WrestleMania so fresh upon his return to WWE television. It was a few weeks after the Chamber before I really, completely believed it would be Del Rio vs. Swagger at WrestleMania for the World Heavyweight Championship.
In the back of my mind, however, I couldn't help but think: Was this too much, too quick? Is Swagger ready to be thrust into the second biggest title scene in the company?
There are several great aspects to Swagger's shot at another World Heavyweight Championship reign. The first, as I've already mentioned, is simply the surprise factor. If you're the type of person that reads or writes articles like this one, you're probably the kind of person who thinks you can guess what WWE is going to do next. And most of the time, you're probably right.
But did anyone see this coming? When Swagger first came back to SmackDown, did anyone really believe he'd be challenging Del Rio at WrestleMania?
The emotional build for the match is another huge bonus. To this day, those who were around at WrestleMania 7 said that Hulk Hogan vs. Sgt. Slaughter was arguably the most emotional Mania main event of all time.
If you recall, Sgt. Slaughter, who had spent a significant portion of his career defending America's honor with his G.I. Joe gimmick, had returned to WWF with anti-American propaganda, claiming America had gone soft. The war in the Middle East was one of the hottest political issues at the time, and Slaughter's character was an Iraqi sympathizer.
After Slaughter defeated the Ultimate Warrior for the WWF Championship at Royal Rumble 1991, Hulk Hogan refocused on the WWF Title and defending the United States against Slaughter and his mentor General Adnan.
The parallels are obvious. Swagger is an American who has lost faith in the American people. He latched on to one of the hottest political issues of the day, using it to make himself out to be one of the most hated heels in the company. He finds himself in a world title match at WrestleMania against someone who is defending the American people and the American way.
Most fans desperately want Swagger to lose at Mania. They fully support Del Rio and his love of the United States. While it may only receive the third- or fourth-highest billing on this year's card, it still has the potential for an incredibly emotional conclusion, regardless of who walks away with the strap.
On top of that, very little could do more to keep Swagger at the top of the card than putting on a memorable WrestleMania match. His career seemed hopeless six months ago. If you're a supporter of Swagger, you can't ask for much more than he's currently getting.
The United States Championship
When you give a superstar a big push like the one Swagger is receiving, there's always the chance that he won't be able to maintain his push to the top. Ryback is a recent example, getting pushed to the main event when Cena had surgery. Failing to capture the WWE Championship and failing to defeat The Shield, his momentum has mostly stopped and they're going to have to rebuild him and his character
2011 was an amazing year for The Miz. At WrestleMania, he successfully defended the WWE Championship against John Cena. And what happened to him after he dropped the title? A year later, his only involvement at WrestleMania was as part of a 12-man tag match, a match that most people won't remember a year from now. His latest program was an unsuccessful attempt at winning the United States Championship.
With Swagger's emphasis on immigration and being a "Real American," would it have been a better idea to have him chase after the United States Championship instead? Couldn't a World Heavyweight Championship program be used a bit down the road?
When Wade Barrett approached Jack and Zeb, saying he completely understood their disappointment with the American people, the duo rejected the Intercontinental Champion, saying he didn't sound like an American with his British accent. Clearly, Swagger has no problem butting heads with a heel.
Antonio Cesaro is doing great work with the United States Championship. Why not work a program between Cesaro and Swagger, with a face thrown into the mix as well? Swagger could confront Cesaro, saying it's a travesty that they even let Cesaro compete in WWE, much less hold the United States Championship. Then they could throw a good worker into the mix, someone like Kofi Kingston who was also born outside of the United States.
A Triple Threat program could accomplish several things. First, it would make the United States Championship seem even more important than it currently seems. Cesaro's emphasis on being the best US Champ of all time brings up names of former holders that gave the title true prestige. Swagger, with his misconstrued patriotism, could make the title seem just as valuable as either of the world titles.
Cesaro could lose the title to Kingston at WrestleMania, giving him the opportunity to still claim that no American can take the title from him. All three could continue working a program together, with Swagger picking up the US title at Extreme Rules.
Having captured the US title, Swagger could begin looking at the World Heavyweight Championship, wanting to reclaim the belt as part of "Jack Swagger's America," causing him to lose focus on the US title and dropping it back to Cesaro while he moves on to the main event around SummerSlam time. By WrestleMania 30, he could be a completely believable challenger for the WHC.
Only time will tell if WWE made the right move in pushing Swagger to a WrestleMania main event so quickly upon his return.
The match has every opportunity to be a show-stealer. Both men are incredible workers, and if the stars align on April 7 in East Rutherford, they could put on the match of the night. The crowd could be very emotionally invested, and it could be a new high for both men's careers.
On the other hand, it could be a complete flop. There's no proof that these guys can put on a five-star match together, and we won't know how invested the WWE Universe truly is until they finally step into the ring together.
Have they gone too far? Should Swagger be chasing the United States Championship for now, leaving his World Heavyweight push for a later time?
Or is the iron too hot not to strike? Has WWE finally found the right formula for Swagger?
What do you think: Is the World Heavyweight Championship at WrestleMania 29 the correct place for Jack Swagger at this point in his career?