Over the last decade, a small handful of wrestlers have stood out to me as near-certain future world champions the first time I saw them wrestle in WWE. CM Punk and Alberto Del Rio looked like big stars immediately and fulfilled their potential. The stars never aligned for Drew McIntyre and he has since left WWE. The one wrestler who remains on the fence is Jack Swagger. He certainly has the athleticism and size to become a convincingly dominant wrestler. So far, the persona and ability to communicate have lagged behind his in-ring skill and he has not lived up to his potential. It seemed like Swagger was on his way to the top with a cocky pro-America gimmick, a Money in the Bank victory, and a brief World Heavyweight Title run, but his momentum slowly eroded to the point that he was a glorified jobber a couple of years ago. With Zeb Colter as his mouthpiece, Swagger was rejuvenated as a heel, but has found surprisingly greater success as a patriotic babyface this summer. Although his matches with Rusev have been uneven at times, they have improved over the course of the feud and Swagger did some of his best work in the last week.
Although Swagger’s rivalry with Rusev has dominated his agenda for the summer, he had a match with Seth Rollins on Smackdown. The pairing was fresh and had a lot of potential because they both have so much ability in different styles. Swagger was able to display his athletic powerhouse style early in the match with a couple of belly-to-belly suplexes. He continued to control the match with an impressive rally that included a release German Suplex and a Swagger Bomb for a two count. Rollins worked on the lingering rib injuries to Swagger with a variety of creative offense. Swagger was able to put Rollins in the Patriot Lock on the apron, but Rollins pulled him to the floor. When he finally crawled back into the ring, Rollins Curb Stomped him and finished the match. It was a well-booked finish because Rollins got something of an unfair advantage by using his environment and Swagger still looked good due to his performance in the loss.
Swagger wrestled an even better match against Rusev on Raw. At this point in their rivalry, the challenge is to make Swagger seem like a legitimate threat to Rusev. He has lost repeatedly and only notched a single fluke win by DQ on Main Event. This match made Swagger seem like a true challenger with a variety of near finishes. He overcame the injuries to his ribs and worked on Rusev’s ankle with a series of three Patriot Locks. The second one, in particular, seemed like it was a very good opportunity to win the match. When Rusev rolled through the third one, Swagger turned it into an impressive jackknife cover that once again made me think he had a real chance to win the match. Even the finish was inventive. Rusev regrouped to kick and strike Swagger incessantly until the referee stopped the match. Once again, Swagger lost and never gave up. Later in the show, he took out his frustration on Bo Dallas, who has been poking fun at Swagger’s losses to Rusev. Swagger is so truly earnest and Dallas is so faux earnest that a program between the two of them should be extremely fun.
The previous week was a poor one for WWE overall, but there were certainly highlights within it. Primary among those high points was a very strong week for Swagger. When he is given a chance to use his strength, agility, and legitimate wrestling ability to put together convincing and entertaining matches, he can engage with fans. WWE has done a better job in the last few months of playing to Swagger’s strengths. While he might not have the ceiling that I imagined for him in his early days in WWE, he still has considerable skills that can be extremely valuable to the company in the right role. This week was a good example of how he can be a bright spot for WWE when given a chance to focus on wrestling. WWE is going to need more of the same with a thin roster of upper-midcard faces.