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After years of being one-half of the tag team known as the APA, Bradshaw suddenly changed his attitude after his longtime partner and friend Faarooq was fired by then Smackdown General Manager Paul Heyman. Bradshaw would soon change his name to John Bradshaw Layfield and embraced his Wall Street attitude to a higher level. He felt that he was better than everyone and wasn’t discreet about how much money he made. Two months after his attitude change, the previously mid-card level talent wrestler, JBL found himself in the main event scene challenging Eddie Guerrero.

They originally had a match at Judgment Day on May 16th, 2004. Prior to the event, JBL made things really personal between himself and Eddie. At a live event JBL confronted Guerrero when he was celebrating with his family. In one of the more shocking moments in WWE history, JBL caused Eddie’s mother to suffer from a heart attack. Going into the pay per view, JBL had promised to walk out the champion. JBL would win the match at Judgment Day, but only by disqualification. It ended up just being a matter of time before he would win the gold, though.

The next month they would meet at the Great American Bash. There feud was still red hot as their issues continued to become more and more personal. JBL was given the chance to pick the stipulation for the match by the new General Manager of Smackdown, Kurt Angle. JBL ended up choosing a Texas Bullrope match. Naturally both JBL and Guerrero bled quite a bit throughout the match. This time around, JBL was able to fulfill his destiny and won his first WWE Championship.

Two weeks later on Smackdown, Eddie Guerrero would get a rematch against JBL inside a steel cage.
Guerrero wasn’t able to regain the championship due to Kurt Angle screwing him over. JBL escaped the cage and retained he precious championship. It didn’t take long for a new challenger to step up, though. The next week on Smackdown, the Undertaker made it very clear that he wanted JBL at SummerSlam. However, the champion wasn’t too interested in that challenge.

On the August 5th edition of Smackdown, JBL mocked the Undertaker by calling out a midget dressed liked the Undertaker. This obviously didn’t sit well with the Undertaker. There was a brief scuffle but JBL was saved by Orlando Jordan. The next week, Jordan had a match with the Undertaker but JBL got involved to cause the DQ. JBL wasn’t able to keep the Undertaker down with the Clothesline From Hell and it was clear the champion was afraid of the Undertaker.

At SummerSlam, JBL escaped the gold yet again, but lost to the Undertaker by disqualification. You wouldn’t have realized that JBL was the winner, though. Taker had bloody the champion and ended up choke slamming JBL through his limo. The issues between JBL and the Undertaker weren’t over. On the next Smackdown, JBL declared that the Undertaker was evil and he would never get a rematch against him.

Undertaker wrestled Orlando Jordan on Smackdown again but this time if he won he would win the WWE Championship. Once again, JBL got involved to cause a disqualification. Teddy Long, the new General Manager of Smackdown booked JBL in a Last Rites match against the Undertaker at No Mercy. In a blast from the past, JBL brought back Gangrel and Viscera to attack the Undertaker. The Undertaker took care of his former alliance members from the late 1990’s in a handicap match on September 23rd.

At No Mercy, the Undertaker was moments away from putting JBL in the hearse to regain the championship. However, the deranged Heidenreich appeared and helped JBL retain the championship. JBL got past perhaps his toughest challenger on the Smackdown brand. Who could possibly stop JBL?

After No Mercy, JBL had a short program with Hardcore Holly. After Holly beat JBL by count-out, they competed in a hardcore match on Smackdown in England. JBL predictably retained the championship after hitting ring steps into Holly’s face.

On the October 21st edition of Smackdown JBL was turned on by Booker T who had given the impression to JBL that he was going to help him win a six man tag match. Booker T shocked JBL by pinning him in the ring. This would lead to Booker T becoming the new number one contender for the WWE Championship. JBL discredited the win by Booker saying that Booker was a good tag team wrestler, but JBL was better as a singles wrestler.

Booker continued to embarrass JBL and Orlando Jordan leading into their Survivor Series title match. On November 4th, Booker T teamed with announcer Josh Matthews to beat JBL and Orlando Jordan in a tag match. Matthews had grown tired of being assaulted by JBL and that led to a match between them. Booker clearly had the number of JBL.

At Survivor Series, Booker T came incredibly close to winning the WWE Championship, but Orlando Jordan distracted Booker T to allow JBL to hit him with the championship and was able to retain the championship in a hard fight contest. As long as Jordan is by his side, JBL is able to retain his championship it seemed like.

On the November 18th edition of Smackdown, Teddy Long announced that JBL would defend his WWE Championship against the three men he has previously competed against. Yes, he would defend against Booker T, Eddie Guerrero and the Undertaker at Armageddon! There was no way JBL was walking out with the gold, right?

In the weeks leading up to the match, JBL hired the Basham Brothers to his team to beat Booker T and Eddie Guerrero in a tag match. It would appear that JBL realized he needed to beef up his team in order to hang onto his precious championship.

The Smackdown before Armageddon saw JBL continue to be at a disadvantage. Teddy Long revealed that JBL wouldn’t be allowed to have any of his members at ringside for the title defense. Also, later that night he teamed with the Basham Brothers and Orlando Jordan in a handicap tag match against all three challengers for his championship. JBL’s team was on the losing side yet again.

At Armageddon, JBL was able to find a way to walk out with the WWE Championship. Heidenreich made another appearance to screw over the Undertaker again, which greatly helped JBL. JBL ended up hitting the Clothesline From Hell on Booker T to prevail.

JBL had a celebrating ceremony on the next Smackdown, but it was broken up by his former friend, Kurt Angle. Angle believed that he was the greatest WWE Champion of all-time and not JBL! They had a match, which ended in a disqualification when Big Show came out and cleaned house. So, now both Angle and Show are in the hunt for the WWE Championship.

Two weeks later on December 30th, JBL rigged a drawing for a challenger for his championship. He had a short match against Shannon Moore, but it was revealed that every piece of paper in the drawing had his name on it! So, Long booked JBL into a triple threat match against Kurt Angle and the Big Show at the Royal Rumble!

On the January 6th edition of Smackdown, Kurt Angle was tricked into thinking he was going to hook up with Amy Weber. Instead, he found himself in a shower with Joy Giovanni, who was a special friend of the Big Show. So, when the Big Show found out what happened, he chased Angle and attacked him, Mark Jindrak and Luther Reigns. It was revealed that this was JBL’s master plan.

The following week, Kurt Angle got in on the mind games by having Joy Giovanni trapped in JBL’s trunk and made it appear that JBL had done it. Once again, Big Show took out JBL and his buddies as the build for the Royal Rumble continued. Despite what they had been doing to each other, JBL and Angle formed an alliance to take Big Show out on the following episode of Smackdown. They brutally beat Big Show down and left him bloody. On the last Smackdown before the Royal Rumble, Teddy Long booked JBL in a Last Man Standing match against Kurt Angle. They beat the crap out of each other and it ended in a draw. It was revealed that the Big Show suggested the match between Angle and JBL to take place and now believed he would win the championship at the Royal Rumble!

Do you think that JBL’s luck would run out? If this title reign was proven anything, it’s that JBL always finds a way to retain the gold. That trend continued when after the Cabinet interfered and Angle’s buddies got involved, JBL hit Angle with the Clothesline From Hell to continue his unlikely long title reign on the Smackdown brand.

Teddy Long booked JBL in a barbed wire steel cage match for No Way Out against the Big Show. JBL tried to find a way to prevent the match from happening and ended up acquiring a tranquilizer gun. JBL attempted to attack Big Show on February 10th edition of Smackdown, but that backfired on the champion.

The barbed wire steel cage match was the main event for No Way Out. Now, there was no way for JBL to find a way past Big Show inside a cage with barbed wire surrounding the top of the cage, right? Think again, folks. These two had a bloody match which saw Show choke slam JBL off the top rope and the canvas broke as a result. Show attempted to leave through the door, which was locked. He broke the lock, but JBL prevailed by crawling under the ring and touched the floor to miraculously retain the championship.

With John Cena becoming the new number one contender at No Way Out, JBL had another challenge to face. These two were set to compete at WrestleMania, but that was over a month away. JBL and his Cabinet got a big advantage over Cena when JBL cost Cena the WWE United States Championship by hitting him with the WWE Championship. Orlando Jordan was then able to pick up the win and the title. The following week, JBL destroyed the spinner US Championship and brought back the old one.

JBL tired to get Teddy Long to suspend John Cena for hitting the FU on the General Manger. Instead, Long said that Cena will lose his shot at the title if he puts his hands on JBL outside of a wrestling ring. JBL tried his hardest to get Cena to strike him, but wasn’t successful in getting that to happen.

On the March 24th edition of Smackdown, JBL had a debate with John Cena. The segment saw Cena damage JBL’s limousine by popping a tire and spray painting “JBL sucks” on the limo. JBL was obviously pissed off, but assured Cena he would crush his dreams at Mania. Cena continued to get under JBL’s skin by dumping water into his hat, painting a yellow streak on the champ’s back and painting FU on the front of JBL’s shirt!

The final Smackdown before WrestleMania saw JBL get Cena arrested for what he did last week and ended up kicking Cena in the groin because Cena made a move towards him while in handcuffs. The time has come for these two to meet at WrestleMania. JBL’s WWE Championship reign, which no one expected, comes to an end when John Cena pins him after hitting the FU. JBL was champion for 280 days. And so begins the era of John Cena, folks.

Personally, I really enjoyed JBL’s title run. His character reminded me of Ted DiBiase, whom I was a big fan of. The title run started off great with his feud against Eddie Guerrero. The personal issues those two had for each other provided some bloody brawls and memorable moments. Then the feud with the Undertaker brought the reign down a little bit. It was obvious they were next to feud, but their matches failed to deliver. That was kind of surprising to me as I thought to guys with similar wrestling styles would’ve put on a better match.

His feud with Booker T wasn’t all that great, either. For some reason in 2004 Booker T didn’t come across as a champion contender and the angle behind their match at Survivor Series was rather weak. When the feuds with Angle and Show started in January the title reign became more enjoyable. The angle between those three with the mind games and whatnot provided for some entertaining television.

JBL was a damn good heel and was able to get any crowd riled up. Almost all of his major wins involved some kind of cheap finish, but that was what made it a great run. He was able to find a way to retain the championship and continue to piss fans off in the process. In my opinion, JBL was the perfect heel to have lose to John Cena at WrestleMania. I think you would be hard pressed to find someone who didn’t hate JBL back then.

Overall, I’m going to say that JBL’s title reign was enjoyable and one of the better ones to ever happen on the Smackdown side since the brand split occurred. JBL took his moment at the top and he succeeded on every level. That shouldn’t be all that surprising, though. After all, he is a WRESTLING GOD!

What are your memories about JBL’s title reign in 2004 – 2005? Feel free to share.

Thanks for reading.

Bob is a guest columnist for OWW.  Follow him on Twitter at @bobcolling89.