HeadLocker — Jay Shannon
OWW Wrestler of the Week: John “Bradshaw” Layfield
Our resident philosopher, Jay Shannon, deviates a little with this week’s choice for Wrestler of the Week. This week’s choice is the man who created the Tribute of the Troops program in the WWE, John “Bradshaw” Layfield.
John “Bradshaw” Layfield, also known as JBL, has been a main event player in the WWE for over a dozen years. He’s held plenty of championship during his career. His biggest accomplishment has nothing to do with championships, announcing duties or even financial savvy. JBL is credited with creating the Tribute to the Troops program that brings the superstars of the WWE to war-torn areas of the world to support the men and women in the Armed Forces. Layfield may be a bully and an arrogant heel. Above and beyond all that, Layfield is a caring man who has brought joy to so many. For his years in the ring and for creating Tribute to the Troops, JBL is this week’s OWW Wrestler of the Week.
The birth and evolution of John Hawk
John Charles Layfield was born in Sweetwater, Texas. His father was a minister. Layfield was a standout in football in high school and college. Layfield was drafted to play professional football for the Los Angeles (now Oakland) Raiders. He never played a game with the team during the regular (1990) season. He was released prior to the first game of the season. Layfield did play for the San Antonio Riders of the World League of American Football (often mockingly called the We-Laf organization). Thanks to a friendly relationship with the Windham family, John was recruited to wrestle professionally.
John was introduced to AWA stand-out, Brad Rheingans. Brad trained John and then introduced him to Joe Pedicino. Pedicino owned the now-defunct Global Wrestling Federation. John, dubbed Johnny Hawk, was pushed as the cousin of Barry and Kendall Windham. John was partnered with the late Bobby Duncam, Jr. The two won the GWF tag belts. John would also with the straps with Black Bart (who he actually won the belts off, early on). John received addition training from several Texas legends including: Kevin Von Erich, Jimmy Garvin, Terry Gordy and Chris Adams. John even defeated Von Erich for the NWA North American title. John was being prepared for a run as the company champ when the lawsuit brought by Vince McMahon and the WWF forced the GWF to close its doors.
After the demise of the GWF, Layfield went to Mexico for further training. He used numerous identities, both masked and unmasked. Layfield also worked numerous independent territories between 1992 and 1995. Layfield’s dedication and skills came to the attention of WWF scouts. Layfield was offered a position with the WWF, which he eagerly accepted.
The many faces of Bradshaw
John Layfield debuted in the WWF in January, 1996. His first gimmick was an extension of his GWF character, minus the family relationship to the Windhams. He was dubbed Justin “Hawk” Bradshaw. Dutch Mantel, as Uncle Zebekiah, served as Justin’s manager. Mantel failed as a manager to Justin and the relationship was quickly dissolved.
When Barry Windham re-joined the WWF in 1998, Creative decided to reinvent the family relationship between Windham and Bradshaw. Bradshaw dropped the Justin “Hawk” portion of his name. Bradshaw was teamed with Windham as The New Blackjacks. Bradshaw used the name Blackjack Bradshaw for quite some time. He even used the name after the team was forced to disband, due to Windham’s growing number of injuries. Blackjack Bradshaw had several mid-level feuds. Bradshaw later turned in the handlebar mustache and chaps for a darker look, thanks to The Undertaker.
Creative realized that Bradshaw was better suited to work in a team, at this point in his career. They next partnered Bradshaw with Ron “Farooq” Simmons. They were initially known as “Hell’s Henchmen”, under the guidance of the Jackyl (Don Callis). When Callis left to join ECW, Bradshaw and Farooq joined The Undertaker’s Ministry clique. The were dubbed the Acolytes (a term for followers of a religious cause). They served as the muscle for the group in it’s war with the McMahon’s Corporation. The two groups would later merge and the duo became somewhat lost in the shuffle. The whole Corporate Ministry came to and end when Undertaker took a hiatus to recover from various injuries and road fatigue.
The team of Farooq and Bradshaw soon adjusted their identity into a mercenaries-for-hire duo known as the Acolyte Protection Agency (later shortened to the APA). They battled all the major teams of that time, winning the tag belts on several occasions. The team would turn into a beer-drinking, cigar-smoking team that did what they did for beer money. Many critics feel the current James Storm/Robert Roode tandem, Beer Money, Inc., drew their inspiration from the APA. The team would disband when Farooq was drafted to Smackdown.
Bradshaw had a brief run in the Hardcore division. He embraced a style closer to his old Stan Hansen-like persona. Bradshaw would lose his long hair and facial hair just before rejoining with Farooq in the APA. The team would come to an end with the retirement of Farooq. Instead of Farooq simply retiring, he was fired (storywise) to explain his exit from the ring.
Bradshaw then embraced his real-life position as a financial analyst for Fox News. Since he was using his given name, John Layfield, on the Fox network, Bradshaw changed his name. He became John “Bradshaw” Layfield. He got his first big push with the WWE as a solo act. He won a Texas Bull Rope match against Eddie Guerrero to win the WWE title. JBL held the belt until Wrestlemania 21, when he lost it to John Cena. JBL used devious means to keep his title during most of his reign. He also employed a group of wrestlers to run interference for him. Orlando Jordan, Doug and Danny Basham and Amy Weber served as members of JBL’s Cabinet. The organization fell apart after the Bashams and Weber left the company.
After losing the title, Layfield floundered in several minor feuds. The most disturbing was a battle against The Boogeyman. Layfield had hired Jillian Hall as his executive assistant. The beautiful Hall had a huge fake growth on the side of her face. In one very memorable (and sickening) incident, Boogeyman actually chewed the growth off Hall’s face. Layfield was just starting his feud with Boogeyman when JBL broke his hand in a six-man match. Layfield also had a non-cancerous cyst removed during his time off.
JBL came back and took the US title from Chris Benoit (the man responsible for his broken hand). JBL would drop the belt to Bobby Lashley. JBL would also feud with Rey Mysterio for the World title. During that feud, JBL injured his back. To explain his time off, JBL swore that if he couldn’t beat Rey for the World title, he would simply quit. He lost.
The Voice of Smackdown
When Tazz got moved over to ECW as an announcer, JBL stepped in to take over the announcing duties. JBL’s announcer character was very similar to Jesse Ventura’s mid-1980s heel commentator style. JBL became quite frustrated with his inability to regularly wrestling. He gave his notice to WWE but was coaxed back. He ended up signing a long-term deal and worked an occasional house show match to keep in shape and keep his skills fresh. The ratings on Smackdown soared when JBL joined the announce team. While he was an excellent announcer, the pull of the ring was just too strong.
Back to the ring wars
After an appearance with Farooq to assist Hornswoggle, Layfield decided that he was ready to get back in the ring, full-time. The opportunity came at Armageddon 2007. Chris Jericho and Randy Orton were feuding over the WWE championship, when Orton threw Jericho over the announcer table and into JBL. JBL attacked Jericho just before Orton tapped out to Jericho. JBL and Jericho then had a bloody and brutal series of matches.
After losing to Jericho, JBL went after Hornswoggle. The mini-mauler had been promoted as Vince McMahon’s illegitimate son. JBL trashed Hornswoggle in a steel cage match that Hornswoggle was having against his “father”. It was later announced that Finlay was the diminutive dynamos dad. JBL and Finlay battled in a Belfast Brawl at Wrestlemania XXIV. JBL dominated the Irishman.
After that feud wound down, JBL ran a series against John Cena. Cena’s exit due to an injury shifted JBL into a feud against C.M. Punk and other smaller men. JBL then started working a program with Shawn Michaels that was very close to the storyline used in the movie, The Wrestler. Shawn Michaels, an older wrestler, lost all his money due to bad investments. Shawn made “a deal with the devil” to get out of his financial nightmare. Shawn became an employee of JBL. That feud continues.
Tribute to the Troops
JBL approached Vince McMahon with an idea to entertain the troops in a similar mode to the old Bob Hope shows of the past. JBL also convinced several other stars to join him in a trip to Baghdad, Iraq in 2005. The show was a huge hit and highly appreciated by the Armed Forces. Each year since, the Holiday show has grown. JBL actually downplayed his role in creating the program to maintain his heel character. The program is one of the highest rated show of the year.
JBL has had his issues over the years. He recently got into a physical confrontation with Joey Styles. He’s also been known taunt other younger stars. He’s had issues with people like The Blue Meanie and others during his WWE career. JBL may not be the most liked person in the company but he is one of their brightest stars. He had held numerous titles and kept himself in the spotlight for almost his full run with the company, even when he was working the mid-card level of matches. He has helped create one of the most popular programs in WWE’s history. His current storyline is interesting but it’s the Tribute to the Troops program that brings John Bradshaw Layfield this week’s OWW Wrestler of the Week award.