John Layfield amassed a total of 24 title wins during his career with the company including WWE Champion, US Champion, European Champion, Intercontinental Champion, seventeen time Hardcore champion and three time tag champion with Farooq during his APA days. He is the twentieth Triple Crown Winner and twelfth Grand Slam champion. In this latest ‘Many Faces of’ post, we will look at his various gimmicks in the WWF/E since debuting in early 1996.
He began his career in Global Wrestling Federation, after being trained by Brad Rheingans and debuted as Johnny Hawk the storyline brother of the Windham Brothers. He gained early tag team gold with Bobby Duncum Jr. The duo dropped the belts finally to The Fabulous Freebird combination of Jimmy Garvin and Terry Gordy.
At this point, Layfield moved into singles competition and defeated Kevin Von Erich for the NWA North American Heavyweight Championship in January 1995 but dropped it two months later to Greg ‘The Hammer’ Valentine. Soon his chance came, after more than 3 years wrestling in the indies, to make the jump to a national wrestling organisation.
Layfield joined the then World Wrestling Federation in late 1995 and debuted in January of 1996 as Justin ‘Hawk’ Bradshaw against Bob Holly in a match you can view below. Bradshaw was managed by Uncle Zebekiah – played by Dutch Mantell. Bradshaw’s shtick was that he was a tough cowboy and would brand his opponents – albeit in ink rather than searing their flesh – with the initials “JB”.
The gimmick fizzled out by the end of the year and in early 1997 he was paired up with Barry Windham as ‘The New Blackjacks’ – an updated version of the original Blackjacks that were made up of Blackjack Mulligan – Barry Windham’s dad – and Blackjack Lanza who is the uncle of John Layfield. The duo failed to reach the heights of their predecessors, in part due to Windham’s injury problems and the pair disbanded in 1998. Layfield continued to wrestle as Blackjack Bradshaw on tv – albeit sparingly – and found himself in contention once again for the NWA North American Title, now held by Jeff Jarrett and being defended on WWF TV due to the short lived, and frankly awful, NWA invasion angle at the time.
After a spell of mid card mediocrity, Bradshaw was again thrust into a tag team but this time he found much more fame and success. Originally dubbed Hell’s Henchmen, and managed by the Jackyl, Bradshaw was paired with Farooq – another superstar struggling under the undoubted weight of the roster at the time.
Soon, though, the pairing were renamed The Acolytes and joined The Undertaker’s Corporate Ministry and in May 1999 defeated WWF Tag Team Champions Kane & X-Pac for their first taste of gold. They traded the belts back and forth with X-Pac & Kane as well as The Hardy Boyz for the remainder of that year.
The duo became fan favorites and changed their gimmick to cigar-smoking, bar-brawlers-for-hire. In jeans and t-shirts, Faarooq and Bradshaw became the Acolytes Protection Agency (APA), with a motto of “because we need beer money.” The duo was often seen in the backrooms of arenas with a poker table and later a framed doorway comically in the middle of the often large, open aired hallways; they insisted that anyone entering the space use the door.
After Wrestlemania 18 the duo were broken-up owing to the draft split. Bradshaw’s character had a more Texan feel to it, complete with cowbell and his signature ‘Clothesline from Hell’ renamed ‘Clothesline from Texas’. He would primarily compete in the Hardcore division before that belt was unified with the Intercontinental one in August 2002. The following month he would tear his bicep at a house show, putting him out of action for six months.
The APA would reunite in September 2003, saving the Undertaker from the hands of Chuck Palumbo and Johnny Stamboli. They would return to their previous role of being hired protection but this time no one was willing to pay for their services. They were thrust back into the tag title picture but after unsuccessful attempts at regaining the gold, Farooq was storyline fired. In reality the WWE had decided to stop using Ron Simmons as an on-screen character.
Bradshaw proceeded to to take on a J. R. Ewing esque gimmick, becoming a heel persona complete with a suit, cowboy hat, and tie as he began his first main event push. He won the WWE Championship from Guerrero in a Texas Bull Rope match at The Great American Bash 2004. He hired Orlando Jordan to assist him in title defences and at SummerSlam 2004, he defeated The Undertaker by disqualification.
During JBL’s time as WWE Champion, he employed a “staff” to work for him, a group named ‘The Cabinet’. This grouping contained
Orlando Jordan, who was JBL’s “Chief-of-Staff” and Doug and Danny Basham, who were his “Co-Secretaries of Defense” until they left in June 2005. Amy Weber was also a member of the group being described as JBL’s image consultant until she left the promotion.
He eventually dropped the title to John Cena at Wrestlemania 21, ending his nine month reign as the champion. He then entered various feuds including one against Rey Mysterio that lasted some eight months. At Wrestlemania 22 he bested Chris Benoit to win the US Championship. He would resume his feud with Mysterio, who was by now World Heavyweight Champion. This led to a match that if JBL lost he would quit Smackdown!, which he duly did.
A back injury forced him into semi-retirement and he would begin commentating on Smackdown!. He returned to in-ring action in December 2007 to feud with Chris Jericho, picking up the win via DQ in their match at the 2008 Royal Rumble. JBL’s first championship bid since returning to the ring came by challenging Randy Orton for the WWE Championship and participating in a Fatal Four-Way Elimination match at Backlash 2008. This bout also featured John Cena and Triple H. JBL was eliminated first in the match by tapping out to Cena’s STF, thus renewing their feud from 2005.
In March 2009 JBL defeated CM Punk to win the Intercontinental Championship, thus becoming the tenth Grand Slam Champion and twentieth Triple Crown Champion. JBL would hold that title for one month before dropping it in 21 seconds to Rey Mysterio at WrestleMania XXV. He quit afterwards and retired as an active competitor.
He inducted his former partner Ron Simmons into the 2012 WWE Hall of Fame and began to appear more frequently on television as a commentator. Starting at Night of Champions 2012, he returned as a face for the first time as his JBL persona, and sporadically filled in as color commentator, replacing Jerry Lawler, who suffered a heart attack during the Raw episode preceding Night of Champions.
Layfield later re-signed with the promotion and returned to the Smackdown broadcast team on a full-time basis – a welcome return considering how talented he is in that position – alongside Josh Mathews and eventually Michael Cole. Since April of this year he has been the full-time third member of the Raw announce team alongside Michael Cole and Jerry Lawler. He also hosts a YouTube show with Michael Cole – The JBL & Cole Show as well as running The Layfield Report website.
All the other ‘Many Faces Of’ articles can be found here.