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JBL is Good For You
May 21, 2004

by Denny Burkholder
Courtesy of WrestleLine.com


Was the APA not stale? Wasn't it time for some changes on Smackdown? For that matter, isn't it STILL?

John Bradshaw Layfield has been a WWE wrestler for somewhere in the neighborhood of 10 years. With one gimmick or another, he's been on TV - barring injuries - that entire time. He was also mired in the midcard the entire time, save for the occasional APA upgrade to main event when other top dogs were unavailable.

JBL was never a top choice for main event. Until now.

For that reason - among several - viewers are having a hard time digesting JBL as someone they ought to give a damn about, in the context of WWE Title threat or No. 1 heel. He's part of the new Smackdown "80s-style gimmick" approach, they scoff. He's in the main event solely because Vince appreciates his loyalty, they dismiss.

And the hits just keep on coming… Smackdown was in panic mode when they elevated Bradshaw, having just lost Brock Lesnar (quit), Kurt Angle (hurt), Edge & Chris Benoit (Raw), and not being confident enough to fill the marquee gap with somebody young. He's The Undertaker's boy. He's piggybacking his stock market success to a main event push. All that criticism, without once touching on Bradshaw the man. Here we go, again…

He's lazy. He's slow. He's got five moves, three of which are variations of the fallaway slam. He's a low-rent Stan Hansen knock-off. He's a locker room menace. He's old. He hasn't gotten over in 10 years without the aid of a beer-swilling gimmick. And that's because he's a shitty wrestler nobody cares about. Now that we've got Bradshaw THE MAN out of the way, let's have a look how people perceive his new gimmick…

It's racist. It's over-the-top. It's cartoonish. It panders too much for cheap heat. It's a regression to the type of gimmick WWE used during its slowest business years of the past two decades, so it's bound to have the same affect. It's being done just for Vince McMahon's amusement, and we refuse to play along.

Hard to believe, but that isn't the entire rundown of the criticisms of John Bradhsaw Layfield. It's close - but I'm sure I'll have a few emails tomorrow morning claiming that "You forgot to mention X, Y and Z." And that's cool. The only bad opinion is no opinion. So without further ado, here's mine:

John Bradshaw Layfield is GOOD for you.

Let's start with the gimmick. Bradshaw is not the man's real name. His name is John Layfield. Until 2004, he was known as Justin "Hawk" Bradshaw, Blackjack Bradshaw, and simply Bradshaw in WWE. Where were the gimmick police THEN? I find it amazing that the man FINALLY, after a decade, decides to openly use his real name, and NOW people bitch that he's a bad gimmick. I think Uncle Zebekiah would enjoy that one, too.

Go back to any mainstream newspaper interview with Bradshaw from, oh, 1997 to 2003. The kind of interview the newspapers do to hype an upcoming WWE show in their city, where they drop about 12 lame "smack down" and "jabroni" puns and interview a WWE guy. I bet you anything, in that article, they refer to him as John "Bradshaw" Layfield. That's the newspaper's way of saying "Look, we understand people know you as Bradshaw, but to save some shred of respectability, we need to acknowledge your real name."

As for the JBL gimmick itself, I would argue that it's the real Bradshaw "with the volume turned all the way up," to use a description Stone Cold Steve Austin made famous. JBL DID make a lot of money investing. He DOES appear on TV as a financial analyst. He IS a homegrown Texas boy that became successful as an investor. That's as much John Layfield as it is JBL. That ain't no gimmick, folks… that's life.

Where the gimmick takes over is in the process of "turning up the volume." With Stone Cold, it was assaulting his boss, flipping people off, disregarding authority, and chugging a case of beer per show. With JBL, it’s gloating incessantly about his wealth, taking it so far as to imply he's better than poor people, changing his hometown to NYC, riding in a white stretch limo, and walking around with a satisfied grin on his face. He knows he's hot shit. And at the end of the day, those who think otherwise will be eating Ramen noodles in their trailer parks, and STILL tuning in to watch him every week.

Beats the hell out of Blackjack Bradshaw. It's just a tad more original, too.

The outcry over racism in his promos is as justified as it is completely expected and status quo. What? A WWE character uses racism as a vehicle to garner the hatred of the audience? HOW DARE THEM! Because we ALL believe that JBL and WWE put these things on the air because they whole-heartedly believe that Eddie Guerrero is a dirty Mexican, right?

Can we all agree that JBL is playing a fictional heel character in a FICTIONAL television show? Assuming your answer is "yes," can anyone honestly say they've never seen a racist heel on any other fictional TV show? Hmm? Law & Order? NYPD Blue? All in the Family? Rowdy Roddy Piper vs. Superfly Jimmy Snuka? Piper vs. Bad News Brown? Mr. T?

Racism is something people care deeply about. That's why several TV shows and movies use it in storytelling - because audiences respond to it. That said, racism is almost universally understood to be BAD… which is why the racists are almost exclusively the BAD GUYS. I assure you, WWE and JBL have the utmost respect for Eddie Guerrero. If they didn't, would Eddie really stand there and let Bradshaw say the shit he says? Hell no. If he didn't kill him first, he'd certainly lodge a complaint with SOMEONE. WWE is publicly traded, so you bet your ass that REAL racism isn't tolerated. What Eddie and JBL - and the bookers - understand is that turning the JBL character into an anti-Hispanic white devil puts heat on JBL, and puts LOTS of heat on Eddie.

It's definitely exploitative. I'll never pretend WWE doesn't exploit situations to the point of distaste. But then again, if you've been watching wrestling for more than 2 years, you know this already. If you're upset about it but STILL watching WWE TV, you're voting - with your remote control - for MORE of it. WWE likes it when you bitch. That means you're watching with interest. If you really want to make them change their style, change your channel. Don't watch every episode for five years and threaten a boycott every six months when someone like JBL gets a push. The only thing Vince & WWE understands is money. Take some out of their hands by turning off your TV, if it matters that much to you. If not, then be prepared for more character developments like the racist John Bradshaw Layfield.

JBL isn't a technical wizard in the ring, nor was he ever meant to be. He's an ass-kicker. You don't necessarily need a dazzling array of complicated moves to do that. I'm as big a workrate mark as any other shmuck on the Internet, and I'd be lying if I didn't say that Bradshaw has often bored me to tears with his wrestling style. But I think there's something to be said for his dedication to the business and to WWE in particular. Pass or fail, Bradshaw has at least earned the OPPORTUNITY to sink or swim in the main event. Unlike somebody like Mordecai - who is unproven - or Kenzo "Hirohito" Suzuki, who by most accounts was destined for a main event DEBUT, just because of his gimmick. Smackdown needed to shake things up, and they needed at least a couple warm bodies to fill out the main event rotation. If the alternative was to throw Hirohito or Mordecai in there - and potentially kill their careers dead out of the gate, if they failed - or a guy like Bradshaw, then I'm glad "JBL" was born.

If Bradshaw still bores me after two months, well, he always did. So no harm, no foul, plus a legitimately dedicated worker got a chance to prove his mettle in a WWE Title program. If Mordecai tanks at the main event level before June, it puts a blemish on a young career before he has a true chance to blossom and get a feel for performing.

More heat for Eddie Guerrero. The stale APA is gone. Bradshaw's gimmick is derivative of a real, viable situation in his own life. WWE proves again that it appreciates loyalty. Young WWE upstarts are spared the spotlight before they're mature enough in the ring to do anything with it.

Yeah… I think The John Bradshaw Layfield Experiment might be working out pretty well, after all.


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