Raj Giri of WrestlingINC.com recently interviewed former WWE Champion John "Bradshaw" Layfield. In part one of our interview below, Layfield discussed signing with WWE, his singles push as JBL, how Eddie Guerrero helped his career, his new Layfield Report website, his Seven Summits project and more.
Make sure to check back tomorrow for the second and final part of our interview, where JBL discusses a potential return to the announcer's booth, appearing at RAW 1000, making amends with Tully Blanchard, more about the Seven Summits project and more.
WrestlingINC: You started in WWE back in 1996. So, you've been there a long time. You've seen all the crazy ups and downs. When you made your debut as Justin "Hawk" Bradshaw, how did you see your career going your first year?
John Bradshaw Layfield: I didn't think I'd be there very long. I really thought I'd be there two or three years. That's about all people were around for at that time. People came and left a lot and I really figured I'd be there two or three years and I'd go back to Japan and maybe even going back to college and being a coach somewhere. I didn't expect to be there for 15 years or whatever. That was completely unexpected to be there that long.
WrestlingINC: After that, you were kind of put into the tag team scene with a couple different teams with Barry Windham and Ron Simmons. During that time with the APA, it seemed like you guys were really enjoying being a tag team. Was a singles career still on the back of your mind at that period?
Layfield: No, I really had no desire for one. I assumed that Ron would probably retire ahead of me, I didn't know that in fact. But, I was happy with the APA and I really would have been happy if my career ended with the APA. I really enjoyed being around Ron, we had a great time and a good gig there in WWE. I didn't really see a major singles run coming at the end of that.
I figured that I might have a chance for one because I knew Ron was going to retire in the next couple of years -- in that time frame -- so I thought I still might be yougn enough to have one. But, I didn't know that for sure.
WrestlingINC: When the WWE did let Simmons go, did you know in advance that you were being groomed for a gimmick and character change?
Layfield: No. In fact, I don't think anybody even expected it. The JBL character, I had had in mind for a long time, a character very similar. But they were very reticent to let me do that because I was doing a lot with the troops and they didn't need me. Then, all of a sudden at once, I think Big Show was hurt, Brock Lesnar had left the company. All of a sudden, you needed somebody immediately in that role and that's when they did the change. All of a sudden, just one day.
I don't think it was something thought about with a lot of forethought. Vince McMahon always said that he thought I could be a world champion and he was probably the only one in the entire company that thought that. [Laughs.] I have no idea why he thought that. But, when they came up with the JBL character, I knew this was going to be my last shot at it, so I was hoping it would work. It didn't work at all for the first few weeks and if it hadn't been for Eddie Guerrero, it probably wouldn't have worked. Thank goodness, I had the right opponent and a good friend of mine and it ended up working.
WrestlingINC: You mentioned that Eddie Guerrero helped you out. How did he mostly help you? Was it advice in the ring or selling for you?
Layfield: Eddie was the perfect character for JBL at the time and he was such a popular character that it made a big difference. But, Eddie and I were really good friends and we sat backstage a lot with me, him and his brother Chavo [Guerrero] and went over a lot of different storyline ideas and a lot of different things. The whole heart attack thing with Eddie's mom in El Paso around Mother's Day weekend right before our first match, that was, I believe, an idea of Chavo and Eddie. There the ones that pitched it to me.
A lot of my promo, Eddie really helped me with a lot of these promos as far as the content of it. Eddie really took it personal in that he wanted my character to get over because it was failing miserably at the beginning. I'd been a tag team wrestler, a mid-card guy, for so long that people weren't buying me as the main event guy. Eddie really took it personal that he could help make me. That was one of the main reasons that the JBL character succeeded.
WrestlingINC: I know you said that WWE didn't have a lot of options in terms of building you up a bit more and then putting you in the title feud. Do you think that would have helped initially or do you think it's better that it played out the way it did?
Layfield: I don't know, you know, it turned out as well as it could have for me. We had a long pay-per-view window at that time. If we just had three or four weeks, I don't think it would have worked. But we had time, I think five or six weeks to try this. It finally started working and it finally started getting heat on the JBL character, mainly because of Eddie.
It ended up working and I think a lot of that had to do with the long lead-up time with pay-per-view.
WrestlingINC: Did you speak with Ron Simmons much during that time?
Layfield: Oh, of course. Yeah.
WrestlingINC: I take it he enjoyed what you were doing with the character and everything.
Layfield: Absolutely. Ron and I are really good friends and he got to see me get a chance to do something.
WrestlingINC: For a short while, you went to commentary and you seemed to be doing very well. Fans really seemed to be enjoying it. I remember at that time you said you were retired for good. Did you originally think you were retired and that you wouldn't be returning or did you know in the back of your mind that it would probably happen at some point?
Layfield: No, no. I didn't know. It came up during the weekend. I had some physical problems with my back that caused me just some really bad problems. So, that's when they came up with the idea out of the blue. I think it was in Phoenix, somewhere in Arizona. I wrestled Rey and quit. It happened within two days, it was just something in my back and it got really bad. I was having really bad nerve problems. I really thought I was done.
So, when I quit/retired, nobody expected me to come back. I was doing commentary and I was enjoying it but then my back started getting better. I didn't quit because I wanted to, I quit because I had to. I didn't have any lead up to it. It was just that one day I was a later, and the next day I wasn't. So, I kind of wanted to finish on my own terms. That's when I came back and my back slowly started getting worse again. That's when I came up with the idea to retire at WrestleMania. I just thought it was fun to have Rey do it twice. [Laughs.] Plus, the association of Rey and Eddie, it was kind of my tribute to Eddie in the same vein.
WrestlingINC: So did you know your match with Rey at WrestleMania 25 would be your last match far ahead of time?
Layfield: Oh, yeah. I knew for months and I picked Rey out. I wanted to do it in three seconds and that was the original plan. I'm not sure why they changed it. I wanted Rey to come back before and get beat in three seconds. I wanted to do something historic at WrestleMania and with most heels, that usually back fires on you. I thought that was the perfect way for JBL to go out -- just a whining and crying heel that I was. But, it ended up changing the day of and being 20-some seconds. But, I really wanted to put him over just in three seconds.
I couldn't do a match at that point. I couldn't have done 10 or 15 minutes, anyway. So, I wanted to do something and kind of make it a unique deal for Rey as much as anything then go out. So, yeah, for months I knew that was going to be the last match.
WrestlingINC: Was the thought of going back to commentary an option or did you just want to take some time away from the business?
Layfield: There really wasn't. There's really only two commentary spots that are open and one of them is not open. One of them is Jerry Lawler and he's still a young guy to this day. So, there's really only the Smackdown! commentary job. I forget who was doing commentary at the time. So, really, the option wasn't there and I really just wanted to relax for a while and not travel.
I had traveled my entire adult life at least once a week and many times many times a week for almost 20 years. I was just tired of traveling. I just wanted to relax for a while and do something different. So, that's what I'm doing now.
WrestlingINC: You've been involved in a lot of projects since then. You dabbled in MMA commentary, you have The Layfield Report and now the Summit Climb. How did the idea for The Layfield Report come about?
Layfield: Well, I'll try to keep it as short as possible. I started up this program here in Bermuda, working with what society deems under-privileged kids, at-risk kids. I had an idea to do the seven summits to raise money for the kids that I work for. WWE signed to partner with me on that which was just phenomenal. I wanted to do something to raise awareness. I've always been a news junkie. So, LayfieldReport.com is part of what I want to turn into. Where I can do things to promote sport for change-charities around the world that work with kids like I'm doing.
There's a wonderful group out of London, Yawn Sport, that has about 1,000 charities that they highlight. I wanted to have a way to be able to do that. Also, have a way to be able to help fund the program. So, I'm trying to build up Layfield Report to support my program. If you have a website -- I've got a website called BeyondRugbyBermuda.com but nobody goes to it. [Laughs.] There's no reason to go to it. Layfield Report has all your news and everything. What I can do -- I'm still building on that site -- is I can put stuff about our program.
There's a great program in New York called Play Rugby USA or a great program called Project Alcatraz down in Venezuela. I can do stuff to highlight that within the news, so it's interesting to come on there. But, a lot of LayfieldReport.com -- and it's not finished yet -- was built to help fund the program, hopefully, if I can monetize it. So, I'll be able to raise awareness about the Seven Summits and the charities that work with kids around the world.