Since retiring from in-ring competition in 2009, John “Bradshaw” Layfield has refocused his wrestling career on announcing.
Over the past decade, JBL has worked as a regular color commentator on both RAW and SmackDown and has made frequent appearances as a panelist on WWE premium live event pre-shows.
Before he made commentary his primary gig, JBL worked the desk while being a part-time wrestler in 2006. Speaking with The Universal Wrestling Podcast, JBL noted he received pointers from one of WWE’s most noteworthy announcers.
“‘John, it’s not radio,'” JBL recalled what Vince McMahon told him about commentary. “‘You don’t have to tell them it’s a dropkick. You don’t have to tell them it’s a Saito suplex and show off that you know what it was.’ People can see that. They need to know who this character is and why they should care about them. Once you realize that, you understand Vince’s mind for commentary.”
Those tips translated to a significant bond between Layfield and McMahon, who spent substantial one-on-one time in between shows.
“I used to fly with Vince every week back to New York,” JBL said. “When I first retired from getting hurt I was doing commentary and working on Wall Street. I’d fly back every Monday night with Vince and I’d fly out with him a lot of times as well. A lot of times it would just be us on the plane, and it was unbelievable to listen to the guy. Vince is the guy in a meeting that always asks the question that you wish you had asked.
“It’s the great engineer compared to the good engineer. The good engineer designs something and people go, ‘How does that work?’ The great engineer designs it and you go, ‘I could have done that.’ That’s the simplicity of intelligence, and Vince was always that guy.”
That friendship allowed JBL to understand McMahon on a mental level. The WWE Hall of Famer praises the WWE Chairman for being a “remarkable” listener.
“I tell people when they talk to Vince you got to understand that he’s going to listen to every word you say. He’s not going to interrupt you,” JBL said. “When you get done, he’s going to think for a second. It’s going to be uncomfortably long, but when he comes back he’s going to have an answer for you. It’s a remarkable trait.”
While many sports announcers dabble in wrestling, McMahon’s perception for commentary is very different from that of the NFLs and NBAs of the world. JBL mentioned how WWE announcers are tasked with maintaining the mystery rather than anticipating the surprises.
“It’s completely different from sports,” JBL said. “In sports, you want to be a step ahead. You want to say that a free safety is walked up and that frees up the linebacker to blitz. That opens up the audience into what potentially could happen. In wrestling, you don’t want to say, ‘Hey, I think that’s The Undertaker coming.’ You want to be a step behind.
“You want to let the audience realize what’s going on because it’ll mean so much more to them. That’s why announcers will say what seems to be really stupid stuff. ‘Who is that?!’ You know exactly who it is. It’s a guy who’s been on TV for the last 52 weeks. You’re letting the audience gather it in their mind so they become more engaged.”
Those instructions, which range from incoming camera shots to approaching advertisement reads, force WWE commentators to be quite the multitaskers. JBL praised WWE play-by-play announcer Michael Cole for working through the bumps effortlessly.
“This is all happening while you’re talking, and they’re telling Michael Cole this,” JBL said. “Cole is taking notes while he’s talking and he’ll call every bit of it seamless. He is the most amazing announcer that I’ve ever worked with. Anybody who sees this who’s a wrestling fan is probably going to hate me for saying that. Cole is fantastic.”
If you use any quotes from this article, please credit The Universal Wrestling Podcast with an h/t to Wrestling Inc. for the transcription.
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