JBL’s transformation for tag-team competitor to a main eventer was the right move. Take a look at the roster from mid spring through the summer of 2004 and see who was a main eventer on Smackdown at that time. If you take a glance at the list, some names could be argued to be a main eventer. The list does show some reasonable wrestlers that were, at the time, considered main event talents. First off you had the Undertaker. Anytime the Undertaker is on your roster, you already have one experienced and consistent main eventer. Problem with The Undertaker at the time was he had shifted back towards his deadman persona at WrestleMania 20 and could’ve been the Main guy on Smackdown. Brock Lesnar had just left to pursue a career in the NFL. Kurt Angle is another guy you had on the roster for Smackdown that easily could’ve been the Main Event guy for SmackDown. He was for a while for the rest of 2004. Unfortunately for him, he had won numerous World Titles in the past and considering the WWE in 2004 not only for Smackdown, but for RAW as well, was a transitioning year. Enter JBL, aka John Bradshaw Layfield. Not only did the WWE go all in with JBL, they decided to put the WWE Championship on him in the middle of the summer of 2004. JBL was a guy that was talented nonetheless but there wasn’t anything for him to do. After a complete re-package of the former “Bradshaw” the guy was just ready to make a run for the WWE Championship. JBL, previously known as John Hawk, Justin Bradshaw and other terms, was re-packaged from an Enforcer role as a tag-team, and turned into a blonde, wealthy business man. JBL was completely changed. He developed a heel character by turning his back on the fans. JBL was charismatic, from the promo’s he delivered to his chemistry in the ring to the night he won the WWE Championship. JBL’s push was needed at the time. Like I said previously, Undertaker was redoing his deadman character and wasn’t quite ready to make himself a main eventer just yet. Angle was injured with neck problems. Booker T wasn’t ready until two years later. But the WWE made JBL the guy to bring up the development to the up and coming future 13 time World Champion, John Cena. When we look back at past tag-teams that each had one partner become World Champion, JBL isn’t like any other. From the likes of Shawn Michaels, Kevin Nash, Bret Hart, JBL wasn’t in their class or level of talent. The WWE could’ve pushed any member of the tag-team’s Smackdown had at the time. JBL was very crisp and consistent on the mic which further helped him establish his new character as a main eventer. His job from day one was simple; to hold the title until WrestleMania and make John Cena a star.
The Wrestling Junkie
Looking back, the transition from JBL going from a tag-team wrestler to a main eventer is not about whether the move was right, but instead how it was the right move that was needed especially in the dire state that the Smackdown roster was in 2004.
If we rewind time back to nine years ago, remember that Smackdown had lost one of its biggest stars in Brock Lesnar who left in Wrestlemania. Not to mention the injury that Kurt Angle sustained which lead him to being an on-screen authority figure while his real-life injury healed. Losing Kurt Angle immediately lost the WWE their top heel on Smackdown, and this hindered the future of the Eddie Guerrero & Kurt Angle storyline so this meant that WWE needed to find a new top heel to battle Eddie Guerrero.
The main-roster consisted of The Undertaker, Kurt Angle, Eddie Guerrero, Big Show and also an up-and-coming John Cena. With the absence of Kurt Angle, that meant there were no possible heels on the roster which meant this was an opportunity to introduce the JBL gimmick. The reason why this gimmick worked was for the fact that Eddie Guerrero was Mexican, and the way they introduced JBL was that he was refusing to allow Mexicans to cross the border into America which introduced him as a xenophobic heel. With JBL being Texan and Guerrero being Mexican, the storyline could create itself because Eddie needed a new challenger seeing as Angle was out injured.
Now a lot of people here, including myself thought that JBL could be nothing more than a tag-team wrestler but here is the first promo to introduce the JBL character where he showed that he can actually cut a great promo and pulled in some great heat to kick-start his heel run.
From a publicity perspective, JBL was a respected financial analyst at the time that had released a highly-successful book and worked on Fox news. From a realistic perspective, he was a very good choice because WWE loves exposure and with a man who is already successful outside of the WWE, he was someone who was a very ideal candidate to be a main-eventer. What sets him aside from other people is that JBL is no stranger to having to talk; he had to do it on his radio and Fox news so his ability to talk to the media was no stranger to him. And this effectively showed in his promo’s that he did under the JBL gimmick with his ability to talk to the crowd and come across as a real asshole type of character. Not just scripted, but also his ability to talk non-scripted with an example being ECW One Night Stand 2005.
As I stated earlier, Smackdown was not in a good way back in 2004. There were virtually no challengers for Eddie who was a face champion. Guys like Booker T, Rob Van Dam, and Rey Mysterio were great candidate for main events occasionally but the WWE needed someone to really lead the Smackdown brand and they needed someone who was a heel. Guys like The Undertaker and John Cena were off the cards seeing as Undertaker had recently returned under the Deadman gimmick and Cena had huge popularity and was being given a strong face-run in the mid-card. With Ron Simmons being taken away to a behind-the-scenes role, this left JBL being repackaged and was given the ball to run with.
Now talking from the year 2013, we can look back and say JBL took that ball and he kept running with it all the way up to his longest reign in Smackdown history. And I will go as far to say that JBL saved Smackdown. The matches were not always brilliant, but JBL had the ability to be able to make the storylines work and he played his character to perfection.
JBL made his xenophobic rich-guy heel character work and that is what is so important because Smackdown was in desperate need for a guy like JBL to make the show interesting and he exceeded in every single way possible. Ultimately we now ‘know’ that JBL moving from tag-team character to a main eventer was the right decision because JBL pulled us out from a dire situation and was able to put on some great feuds, and one of my personal favourite matches was JBL vs Eddie Guerrero in a steel cage match on Smackdown. Let’s not also forget that JBL was the guy who was able to help John Cena on his rise to the top to become the face of the company that he is today. Without JBL, thre ‘may’ have been no Cena rise to the top. Although that is a huge unlikely stretch to say.
John Bradshaw Layfield. The self proclaimed "Wrestling God". One of the best mic workers of the past 10 years. Hell, one of the more entertaining workers of Smackdown in the past 10 years. I guess we know what stance I'm taking on this: RIGHT MOVE INDEED. But, let's take a trip back, prior to JBL's rise to main event status.
You see, JBL had been in the WWE/WWF for nearly 9 years, prior to his main event rise. He began as Justin "Hawk" Bradshaw, a Texas cowboy gimmick that kind of reminded me of Stan Hansen. But in that current climate, he never really had a shot at rising past the lower midcard. From there, he was repackaged (along with Barry Windham) as The New Blackjacks. Again, not the type of gimmick that would take him to the top. That lead to a transformation (along with Ron Simmons) into the Acolytes, later known as the Acolyte Protection Agency. They really were nothing more than, initially, Undertaker's "henchmen" and became, well, a protection agency. They split up briefly but eventually reunited. Suddenly, after a few years with the gimmick, WWE decided to no longer use Simmons, which lead to a "what now" situation with Bradshaw.
By this point, the brand extension was on fire. Some may argue that Smackdown was indeed the better brand at the time. I mean, you had Brock Lesnar as the top heel, along with Kurt Angle and Eddie Guerrero, who was arguably the most popular guy in the company, as well as a strong supporting cast. And it became common knowledge that WWE was very high on Brock Lesnar.
That all changed when Lesnar decided he didn't want to be a wrestler anymore. That left a spot open as top heel on Smackdown. Kurt Angle had mounting injuries and briefly became general manager. This lead to JBL's big break. He adapted the gimmick of a "Texas tycoon", John Bradshaw Layfield. And the gimmick definitely took off. JBL quickly entered the WWE Title picture and in his first WWE Title match, actually won the title.
Now, with the question being was his transition from tag team to main event star the right move? Yes, it was. Adding in all the elements (Lesnar leaving, Angle being injured) it helped open the door for a newer face to appear in the main event scene. To me, that's how things should be. It creates an opportunity for that particular talent and if things go beyond expectations, it makes for great TV. And that's what JBL's transition did. With that type of gimmick, he had to be in the main event picture. He was the perfect old school heel. And what does an old school heel do? He enlists a stable to protect him as champion, which lead to the formation of The Cabinet. And that stable gave opportunity to several workers who, otherwise, would have likely not been used at all. And in the essence of old school heels in the past, most notably Ted Dibiase, when the lead character is so good and so over, anybody that aligns with him instantly gets over.
Not only that but he was a damn good heel. Zeb Colter's gimmick recently, that was JBL initially. Except JBL took it to greater heights.
Bottom line, it was more than the right move. It was the perfect move. Brock was gone and JBL filled the void for the next 2 years, before "retiring". And the cycle continued with King Booker. The big difference between JBL & Booker was Booker had pretty much been established as a main event level talent. JBL was, in my opinion, an experiment that paid off greatly. And even more than that, his character had been pushed so great that he was even able to give a few guys a rub, most notably, Batista and John Cena, 2 guys, arguably, touted as potential replacements for Brock Lesnar. And both needed that mega heel to instantly thrust them into that position. Who better than "The Wrestling God"?
It is my opinion that the move of John ‘Bradshaw’ Layfield from tag wrestling to main eventing as a solo star was the right move. To my mind, he was stale as a tag wrestler; and arguably achieved more success on his own than he ever did as a tag team wrestler.
Additionally, WWE seemed to have killed off the tag team division with the breaking up of several of their best tag teams or allowing them to leave to ply their trade elsewhere. I’m talking about the likes of the Hardy Boyz, the Dudley Boyz and the Holly’s. JBL was better off splitting with Ron Simmons, who I have only ever rated as a poor mid card superstar.
Granted, JBL may have won 3 tag team titles with Simmons, but they held the tag belts for a total of 79 days over 3 reigns. In comparison, JBL went on to have more success as a singles competitor. His WWE Title reign lasted for 280 days. A year, less 85 days. Add into that the other singles belts JBL won, like 17 Hardcore titles, 1 IC, US and European championship and becoming the 20th Triple Crown champion. All told his singles career saw him hold various titles for a total of 422 days. A whole 343 days more than he was a champion as a tag team wrestler.
JBL had some great matches as a singles main eventer, indeed I thought his match in a steel cage against Eddie Guerrero was one of the matches I made a point of catching up with on YouTube as I missed it first time round. Anyone who can get a win over the Undertaker, even if it was by DQ, must be a damn good wrestler to even be considered worthy of being in the same match as Undertaker.
In my opinion, from watching old YT clips of JBL as a singles competitor; he was a good technical wrestler and brawler. His promos were designed to make him a hate figure for the crowds and it worked by and large. As a wrestler, JBL was a much better main eventer on his own than he would have been had he remained paired with Ron Simmons. Since they split, Simmons has gone into rehab and his career has slid backwards. JBL has gone from strength to strength. This is why I conclude that moving into main event wrestling as a solo star was the right move for JBL.