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Wednesday, January 27, 2016

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Retrospective: The Rise of JBL

By Christopher Evans (@Cool_Calm_Chris)

In 2004, the WWE would lose two huge stars in Brock Lesnar and Bill Goldberg. With WWE losing the face of Smackdown!, Brock Lesnar, the company began the transition process of making Eddie Guerrero the next top star on the show. In this transition period, he gained a victory over Lesnar for the WWE Championship and later retained the title against Kurt Angle at Wrestlemania XX. With Guerrero as the new champion, a new heel needed to step in to challenge Guerrero. This would begin the rise of John Bradshaw Layfield, also known as JBL.

In 2003, the APA had returned on an episode of Smackdown! in an effort to save the Undertaker from an attack by the Full Blooded Italians. The duo would return to the same antics they left off with in the Attitude Era with the only difference being the name change of Faarooq to his original name Ron Simmons and Bradshaw’s clean shave and natural hair color. The two would continue to team up until the team would disband on an episode of Smackdown! when they lost a “You’re Fired” match against the WWE Tag Team Champions Rikishi and Scotty 2 Hotty. Paul Heyman would fire Ron Simmons, but keep Bradshaw due to the fact that “WWE Management” still saw a lot in him. However, in reality, the plan was to split the two and WWE did fire Simmons, but would bring him back later in an off camera role.

With Ron Simmons gone, thus began the development of JBL. JBL would ditch the beer drinking gimmick and wear a full suit accompanied with cowboy hat and a clear cut heel attitude. Embodying the typical rich Wall Street Republican gimmick, he would develop into the character rather quickly. No real build up to the JBL gimmick began, it started with him chasing off a group of illegal immigrants on the border between Texas and Mexico. This would eventually lead to a championship opportunity granted to him by Kurt Angle to face Eddie Guerrero for the WWE Championship at Judgement Day.

The two fit as perfect rivals for the time (and would especially make for great television now with the 2016 Presidential Election), and what made it even better is that the two were good friends backstage and Eddie was more than willing to help get JBL over. At the Great American Bash in 2004, JBL would defeat Eddie Guerrero for the title in a Texas Bull Rope match via a technicality where JBL had touched all four turnbuckles before Eddie to win the match. With this victory, the longest WWE Championship reign in Smackdown! history would begin.

JBL’s title reign added to the heel persona, as the WWE Championship was not just a peripheral for him, it was important for him to keep the championship. During his most important title defenses, like his one against the Undertaker at SummerSlam, JBL found a way to make it out with the championship, but at a cost. Whether it be by disqualification or by a simple loophole in the rulebook, or even help from his faction “The Cabinet”, JBL kept the title for an impressive period of time.

The best thing about JBL’s title run was that it made fans want to see a new champion crowned and a new face take down the evil heel. The rise of JBL came synonymously around the rise of John Cena, and with Cena becoming the next face of the company, he needed a heel to help him reach that level. When Cena defeated JBL for the WWE Championship at Wrestlemania 21, he would reach that new level and become the star we know today. However, what would later surface is that fans wanted to see JBL lose the title because he was a great heel, but fans did not want to see Cena beating stars they felt were more deserving and better in the ring than him. So while JBL accomplished the goal of getting Cena over, it would not last because of the way he would be booked into the future.

JBL’s career would continue as he would feud with stars like Batista over the World Heavyweight Championship in 2005 until he would eventually begin his color commentary career in 2006. Layfield would return to the ring at the end of 2007 and later retired from in ring competition at Wrestlemania 25. He would return to color commentary in 2012, however his color commentary career has not quite lived up to the potential originally seen in 2006. JBL has had a rather lengthy career, but it was definitely at the point in his career when the JBL character first developed in 2004 that he really reached new heights in the WWE.



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