By Michael Battista
WWE is an industry built on storytelling and athletics. Fans come to watch performers commit incredible feats of strength while playing characters of differing archetypes. These characters take part in stories involving two simple character types: the bad guy and the good guy. However, one wrestler might be taking his role as a villain too far.
John “Bradshaw” Layfield, better known as JBL, has been with the company for more than 20 years as a performer, backstage personality and commentator. He is known for running his mouth, being cocky, supporting heel wrestlers and a plethora of other things that firmly cement him as a bad guy.
Recently, Forbes and Sports Illustrated have alleged JBL’s history of real-life backstage bullying.
Earlier this year, Mauro Ranallo, a noted mixed martial arts play-by-play specialist and smackdown commentator, won the Wrestling Observer Newsletter’s “Best Television Announcer” award and retweeted the announcement.
JBL reportedly took offense to this. Traditionally, WWE employees do not acknowledge wrestling awards that come from outside of the company. On WWE programing, he was heard bashing Ranallo more than usual. But sources within the industry and close to Ranallo, including his close friend and podcast partner Bas Rutten, insinuate the bullying continued offscreen.
Ranallo then began missing shows, starting with the March 14 episode of Smackdown Live, with WWE announcing it was due to snow. Ranallo then excused his subsequent absences and said he was dealing with sickness before the topic was dropped entirely.
Later in the month, Ranallo tweeted and thanked fans for supporting him during his long-term bipolar disorder and depression.
“I’m deeply touched by your tweets of support,” he said in a tweet from March 24. “My doctor wants me to stay off social media for now, but I wanted to thank you.”
JBL denies bullying Ranallo, but previous history isn’t putting him in the best light.
On June 12, 2005, WWE put on a pay-per-view called “ECW One Night Stand,” which was a tribute show to former wrestling organization Extreme Championship Wrestling. Many older wrestlers had issues with the ECW talent, including JBL. During the show’s closing moments, a large, scripted brawl took place. JBL was seen targeting wrestler Brian Heffron, then known as The Blue Meanie, and delivering stiff punches into his skull, leaving him bloody and wobbling in the ring.
After the incident, Heffron posted about the incident on his Myspace page, saying, “It’s no secret that Bradshaw never liked me from my first day in the WWE to my last.”
Another incident in 2008 saw JBL getting punched in the face during a WWE tour of Iraq for U.S. soldiers. According to reports from Bleacher Report and Rolling Stone’s Jason Solomon, then-commentator Joey Styles was reportedly fed up with Bradshaw’s harassment during the trip and took matters into his own hands.
During a radio interview with Right After Wrestling in 2010, JBL himself mentioned that he hazed new wrestlers during his tenure with the company.
“A lot of people want to talk about me and my hazing,” JBL said. “Yes, I did. I make no apologies about it whatsoever. When I started, guys were hazed, and for good reason. They wanted to know that in a riot, which we had a few back in the day, were you going to be on the side of the boys or the fans?”
He went on to say that today’s WWE does not have a hazing culture. However, he wouldn’t apologize for what he did, saying it helped new wrestlers be initiated into the group.
School cliques, companies or sports teams shouldn’t have bullying or any sort of malicious acts be a stepping stone for acceptance. As far as I can tell, JBL has never been disciplined for any of his actions at any point.
WWE as a company created and promoted an anti-bullying initiative called “Be a Star,” which encourages “positive methods of social interaction and encourages people to treat others as equals and with respect,” according to the company’s website. If JBL is truly involved with the bullying culture WWE has, then they need to take action.
Instead, the situation may be taking a worse turn as the April 14 issue of The Wrestling Observer Newsletter is reporting that WWE is initializing settlement talks with Ranallo and his representatives to stay silent on the issue. While no settlement has been confirmed at this time, JBL’s antics go against everything WWE’s campaign stands for. Ranallo’s contract expires in mid-August this year and it seems highly unlikely that WWE fans will ever hear him call wrestling matches again.