JBL On His Early WWE Days – “I Remember Thinking I Don’t Belong Here”


WWE Hall of Famer JBL recently described his early days in the WWF, admitting that he felt out of place within the company.

During the latest episode of ‘WWE Untold’, which details the legendary careers of John ‘Bradshaw’ Layfield and Ron ‘Farooq’ Simmons, Layfield described his formative years in professional wrestling. Before stepping inside the ropes, Layfield made a name for himself in the world of american football. Upon being cut from the San Antonio Riders in 1991, John decided to pursue his other dream:

“I still have a chance while I’m young enough to do what I always wanted to do, and that’s be a professional wrestler. And got started wrestling. Wrestled in Texas, Japan, moved to Europe for a couple of years and finally made it to WWE in December of 1995.”

Before reaching WWF, Layfield appeared for a number of organisations including the National Wrestling Alliance. John would find success in Japan, performing as ‘John Hawk’. Layfield recalls meeting Vince McMahon for the first time, and the chairman christening him Bradshaw:

“I went to meet with Vince for the first time up at Titan Towers. He said, ‘We’ve got this idea of Justin Bradshaw.’ So I said ‘How about we use Justin Hawk?’ Because I’d been wrestling under the name John Hawk. That way I could keep the name and go back to Japan when eventually, I would get fired in WWE figured after two or three years. So it was self preservation. And Vince said ‘Ok, we’re gonna name you Justin Hawk Bradshaw.’ And that’s how we got the name. And I have no idea where that name came from. I don’t mind it, people call me Bradshaw to this day.”

Debuting on an episode of ‘WWF Superstars’, Bradshaw quickly settled into mid-card matches. Although he remained undefeated during his first three months with the company, the character failed to leave an impactful impression on audiences.

John Layfield recalls this time, particularly WrestleMania season in 1996. Without a match that night and yet to find his place within the company, Layfield questioned if he was capable of surviving in the World Wrestling Federation:

“I was lost. I was in this incredible machine. I remember, it was WrestleMania 12 where Bret and Shawn had that incredible Iron Man match in The Pond. And I remember sitting there watching that, and thinking ‘I’m not sure I belong here’. Such an incredible spectacle. I just thought I need to go back to Japan and finish up my career there. I was really despondent about the whole thing. I didn’t know if I was going to make it or not.”

Layfield’s fortune would turn when, in 1998, he would team with Farooq to form The Acolytes and the pair would go on to become three-time Tag Team Champions. Farooq and Bradshaw went their separate ways in 2002 before Layfield would become JBL, one of the biggest superstars of the 2000s.

Despite a few early bumps in the road, John Layfield would retire a decorated Grand Slam Champion. He was inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame in 2020.