JBL and WWE's Culture of Hazing: An Oral History

Throughout John "Bradshaw" Layfield's long tenure with WWE he's served as a "policeman" to "test" new members of the company's locker room, sometimes at the clear direction of CEO Vince McMahon. Going back to his hiring in 1995, there are countless stories of wrestlers, announcers and referees being tormented by JBL and others.

While Mauro Ranallo has not said anything publicly about it, it's possible he's the latest victim of JBL's abuse. Ranallo was the play-by-play announcer for SmackDown Live until a few weeks ago when he apparently suffered a bout of depression related to his battle with bipolar personality disorder. This absence followed JBL's public berating of Ranallo, including criticizing him on an episode of WWE Network show Bring It To The Table for Ranallo's acknowledgement of winning the Wrestling Observer Newsletter's Announcer of the Year award.

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Ranallo's friend Bas Rutten implied on Twitter there were issues between Ranallo and JBL.

A recent report said Ranallo will not return to WWE television for the remainder of his contract with the company which expires in August.

According to many who've worked for WWE, a culture of hazing and bullying isn't just tolerated but encouraged. Meanwhile the company promotes its Be A Star program, which campaigns to help children deal with bullying. Apparently the company feels differently about bullying among adults within its own organization.

The story surrounding JBL and Ranallo is beginning to pick up mainstream attention as of this writing. It's been reported on by Deadspin, Vice Sports, Sports Illustrated and others. Fans at this week's SmackDown Live taping booed JBL's introduction and later chanted "fire Bradshaw". WWE has yet to make any public statement on the matter.

Former head trainer at the WWE Performance Center, Bill DeMott, was forced to resign in 2015 amid similar allegations of harassment and abuse.

Compiled below is a collection of quotes and stories sourced from various interviews and autobiographies over the last 20 years, told by those (including JBL himself) who have witnessed WWE's culture of hazing firsthand.

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John “Bradshaw” Layfield: Did I haze [the Miz]? Hell yes, I hazed him! Look, a lot of people want to talk about me, and did I haze people? Yes. Absolutely. I make no apologies for that whatsoever.

Mike Bucci (Simon Dean/Nova): Bradshaw had been ribbing Joey [Styles] the whole trip [in Iraq in 2008]… And Joey got his arm out and knocked him on his ass… Everything [Bradshaw] did- he would drink and just terrorize people. It was horrible. I was just like, “What does he get out this?” There were overseas trips, just all night on the bus, yelling at people and treating them like shit. Because he would sleep all afternoon. In the daytime he could sleep on the bus because nobody could say anything; they were all afraid, but at night time he’s yelling at ‘em.

Bully Ray (Bubba Ray Dudley): Bradshaw told me a story years later. I actually had a singles match with him on either RAW or SmackDown and I had gone to the ring and just as Bradshaw was about to go to the ring Vince McMahon pulled him on the side and said, “Beat the shit out of this kid. Let’s see what he’s got.” So Bradshaw came to the ring and he started laying into me and I started laying into him just as hard. And there we are, two beasts punching each other just about as hard as you can, and all the sudden we just kind of realized what was going on. We started laughing and then we went right back to entertaining… And afterward [Bradshaw] told me he went up to Vince McMahon and he said [to McMahon], “These boys are going to be just fine.”

Hardy Boys: "Alright then," Bradshaw said. "I'm going to give you boys a little assignment. I want you to buy two six-packs of beer. On the drive home, I want you to drink them and throw the bottles at road signs."

"Okay," I said, even though I was pretty sure we weren't going to do it. The next day we were in Charlotte. Bradshaw pulled me aside and said, "Hizardy, your mission was fairly simple. Were you successful?"

"What's that?"

"Did you get the beers and throw them at road signs?"

"No, man, we didn't. We don't drink."

All we had to do was lie.

We should have lied. It would have been a lot easier. Bradshaw was pissed off in the worst way. For the next few weeks, we'd say hello to him and he'd just say "Go to hell."

We'd go to shake his hand and he would look at us, not extending his hand. "Go to hell." ...

Our match was next, so we went to the ring and wrestled, and when we came back, our bags had disappeared. Our clothes, our money, our credit cards, everything. The room was completely empty. Then Bradshaw came walking in and said, "What's wrong, guys?"

“Blue Meanie” Brian Heffron: Me and Gillberg worked the Acolytes [Bradshaw and Ron Simmons]. And even before the match [WWE writer] Ed Ferrera comes up before the match and goes, “I’m sorry. I’m sorry you have to work them.” I’m like, “Okay, I don’t know what I’m walking into but he’s making me even more fucking worried, apologizing.”... [The match] was rough. I’ve been stiffed before. I’m used to people being snug. But Gillberg blacked out twice during the match.

Justin Roberts: They took my passport out of my bag, I got to the airport in Manchester, and I couldn’t get on the plane to go home… I had to fly to London and go to the U.S. embassy to get a new passport. Once I got a new passport, I took the train to the airport, and eventually got a flight back. I travelled from London to Boston, Boston to Phoenix, then drove to Phoenix to Tuscon for TV for SmackDown.

John Hennigan (Johnny Mundo/Morrison): JBL asked me and my partner [Joey Mercury] to steal [Justin’s] passport, and we didn’t… JBL was one of the main event guys at the time, and I don’t remember exactly what Justin Roberts did to become the target for the hazing of this specific oversea trip, but JBL asked me and Joey to snag Justin’s passport.

I remember it “being a thing,” you know? We were looking at Justin, he was a few rows ahead of us on this plane, sleeping. We were like, “What do we do?”... Ultimately, we considered the options, and wound up deciding to not do it… This is a weird thing for a wrestler to say, especially in that era, but I usually went by the golden rule. I wouldn’t have appreciated someone doing that to me, especially someone I considered a peer.

Justin Roberts: I was sitting in the production meeting, Vince [McMahon] is running the meeting, and when it ends, he’s the first to leave… I was sitting there, and as he walked by me, he just whispered to me: “Don’t forget your passport! Ha-haa!” and walked away. That’s when I knew there was no sympathy in that company. This stuff is encouraged… They like humiliating people. They like laughing at people. The way wrestling is entertainment to us wrestling fans, humiliating people was just entertainment to the bosses.

Stephanie McMahon: You should never be quiet when you are being bullied or when you see someone being bullied. It's so important to stand up and say something.

Billy Silverman (former WWE referee): Bradshaw was the biggest instigator of all. He was the head policeman of the WWF, or he thinks he's the head policeman of the WWF. So I went to management and said I didn't think it was cool what was going on. And this person said just do it, it's okay, don't worry about it, it will all be good… [When I was hazed], I went to a member of their management team, somebody who works for Jim Ross. I was told to go along with it… I was forced to bring liquor on a tour. I was forced to travel with customs into Canada. It was an all-day hazing type of thing. I was forced to serve beer and drinks to people. I was on a plane being verbally abused and threatened with physical violence by Bradshaw. Then I actually got hurt out of it because from carrying all of those bags, I tore some muscles in my back from carrying the huge bags with liquor in them. That's why I actually left the tour, because I was hurt.

John “Bradshaw” Layfield: When I started [in pro wrestling], guys were hazed, and they were hazed for a good reason, because they wanted to know in a riot -- which we had a few back in the day -- were you going to be on the side of the boys or were you going to be on the side of the fans? Were you going to run or leave? And so hazing was a huge part [of wrestling]. Now it’s not a huge part. There’s no place for it in a corporate, sterile world that is now the WWE. So when the Miz came in, most of the hazing was me working, me on the mic, me talking to him. I gave him as much advice as I possibly could because I thought he had an ability to be a heel. I really thought he had it. I thought he was so good. But did I haze him? Eh, probably. I have no idea. But [laughs] I’m not going to apologize for it. I don’t give a shit. I really don’t care. And if these guys are too soft to not make it without just a tad bit of hazing -- there’s hazing everywhere -- than the hell with ‘em.

Mike Bucci: I remember we did a show in Japan. Show’s over at like 11 o’clock. We’re all on the bus. It’s almost 1:30 before he got done drinking with Undertaker and somebody else before he got back on the bus for us all to leave. We waited two-and-a-half hours, everybody’s watching them all hang out, drink and shoot the shit- like four people… It was weird, dude. I didn’t understand the constant tormenting and bullying of people, and calling ‘em down to the bar, and [wrestlers’] court, and all this shit for nothing, dude. I don’t buy anymore [the idea of], “Hey, we have to see what this guy’s made of, because [if] we’re in a brawl, we have to know if he has our back,” and all [that] kinda shit. That shit doesn’t happen anymore.

Hardy Boys: "Hizardys, I got a little something for you to do. You guys know the Monkey Boy [JBL's name for Don Callis], right?" ...

Bradshaw came over to us and gave me a box of toothpicks. "Let's just suppose you happened to take some of those toothpicks out of the box and let's just suppose maybe you went over to the Monkey Boy's rental car," he said. "Then let's suppose you happened to take those toothpicks and stuck them in the keyholes and they just happened to break off. He would probably have a pretty hard time getting in to his car, don't you think?"

Ken Anderson (Mr. Kennedy): A lot of guys say that [Bradshaw’s] a bully. I just think that he’s very passionate about this business and that he doesn’t think that just anybody belongs. I remember there was a situation where they gave this guy, Brian Black, he was on SmackDown as Palmer Canon, the network executive or whatever. There was a situation overseas where he was in the bar and a bunch of guys just kind of ganged up on him, were just harassing him, giving him a hard time. [Asking him] “Why did you think you belong in this business? Why do you feel you fit here? What do you think you offer?” That kind of stuff. And he answered all the questions. And in the morning he went downstairs and he packed his bags and he left his wrestling gear on the bed and he went downstairs and he called a cab to go to the airport.

Mike Bucci: Yeah of course there is [a place for ribbing today]. It lightens the mood, it’s fun. Ya know, take somebody’s boots and tie them together or super glue them on the ceiling or some shit like that, but when you’re literally sitting there like getting somebody to the point where they’re gonna quit or they’re gonna be a Jonathan Martin like the Dolphins, and it’s so bad they can’t take it, then there’s mental stress and family stress and all that; it’s too much, dude.

Ken Anderson: A couple days later [after Palmer Canon quit] we were all standing around talking, and Chris [Benoit] said this, but I’m saying this because I feel this is the way JBL thinks. I remember saying, “Ya know, [Canon’s] a nice guy. It just didn’t work out here.” And Chris said to me, “My next door neighbor’s a nice guy too. It doesn’t mean he belongs in our fucking ring or in our locker room.” There is some truth to that. I think the bullying that JBL does, he’s just having fun, and if you give it back to him, that’s what he wants. He comes from the old NFL where guys rib each other.

Bob Holly: At Kansas City airport, Steve [Blackman] and I were waiting around when Bradshaw came over. It was an early morning flight and John was still drunk from the night before. He started patting Steve’s ass. Steve said, “John, I don’t play that shit, knock it off.” John patted him again. And again. Steve was getting brutally pissed. He told him, “John, next time you do that, I’m going to knock your fucking teeth out.” So, of course, John did it again. Steve whipped around and backhanded Bradshaw, popping him with jabs in the face.

“Blue Meanie” Brian Heffron: [At ECW One Night Stand 2005] I was thrown off guard… I turned around and saw a shot [from Bradshaw] coming right to my face. People were between us and he started yelling about how I had talked bad about him on the internet. I was like, “It's a work!”

Ivory: [A wrestler getting a tryout] was out there, he wasn’t even like a jabroni, he’s not like he’s gonna make it big but he’s working a steady indie job, and it’s a California gig and the guy comes up and does his deal, and Bradshaw clotheslines the hell out of him, and for what? No TV, no cameras, no nothing. Hurts the guy. We’re like, “That is so stupid.” That’s typical.

Edge (Adam Copeland): I had yet to make my TV debut, but by now enough of the guys knew me, so I felt fairly comfortable. That is, until the light shining into the shower was suddenly blocked out. I looked over to see Bradshaw standing there in his full cowboy wrestling garb. In any other situation, a six-seven, three-hundred-pound man in chaps and a cowboy hat standing in the shower might be strange, but in this industry it’s really not. So I went back to soaping myself up until I felt a large, calloused hand placed on my tush. I knew both of my hands were in front of me, and I had a sinking suspicion I knew what crazy Texan was lathering my ass (let me stress there was no insertion and no disappearing knuckles if ya know what I mean). I turned to see Bradshaw’s evil, ten-gallon-hat-topped grin, looked at Glenn [Kulka] (who was showering and avoiding eye contact nearby), and said, “He’s actually soaping my ass!” At that point everyone listening outside the shower fell out laughing and ol’ Adam was the butt end of another rib. Ahh, to be the new kid.

In a strange way, because of things like this, I knew Bradshaw liked me, and I was becoming one of the boys. It’s his self-appointed job to test the guys coming in. Weed out the prima donnas. After working him in a dark match in Phoenix, Arizona, and not complaining about having my head clotheslined into the fourth row, I knew I’d passed the Bradshaw exam.

Bully Ray: [Vince McMahon] had his guys for that [who would go and “see what this kid’s got”]. That was Ron [Simmons] and John [Bradshaw Layfield], and if he wanted somebody else he’d use Bob Holly.

Rene Dupree: [Bradshaw’s] an asshole… The last three years I was [in WWE] I was miserable, when I got switched to SmackDown, he was the reason why. Every day going to work, I was called a “french faggot”. Every day. I don’t want to go to work and be called a "faggot". What if I was gay? Isn’t that sexual harassment? He’d make jokes and every now and then they were kind of funny, but after a while, it’s like, Jesus Christ… Maybe I didn’t act the right way... No, [I never went to the office about it]. I was just quiet and shy, which maybe came across as arrogant.

Jimmy Noonan (former WWE head of security): I would say there’s a culture of bullying in WWE, in general. WWE is a real bullying type of place… One night in the back of limo, for some weird reason, coming back from Safeco Field, the night before WrestleMania [19], [Vince McMahon] almost tried to intimidate me. He had gone over his match with [Hulk] Hogan that night. I knew it was going to be an epic match. I’m a fighter. I’ve been in fights all my life. I know what Vince was trying to do. And in that weird moment he was trying to intimidate me. There’s a bigger picture view: the WWE is full of bullies. JBL, as much as I love him, is a bully. Booker T is one of the biggest bullies in WWE history. Then you’ve got the guys -- the obvious ones -- you’ve got Bob [Holly], what he did to [Matt] Cappotelli that day on Tough Enough. It was despicable… And that’s the bigger picture.

There’s probably not a place for [hazing anymore]. It’s a new sterile world. It’s a new professional world that’s more sports entertainment than it is wrestling. I really liked wrestling. But times change, and wrestling changes, and those things are passe, and probably for the better.

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