John Bradshaw Layfield is currently regarded by many as one of the worst commentators in WWE right now. Perhaps the most infuriating element of his commentary is his complete inability to let anybody else get a word in edgeways.
On many occasions, you’ll be attempting to enjoy Mauro Ranallo masterfully busking his way through a prolonged metaphor, or sometimes just reading off a link to a segment, only for the loudmouth Texan to shout something completely irrelevant about Rugby League statistics from the 1920s — that’s if you can make out what he’s saying.
As well as this, his attempts at reeling off heel commentary continue to come off as completely unimaginative. He’s been shouting ‘lunatic’ every time he sees Dean Ambrose on screen for what feels like an eternity, and his most embarrassing, contrived effort would probably be his performance at WrestleMania 31 during the showdown between Triple H and Sting. In that match, his witless bleating about WWE beating WCW and hating on Sting for trying to put WWE out of business was the strongest evidence that at this stage in his career he is nothing more than a mouthpiece for Vince McMahon’s sniping.
He is ostensibly the heel commentator, and yet flim flams his position more than any politician ever could. To spend half a show rooting for the heels, and then putting on his barely audible ‘sad voice’ and acting shocked and appalled by the masterful heel turn by the Usos (who he now inexplicably supports again) paints a picture of a man who utterly flounders when he is asked to stick to conflicted messages over a 2-3 hour period.
That is why people on Twitter were so amazed that JBL was so incredibly entertaining last Tuesday on SmackDown, when he made no secret of his fuming indignation at the very idea that James Ellsworth would be booked in a match against A.J. Styles.
Even the normally dull David Otunga (who I still attest has no place adding ‘color commentary’ and ‘knowledge’ to any wrestling commentary booth) was on great form during that match. Sure, JBL was shouting at the same volume that earns him so much spite from the WWE Universe, but what he was shouting about fulfilled the purpose, to a ‘T’, of an entertaining, heel commentator.
JBL: Look, this was deliberate to me. Look at this, LOOK at this!
Otunga: Dean Ambrose wasn’t even —
JBL: What are you, are you kidding me? Are you KIDDING ME?! You’re a freakin’ Harvard lawyer and you DIDN’T SEE THAT?!
Otunga: AJ needs to watch where he’s goin’. He’s such a great athlete, he should’a got out the way.
JBL: … You ARE a lawyer.
Normally, JBL’s burials are frustrating because he makes the talent look like crap, usually at the behest of a bored McMahon. In this case, he’s flanked by Otunga who is deliberately, playfully needling JBL and keeping some of the spotlight on Ellsworth. Dare I say it, the exchanges that this match was replete with was completely redolent of a Heenan / Monsoon, McMahon / Ventura relationship, where there was a complete equity of support within the booth for both the heels and the faces. Hell, it was completely redolent of JBL’s first run as a commentator, which among fans is either sadly forgotten or sorely missed.
It is in that sort of setup, where one commentator is allowed to go completely all out and say absolutely anything they can to keep their favorite looking strong and their opponent looking weak and pathetic, that JBL exceeds. He is at his best when he is abusive, uncompromising and pumping out his own character driven venom, rather than McMahon’s personally motivated sneering.
It is yet another lesson that McMahon desperately needs to heed: let the commentators do their thing!