Date: Early December, 2008
Source: Wrestling Observer Newsletter
Justin Bradshaw Layfield, a.k.a. JBL, has been one of pro wrestling’s most cowardly bullies for over two decades. There are countless stories of how he has harassed, hazed, and humiliated smaller wrestlers and non-wrestlers in WWE. While he’s done most of this on the road or backstage, he’s also done some of it in the ring.
The bullying has made JBL very unpopular among many in the locker room, and of all people to finally stand up to the tough Texan, it was among the most unlikely of all targets that wound up delivering the bully beatdown. His name is none other than Joey Styles.
Years ago, WWE decided to tour Iraq and film shows there in front of American troops. This tour has been universally praised by almost everyone, as it’s the ultimate charitable deed for a good cause, and for the right people. The troops loved it, and most of the wrestlers loved it just as much because they have so much respect for our armed forces. It’s a dangerous trip with many risks involved, but WWE has always pulled it off and always enjoyed interacting with the military bases over there. It’s also a great public relations move, although in this case WWE never really did them for that reason.
JBL was always at his worst on these tours. He loved and respected the military, because they’re tough guys and he’s a relatively tough guy too. And when tough guys feel tough, they like to pick on those who aren’t so tough. To add fuel to the fire, it’s a very long flight and tour, which means wrestlers drank a lot in order to cope with the stress of the travel. And JBL likes to drink. Mixing alcohol with bullying usually has bad results for everyone involved.
The bully that he is, JBL never picked on guys who could actually kick his ass. He tried that once with Steve Blackman, and ended up humiliated. In a fair fight, like the WWF’s Brawl for All shoot tournament in the late 90s, JBL got destroyed. But when he bullies smaller guys (and women) who can’t or won’t fight back, he’s a tough guy.
Worse, JBL had a lot of political clout. He received a huge push in the mid 2000s as a “wrestling God.” Vince loved his gimmick because he wanted to do the gimmick himself if he was a pro wrestler, not unlike the Million Dollar Man gimmick he gave Ted DiBiase.
The first target of JBL’s wrath on the 2008 Iraq tour was WWE ring announcer Lilian Garcia. While she was asleep on the plane, he dumped a bucket of ice on her. Yes, he picked on a girl, a classic bully tactic.
Next up was Joey Styles, the former ECW television announcer that many had nicknamed “Pointdexter” because of his nerdy look and appearance. While Styles is famous for being the voice of ECW from the early ‘90s until its closing in 2001, he was retired from announcing at this point. At the time of this Iraq tour, he was very much involved in the WWE.com website.
JBL was riding Styles hard all week, taunting him with abusive words like he always does when he’s in bully mode. Most newcomers and office staff just deal with it, because JBL is tall, tough, and wields political power. Standing up to him can mean either a humiliating, painful beating, or possible job loss. Because JBL was so used to intimidating these victims without their fighting back, he did whatever he wanted without fear.
On one of the final nights of the tour, JBL was at it again. He poured a drink on Styles, and worse, made comments about his family. Styles had enough, and with everyone around him, went after JBL. JBL went after at him at basically the same time, but with so many wrestlers there, they were broken up before anything happened.
But as what usually happens in these situations, the wrestler broke free. JBL was able to break away from those holding him bac. As he went towards him, Styles also broke free and threw what was described as a wild haymaker punch. In most cases, such a punch either misses or barely fazes the bully. But somehow this one miraculously connected.
Styles’s fist caught JBL just under the eye, causing a laceration that began to bleed badly. JBL was not knocked out, but he was knocked down. All the wrestlers were in shock, but able to separate them before JBL got up and went after him again. JBL was reportedly furious. You know, because how dare a guy stand up for himself after you talk trash about his family or pour a drink on him.
JBL was instantly humiliated, doubly so since he was involved in setting up the Iraq tours that he loved so much. JBL stands about 6’-6”, with a thick, frame, and is very strong and hits hard. Styles is almost a foot shorter, with short arms. While he wasn’t skinny or weak, he was far outweighed and outmuscled by a guy who towered over him. Styles has done interviews stating he wanted to be a pro wrestler when he was a kid, but was far too small so ended up as an announcer instead. He was by no means a tough guy. The fact he decked JBL left everyone in amazement, whether it was a cheap shot or not.
There were no further problems between the two on the tour. Many wrestlers were privately thrilled, feeling JBL got what he deserved. However, while this incident made Styles a hero to some, it was described as not as many as you’d think, due to heat Styles had among some in the company. Styles can come off as smug and condescending, which was evident during his announcing days.
At the next TV taping in Philadelphia (ironic since that’s where Styles made his career in ECW), JBL was suddenly more quiet and subdued. He was well aware that the story had made the rounds and was all the talk of the locker room, and he had been publicly embarrassed and exposed for the bully he was. Rather than admit he got knocked down by a guy half his size, he took the cowardly route (not surprising, since bullies are cowards by definition) and moped around on his Blackberry (remember those?). This was considered out of character for him.
An anonymous friend of JBL told the Wrestling Observer: “I always shake my head when he lowers himself to these high school spectacles. He’s such a smart, funny, engaging person and a good guy at his core but he is compelled to act in a deplorable manner and it has come back to bite him in the ass.”
Styles, meanwhile, was rightly downplaying the story to those who asked him about it. But on camera during the Slammy awards, he had a spring in his step and was smiling a lot more because he knew he had backed down the big, bad bully.
Obviously if the two ever got into a physical confrontation without alcohol or suckerpunching allowed, JBL would destroy Styles. And Styles knew it, which is why he had to catch him off guard. But the idea that what Styles did was unfair is complete bull. JBL is 11 inches taller and over 100 pound heavier. It was “unfair” before it even started, and JBL was the one who started it in the first place by harassing him all week. Whenever a bully picks on a smaller man in that manner, all rules are out the window and the target has every right to fight back in any way he can. If that means a cheap shot or using a weapon or attacking him from behind, so be it. Only then does it “even” the score. It’s always the whiny bullies who complain about what’s fair whenever it’s not fair in their favor. The complete mismatch in the first place wasn’t fair to Styles, but JBL not only didn’t care, he also used it to his advantage. Typical coward.
JBL picking on Styles is the equivalent of someone who is 7’-1” and 400 pounds picking on JBL. Would he like it if that happened to him? Of course not. And if it did, would JBL fight back in a fair way? No chance. JBL didn’t even fight “fair” when it was with someone who he could’ve whipped anyway (Blue Meanie). JBL is no different than Bob Holly or Rick Steiner in that regard. Bullies who think they’re tough by picking on weaker men, and then when they get their asses handed to them, they bitch and complain like the cowards they are. Or in this case, they mope silently on their Blackberry phones out of sheer humiliation.
Styles was not reprimanded for the assault, nor should he have been. He was minding his own business and was provoked, and it was JBL who should’ve been punished (but wasn’t). There was concern Vince McMahon would roll back JBL’s push, due to the old school mentality (Bill Watts was famous for this) that the big stars are supposed to be tough guys in real life. Watts would fire certain guys when they lost bar fights, and indeed, McMahon had doubts about Batista as a headliner after he lost that infamous locker room fight with Booker T.
Styles was on good terms with Vince and Kevin Dunn at the time of this incident. That wasn’t always the case, as he was the unproven newcomer at first, and they tried to completely change his style when he started announcing for them. He was replaced by Mike Adamle, who was awful at calling pro wrestling. The WWE website wasn’t doing good numbers under Styles, but still Vince liked him anyway.
JBL did get punished when he beat up the Blue Meanie during a battle royal at the first ECW One Night Stand, but that was to stave off a potential lawsuit (and it worked). But he didn’t suffer any career setbacks after getting rocked by Styles, other than some well-deserved humiliation that will linger over him for the rest of his life.
A funny side note is how most of the wrestlers found out about the story. Vince McMahon had texted HHH, saying he’s not going to believe what just happened. HHH was at a house show and read the text out loud to all the boys, all of whom were in shock.