I Remember…Eddie Guerrero versus John “Bradshaw” Layfield
Doctor's Orders: I Remember When... / (Plus, Summerslam Champions League Next Stage)
By Dr. CMV1
Jul 23, 2011 - 11:45:00 AM
Something a little unexpected happened in the year 2003. Quietly, Eddie Guerrero went from the guy that people routinely made signs about reading “Eddie Mows My Lawn” to one of the most popular superstars in the WWE. Derogatory signs were replaced with massive “Eddie” chants throughout almost every arena. Not even an attempted heel turn got the fans to stop cheering his “lying, cheating, and stealing.” When his popularity earned him the reincarnated U.S. title, it wasn’t surprising. Yet, after a feud that seemed like a major test for him against the monstrous Big Show, something started to change. When the bells rang in 2004, Eddie was pushed straight up the card en route to a match with WWE Champion Brock Lesnar at the Cow Palace in San Francisco (at No Way Out). The match was certainly a sight to see, with Guerrero unleashing a skill set (in victory) that had rarely been witnessed during his time in the WWE due to lack of opportunity. Eddie flourished and the crowd responded to his every move. He had essentially become the WWE’s most over performer and clearly one of its best in-ring competitors. A Wrestlemania XX feud with Kurt Angle that produced an underrated, old school kind of match only took his reputation to new heights.
BUT then Smackdown underwent some major changes in the spring. Lesnar left the company. Angle was dealing with neck issues and had to move to a non-wrestling role. Big Show needed surgery. Smackdown’s landscape completely changed, leaving Guerrero to carry the brand…
It was, at that time, that the former Acolyte – the beer drinking and fight loving Bradshaw – dramatically changed personas. He began to cite his published book on finance and stock tips and started dressing the part of a transplant New Yorker from Texas. He became the WWE’s version of J.R. Ewing from the 80’s TV drama, Dallas; a rich man with rich ideals and a mean streak a mile long. The WWE needed some new faces on their second brand and Bradshaw’s tenure gave him an opportunity. If there’s one thing I remember most about that time period, it was that the IWC had about as much interest in watching this new “John Bradshaw Layfield” as they had in being eaten by a shark. There was a collective groan emanating from LOP when JBL attacked Guerrero and made it clear that he was coming after the WWE Championship. After all, not only had we seen nothing but Bradshaw as an average tag specialist for most of his career, but we’d also seen his other attempts (failures) at becoming a main-event player.
Despite the negativity heaped upon him by the IWC, JBL started to really build a strong, dastardly heel character. He talked about his views on border control and basically claimed that he wanted to see an America where there weren’t so many illegal aliens and people on welfare. The seeds were planted quickly, given Guerrero’s portrayed heritage, for a heated and personal rivalry. On a house show in the spring, JBL interrupted a post-match Eddie celebration with the Guerrero family. He laid out Latino Heat and got an ear full from the elder Mrs. Guerrero (Eddie’s mother). JBL grabbed her by a lapel of her blouse and she instantly collapsed to the mat of an apparent heart attack. She played her part beautifully and it brought a ton of heat to the feud, setting the stage for the first match between JBL and Eddie at Judgment Day in Los Angeles.
John Bradshaw Layfield challenges Eddie Guerrero for the WWE Championship at Judgment Day 2004
Sometimes, in wrestling, two wrestlers start a series of matches that surprise you with their high quality. When those two guys put on a great match that was better than you could have ever expected, it sticks in your mind. No one had really seen a match from Bradshaw on TV or PPV in the WWE that made you think he was capable of really excelling at a main-event level in the ring. He’d always had potential on the microphone, so while it was still surprising that he became one of the better talkers in history, it was not shocking that he could potentially cut a great promo. What was astonishing, though, was that he could have a great wrestling match. Yet, that’s exactly what he did.
JBL and Eddie had first-class chemistry and it was going to be a good match regardless based on the first several minutes, but the chair shot to the head put it over the top. JBL cracked Eddie; no protection - zero. It looked like Eddie cut himself with a bowie knife, as blood began to pour out of his head. The resulting bloodshed bordered on being outright disgusting and made you immediately wonder if medical attention need be paid to Guerrero in mid-match to prevent him from keeling over and dying. I’ve always thought back to seeing crimson gush out of his head when I think of Eddie’s premature death 18 months later. Traumas like that take a tremendous toll on the human body and – make no mistake about it – the amount of blood that poured out of that man’s head made the ring and the ringside area look like a crime scene.
The fact that Eddie was able to withstand all that blood loss and wrestle for another 15-minutes still surprises me to this day. The drama was phenomenal, with the crowd as behind Eddie as any I’d ever seen. JBL held up his end and played his new character to a “T” in the ring. Eddie ended up getting himself disqualified, but not after a great series of near falls and counters. The blood without question made the match twice as compelling as it might have been otherwise, but the end result was a match that both elevated Guerrero’s “tough guy” rating and made JBL into a star that could be the WWE Champion. The bloodied and beaten Guerrero unleashed a hellacious fury on JBL after the match and busted him open with a couple of wicked chair shots of his own. Very few people ordered Judgment Day ’04 (it was one of the worst buyrates in years). However, anyone that tuned in that night got to see something surprisingly amazing. I rate the match at ****1/4 and I rank it right up at the top of my list for most underrated match of all-time.
JBL was given the choice of stipulation for him and Eddie’s rematch a month later at the reboot of the old WCW PPV, The Great American Bash, and chose the not-often used Texas Bullrope match. He appeared to have the advantage with SD General Manager, Angle, on his side and the match stipulation in his favor.
John Bradshaw Layfield challenges Eddie Guerrero for the WWE Championship in a Texas Bullrope Match at the Great American Bash 2004
Again, the critics were skeptical of the potential match quality, but this was – again – the only real bright spot on another weak PPV card for Smackdown. The atmosphere for the match was not as strong in Norfolk, VA as it was in L.A., but soon after the match began, Eddie and JBL began to work them out of their funk. After an early guffaw with the rope, the two settled into their surprising natural groove and started to build another excellent in-ring story. The gimmick turned out to be much more entertaining than many originally thought, with the rope being used as a weapon in various creative ways while also failing to handicap their movements like some had predicted.
Eddie returned serve on the vicious chair shot from a month earlier. This time, it was JBL doing the bleeding – not nearly as profusely, mind you. They slowly built the false finishes in this match, starting by having them trade off touching just two corners at a time and thwarting each other’s momentum by any means necessary (be it chair shots, hanging onto the ropes for dear life, using the cow bell attached to the rope as a weapon, or the low blow). Then, the high spots started coming in droves, the best of which was when JBL hooked the rope around Eddie’s neck and threw him from the apron onto the announce table, and then followed up by giving him a powerbomb through the announce table (after it didn’t break). The drama continued to build as they began touching three corners at a time. JBL looked very comfortable within the confines of this gimmick and, wisely, most of the tricks to avoiding a loss throughout the match (from both guys) came from JBL showing them off first. Guerrero adapted, but Bradshaw pulled his final trick when he began following Eddie and touching each turnbuckle right after he did.
The finish was exciting, confusing, and disheartening. With JBL nearly touching the fourth and final corner that would give him the win and the title, Eddie staged a last ditch effort to save his championship. Guerrero pulled with all his might to get JBL on his heels before launching himself up and over JBL to touch the final turnbuckle, himself. The bell rang and Guerrero’s music immediately began to play. The referee handed him the WWE title and Eddie began to celebrate. Unfortunately, the music stopped when Angle came to the ringside area to announce that the replay need be seen to make sure that the right man was credited with victory. After the review, it was clear to everyone that Eddie did touch the turnbuckle, but not before knocking JBL’s shoulder into it first. Thus, JBL was declared the winner and the new WWE Champion. The crowd was shocked, I was shocked, and the IWC was shocked. It was still hard to fathom that Bradshaw had gone from lower card nobody to WWE Champion in less than three months. Besides, Guerrero was an IWC hero and his title victory had been hailed as one of the greatest moments of all-time for the internet wrestling media as a whole. His loss to Bradshaw of all people was highly ridiculed. I rated the match ***1/2 and also consider it to be underrated.
The smart mark in me was raging like never before (and like never again) when I attended the SD TV taping immediately following the Bash. My anger spilt over the edge as I encouraged the fans around me to sit on their hands whenever JBL came out to the ring to celebrate. Against my feeble wishes, he quickly worked the crowd into a chorus of boos; something he became quite good at for a long time. At that moment, though, it was all about seeing the end to his reign before it ever got off the ground. I thought it was the worst TV taping I’d ever seen because that SOB was the damn WWE Champ. During the taping, though, Eddie made an appearance via the Titan Tron to announce that he was invoking his rematch clause two weeks later on Smackdown in a steel cage, giving us a sliver of hope that the wrong would be righted. It surely made the anticipation for the cage match grow to think Eddie might win back the title. Besides, I had been reviewing Smackdown for a few weeks by then and it was my first chance to review something potentially epic….
Eddie Guerrero challenges John Bradshaw Layfield for the WWE Championship in a Steel Cage Match on Smackdown in June 2004
Let me preface the following by stating that I believe that this match was one of the most underrated (notice the trend?) cage matches of the last ten years. After a thrilling duo of matches on PPV that I don’t think anyone saw coming, it came down to this final battle inside the cage. Both were about to move on to other headlining feuds, but not before putting the final stamp on what was some of the best wrestling in the WWE that year. It was actually kind of interesting to see JBL transform during the months of March to July. He seemed so comfortable as the cage match got underway. Looking back, you could see a hint of uncertainty in the beginning stages of that Judgment Day match. Working with Guerrero had made him more confident, more comfortable, and more of a big game player. JBL, thus, gave Guerrero every opportunity to look golden in his rematch for the title.
For something in the realm of thirty minutes, Eddie and JBL took us on another thrill ride. It didn’t have the blood from the Judgment Day match. It didn’t have the creative gimmickry of the Bullrope match. What it did have, though, was a tremendous amount of drama brought about simply by the conclusive feel to everything they were doing. Little traces of their previous matches could be seen throughout, interspersed with some impressive spots off the cage – including a Side Russian Leg Sweep off the top rope, which I’ve rarely seen. They put their bodies on the line one last time to put over the three plus months of time that they’d put into making their story special. They replaced the blood with a bunch of high spots and a flurry of false finishes. The cage was chained shut, so they could only escape over the top or by pinfall/submission. They did a nice job of teasing going over the top in a believable way. A lot of the younger guys in cage matches of the present go up too quickly and unbelievably sit there and wait for the opponent to climb. Such little idiocies were gladly missing from the JBL-Guerrero cage match.
In my opinion, the greatest cage matches of all-time have featured one classic moment that lives forever in those videos that the WWE plays (or used to play) before TV tapings and PPVs started. You know; the ones that recap the history of the WWE? Snuka with the Super Fly off the top of the cage onto Muraco, Taker coming up from underneath the ring to drag Diesel down to hell, Mankind doing the elbow drop off the top of the cage onto Triple H, Big Show throwing Austin through the cage, Angle and Benoit moonsaulting and headbutting from the top of the cage, Matt Hardy Leg Dropping Edge from the top, and Jeff Hardy giving Umaga the Whisper in the Wind off the top all represent those classic cage moments. So, when Eddie had the chance to win the match after knocking JBL off the top rope, giving himself a clear path to victory, but then got that cocky, Latino Heat grin on his face when reached the top of the cage…you kind of knew you were about to see something special. FROG SPLASH!! Guerrero landed his signature finishing move from the top of the cage and launched the match into the extraordinary class. It was not enough to finish off the cunning heel champion and Angle – dressed as El Gran Luchador – ended up costing Eddie the match to re-ignite their Mania feud now that he was healthy and ready to wrestle.
JBL would go onto hold the title for 280 days; Eddie would tragically pass before getting the chance to regain it. For those three months in 2004, they gave us an example of what wrestling all about. For all intents and purposes, April-July 2004 was not supposed to be that great for the Smackdown brand. You can certainly make an argument that, based on its ratings, it wasn’t. However, thanks to a lot of hard work from Eddie Guerrero and JBL, I will always fondly remember that time period. It’s always a pleasure to watch something unexpectedly great.
Summerslam Champions League Round of 16 Results
(CMV1 note – Really not any surprises after a group stage that featured plenty of them. We’re starting to get down to the wire and I’m curious to see how the newer classic Edge vs. Taker does against some of the matches that have already proven timeless)
Shawn Michaels-Triple H in a Non-Sanctioned Street Fight ('02) defeated Kurt Angle - Eddie Guerrero ('04)
Bret Hart-The British Bulldog ('92) defeated Kurt Angle-Stone Cold Steve Austin (’01)
Undertaker - Edge in a Hell in a Cell Match ('08) defeated Shawn Michaels - Hulk Hogan ('05)
The Hardy Boyz - The Dudley Boyz - Edge and Christian in a Tables, Ladders, and Chairs Match ('00) defeated Rey Mysterio - Eddie Guerrero in a Ladder Match ('05)
Bret Hart -Owen Hart in a Steel Cage Match ('94) defeated Bret Hart - Undertaker ('97)
The Rock - Brock Lesnar ('02) defeated Kurt Angle - Rey Mysterio ('02)
Bret Hart - Mr. Perfect ('91) defeated Triple H - The Rock in a Ladder Match ('98)
Kurt Angle -Brock Lesnar ('03) defeated Jeff Hardy - CM Punk in a Tables, Ladders, and Chairs Match (’09)
Knockout Stage – Round of 8
Shawn Michaels-Triple H in a Non-Sanctioned Street Fight ('02) VS. Kurt Angle -Brock Lesnar ('03)
Bret Hart-The British Bulldog ('92) VS. Bret Hart - Mr. Perfect ('91)
Undertaker - Edge in a Hell in a Cell Match ('08) VS. The Rock - Brock Lesnar ('02)
The Hardy Boyz - The Dudley Boyz - Edge and Christian in a Tables, Ladders, and Chairs Match ('00) VS. Bret Hart -Owen Hart in a Steel Cage Match ('94)