WrestlingINC: You started in WWE back in 1996. When you made your debut as Justin "Hawk" Bradshaw, how did you see your career going after your first year?
John Bradshaw Layfield: I didn't think I'd be there very long. I really thought I'd be there two or three years. That's about all people were around for at that time. People came and left a lot and I really figured I'd be there two or three years and I'd go back to Japan and maybe even going back to college and being a coach somewhere. I didn't expect to be there for 15 years or whatever. That was completely unexpected to be there that long.
WrestlingINC: When WWE let Ron Simmons go [in 2004], did you know in advance that you were being groomed for the JBL gimmick?
Layfield: No. In fact, I don't think anybody even expected it. The JBL character, I had had in mind for a long time, a character very similar. But they were very reticent to let me do that because I was doing a lot with the troops and they didn't need me. Then, all of a sudden at once, I think Big Show was hurt, Brock Lesnar had left the company. All of a sudden, you needed somebody immediately in that role and that's when they did the change. All of a sudden, just one day.
I don't think it was something thought about with a lot of forethought. Vince McMahon always said that he thought I could be a world champion and he was probably the only one in the entire company that thought that. [Laughs.] I have no idea why he thought that. But, when they came up with the JBL character, I knew this was going to be my last shot at it, so I was hoping it would work. It didn't work at all for the first few weeks and if it hadn't been for Eddie Guerrero, it probably wouldn't have worked. Thank goodness, I had the right opponent and a good friend of mine and it ended up working.
WrestlingINC: I know you said that WWE didn't have a lot of options in terms of building you up a bit more and then putting you in the title feud. Do you think that would have helped initially or do you think it's better that it played out the way it did?
Layfield: I don't know, you know, it turned out as well as it could have for me. We had a long pay-per-view window at that time. If we just had three or four weeks, I don't think it would have worked. But we had time, I think five or six weeks to try this. It finally started working and it finally started getting heat on the JBL character, mainly because of Eddie.
It ended up working and I think a lot of that had to do with the long lead-up time with pay-per-view.
WrestlingINC: For a short while [in 2006], you went to commentary. I remember at that time you said you were retired for good. Did you originally think you were retired and that you wouldn't be returning, or did you know in the back of your mind that it would probably happen at some point?
Layfield: No, no. I didn't know. It came up during the weekend. I had some physical problems with my back that caused me just some really bad problems. So, that's when they came up with the idea out of the blue. I think it was in Phoenix, somewhere in Arizona. I wrestled Rey and quit. It happened within two days, it was just something in my back and it got really bad. I was having really bad nerve problems. I really thought I was done.
So, when I quit/retired, nobody expected me to come back. I was doing commentary and I was enjoying it but then my back started getting better. I didn't quit because I wanted to, I quit because I had to. I didn't have any lead up to it. It was just that one day I was a later, and the next day I wasn't. So, I kind of wanted to finish on my own terms. That's when I came back and my back slowly started getting worse again. That's when I came up with the idea to retire at WrestleMania. I just thought...