Unfortunately, the biggest story in professional wrestling right now is the very real situation involving WWE commentators John (JBL) Layfield and Mauro Ranallo. It’s been reported by several news outlets that Ranallo, who suffers from mental illness, was bullied by JBL to the point where he was off TV for several weeks and is not expected to return to the company.
JBL is known for being a bully within the industry with reports going back over a decade. Several former WWE wrestlers have spoken out about JBL’s antics in light of the news. Coincidently, former WWE ring announcer Justin Roberts released his new book, which chronicles his time in WWE including several instances where he was bullied by JBL.
While many have called for the Texan’s resignation, his termination won’t fix the problem. Ribbing, hazing, and bullying has always been a part of wrestling and is ingrained in WWE’s corporate culture.
Ribbing and hazing are considered “tests” to see if a wrestler has what it takes to withstand the rigors of the job or as a means of locker room entertainment to pass the time. Speaking from personal experience, I could find a tampon in my gear bag, which is playful enough, or I could see a wrestler being told how much they suck at life and deserve to die.
There is a fine line between ribbing or hazing and bullying. Unlike most jobs, a wrestler can’t go to human resources because they will become a pariah in the locker room. Plus, these actions are encouraged by top decision makers, including Vince McMahon.
The situation between the two commentators escalated when JBL criticized Ranallo on a WWE Network show, Bring it to the Table, in response to Ranallo tweeting out that he won the Wrestling Observer’s announcer of the year award.
WWE programming is heavily scripted, which means company producers and McMahon approved the segment. JBL also criticized Ranallo on twitter for mentioning the award but deleted the tweet once the story broke. Mauro missed the following SmackDown taping and has been absent ever since.
He was also M.I.A. on social media and there were no new episodes of his podcast alongside his former broadcast partner and close personal friend, Bas Rutten. Rutten, a former UFC Heavyweight Champion, gave updates on Ranallo while stating his desire to get his hands on JBL.
To play devil’s advocate, even I know that publicly mentioning the Wrestling Observer as a WWE employee is a bad idea, and I’m just an indy guy. How did Mauro not know considering his tenure within the industry? The Observer’s author, Dave Meltzer, has a mixed reputation where some feel he’s simply a gossip hound while others consider him a respected journalist.
Ranallo has yet to speak out about his absence from WWE. Vince McMahon nor JBL have given an official statement on the matter either. WWE commented on the matter stating, “Mauro Ranallo remains under contract with WWE until August 12, 2017.”
There is still so much we don’t know about this situation, but it’s obvious that WWE is trying to keep it quiet. A video surfaced last week of a fan in Boston being escorted out of the building because he had a sign that read “JBL BULLIED ME.”
Dave Meltzer reported that WWE is attempting to get Ranallo to sign a non-disclosure agreement to prevent him from speaking publicly on the matter once his contract expires. Ranallo prides himself on being a mental health advocate.
Mauro’s story needs to be told because it will not only continue to shed light on this problem but it could prevent someone else from going through what he experienced. A prospect who struggles with mental illness could hear Ranallo’s story and either be better prepared for life in WWE or flat-out refuse to seek their employment.
Opinions on the matter are far and wide. Most support Ranallo, but there are others who feel he should have punched JBL like Joey Styles did for enduring similar issues in 2006. Several old school wrestlers have stated that if it happened to them, they would have beat up JBL, which translated to Ranallo needs to “man up.”
If Vince McMahon was behind JBL bullying Mauro to get him to quit, punching JBL would give WWE the excuse they need to fire him, however, what if Mauro did sock him? JBL is 6” 6, weighs 300 lbs., and has been in his share of street fights. He could really hurt Mauro and claim self-defense.
Also, some people can’t bring themselves to strike another human being no matter how badly they want to unload on someone. It’s the fight-or-flight response, which is a physiological response to acute stress where people either fight or flee. The nervous system responds to such events with increased blood pressure, heart rate, raised sugar levels and increased blood flow to the brain. It’s not healthy for the human body to endure this on a consistent basis.
What is really upsetting about this is how WWE has reacted to this problem. If WWE was a company that was held in the same light as the NFL or NBA, which they constantly strive to be, JBL would have been fired already. However, because WWE is not considered in the same realm of respectability as the aforementioned leagues, they use that to their advantage when things go wrong.
Remember, this is the same company who cashed in on a 2004 controversy of JBL committing a federal offense in Germany and made him WWE Champion while everyone else, including CNBC, cut the wrestler.
I’m really sad that Mauro had to endure such heartache. He’s mentioned on many occasions that working for WWE was his dream job. Unfortunately, it turned out to be anything but.