Layfield's Wall Street persona rules WWE

Star wrestler surprises fans as financial expert

August 07, 2004|By Kevin Eck | Kevin Eck,SUN STAFF

For years, John "Bradshaw" Layfield, a former football player from Texas, played the part of a beer-swilling, barroom-brawling good-old boy, making a good living but never quite rising beyond a middle-of-the-card act as a professional wrestler.

A few months ago, though, Layfield's bosses at World Wrestling Entertainment suddenly gave him an extreme makeover. They ditched his longtime tag-team partner, converted him from a "babyface" (a wrestling good guy) to a "heel" (bad guy) and took the 6-foot-6, 290-pounder from a long-haired, goateed beer-guzzler in black T-shirt and jeans to a clean-shaven, custom-suited high-finance expert in a stretch limo.

Such dramatic shifts in ring personas are not uncommon to those who follow the chaotic story lines on WWE shows such as UPN's SmackDown!, but this one actually had some basis in reality. Along with being a wrestler, Layfield is a self-taught investment whiz who has written a book on personal finance and been featured on financial shows on networks such as CNBC, Fox News and CNN.

"They're both parts of my personality," Layfield says in a Texas drawl about his WWE characters. "I'm still a beer-drinking Texan, but now I do a lot more stuff on Wall Street and I have to drink beer out of a glass. I actually say it's a mug without a handle."

Following in the footsteps of action-movie star Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson and best-selling author Mick "Mankind" Foley, Layfield is the latest WWE performer to prove that wrestlers sometimes have more to offer than pulled punches and braggadocio.

In the wake of his makeover, Layfield's stock has skyrocketed in the ring as well. His new character has been pushed hard on SmackDown!, and after being a second banana in the company for nearly a decade, the 37-year-old Layfield recently became the WWE's champion. He will headline tonight's WWE show at the 1st Mariner Arena.

Layfield says he has always been interested in finance because his father headed a bank. His initial experience in handling his finances was not productive, however.

After graduating from Abilene Christian University - which he attended on a football scholarship - with a degree in ancient history, Layfield played pro football for three years as an offensive lineman (one season on the inactive roster of the then-Los Angeles Raiders and two seasons in the World League). At the same time, he promptly squandered all his money.

"I had my pickup truck and literally $27," he says. "That was probably the dumbest three years of my life, at least financially. I went to the Cayman Islands, Hawaii and all over the world, doing stuff like I was rich. I promised myself if I ever had money again, I'd know what to do with it."

So Layfield, who got into pro wrestling in 1992 working small circuits in Texas and internationally, started reading books on finance. He made it to the WWE, wrestling's biggest stage, in 1996, and eventually began earning a six-figure income. Instead of spending his money this time, he invested. His portfolio, he says, grew 88 percent in 1998 and 83 percent in 1999.

"It's real simple," Layfield says of his investing philosophy. "I buy companies I want to own. I buy companies that make a lot of money, that don't have a lot of debt and that I can understand. If I can't explain it in a paragraph to somebody, then I don't buy the stock."

Layfield's Wall Street wizardry became well-known in the WWE locker room, and he gained mainstream attention after fellow wrestler Foley made a passing reference to him in a Fortune magazine article.

"They asked Mick if he invested in the stock market and he said, `No, but Bradshaw does,' and literally that one phrase got me everything that I've done in the financial TV market," Layfield says.

In addition to his stints on television, Layfield wrote a personal finance book, Have More Money Now, which was released last summer.

"I had read tons of books trying to figure out what to do with money," he says, "but most of those books were so boring, or you needed a degree to get through them. That's the reason I thought I could write a better book."

Layfield ended up with a regular gig on CNBC, and while it was a bit of a novelty to have a burly pro wrestler from Texas moonlighting as a financial analyst, the sometimes-blurry line between fantasy and reality in wrestling ultimately cost him the job.

During a WWE tour of Germany a few months ago, Layfield, whose mission as a heel is to get the crowd to hate him, did a Nazi salute and began goose-stepping around the ring. Layfield, who had wrestled in Germany on a number of prior occasions, had employed this tactic before, but this time his actions were reported on wrestling Web sites in the United States. When CNBC found out about the incident, the network fired him.

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