Former WWE World champion JBL — John Bradshaw Layfield — is already missing his friend Bob “Doc” Holliday, who died on December 28th.

And “Blackjack” Jack Lanza, who died a year ago, on December 8, 2021.

To JBL, those two characters are forever intertwined.

Holliday was a journalist in Winnipeg, Manitoba, who doubled as the local promoter for WWE shows in Manitoba, Saskatchewan, and North Dakota. Lanza was a long-time wrestler who had retired and become a behind-the-scenes agent/producer with WWE. Lanza and Holliday had met in the early 1980s when Lanza — then still an active wrestler — would come up to Winnipeg for American Wrestling Association shows.

JBL told that Lanza and Holliday were “thick as thieves.”

“They were fun couple of guys to be around. I heard about Bob first because Jack loved going to Winnipeg. And Bob, obviously, was a terrific writer up there. …  he was always there. Jack always told me about his friendship with Bob. And when I met him up there, we had some terrific times together,” JBL explained.

Lanza was JBL’s friend — and supporter — first. “Jack allowed me to use the Blackjack name,” JBL said, referring to the New Blackjacks tag team with Barry Windham in WWE in 1997. “When we were going to be the New Blackjacks, the only thing I was worried about was, was it okay with Lanza? And Lanza actually was happy about it. So Jack and I were very close.”

When JBL’s own time on the WWE roster brought him through Winnipeg, he got to know Holliday. Lanza had put in his time on the road and had some pull, picking and choosing where he would work.

“Jack loved to go up to Winnipeg, because of Bob,” explained JBL. Lanza lived in the Minneapolis area. “Jack, he quit doing some of the Canadian runs just because he didn’t want to go international, even though Canada’s a direct flight from most places, especially for Minneapolis. Jack got to where he didn’t want to travel that much. But he would go to Winnipeg because of Bob.”

On many occasions, JBL found himself in the company of Lanza and Holliday post-show. It could be dinner, it could be drinks, it could just be hanging out.

“We just had fun. Jack really liked Bob. I did too after I got to meet him. I loved Jack and Jack would invite me out with him and Bob,” said JBL, currently seen on WWE TV as an advisor of sorts to Baron Corbin. “We’d go out to dinner and have a few drinks whatever, nothing wild or crazy. We had some pretty fun, wild nights but it was nothing to write about — ‘Oh my god, we did this or did that.’ We just had a good time. And sometimes we drank too much and sometimes we didn’t drink at all. We just had good times.”

This was a very unique situation, noted JBL. Wrestlers don’t usually befriend local promoters.

“I can’t think of another promoter that I had that relationship with. Bob was special. And it’s because of his relationship with Jack. Bob just got along well with the boys. Everybody liked Bob,” he said. “It was a different relationship. A lot of promoters you wouldn’t see and you wouldn’t really care about. Bob was a guy that he was sought out on purpose. You would try to invite him to what you were doing. Bob was not a guy that would just show up. We always tried to make sure Bob would come — once you invited, him he was more than happy to come out.”

It’s a tricky line that JBL crossed with both Holliday and Lanza, technically his bosses as he was talent and they were management. “I saw him as a friend, but I knew he was the promoter. But I knew Jack was the agent too, and I didn’t really see Jack that way. And I don’t mean that in any type of disrespectful way, or being too informal with these guys. But I saw him as a friend. And I saw him as a friend of Lanza, and just one of the guys.”

A self-proclaimed “wrestling god” who received the industry’s top award, the Cauliflower Alley Club’s Iron Mike Award in September, JBL thought a little more about his relationship with Holliday. “Bob was the only promoter I knew, in, oh my god, the whole country of Canada and Mexico that guys really wanted to hang out with. And that’s because they considered him one of them. And it wasn’t like he tried to be one of the boys. It’s just people liked Bob, they loved his background in journalism and all that he did. Bob was a very cerebral, smart guy. He was fun to be around. He loved history.”

Even when JBL wasn’t in Winnipeg, he’d hear from Holliday. They shared similar interests. “I fell in love with his writing. He did some great writing, he was a really good journalist, and enjoyed all the stuff that he would write. He would send me stuff. He was big on Native American history.”

It wasn’t all serious, to say the least. JBL, a WWE Hall of Famer, does a podcast with another former WWE producer/agent, Gerald Brisco, and Brisco was a friend of Doc’s too.

Holliday would text JBL and Brisco (an Oklahoma Chickasaw) at least once a month. “It was all typical guys stuff — him making fun of Texas, me making fun of natives and Gerald making fun of cowboys, and all of us making fun of Canada. That went on probably every month for 20 years, I would get something from Bob, and most of it was mean, nasty stuff. But it’s stuff I loved because it was funny.”

With the return of Holliday’s cancer, those texts stopped.

But JBL chooses to look at the positive: Holliday and Lanza are having fun together again.

TOP PHOTO: JBL. WWE photo. Bob Holliday. Facebook photo