Itâ€™s the one aspect of the pro wrestling game that Jake â€œThe Snakeâ€ Roberts understands virtual better than anyone else in the game. While everyone else was screaming about how they were going to shove their fist down their opponentâ€™s throat, Roberts would calmly and coolly remind his opponents the real dangers awaiting them.
25. JAKE ROBERTS
Real Name – Aurelian Smith, Jr.
Hometown – Gainesville, TX
Debuted – May 13, 1975
Titles Held – AWN World Heavyweight; AWF Puerto Rican Heavyweight; NWA National Television; NWA World Television (Georgia, 2x); Mid-South Louisiana Heavyweight; Mid-South North American Heavyweight (2x); Mid-South Television; SMW Heavyweight; Stampede North American Heavyweight; NWA World Six-Man Tag Team (Texas, with Chris Adams and Gino Hernandez); WCCW Television
Other Accomplishments – Winner of PWI Most Inspirational Wrestler of the Year award in 1996; Ranked #100 of the 500 Best Singles Wrestlers of the PWI Years by Pro Wrestling Illustrated
Despite having a father, a half-brother and a half-sister all in the wrestling business as well, Roberts didnâ€™t have it easy coming up in the wrestling business. He didnâ€™t have the body or the look of a stereotypical wrestler coming up in the early â€˜80s and he didnâ€™t have the support of his estranged father, someone who couldâ€™ve pulled some strings and helped him out in the business. And it was only by accident that he came about creating his now legendary finishing move, The DDT.
Despite all the setbacks, Roberts made it in the wrestling business because he had â€œit.â€ You canâ€™t explain what â€œitâ€ is but whatever it was Roberts had it. He cut his teeth in World Class and Georgia Championship Wrestling but really started to gain a following when he worked in Bill Wattsâ€™ Mid-South.
But it was when he arrived in the World Wrestling Federation in 1986 that he really became a superstar. He started bringing a large python to the ring with him to accentuate his â€œSnakeâ€ moniker. The python, Damian, would become an integral part of his act, as once Roberts was victorious he would drape the snake around his fallen opponent. The act was really legitimized at WrestleMania 2 when Robertsâ€™ opponent George Wells began foaming at the mouth as the snake wrapped around him.
He proved the dangerousness of the DDT when he dropped Ricky Steamboat on the arena floor with the move during their 1986 feud and gave Steamboat a legit concussion. In 1987 he embarked on a feud with Honky Tonk Man that saw one of the first instances of the double face/heel turn. His run against Honky reached its climax at WrestleMania III when Roberts had famed rocker Alice Cooper accompany him to the ring for the match.
It was Robertsâ€™ run against â€œRavishingâ€ Rick Rude that really made him a star. At the time Rude was picking random women out the ring to kiss them after his matches. When he mistakenly picked Robertsâ€™ wife Cheryl out of the crowd, as the kids would say, the sh!t was on. Rude poured heat on the fire by wearing airbrushed tights with Cherylâ€™s face on them, at which point Roberts stripped him â€œnaked.â€ This became the textbook angle on how to do a â€œdefending a womanâ€™s honorâ€ angle the right way.
After that feud Roberts was a made man in the company, and a top three or four babyface that could main event the B and C house shows. He moved onto a feud with Andre the Giant, based on Andreâ€™s crippling fear of snakes. It was the perfect way to make Roberts look like Andreâ€™s equal, despite their massive size differential. From there he spent most of 1990 working with â€œMillion $ Manâ€ Ted DiBiase, an old rival from their days in Mid-South.
The most fondly remembered feud of Robertsâ€™ initial WWF run for yours truly was his blindness angle with Rick â€œThe Modelâ€ Martel, which saw Roberts losing his vision thanks to being sprayed in the eyes by Martelâ€™s â€œArroganceâ€ cologne. Most Internet experts soundly trash their blindfold match at WrestleMania VII, but from a psychology aspect I think it was the absolutely perfect way to blow off a vision loss angle such as this.
He then moved onto a rehash of the fear of snakes angle, this time with the gargantuan Earthquake. Only this time Earthquake got the upper hand by â€œsquashingâ€ the snake Damian. Roberts responded by bringing out a bigger snake he named Lucifer.
Looking back it was easy to see how useful and valuable Jake was to the WWF at this time. He was never without a long-term program or a steady house show opponent. He could work with fellow technical wizards like DiBiase and Martel. He could look equal against monsters like Andre and Earthquake, and he could provide necessary on-the-job training for someone like Rick Rude. He was so versatile in that regard.
During his last year in the initial WWF run he took a much-needed turn to the dark side, where he was really able to play up the vileness of his snake character. After showing the Ultimate Warrior the ways of the dark side as Warriorâ€™s preparation for facing Undertaker, Roberts turned on him like the snake he is. He aligned himself with Undertaker as they then targeted â€œMacho Manâ€ Randy Savage and Miss Elizabeth, even going so far to interrupt their wedding reception. The angle took a hard turn when Roberts brought out a devenomized cobra that legit bit Savage in the bicep, which was some heavy stuff for Saturday morning â€œSuperstarsâ€ television show. Shortly into 1992, even Undertaker couldnâ€™t stand Robertsâ€™ vile ways and he save Elizabeth from an attack. If anyone could turn Undertaker into a good guy, it was â€œThe Snake.â€ At WrestleMania VIII, Roberts put over Undertaker clean as a whistle and slithered out of the company.
He ended up in World Championship Wrestling for a brief time in late â€™92, but new WCW booker Bill Watts didnâ€™t like Roberts at all and his run was incredibly short-lived. His only pay per view appearance was a Coal Minerâ€™s Glove match against Sting at Halloween Havoc â€™92.
Roberts then worked in Mexico through 1993 and 1994 before making his return to the WWF at the Royal Rumble â€™96. An albino python â€œRevelationsâ€ now accompanied him as Roberts talked about his newfound faith in Christianity, which was part work, part shoot. Apparently he had cleaned up his boozing and drugging ways, and he incorporated that into his character. With the new Bible-thumping character Roberts still had quite the following and made it to the finals of the 1996 King of the Ring, where he in part helped in usher in the â€œAttitude era.â€ After Stone Cold Steve Austin pinned Roberts to win the King of the Ring, Austin cut the promo of his life, mocking Robertsâ€™ faith. He said, “You sit there, and you thump your Bible, and you say your prayers, and it didn’t get you anywhere. Talk about your Psalms, talk about your John 3:16 … Austin 3:16 says I just whipped your ass!”
He then faded more into the background and by early â€™97, he was transitioned into more of a backstage role. Unfortunately he wasnâ€™t happy with this new position and faded back into his old drug and alcohol habits, which in turn led to his divorce from Cheryl.
Sadly that was the last we would see of Roberts on a full-time national wrestling spotlight once again. He was an integral part of the 1999 documentary â€œBeyond the Mat.â€ Unfortunately Jake didnâ€™t like his portrayal in the film and wasnâ€™t even invited to the movieâ€™s premiere. Later in the fall of 1999, Roberts made himself a wrestling punch line when he showed up at the independent pay per view event â€œHeroes of Wrestlingâ€ completely unfit to wrestle, much less talk or tie his shoes. His scheduled match with Jim â€œThe Anvilâ€ Neidhart was changed on the fly during the pay per view itself when it was obvious Roberts couldnâ€™t perform.
By early 2001, Roberts moved to England, where the spent the first part of the new decade working for British independent groups. He came under fire for animal cruelty while living over there.
In the buildup to WrestleMania 21, Roberts appeared on RAW to hype up Randy Ortonâ€™s upcoming match with Robertsâ€™ old rival The Undertaker. He also helped the company film a documentary about his life and career at the same time, which came out in the fall of 2005.
In 2007, in the wake of the Chris Benoit tragedy, WWE put out a notice to any and all current and former employees, offering any and all rehab services they need. Roberts took them up on the offer and entered into a 14-week voluntary drug and alcohol rehab program. Unfortunately the rehab didnâ€™t seem to take, as on September 12, 2008, Roberts showed up for an independent gig completely out of gourd. His opponent, veteran indy wrestler JT Lightning, ended the match quickly and berated Roberts for his behavior. â€œSnakeâ€™sâ€ camp went into PR mode immediately, claiming Roberts was drugged and didnâ€™t remember any of the particular incident.
Roberts is on the short list of six or seven guys who never won a World Championship, but were more than deserving of such an honor. In fact, Roberts won no gold during his profitable WWF runs, but thatâ€™s more of a testament of his constant state of overness rather than his abilities. He didnâ€™t need a belt to remain at the top of the cards. He had a hand in training such stars as Diamond Dallas Page and Raven and was able to impart his amazing psychology skills on numerous wrestlers, most notably Steve Austin and Undertaker.
Saying a wrestler is ahead of his time has become dangerously close to clichÃ©, but with Roberts itâ€™s true. Itâ€™s amazing what Jake â€œThe Snakeâ€ could have done during the no holds barred atmosphere of the â€œAttitudeâ€ era of the WWF, or the injection he could have brought into the current dull brand expansion era. I shudder in excitement of what Paul Heyman could have done with Roberts if they would have ever crossed paths during the same heyday. He had a mind for the business that few could match, and was a â€œcool heelâ€ before that was even a term in the wrestling lexicon.
So when you think about Jake â€œThe Snakeâ€ Roberts, professional wrestler, try to look past the rampant drug and alcohol abuse and his rough personal life. Think about what he did inside those ropes. In an era of musclemen he stood by looking average. In an era of screaming promos, Roberts stood out for his subtlety and quiet prose. In an era of cartoon characters, Roberts stood out by looking real and human. And he made it look easy.
The entire Top 100 Wrestlers feature can be found here.
Tags: Jake Roberts, WCW, WWF