Pulse Wrestling’s Top 100 Wrestlers of the Modern Era: #25 – Jake “The Snake” Roberts

Psychology.

It’s the one aspect of the pro wrestling game that Jake “The Snake” 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 opponent’s throat, Roberts would calmly and coolly remind his opponents the real dangers awaiting them.

25. JAKE ROBERTS

Real NameAurelian Smith, Jr.
HometownGainesville, TX
DebutedMay 13, 1975
Titles HeldAWN 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 AccomplishmentsWinner 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 didn’t have it easy coming up in the wrestling business. He didn’t have the body or the look of a stereotypical wrestler coming up in the early ‘80s and he didn’t have the support of his estranged father, someone who could’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 “it.” You can’t explain what “it” 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 Watts’ 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 “Snake” 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 Roberts’ 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 Roberts’ run against “Ravishing” 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 Roberts’ 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 Cheryl’s face on them, at which point Roberts stripped him “naked.” This became the textbook angle on how to do a “defending a woman’s honor” 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 Andre’s crippling fear of snakes. It was the perfect way to make Roberts look like Andre’s equal, despite their massive size differential. From there he spent most of 1990 working with “Million $ Man” Ted DiBiase, an old rival from their days in Mid-South.

The most fondly remembered feud of Roberts’ initial WWF run for yours truly was his blindness angle with Rick “The Model” Martel, which saw Roberts losing his vision thanks to being sprayed in the eyes by Martel’s “Arrogance” 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 “squashing” 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 Warrior’s preparation for facing Undertaker, Roberts turned on him like the snake he is. He aligned himself with Undertaker as they then targeted “Macho Man” 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 “Superstars” television show. Shortly into 1992, even Undertaker couldn’t stand Roberts’ vile ways and he save Elizabeth from an attack. If anyone could turn Undertaker into a good guy, it was “The Snake.” 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 ’92, but new WCW booker Bill Watts didn’t like Roberts at all and his run was incredibly short-lived. His only pay per view appearance was a Coal Miner’s Glove match against Sting at Halloween Havoc ’92.

Roberts then worked in Mexico through 1993 and 1994 before making his return to the WWF at the Royal Rumble ’96. An albino python “Revelations” 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 “Attitude era.” After Stone Cold Steve Austin pinned Roberts to win the King of the Ring, Austin cut the promo of his life, mocking Roberts’ 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 ’97, he was transitioned into more of a backstage role. Unfortunately he wasn’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 “Beyond the Mat.” Unfortunately Jake didn’t like his portrayal in the film and wasn’t even invited to the movie’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 “Heroes of Wrestling” completely unfit to wrestle, much less talk or tie his shoes. His scheduled match with Jim “The Anvil” Neidhart was changed on the fly during the pay per view itself when it was obvious Roberts couldn’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 Orton’s upcoming match with Roberts’ 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 didn’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. “Snake’s” camp went into PR mode immediately, claiming Roberts was drugged and didn’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 that’s more of a testament of his constant state of overness rather than his abilities. He didn’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 cliché, but with Roberts it’s true. It’s amazing what Jake “The Snake” could have done during the no holds barred atmosphere of the “Attitude” 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 “cool heel” before that was even a term in the wrestling lexicon.

So when you think about Jake “The Snake” 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.

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