The Night The Lights Went Out On Jake "The Snake"
February 3, 2007 by Josh Watts
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Where do I even begin? One of my favourite wrestlers of all time, and one of the most endearing figures to ever set foot in a wrestling ring is Jake Roberts. Whether you started watching wrestling in the 80's, 90's or last week; chances are you know him and any wrestling fan who knows Jake "The Snake Roberts" loves him. As you all know the world of professional wresting and sports in general is a dangerous one. There are so many traps that are too easy to fall into and unless you know how to get out of those holes, the wrestling world is more than happy to throw the dirt on you and stick up a cheap tombstone that says "Here Lies a Wrestling Legend." They might occasionally dig your career up to help them get over whoever the latest fly-by-night "Legend Killer," or to capitalize on your descent they might compile a DVD set explaining how you pissed it all away - all for profits, of course. No one personifies this, at least in my mind, better than Jake Roberts.
Jake Roberts had a very illustrious career and endless potential, but alas I am not here to talk about that. I am here to discuss the career Jake Roberts could and should have had. I do not want to sound like I am another guy here trying to get through to Jake that he screwed himself out of a career; that has been done. I am here to discus what could have been.
Jake Roberts had spent years toiling on the indy circuit or "paying his dues" when he got some attention from the World Wrestling Federation. In 1986 Jake Roberts signed on with Vince McMahon and soon became one of the top heel draws in the company. There was only one problem: nobody wanted to boo Jake Roberts. The premier example of this would be when Jake Roberts began a feud with Hulk Hogan, one of, if not the most popular wrestler of all time. A strange thing happened; this hated heel, this weirdo who talked to his snake and gave some of the most bone chilling promos the business had ever seen, started getting cheers. They did everything they could to make the fans hate him but it didn't work. He was just too good. Shortly after this the feud was scrapped all together, with no explanation.
Then the "Snake Pit" segments began airing. Set- up as an interview platform and honestly, as a way to give him more mic time; the "Snake Pit" was huge! Jake was on his way. Then began all the feuds he is famous for - Honky Tonk Man, Rick Rude. These feuds became the new reason to watch wrestling. Sadly though it wasn't to last long.
Jake Roberts had a very interesting persona. He was not by any means a big, bulky, body builder type, nor was he a kiss-ass fan favorite. He was just too good to boo. When Jake was in the ring, he knew how to work a match. He knew the key to getting himself over and to help his opponent, he didn't need to run out and squash everyone in two minutes (Goldberg, Lesnar) he just got it. He dragged you in, and commanded your respect.
After a few more huge feuds, the company, in their mind-boggling booking process, decided to turn Jake heel to fight with Ultimate Warrior. Ultimate Warrior, aka Jim Hellwig, was a popular talent and was at one time expected to bring the company back to life after Hulkamania. The only setback was that the guy stunk up the ring. If you go and watch WrestleMania VI, in which he defeated Hulk Hogan for the WWF Championship, you will see the whole crowd was watching Hulk Hogan leave and not their new champion celebrating in the ring. Jake, however, could get a decent match out of the guy. So they were off.
Through a startling and ridiculous series of vignettes, Undertaker was teaching Warrior how not to be afraid of snakes. Then, to the shock of absolutely no one, Jake shows up. OH NO, TAKER HAS BEEN HELPING JAKE ALL ALONG! OH THE SHOCK! Okay maybe I vented a tad much there but you get the point.
This is when things went down hill for our hero. Jake began gaining weight and seeming much disoriented in the ring. His promos dropped in quality to near preposterous levels. After a short feud and quick loss to The Undertaker who turned on him, he was gone.
Jake's WCW stint is highly regarded as one of the biggest flops of the modern wrestling world. Then he moved on, again. The indy circuit was calling once more. While wrestling for Smoky Mountain wrestling Jake Roberts became a born-again christian. If you haven't seen the documentary "Beyond The Mat" you must see it. The most disturbing and depressing part of that whole film is seeing Jake Roberts. The documentary follows Jake on the road (and shows him smoking crack) and takes us in the middle of an awkward and depressing meeting with his estranged daughter, who begins reading poetry about how much she hates her dad. We also seem him on the indy circuit, but the Jake "The Snake" Roberts of the heyday is gone, replaced by a paunchy, depressing, drug addled shadow of a man calling himself Jake Roberts.
I thought for sure I had seen the last of one of my favorites of all time. Then, came a hope. Who should begin appearing on WWE television again in mid 1996? None other than Jake Roberts. Jake had a new focus in his eyes, his promos were back to their bone-chilling originality, and even though his body was quite out of shape his ring work was once again phenomenal. I learned as a child, if it seems too good to be true, it is; and for Jake Roberts it was definitely coming to an abrupt and heart-breaking conclusion.
The sad finale (as of print time) began in 2001 when Jake was arrested for a DUI when he backed his car into a woman's parked vehicle. It doesn't stop there. In 2005 he was arrested at a motel for possession of cocaine when his girlfriend called the police on him. Jake had continued to wrestle in the indies for a while and to this day still is. Last popping up in the new upstart TNA.
This story could be viewed as a precautionary tale to anyone out there in the business or wanting to get into the business. There are many sinkholes in that world, while it is easier to fall into them than it is to get out if you can come through to the other side of that you are a wiser man than most. The list of wrestlers who have died from "wrestling with their demons" is a long one and unfortunately it seems like new people make that list everyday. I am thankful that I have not seen Jake Roberts added to that list, although that would not have surprised me. Jake "The Snake" Roberts could have been a bigger legend, one remembered for winning the gold, instead of being the one remembered for smoking crack on a documentary. Sadly for all of us out there in Fan-land, Jake Roberts made sure that Jake "The Snake" never made it to the top.
by Josh Watts (View/Submit your feedback here)..
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