By Jarred Collins
Jake Roberts is the son of wrestling legend Grizzle Smith. He started in the wrestling business because of the strained relationship they had, wanting to gain his father’s respect. He started working the locals around Louisiana in 1978, up in Calgary in 1979 and early 80’s, before making his way to Georgia in 1983.
His big break came in Georgia Championship wrestling when he was brought in to join the “Legion of Doom”, a group set up by Paul Ellering. It was there he feuded with Ronnie Garvin over the NWA Television Title. In 1984, he continued making a name for himself in World Class Championship Wrestling (WCCW) in Texas and in Mid-South Wrestling as well.
In 1986, he got his call from WWE. His appearance in WWE would set his place in history.
There are not many people in the sport of professional wrestling to have the “Big 3” of character, charisma, and the crowd control.
Jake “the Snake” Roberts oozed all three.
Character: Jake derived his nickname by copying Ken Stabler. He did not just want to be called “The Snake” he wanted to be perceived like a snake, sneaky and untrustworthy. He also would slither into the ring under the bottom rope, and wait on his prey in the corner. His eyes were cold and calculating, not showing the slightest bit of emotion and looking for the perfect opportunity to strike. When he did choose to strike, he always used the DDT. A move he invented in the mid 1980’s. It could be used at any moment in the match. Too top things off, he would bring his python to the ring and drape it over their bodies. He put his whole purpose in his character, even to the point of wearing white contact lenses for months to push his feuds.
Charisma: If you have never watched a Jake Roberts promo or match, then you are missing out. His promos were never over the top. He did not have to yell and scream to make his point. He would drop his voice just above a whisper, and only raise it to drive a point home. He was very methodical with what he said. And often he would come across cold and callous, very much like a serial killer. In the ring he was very much the same way. Never wasting a motion, everything was being done with a purpose. Even when losing he made the best out of the situation he was in. The way he sold a move made you believe he was in pain and anguish by the look on his face.
Crowd: Watching Jake Roberts work the crowd is a thing of beauty. If you have ever been to a great concert and see the frontman make the crowd do anything and everything he asks, that is how Jake was. With one wave of his hand, the crowd would stand and scream as they awaited the DDT. Starting out he was pushed as a heel, but the fans kept pulling for him making him a face and fan favorite. Vince McMahon had him face several of the top stars, starting with Ricky “the Dragon” Steamboat. After 9 months he challenged Randy Savage for the intercontinental championship only to have the fans cheer him the entire match. Trying to build him as a major heel in the company, he was going to have a feud with Hulk Hogan for the World Heavyweight Title. After he gave Hogan a DDT unexpectedly, the crowd began chanting DDT. The fans ate right out of his hand, but McMahon stopped the push fearing his champ would be outdone, but the fans continued to cheer. When he made a heel turn in 1991, the fans booed and hated every despicable act that he did. No matter what he did the fans always reacted the way Roberts wanted them to.
Jake feuded with many of the major players in the industry. He started out feuding with Steamboat for a few months. After his face turn in late 1986, he went against the Honkey Tonk Man and then Rick Rude. The feud with Rude was racy and heated, it probably would have been better suited for WWE’s Attitude Era. He would move on against Andre the Giant, Ted DiBiase, Bad News Brown, Rick Martell and Earthquake. His feud with Earthquake took a controversial turn when Earthquake “squished” his snake. He presented himself in a much darker way, as he took the Ultimate Warrior under his wing, leading up to his heel turn. His last two feuds in WWE, before leaving for four years, were against Randy Savage and The Undertaker. The feud with Savage had one of the most memorable and disturbing segments on TV. After tying Savage up in the ropes he had is cobra bite Savage’s arm. To this day I still remember watching it. The snake may have been de-venomized, but the bite was real.
Roberts would go on to WCW to feud with Sting and have the highest rated PPV of the year for them. He then went around several smaller promotions before making it back to WWE. He made it to the finals of the King of the Ring 1996, where he faced Steve Austin and “Austin 3:16” catchphrase was born after Roberts was defeated. After a feud with Jerry “The King” Lawler, Roberts was fired in 2007 and bounced around promotions for a bit before being one the subjects of the 1999 documentary Beyond the Mat.
Jake is one of the most underutilized workers in wrestling. For some reason the big push was always in his grasp only to have it pulled away. He was supposed to gain the Intercontinental Championship from Honky Tonk Man, but because of a neck injury suffered by a Honky guitar shot, his push was cancelled. Fans went crazy over Jake and would have loved to see him get a push that he deserved.
Roberts has been very open and honest about his drug, alcohol, and personal problems. After several stints in rehab, he now looks to have his act cleaned up with the help of former WCW and WWE superstar Diamond Dallas Page.
Finally, in my opinion, the most underrated superstar of all time is finally making his way into the Hall of Fame.