WWE Hall of Fame Profile: Jake “The Snake” Roberts
Jay Shannon takes a look at one of the most controversial performers to ever step inside the squared circle.
“Cruel…but Fair” – Jake’s Mantra during his Mid-South Days
Jake Roberts has faced challenges in his life that are much more frightening than the pythons and cobras that have been his companions for decades. Through it all, Jake has shown his survivor spirit by over-coming numerous personal demons. The Master of the DDT may never have won gold in the WWE but he was still a major player during the Hulkamania Era…and beyond. It is my absolute honor to discuss one of my absolute favorite wrestlers who has finally gotten his place of honor in the WWE Hall of Fame.
Before there was a Snake:
Aurelian Smith Jr. was born in 1955. His father was pro wrestler “Grizzly” Smith. Smith Sr. is also the father of wrestlers Sam Houston and “Rockin’” Robin (Smith). Father and son has a strained relationship, mostly because of Smith’s travel schedule. Aurelian Jr. did appreciate what his father did for a living and had a desire to follow in his father’s footsteps.
In 1974, Smith Jr. relocated to the New Orleans area to work for Mid-South, where his father was the Booker. Due to his smaller size, Aurelian was initially used as a referee. He was re-christened as Jake Smith (Jr.). The name was used by his father, early in his career. Jake began to absorb as much knowledge as possible from those around him. He learned every aspect of the business. After getting himself in better physical shape, Grizzly assigned his son to learn from “Colonel” Buck Robley. Grizzly worked together Robley to mold Jake into a solid wrestler. Jake Smith didn’t really have an outstanding career. Grizzly sent his son up to the Stampede area to further training. Stu Hart and Moose Morowski molded Jake into a more vicious heel. During his character evolution, Jake’s name was changed to Jake Roberts. He would eventually add his signature move to his arsenal, completely by accident.
After returning to Mid-South, Jake was working against Len Denton. According to Jake, in his “Pick Your Poison” DVD, Denton was horribly clumsy. As Jake went to cinch in a Front Face Lock, Denton tripped over his own feet and caused Jake to fall backwards. Denton was knocked out cold. Bill Watts came up to Jake, after the match, and asked him if he could do that move again. Jake joked that he wasn’t sure what he did, in the first place. It didn’t take him long to refine the move. He called it the DDT (based on a deadly pesticide). Jake added some theatrics to the rather simple move to make it look even more devastating.
Jake moved over to Jim Crockett Promotions in the early 80s. He was recruited by Paul Ellering to be a founding member of the Original Legion of Doom. Jake also had a very successful run in the World Class area between 1984 and 1985. Jake returned “home” to Mid-South for a short run before getting the call from Vince McMahon.
The Original Viper:
Just one month after entering the WWE, Jake made his first appearance at Wrestlemania (2). He easily defeated George Wells. When Jake draped Damien (his new snake mascot) on Wells, George proceeded to vomit in the ring, drawing slight heat on both men. Jake was then quickly thrust into a brutal feud with Ricky “The Dragon” Steamboat. Jake was instructed to hit a DDT on Steamboat, on the floor, right in front of Bonnie Steamboat (Ricky’s wife). Jake was very hesitant to actually do the move, as he uncertain if he could prevent severe damage with a Floor Move. Steamboat finally convinced Jake that he would be fine. He wasn’t. Steamboat was knocked out and ended up with a moderate level concussion. Jake was put in numerous Squash Matches while Steamboat recovered. When Ricky returned, he had his own mascot, a Komodo Dragon. The storyline was that a Komodo was one of the few creatures that could defeat a Python, in the wild. Roberts broke character, somewhat, by praising Steamboat for his skills in the ring and his personal strength, in and out of the ring.
As the Steamboat feud drew to a close, Jake’s ability to “Work the Stick” (talk on the microphone) was appreciated by Creative. They gave him his own talk segment, called the “Snake Pit”. The most memorable segment of that series was when Andre the Giant challenged Hulk Hogan for the WWF Title. Another memorable moment was when Honky Tonk Man came on the Snake Pit and cracked Jake in the face with his guitar. That led to a match at Wrestlemania III. Honky Tonk Man had Jimmy Hart in his corner but Jake went much darker by bringing in Heavy Metal Pioneer, Alice Cooper, with him. Wrestlemania III was in Detroit (Cooper’s hometown). Jake did lose the match to Honky, but he did get to unleash Damien on his foes. The feud with HTM turned Jake “Face” for the first time in his WWF career.
The Face Turn came about because of a match back in November, 1986. Jake challenged Randy Savage for his Intercontinental title. Vince McMahon wanted to use the match to further push Savage’s Face Turn. It backfired as the fans went wild for Roberts. They chanted for the DDT for most of the match. That popularity also killed a scheduled feud between Roberts and Hulk Hogan. McMahon was concerned that Roberts’ rising popularity might lessen the impact that Hogan was having, at the time.
Back to Wrestlemania III. Roberts was originally set to win the Intercontinental title from Honky Tonk Man and then go into an extended feud against Ted DiBiase (Sr.). However, during the Guitar Shot mentioned above, Honky Tonk Man actually injured Jake’s neck. There has always been question if the injury was deliberate. Honky Tonk Man swears the injury was accidental but many other sources, including Jake, feel that Honky intentionally tried to take him out with a shot from a solid (not hollow) guitar. After Wrestlemania, Jake took some time off to let his neck heal.
When Jake returned, he was placed in a feud with Rick Rude. Rude had been picking women (supposedly at random) from the crowd to come in and remove his robe. On one particular occasion, the woman refused. Rude was shocked that she was impressed with his muscularity and manliness. She explained she had another wrestler that she was very fond of…her husband, Jake Roberts. The woman turned out to be Jake’s then-wife, Cheryl. That led to some wild battles. In one memorable encounter, Rude wore tights that had Cheryl’s likeness air-brushed on them. Jake lost his cool and stripped Rude of the tights. Many feel that the exposure of Rick Rude was a test for the future Attitude Era.
Jake always pushed the envelope during his 80s run in the company. Back during his feud with Randy Savage, Jake switched from a Python to a Cobra. During one epic battle, Jake trapped Randy in the ropes. He then had the (allegedly de-venomized) Cobra bite into Randy’s arm. The fangs of the cobra ripped into the arm and caused blood to flow from the wound. It was the first time that WWF actually censored a video. The “live” broadcast showed the blood trickling down Savage’s arm. Future re-broadcasts had the snake bite a huge red “X” over the snake’s activities.
After the feud with Rude, Jake switched to battling the then-hated Andre the Giant. The matches were some of the worst in Jake’s career. Due to his immense size, Jake couldn’t use the DDT on Andre, effectively. To compensate for that, Damien was brought into the storyline. It was announced that Andre was deathly afraid of snakes. Jake played upon that and often taunted Andre with his serpent. Andre even faked a Heart Attack to push the storyline. The feud came to a climax at Wrestlemania V, with Big John Studd as the special guest ref. Jake won the match, by disqualification, when Andre attacked Studd.
Roberts was dealing with issues with his back and needed some time off to have surgery. To cover his exit, Roberts was placed in a brief feud against Ted DiBiase. DiBiase “injured” Jake’s back during a match. Jake took several months off to have the surgery and recover. He returned in late 1989 and finished his feud with DiBiase. After DiBiase, Jake had a brief feud with Bad News Brown. Following that, he went into a program with Rick “The Model” Martel. During an episode of Paul Bearer’s “Funeral Parlor”, Martel sprayed Jake in the face with his atomizer. Jake came up and looked into the camera. While Jake was down, he popped in a clouded-over contact lens. It appeared that the mist had destroyed Jake’s eye. That vignette drew huge heat from the fans and let to one of the most awful match in WWF history, the infamous Blindfold Match (Wrestlemania VII). The concept was that the two men would wear black hoods and the fans would help Jake find Martel. It was obvious to the fans that both Roberts and Martel could see through the mesh of the mask. The match was slow and plodding and fans began to boo massively. Jake decided to end the pain and hit the DDT on Martel to win.
To try and add some fresh fuel into Jake’s character, Creative decided to push the envelope to new lows. Jake was placed into a feud with Earthquake. During the kick-off match, Earthquake appeared to squash Damien by landing on him. Jake really played it up as he opened Damien’s bag and stared inside. Jake even appeared to cry at the thought of his pet being killed. The WWF took it even further by having Earthquake “cook” the dead snake and serve it for dinner. Disgusting and the fans let the WWF know how much they hated the story. The feud would help to return Jake to his “Evil Ways”. Jake replaced Damien with the snake’s “Big Brother”, Lucifer. Jake became more distant and cold, returning to his original character.
Roberts full heel turn came to fruition as he was enlisted by The Ultimate Warrior for advice in Warrior’s feud with The Undertaker. Roberts agreed to enlighten Warrior with “The Knowledge”. Roberts tricked Warrior into a den of snakes, that repeatedly struck Warrior. Jake cackled as he said “Never trust a Snake”. Their feud was cancelled because Warrior left the WWF.
After Warrior’s departure, Jake went into two different feuds. He started with a feud against Randy Savage, who was “retired” at the time. It began when Jake put a snake inside one of the wedding present boxes for Savage and Elizabeth. Since Savage was not allowed to wrestle, at the time, Jake’s in-ring feud was against Sid Justice. Eventually, Jack Tunney (WWF President) reinstated Savage and Savage and Roberts had a feud that ran most of the fall and early winter of 1991-92. The feud with Savage actually spawned Roberts final feud in WWF (for that run). Roberts was waiting behind the curtain to smash either Savage or Elizabeth with a chair. It looked as if he were about to hit Elizabeth when Undertaker grabbed the chair. Jake freaked out and later asked “Who’s side are you on?” Undertaker looked at him and said “Not Yours!” Their feud came to an end at Wrestlemania VIII, when Undertaker took out Jake Roberts with the Tombstone. That would end up being Jake’s final WWF for some time. Jake had been promised a position on the writing team when Pat Patterson retired. Vince McMahon, at the last moment, decided not to replace Patterson and Jake (who’s contract was up) walked.
The WCW Days:
Jake’s journey in WCW was a bumpy one, to say the least. Jake had signed a great deal with Kip Frey, who was in charge of WCW at the time. Jake was dealing with his 90-day No Compete clause, so he had to wait to begin working for WCW. According to “Pick Your Poison”, on Day 87 of his 90-Day No Compete waiting period, WCW changed it’s top guy from Frey to Bill Watts. Jake and Watts had serious issues dating back to the old Mid-South days. Watts renegotiated the contract and Jake received about 1/10th of what he had originally agreed to. Jake was advised by his father, Grizzly Smith, to accept the deal and go out and do they best he could. Jake agreed. Roberts only had one significant feud during his short stay in WCW. He was set to face Sting and Nikita Koloff. Jake was aided by The Barbarian and Cactus Jack. Later, the feud would be reduced down to Jake vs Sting. Their most memorable match was a Coal Miner’s Glove Match at Halloween Havoc. The match helped push Havoc ’92 as the best received PPV of that era in WCW. Due to various reasons, Roberts decided to leave the company shortly after the epic confrontation.
Heading South of the Border
Needing a break from his chaotic schedule, Jake relocated to Mexico and began to work for AAA. He entered into a multi-year feud with Konnan. During that feud, Jake caused Konnan to have to retire from wrestling. Konnan would gain his revenge by defeating Jake (coming out of retirement to do so) in a Hair vs Hair Match. During this time, Jake was able to reevaluate his struggles with personal demons and embrace a new religious mindset.
The Snake Returns to WWF
Jake Roberts returned to the WWF at Royal Rumble 1996. The “new” Jake had fully embraced Christianity and had even replaced his former serpents, Damien and Lucifer, with an Albino Burmese Python that he called Revelation. This new Jake didn’t have the “Evil Edge” that the old Jake did. The fans did embrace him but Jake seemed to be almost a “Watered Down” version of his old persona. During his second run, Jake helped “Stone Cold” Steve Austin launch the infamous “Austin 3:16” catchphrase. At King of the Ring, Austin (after defeating Roberts) was being interviewed by Dok Hendrix (Michael Hayes). Austin went on a rant, mocking Roberts’ Christian beliefs. It ended with Stone Cold saying “Austin 3:16 says I just whipped you *ss”. Jake then went on to feud with Jerry ‘The King” Lawler, who had been mocking Jake’s rehabilitation and conversion to Christianity.
Jake was asked to move from a more active role, inside the ring, to become a backstage and road agent. Jake reluctantly agreed and his life began to spiral out of control. Jake returned to his abuse of drugs (again, according to his own words on “Pick Your Poison”). The return to drugs would eventually cost him not only his WWF career but also his marriage to Cheryl Roberts.
Time to get Extreme
Jake had a bizarre, if not brief, time in ECW. He came in as a surprise element during a match between Tommy Dreamer and Jerry Lawler. He attacked both men and cut a scathing anti-religious rant. Some time later, Jake would actually team with Dreamer in a war with Justin Credible and Jason Knight. Almost as quickly as he had arrived, Jake left ECW.
Beyond the Mat
In 1999, filmmaker Barry Blaustein approached Jake about doing a documentary about the lives of several pro wrestlers. The film showed a much darker side of Jake and several other wrestlers. A few years later, Jake would rebuke the film, stating that Blaustein and others had lied to him about what the film was to be about.
Hopping the Big Pond
In 2001, Jake relocated to England. Between 2001 and 2006, Jake worked for several European wrestling organizations. He even captured gold in NWA Hammerlock. Roberts had a good running feud with Honky Tonk Man that bridged several organizations. Roberts’ European tour came to a sudden halt after he appeared at a W.A.W. show “In no fit shape to compete”. Roberts did make one brief appearance on Raw, during this time, to help push the Randy Orton vs Undertaker match at Wrestlemania. WWE had enlisted several past “Victims” of Undertaker to try and talk Randy out of facing “The Dead Man”. Jake also struck a deal with the WWE to produce the Pick Your Poison DVD that I’ve mentioned several times during this article.
Return to the States
In 2006, after an issue with the British Government regarding alleged mistreatment of his serpent, Jake returned to the United States. He took a job with TNA. He acted as special guest ref during a Triple Threat Monster’s Ball Match between Samoa Joe, Raven and Brother Runt (Spike Dudley). On an episode of Impact (prior to the Bound for Glory PPV), Jake cut a promo that was so horrible that it had to be edited from close to 3 minutes down to a mere 15 seconds. Jake’s promo was almost totally incomprehensible. Runt tried to come out to change the pace of the interview and Jake tried to stuff his snake down Runt’s pants. The cameras eventually stopped and Jake was taken to the back. Jake was able to perform at Bound For Glory, eventually hitting a DDT on Raven to help Samoa Joe win. Jake immediately disappeared from TNA and made one brief appearance about a year later. He worked a promo with “Black Machismo” Jay Lethal.
After TNA, Jake worked the indy circuit around the US. It was during this time that I got to meet Jake at a BTW show in the Bay Area of Northern California. Jake worked a very limited schedule, especially after he broke his ankle. By 2011, Jake fully retired.
The Rebirth of Jake Roberts (thanks to DDP)
“Diamond” Dallas Page, who had once been a student of Jake Roberts, reached out to his mentor in 2012. Page, who had embraced Yoga and other healthy living ideals, wanted to help Jake to “Clean Up”. Roberts moved into Page’s home in Atlanta. Over the next few months, Page helped Jake to finally overcome his years of personal abuse. He helped Jake to quit the drugs and alcohol that had plagued him for years. Page also got Jake into Yoga and other exercise routines to help rehabilitate all the injuries that Jake had suffered, through the years. The newly motivated Roberts was given another breath of fresh air when he learned that he had unanimously been inducted into the Cauliflower Alley Club, Class of 2012. Shortly after the induction, Roberts made it clear that he had two goals: Enter the Royal Rumble and earn his way into the WWE Hall of Fame. Jake underwent shoulder surgery, in 2013, which prevented him from making the Rumble in 2013. He was rumored to appear at Rumble 2014 but it didn’t happen. However, Jake did finally receive his ultimate dream, the night after Royal Rumble. He was announced as the 2nd entrant into the 2014 WWE Hall of Fame.
Jake Roberts’ life has been filled with tragedy and hardship. He has battled personal demons for most of his adult life. He’s lost family and friends along the way. Through it all, Jake has been a survivor. Even without capturing gold in the WWE, Jake established himself as one of the top performers during the talent-rich “Hulkamania” Era. Jake has been called one of the Best Promo Men in the business. His DDT move has spawned dozens of variations. During my days as a trainer for Pro Wrestling Destination, I would always sit my “kids” down at my laptop and have them watch Jake Roberts both inside and outside the ring (Promos). I would tell them “When you go out there, I want you to channel the enthusiasm and skill of Jake Roberts. If you can do that, even to a minor level, you will be a success”. Jake Roberts will always be one of my favorite wrestlers (and people) in the business. It was an honor to meet him and share just a few minutes with The Snake. Of all the people that could have gone into the WWE Hall of Fame, Jake is the one that I hoped would get the nod. I’m just so happy that he was able to get his life back so he can enjoy this honor.