Why I Love Wrestling: Jake “The Snake” Roberts
Jake Roberts, son of professional wrestler Grizzly Smith, has never worn gold in the WWE. Not one time. Which, on the surface, seems a crime. Here is a guy who is objectively one of the greatest in ring performers of his generation. Wrestlers working today credit Roberts as a major influence on their careers. His promos are legendary. His in ring psychology is second to none. His finisher, the DDT, was his creation and has been absorbed into the repertoire of numerous performers. His feuds with Macho Man, Steamboat, and Andre are some of the best ever. He is without question, a living legend. So why no title? Why no recognition of skill and workmanship? To be honest, while Roberts is all of the things mentioned, he is also a very flawed man. His problems with drugs and alcohol are well documented. His relationship struggles, both with his father and his first/second wife and children, are no secret. His reputation as a solid worker was never in doubt. He was just never seen as a guy to carry the WWE. And you know what? He didn’t need it. Jake Roberts is in the Hall of Fame because he earned it. Jake Roberts has something better than gold, he has respect. Of his peers. Of his fans. And now, after some very trying times, he has his life back. Not bad for a guy who tool almost ten years to develop his character and break through.
Born in Texas in 1955, Aurelian Smith Jr., the man behind the performer, has had a hell of a life. Outside of the ring, his addictions cost him everything. His family was torn apart twice by drug and alcohol abuse. He has been divorced twice and his relationships with his children, a daughter and twin sons, have been up and down for most of their lives. His sister was murdered by her ex-husband and his father was an abusive man. Roberts claims that he, like so many others, turned to various illegal substances to cope. As of this writing though, things are good. He is sober thanks to Diamond Dallas Page. He claims that DDP literally saved his life. DDP let Roberts move into his house, along with Scott Hall to get clean. The pictures at right were taken six months apart. The difference is staggering and a testament not only to the work DDP puts in, but the complete 180 degree turn in Roberts’ life. The emotion in his voice during his hall of fame induction is hard to forget. This was a guy who a few years earlier was consumed by the daily quest of getting high. Where were the drugs coming from and where was the money to get the drugs coming from were the driving factors in his life. Roberts says openly that he wasn’t living but waiting to die. Now, he says that he loves waking up every morning and rebuilding his relationships with his kids and his grandchildren. Not bad for a guy that all of us, the fans, thought was going to be gone any minute.
Debuting in 1974, Jake The Snake Roberts, the in ring character, took awhile to find himself. He started in Louisiana but floundered. He was the son of a famous wrestler with a ton of pressure heaped on him. By his own admission he wasn’t very good at the beginning. But there was something there, something to be molded. In the late 70’s he went up to Canada and started working for Stampede Wrestling. It was there that the Snake found himself. He returned to the states in 1983 had a decent three year run in Georgia Championship Wrestling. He wrestled as a heel and was able to get himself over with some insanely good promos and ring work. Roberts learned to tell a story during a match. There was a clear beginning, middle, and end. There was emotion. There were twists and turns. And there was the DDT. Roberts first performed the move on accident. He had an opponent, The Grappler, in a front face lock and tripped, slamming his head into the mat. People popped hard and from then on, Roberts was the master of the DDT. After GCW, he signed with WWE and wrestled for them from 1986 until 1992. During his time there he had some epic clashes with Macho Man Randy Savage, Ricky the Dragon Steamboat, Andre the Giant, the Honky Tonk Man, Earthquake, and Rick Rude. He main evented shows, played both face and heel, and had the honor of competing against the Undertaker at Wrestlemania. Most of his matches involved his snake, Damian, being draped over his opponent at the end of the match. And while he never did win a title, he remained one of the most over performers on the roster.
Roberts would go on to other promotions, come back to WWE and be involved in the creation of Austin 3:16, go back to the indys and eventually become semi-retired. His returns to any promotion always sparked a fire in the fans though. We never got tired of seeing Jake Roberts come in and DDT the hell out of someone. His last appearance on RAW was in January of 2014. His music hit, the crowd popped huge, and the segment ended with Dean Ambrose on the mat with a snake draped over him. It was classic Snake and a beautiful sight. And thanks to the magic of the internet, you don’t have to just take my word for it. Check out the promos and matches below and let me know what you think about this legendary performer. Follow me on twitter and instagram, @geekadedan, and let me know your favorite Jake moments.