When discussing sporting heroes, most will eulogise the true greats of the sporting world. The super-human athletes, the mesmerisingly skilled and the unrelentingly dedicated. The Daley Thompsons, the Diego Maradonas and the Steve Redgraves. There are not many who would class a sixty-year-old wrestler amongst their sporting heroes - but I do.
You see ladies and gentleman, whilst many may mock and sneer at the wrestling world, those of us who hold an appreciation for professional wrestling, will no doubt join me in laying tribute to one of the true underappreciated geniuses of the WWE world. The great, Jake ‘The Snake’ Roberts.
I myself am thirty-five years old, and I’m not ashamed to tell you that I have been a wrestling fan for a vast majority of that time. When I first got into WWF (now WWE) during the golden era of early nineties, stars like Hulk Hogan, Ultimate Warrior and Ric Flair were at the top of their game and were pivotal in taking wrestling to an unprecedented global audience.
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Whilst at the time, many fans were naturally drawn to the iconic faces of Hogan, Macho Man, Andre the Giant etc., I myself was drawn to one of the more unique stars on the bill. The quietly spoken loner. The one without the fanfare, or ginormous muscles - The one with the bloody great big python in a bag!
Jake Roberts was a one-off. A wrestler, and performer, like no other and a pioneer of professional wrestling.
Jake was acutely aware that he wasn’t the type of wrestler to toss opponents around the ring like Andre, fling himself off the top rope like Shawn Michaels, or tear off his shirt like Hogan. To that end, Jake played to his strengths. Whilst the rest of the roster concentrated on the physical aspects of the show, Jake took the opposite approach and focused on the psychological.
Jake was one of the WWE’s biggest stars and the crowd loved him. However, what stood Jake apart was the fact that the crowd didn’t love him because he was a superhero babyface, and they certainly didn’t love him because of his high-flying in-ring displays. They loved him because he was dark, because he was sinister and because he freaked them out!
What Jake did so well, and arguably did better than anyone in wrestling history, was to use his words and his body language to maximum effect. Jake wouldn’t scream and shout about how he was going to tear the other guy’s head off; Jake would do just the opposite. He would talk quietly and menacingly, directly into the camera, right into the eyes of the viewer and into their soul.
Jake’s character wasn’t a bodybuilder, giant or superhero………Jake’s character was a serial killer.
The fact that he possessed this truly mesmerising gift of the gab meant that Jake was already in a league of his own, the addition of the snake was the proverbial cherry on the top. And, when you consider Roberts’ liking for dumping his snake on wearisome opponents, that metaphor carries even greater meaning.
Not only did it add to the mystique and eeriness of the man, but the snake was the perfect metaphor for Roberts himself. Jake was the human epitome of his reptile friend; creepy, cold-blooded, methodical and incredibly dangerous. And just like the snake, when Jake hit you, you stay hit.
When Jake slithered under the bottom rope into the ring, he was the snake, he was crafty, he was calculated and he was purposeful. Every move a way of manoeuvring closer to that one venomous bite – the DDT.
Like a cobra’s strike, when Jake hit the DTT, the game was over.
In the years following these WWF golden years, however, old Jake lost his way. Jake Roberts’s own personal demons and the bad habits obtained following a lifetime on the road, seemed to be the one opponent Jake could never outsmart.
Even from birth, it seems Jake had not had it easy. According to Roberts himself speaking in the 1999 documentary, ‘Beyond the Mat’, Jake was born to a thirteen-year-old mother thanks to his father’s indiscretions with the daughter of a girlfriend - An ominous start to life by any standard.
Throughout his life, Jake always seemed to mirror the tortured soul his character suggested on screen. His lifelong struggle with drugs and his alcoholism seemed destined to be his ultimate downfall. Many feared that Jake was too far gone, beyond saving and seemingly destined to be part of the ‘gone too soon’ gang that so many flawed genius have fallen victim to in the past.
Thankfully there was one man who was not a believer in this particular school of thought. In recent years, friend and fellow wrestler Diamond Dallas Page has offered Jake a way out. Page has shown Jake that there is hope, that there is another way and that redemption is never impossible – as long as he wanted it hard enough.
With Page’s help, against all the odds, Jake is now winning his fight. With the ultimate goal of reconnecting with his estranged family and rebuilding their damaged relationship, Roberts seems to have finally gotten the better of the demons who have tormented him throughout his life.
The crowning glory of Jake’s redemption came in early 2014. In January that year, a clean and healthy Jake Roberts shocked the wrestling world by appearing on WWE programming for the first time in nearly twenty years. Three months later, with his family by his side, Jake ‘The Snake’ Roberts finally took his long-awaited and rightful place in the WWE Hall of Fame.
Upon his induction, the old master mesmerised the crowd one last time. During a spellbinding fifteen minutes, Jake looked back over his life and career and produced a poignant, heart-breaking and brutally honest speech, the like of which, only he could produce. In a business built around speeches and promos, Jake provided a final masterclass to all those now trying to follow in his footsteps.
At the age of sixty, and after all these years surrounded by Snakes, it seems that Jake has now finally learnt how he too, can shed his skin.