Class of 2018
In my eyes, a mid-carder shouldn’t be judged by title accolades or the number of five star matches that they had. A mid-carder’s worth is in the entertainment value that they add to a show.
I can think of very few mid-carders who have had greater contributions to the industry than Jake “The Snake” Roberts. He had an incredible mind for the business. He knew what would draw a crowd reaction as well or better than anyone else in the industry. As such, he was involved in countless iconic moments and feuds.
My first memory of Jake was his debut as a heel during his storyline with Ricky “The Dragon” Steamboat. My lasting impression doesn’t lie with any of the matches that they had, but the visual effect of two moments.
First, Jake Roberts DDT’ing Steamboat on the steel floor. You have to remember, this was a time period where hardcore wrestling wasn’t a thing. The WWE had thick blue mats on the ground, and exposing the floor was a rare occurrence. Jake driving Steamboat’s head into the concrete was a moment that felt real to the fans. It was the 1980s equivalent of The Dudley Boyz putting Tommy Dreamer through a flaming table.
Second, the WWE capitalized on each’s respective gimmick to create a tremendous visual during their matches. Jake would bring his python and Steamboat would bring a Kimodo dragon. It felt dangerous even if it wasn’t. Personally, I would have had Damian swallow the Kimodo Dragon whole on live television, but I won’t be picky. And btw, don’t come at me on this. This was an era where a wrestler was actually named “The Terrorist” and another wrestler was a heel because he was gay. Damian feasting on Puff the Magic Dragon is hardly the most offensive thing that they would have done.
Jake could literally make any storyline work and often did. The early Wrestlemania events are known for being all about Hulkamania. While that is an indisputable fact, you cannot understate the importance that Jake played. Vince McMahon clearly had a tremendous amount of trust in Roberts. He was given a prominent role in just about every year.
Wrestlemania III was an event with a laundry list of massive attractions. One of the biggest draws on the show was Alice Cooper. He was the lead singer in Alice in Chains and his participation was a big deal at the time. It was Jake who Vince paired him with. In hindsight, Jake v The Honky Tonk Man plays out as a throwaway match at one of the biggest shows ever, but it was absolutely one of the biggest selling points for the show.
Although he was eliminated in the first round of the tournament of Wrestlemania IV, his storyline with Ravishing Rick Rude was one of the strongest going into the show. Rick Rude having Jake’s wife’s face printed on the ass of his wrestling trunks had Robert’s brain written all over it. Vince knew that Rude was someone that he wanted to make a star, and it was not a coincidence that he worked with Jake at his first Wrestlemania.
Wrestlemania V saw Jake in the 3rd biggest storyline on the show – paired up with Andre the Giant. Andre the Giant was a larger than life figure. He had wrestled against Hulk Hogan at two Wrestlemanias in a row. For Jake to get the nod to face him at the biggest show of the year was an incredibly big deal. Their feud was memorable. Andre was the immovable object. The idea that he was afraid of snakes and Jake had the ability to put fear in the heart of a man that feared no one made Roberts look like an incredibly big deal.
While Hogan v The Warrior was clearly the top banana going into Wrestlemania VI, Jake v Dibiase was clearly the second strongest storyline. Just go ahead and take a pause from reading this to check out the promo Jake cut on Dibiase prior to their match. It’s one of the best of all time.
Wrestlemania VII might have been his biggest accomplishment. He had an entertaining mid-card feud with Rick Martel. The premise of the feud was that Martel had blinded Jake by spraying him with “Arrogance”. For those of you who don’t remember, “Arrogance” was the perfume line that Martel’s character was pimping out at the time. Because Jake could no longer see, a “Blindfold Match” was booked for Wrestlemania VII. This was an absolutely terrible idea that should have never gotten off the ground, but it worked. Jake’s unbelievable psychology was on full display during the match. His mannerisms were on point and he really made you feel like he couldn’t see a thing. That’s more or less the greatest compliment that I could give Jake – he took storylines that had no business of working and turned them into gold.
Wrestlemania VIII marked the end of his run with the company. He had turned heel earlier in the year and had an amazing run. The WWE knew that they had a tremendous star in the making with The Undertaker. Once again, when Vince wanted to make someone look like a superstar, Jake Roberts was the man that he called in.
Outside of his tremendous Wrestlemania run, Jake provided some of the most iconic moments in wrestling history. I’ll never forget the day on Superstars where Earthquake squashed Damian. I was horrified when it happened. I was equally horrified when The Snake actually bit Savage on live television. I’d never seen anything like it before, and eight year old Eternal Optimist legitimately thought that The Macho Man was going to die. When Jake ruined the “Match Made in Heaven” by putting a cobra in a gift box, I feared for Miss Elizabeth’s safety.
As amazing as all of those moments were, Jake’s finest hour took place when he led The Ultimate Warrior astray and into a pit of snakes. The “Trust Me” promo was sheer brilliance, everything that was great about Jake Roberts wrapped into a neat four minute clip. In my eyes, this was the third greatest heel turn of all time behind Hulk Hogan joining the nWo and HBK putting Marty Jannetty through a plate glass window.
On top of all of the iconic moments of magic that Jake created, he is also credited with inventing the “DDT”. Fun fact – he invented the move by accident. He had a wrestler in a front face-lock when said wrestler accidentally stepped on his foot. Jake tumbled backwards and the guy landed on his head. After hearing the crowd “ooh” and “ahh”, he instantly decided to run with it. He coined the phrase after a poison that was outlawed.
That was the brilliance of Jake Roberts. He took a botch and turned it into one of the most iconic moves of all time. A DDT is standard fare these days, a move that is used so often and to such little effect that it isn’t taken seriously. Nonetheless, anytime Jake has made a return to action, he’s legitimized the move. It might mean nothing coming from another wrestler, but if Jake dropped you with HIS version, you might as well have been run over by a truck.
It wasn’t all sunshine and unicorns for Jake Roberts. His drug problem curtailed his career and almost ended his life. His WCW was far from memorable and included a Wrestlecrap worthy “Coal Miner’s Glove” match against Sting as part of “Spin the Wheel Make the Deal”. His return to the WWE in 1996 was largely forgettable, absent an above average six man tag match at Wrestlemania 12 and being the recipient of a beat down by Steve Austin and the legendary “Austin 3:16” promo at King of the Ring 1996. Regardless, his endless contributions to the business far outweighed the negatives that came with it.
I’m beyond ecstatic to see that Jake has seemingly conquered his demons and is now living a healthy and normal lifestyle. His acceptance speech during his WWE Hall of Fame induction was easily my favorite speech of any wrestler that has ever received the honor. It is my privilege to induct Jake “The Snake” Roberts as LOP’s mid-card wrestler for the Hall of Fame Class of 2018.
Facebook: David Fenichel