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Wrestling with demons – The Jake Roberts story

On rare occasions, there comes a personality in the world of professional wrestling that captivates the people like no one else. These people innovate, and elevate professional wrestling to greater heights through their innate talents, and when all the stars align, they become some of the biggest names in professional wrestling. The Hogans, Bret Harts, Steve Austins etc. are some of the examples for that. But what happens when the stars don’t align? What happens when these personalities get lost in the shuffle, or find a way to turn their talents against themselves? You have the Dynamite Kid as a prime example. The answer is, sadly, they are not even remembered, and become just another ‘old timer’ in the industry.

This story is about one such personality, who in all fairness, should be one of the greatest performers in the industry. Incredible charisma, unparalleled mic skills, great psychology and one of the most ingenious characters should have made this superstar one of the best of all time. Furthermore, his in – ring skills were as good as anyone back in his day, but sadly, the only person who could have dragged him down was himself, and he let that happen. This person is none other than the legendary Jake ‘The Snake’ Roberts.

Jake Roberts was always under rated as a performer, and everyone knew that. He had one of the greatest minds in professional wrestling, and sadly, he threw it all away. Many times, we’ve seen movies where a performer indulges in other worldly pleasures, and somehow manages to find a way to throw all of his talents, all of his future prospects away, and to perish in the dark. If anyone has seen the movie ‘The Wrestler’, where Mickey Rourke portrays an old timer who refuses to go away, they would understand the sacrifices these guys make, and how much they clamour for that spotlight even when they’re well past their prime. Sadly, such stories are common in professional wrestling industry, where you only get one chance to get all the glory, and even if you do, it’s not going to last forever. As a performer, rock bottom is a tough pill to swallow.

Something similar happened with Jake Roberts. Jake made his name in the World Wrestling Federation, or simply WWF, when he joined the organization in the mid 80s. Having a dark, devious character, Jake immediately stood out from the rest, and a new star was born. Jake was a master on the mic, with intense promos that far surpassed the mic work of any other performer, as the rest tried to ‘entertain’ the audience. Jake understood the business more than anyone else. He was a student of the game, and one of the very best at that. During his first run in the WWF, Jake earned the nick name ‘The Snake’ because of his devious, snake – esque personality. To further that, he used to bring a living snake to the ring, thus adding it to his repertoire as a performer.

But the most impressive thing about Jake was the use of psychology during his matches. Youngsters in the industry do not understand what psychology is all about. Whether you’re beating down a guy, or trying to ‘work’ on his injured limb, psychology is one of the most important things you have to understand as a performer. And Jake understood that better than anyone else. His character was so over with the crowd even though he was a heel, that he was cheered loudly against the likes of Randy Savage. The reported feud between the biggest baby face of WWF, Hulk Hogan, and Jake Roberts was cancelled, as during a segment, the fans cheered for Jake over Hogan, which took Vince McMahon and Monsoon by surprise!

Jake Roberts had many memorable feuds, which included matches and angles against guys like Steamboat and Rick Rude. As a matter of fact, during the Rude – Jake feud, Rude was in an angle where he wanted to woo Jake’s real – life wife, and began wearing tights with her picture on the front and the back! Many believe that this was way ahead of the time, something that was only done during the Attitude Era! People like Steamboat have openly admitted that Jake could have achieved greater heights, but his injuries and his real life issues had diverted him from his goals.

Very few people would know the fact that the now common DDT was invented, and first used by Jake Roberts as his finisher! Although Jake’s first run in the WWF saw him facing the top guys in the company, his alcohol addiction and drug abuse took away his hunger for the business. His passion was replaced by complacency, as he was content with his spot on the card. Jake’s biggest weakness was himself. He left the WWF for WCW, but later returned to the organization, and kick-started the career of arguably the most famous professional wrestler in the history of the business, Stone Cold Steve Austin. After Austin defeated Jake at the ’96 King of the Ring finals, Austin cut his most famous promo, where he used ‘Austin 3:16 says I just whipped your a**’ for the very first time. A new star was born, and the old veteran had to give way to him.

It’s almost unfair that Jake didn’t accomplish as much as he should have in the business. His fight with his personal demons was documented in the ‘Beyond the Mat’ documentary, which covered his downward spiral due to alcohol addiction and drug abuse. His stunts during the ‘Heroes of Wrestling’ show further blemished his name in the industry, as he was struggling with his demons. Not only did the alcohol and drug issues ruin his professional life, but have taken his personal life away from him as well. It is almost scary to think what Jake could have been, had he managed to fight his personal demons off. Jake will forever be remembered by his fans as the guy who was the true champion, even though he never won ‘the big one’.

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