You only get so many chances in life. And it’s fair to say that Jake Roberts was probably at the end of his. A lifetime of drug abuse had seen Roberts squander job opportunity after job opportunity, relations with his children, and most importantly a chance to live a long life. Many looked at him and saw him as an inevitable entry on the ever-growing list of wrestlers to pass away from substance abuse. Enter Diamond Dallas Page.
To be inducted by: Diamond Dallas Page
Taking Jake Roberts into his ‘Accountability Crib’, Page vowed to turn Roberts’ life around, providing the former WWF superstar was willing to. And aside from a temporary slip off the wagon, Roberts did just that. And on January 6 2014 his journey was complete when he walked out to the ring following the main event on Raw. Jake ‘The Snake’ Roberts was back.
Debuting in the WWF in March 1986, Jake Roberts immediately made an impact. After all, no-one else came to the ring with a live snake, and no-one definately allowed that live snake to slither over opponents seconds after Roberts won his match. People stood up and took notice. One month following his debut, Roberts made his WrestleMania debut at the second iteration of the event, defeating George Wells. Two months later Roberts was entrenched in the WWF storylines, with a DDT on the outside of the ring to Ricky Steamboat kicking off a rivalry that would go on to last for the next five months. Steamboat won the majority of the matches but such was the quality of the contests that both men would gain from it. And for Roberts, his part in the rivalry was noticed, and plans were quickly made to push him up the card.
Firstly he was given his own interview segment – The Snake Pit – patterned after and designed to replace Piper’s Pit, which was used to further angles and wrestlers. It would run until July 1987. The first in-ring sign of Roberts’ ascension up the card came when he challenged Randy Savage for the Intercontinental Championship in November 1986, and this match also acted as the first sign that the devious, vicious Snake had a fan following. To the surprise of most, including match commentators Vince McMahon and Jesse Ventura, the crowd was firmly behind Roberts during the match, which ended in a double disqualification. With the crowd’s reaction viewed as a one-off, the WWF continued with plans to push Roberts as a top-line heel, with a programme against Hulk Hogan scheduled. During an episode of The Snake Pit, Roberts DDT’d Hogan to kick off the feud, but the crowd in the arena that night sided firmly with the heel Roberts, cheering for the DDT instead of the fallen Hogan. Plans for a rivalry between the two were immediately scrapped, with no further mention made of the Snake Pit angle. Going into 1987, Roberts officially turned babyface after he was attacked during a Snake Pit segment by Honky Tonk Man. The two would go on to battle at WrestleMania III, with Roberts being accompanied by rock legend Alice Cooper. Subsequent media coverage of the event because of the enlisted celebrities heavily featured Roberts alongside Cooper, further establishing Roberts as a babyface.
For the remainder of 1987 Roberts would challenge Honky Tonk Man for the Intercontinental Championship. Reportedly the original plan was for Roberts to win the belt shortly after Honky beat Steamboat for the title, however during a Snake Pit segment Honky struck Roberts with a guitar and legitimately injured him. That injury caused WWF bosses to change plans and keep the belt on Honky Tonk Man.
Roberts then moved onto what would be his biggest feud yet, with Ravishing Rick Rude. Roberts’ real-life wife Cheryl was written into the storyline, as the object of Rude’s affections. Rude took to wearing tights emblazoned with an image of Cheryl. The two had a heated rivalry throughout much of 1988, coming to a conclusion after Roberts pinned Rude in a 5-on-5 tag-team match at Survivor Series. Roberts was later eliminated from that match following interference from Andre the Giant, and a new feud was confirmed when Andre got involved in Roberts’ match with Rude on Saturday Night’s Main Event. The story of the feud was Andre being afraid of snakes, going as far to suffer a ‘heart attack’ due to it. This led to a series of matches mainly held on house shows that Andre won. The culmination of the feud took place at WrestleMania V, with Roberts actually getting the win, albeit by disqualification after Andre attacked special referee Big John Studd. A feud with Ted DiBiase followed, during which Roberts took some time off for surgery to repair the damage caused by the Honky Tonk Man guitar shot. Upon his return to action, Roberts resumed hostilities with DiBiase going into 1990, leading to a match between to the two at WrestleMania VI. DiBiase picked up a countout victory, but Roberts stood tall at the end, throwing DiBiase’s money out into the crowd. With the DiBiase rivalry finished, Roberts drifted around the midcard for a spell, before an incident with Rick ‘The Model’ Martel led to Roberts ‘being blinded’ after Martel sprayed cologne in his eyes. This resulted in the famous blindfold match between the two at WrestleMania VI, which Roberts won.
Following a feud with Earthquake, plans were put in place for Roberts to turn heel. Becoming involved in the Undertaker-Ultimate Warrior feud, Roberts offered to help Warrior ‘overcome his fear of the dark side’, although it ended up becoming a ploy. Officially turning heel, Roberts was set to feud with Warrior, but those plans became history when Warrior was fired by the WWF the night of SummerSlam 1991. With changes forced upon them, WWF bosses programmed Roberts with Randy Savage. This led the famous angle that saw Roberts tie Savage up in the ropes before letting a (devenomised) King cobra bite him. The feud continued for several months, finally coming to a conclusion in February. Immediately after, Roberts was used to start Undertaker’s babyface turn, resulting in ‘Taker defeating Roberts at WrestleMania VIII. During this time Roberts started to feel disenchanted with life backstage in the WWF, leading to him requesting – and eventually receiving – a contract release from the company. He departed the WWF following WM VIII.
After several years in WCW and a further two years wrestling internationally, Roberts made his return to the WWF at the 1996 Royal Rumble. Now a bible-preaching babyface, he received a steady push over the next few months. His new character wasn’t a stretch for Roberts, who had found God and become a born-again Christian previous to his WWF return. At King of the Ring 1996 Roberts made it to the final, where he lost to Stone Cold Steve Austin and was then subject to the famous Austin 3:16 promo. In the months that followed Roberts became embroiled in a rivalry with Jerry Lawler, who regularly brought up Jake’s issues with alcoholism. Some of Lawler’s comments were extremely personal and brought criticism from viewers who believed it to be going too far. Unfortunately for Roberts, addiction would rear it’s ugly head again soon. WWF bosses had been trying to get Roberts to retire from in-ring competition and take on a position backstage, however with Roberts not ready to accept this, his previous issues with drink and drugs came to the forefront again. His last appearance for the WWF came at the 1997 Royal Rumble, after which he was released.
Seemingly overcoming his demons once and for all, Jake Roberts won his biggest battle of all. And on April 5 2014 this will be celebrated, as will his contributions to professional wrestling, when he is inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame.