Editorial Columns

A Year In The Career of Jake The Snake Roberts – 1992

Adam Van Winkle takes a look at an important year of one of wrestling’s most infamous stars, Jake ‘The Snake’ Roberts controversial 1992 run in WCW.

This year’s opening act for Wrestlemania 35 is…Jake “the Snake” Roberts.  No joke.  Well, some jokes. 

Jake is on the Dirty Details Tour (or DDT…see what he did there), and his standup, stories of the road, kayfabe breaking hybrid one man show culminates this year at the Grandaddy of Them All.   True, this opening act is 3 days and 34 miles before and south, but still, it’s a success story.

For those lucky fans that attend this year, as you plan your Wrestlemania week and weekend, put the DDT show on the docket and make the detour to Sayreville on Thursday night.

The Resurrection of Jake the Snake is no secret and it’s great to see after his DDP boot camping he appears to be staying clean and healthy and enjoying the limelight he deserves as a living wrestling legend.  Beyond his podcast and rejuvenated merch and branding push for Jake the Snake, he’s crafted his one man show and has been touring the country with it to rave fan reviews—at least the ones posted on JaketheSnakeRoberts.com appear to be.

No doubt things are looking up. 

Of course things look and feel so good because they were so bad for such a long time.  DDP found Jake back home in Gainesville, TX, living in a ratty rental just off Highway 82, a few miles west of the Lakeway Beer Barn (confession time: I grew up a few miles east of Jake in Whitesboro, TX and worked at that beer barn in high school; served Jake, his dad, Grizzly Smith, and his half brother, wrestler Sam Houston, many a cheap twelve pack; they never all came together at once as cute as that father-sons hang out might seem).  Jake was terribly out of shape and an alcoholic.  And, in Beyond the Mat, we learned the lengths and cause of his addictions as he scuttled for crack and told of his own conception when his father raped the teenage daughter of a lover (“He was born out of love…and I still love him,” Grizzly tells us afterwards).

After the countless rehab stints and storied and well-documented demons, it feels honestly shocking that Jake is still with us, that he lived to his Hall of Fame induction and beyond to reap its rewards (sorry Warrior), with the shockingly young average age of death of many of his era’s wrestlers.

So, as his Wrestlemania opening act approaches, it feels only appropriate to do some career retrospective on Jake the Snake here at TWM.  As one of the most popular wrestlers of his or any era, a cultural touchstone that ascends to that level of iconic wrestler even the non-wrestling fans know and reference, his career is damned well documented and told.

I here then turn to that briefest of Jake the Snake stints, one he’d rather forget and derides in interviews about that time, one that might not be watched as much, discussed as much: Jake’s 1992 WCW run.

It culminated in the astoundingly disappointing 1992 Halloween Havoc Coal Miner’s Glove Match (no really, more later) against Sting.  While it’s not as infamous as the Ultimate Warrior’s 1998 Havoc match with Hogan, it’s just as wrought with WCW tomfoolery.  But we’ll get there.

Jake left the WWF after WrestleMania VIII where he Jeff Jarrett-ed Vince McMahon, threatening to no-show the event if not released from his contract.  He was pissed he had not been given a position on the WWF writing staff and new a sweet contract offer was waiting where his father worked now at WCW.  Ultimately, McMahon agreed, though not before making sure to hold on to merchandising royalties, and Jake showed up to wrestle a fairly nothing match against The Undertaker rather than the blood feud blow off the two former allies should have put on.  It is only really noteworthy as #2 on the Taker’s streak.

Jake could not wrestle in WCW for 90 days so did not made his debut until August 2, 1992 on WCW’s Main Event, where he came out of the crowd to attack Sting and DDT him on a steel chair not once, but twice.  When asked by Jim Ross on a televised interview a few days later why he had attacked Sting, Jake responds “Why not?”  Well, Jim Ross, wants to know, what if, since he is not a WCW wrestler (kayfabe), Sting decides to press assault charges and Jake is arrested.  Jake says he wouldn’t be surprised at that since Sting definitely isn’t man enough to wrestle him, but “put the right number down for me to sign and I’ll sign” Jake assures.  He’s game to wrestle for WCW and take on the franchise.  A few days later, Jesse the Body admiringly interviews Jake where Jake claims he wants the whole world, and Dusty Rhodes and Ron Simmons (then WCW champ) and Sting are just squirrels after a nut.

Let me take a little major swerve here for a moment: Jake comes out of the crowd in street clothes after last being seen on WWF television, attacks Sting and threatens the major organization players in a bid to take over the world, plays free agent not under WCW control and free to attack the promotion, and is threatened with cops and arrest.  This is the freaking NWO angle four years before!  Pre-Bischoff!  Pre-Hall!  Think I’m crazy?  Explain why Jake, in his first major match (he warmed up in an untelevised bout with Pre-Buff Bagwell in Chicago) at Clash of Champions XX on September 2nd was a Survivor Series rules match where he is teamed with former WWFers, outsiders if you will, Rick Rude and Hercules (as the masked Super Invader).  The 1992 WCW creative team was building on the heat of the WWF and WWFers as invaders and heels with similar tactics used in ’96.

Okay, back to the interviews.  They’re telling in many ways. 

Jake’s comment about the “right number” was fresh on his mind no doubt.  His WCW run was soured from the beginning when he got a pay cut before he ever wrested in a WCW ring.  He’d received a sweet 3 year, 3.5 million dollar guaranteed deal from future venture capitalist and Turner corporate climber Kip Frey, who stepped down as head of WCW on the 87th day of Jake’s 90-day no compete.  Cowboy Bill Watts, former wrester and old-schooler took over and put his brand of no mats on the outside concrete and no flying off the top rope on WCW.  His brand also involved depriving wrestlers rather than wooing them.  Unlike Frey, who offered professional athlete level money, Watts sought to reduce and withhold pay, basing pay on his own moving target assessment performance in the ring.  Watts also personally hated Roberts from previous working days, so he quickly tore up Jake’s contract and put him on a 1 year, 200,000 dollar performance based deal.  No wonder Jake is kayfabing on contracts.

After his pay reduction it does seem Jake’s WCW run becomes the “Why not?” he promised.

In the interview with Jesse the Body a few days later Jake drunk mumbles his speech several times, offering a “what I dues” instead of “what I do” at one point, and then loses his line altogether at one point before stopping and looking at Jesse with a smile, then switching back into persona and continuing on.  Jake cutting an interview drunk—why not?

The actual matches are about the same.  In the Survivor Series match at Clash of Champions XX (WCW insisted on calling it a Four on Four Elimination match, but we can all see) as previously mentioned Jake is with former WWF comrades Rude and Hercules, along with Big Van Vader to take on Sting, the Steiner Brothers and Nikita Koloff.  So, Jake and Rude, even though they had an absolute blood feud over the Cheryl tights in WWF—why not?  So Hercules as Super Invader, a masked muscular Korean assassin—why not?  So Hercules’ tights are clearly torn just under the left nipple—why not? 

I will say there is a brilliant ending here, and Jake is at the center.  It’s a standard Survivor Series match where kicks to the back can lead to a pinfall, wrestlers are counted out fast, and any other thing happens to clear wrestlers out of there.  After Vader comes off the top rope (eliminating himself from the Survivor Series match because remember this is a DQ in the Watts era) and splashes both the last survivor for the faces, Sting, and his own teammate Rude, the referee is distracted by Rude’s companion, pre-Alundra Blaze Madusa.  With Rude and Sting out, Jake sneaks into the ring and drags Rude back to the heel corner.  He then stands back out on the apron and, when the ref turns around, he slaps the downed Rude for the legal because-the-ref-saw-it tag.  It’s an easy DDT and pinfall over Sting after that.

Jim Ross and Jesse the Body send us out of Clash of Champions XX with an exclusive preview of Halloween Havoc 1992, coming October 25th, and it is beautifully bad. 

We open with a biker bar and a leather clad little person roaming around with a mustache and a lot of attitude.  Madusa is apparently a bar waitress to makes ends meet as she carries around the tray and serves the drinks.  Rowdy bikers and the little person give Jake Roberts a welcoming carousal as he comes in.  No one is mentioning the giant saw blade in the middle of the room.  Madusa continues to serve the fellas and everyone has a good tough time.  Then comes Sting.  Why these two rivals and foes agree to show up and shoot a promo like this, I can’t imagine—but why not?  And it’s tense and Jake issues the challenge, the “deal”:  they’ll spin the wheel to decide what kind of match to have to settle their score.  Jake warns there’s all kinds of matches on the wheel, including a “First Blood Match” and a “Death Match” (where, presumably the first wrestler to die loses—why not?).  Sting’s not scared and he takes the deal.  They stand face to face, chest to chest, in front of the buzzsaw blade wheel and…they’re eyes turn green and they shoot lasers at each other and they explode!  So the wrestlers have exploded and died but they’re gonna face off next month at Havoc—why not?

You’d think with as fired up as Sting is in said promo, he’d be jacked to come out to spin the wheel at Havoc ’92.  Instead, he comes out without speaking though Schiavone is there, mic in hand.  He pulls a lever in front of the wheel rather than spin it.  The wheel spins a steady speed before suddenly and suspiciously stopping on “Coal Miner’s Glove Match.”  Sting again says nothing and walks to the back.

So your most popular star is going to cut a promo ahead of the match or react to the match decided on by the wheel—why not?  And the wheel is clearly rigged—why not?  And the least interesting looking match on a wheel with blood and death and barbwire is what they rigged it to—why not?

And the wheel wasn’t rigged for the reasons you’d think.  You’d think it was so the wrestlers could know the type of match it would be and work it out well in advance so it was as crisp as possible.  But not at all.  Turner executives did not like blood on TV, so the WCW’s hands were well tied on letting the wheel land on nearly any of the other options.

Still, the option they dreamed up is pretty crap.  A large leather glove with steel plates duct taped to the the knuckles sits atop a pole attached at one ring corner.  The first wrester who can get it, gets to use it.  It’s a nightstick on a pole match without the backstory of Nailz stealing the nightstick from Boss Man.  It plays to nothing in either character or the event.  It’s just an idea that stuck on a wall apparently.  And why not?  Watts had no interest in pushing Jake or letting him get popular enough to renegotiate. 

The match itself before the ending is as blah as the idea. The ending is only redeeming in its absurdity.

As I said, it’s not nearly as bad as Warrior-Hogan ’98, but it’s not great.  It’s worth noting that unlike Warrior-Hogan which did not close the show  in ’98 because neither was champ, this one does.  Unlike Goldberg in ’98, Ron Simmons had to settle for successfully defending the WCW belt against Cactus Jack two matches down the card. 

As Jake enters Jim Ross assures us that WCW researchers have developed a Cobra anti-venom in case Jake has his snake with him.  Sure, why not?  Again though, I must say, WCW creative is tapping into WWF storyline.  Though Jake was most known for the boa constrictor Damien whom he most often carried to the WWF ring, WCW focuses on the cobra, his hottest WWF angle when he had the cobra bite Macho Man Randy Savage and slapped Ms. Elizabeth.

The first thing you might notice when you rewatch on the Network is that Jake’s belly is about twice as big as it was a month and half before at the Clash.  He moves slow, he plays little to the crowd.  He wrestles like a man who just took an 80 percent pay cut.  Why not?  They weren’t going to push him.  Sting tries, but he doesn’t deliver anything more exciting than a flying one-handed bulldog.

The match picks up when Jake gets the upper hand and Cactus Jack runs from the back with a familiar little black bag.  He gives it to Jake who starts to dig around in it while Sting recovers in the ring behind him.  Jake pulls out the sickliest black cobra you’ll ever see and goes to hold it up to the crowd.  At this moment, Sting dropkicks Jake in the back and Jake and the cobra collapsed to the mat, the cobra managing to latch on to Jake’s face in the process (because he clearly places it there—why not?).  After Sting’s quick pin we get an over the shoulder camera shot of the prone and splayed Jake who at this point visibly detaches the snake from his face, looks at it as if something is wrong, then uses the freaking snake fangs to blade (!) before “reattaching” the snake by holding its head again to his cheek.  How can we juice on camera if Turner execs won’t let us?  Let’s use a live freaking snake’s fangs to blade—why not? 

Cactus helps Jake stumble to the back who sells snake poisoning nearly as well as the bandy-legged Savage had. 

What happened next is anyone’s guess.  He was gone from WCW within the month. 

Jake has his version and has told it a few times.  He didn’t like the pay scale or the way wages were withheld until certain performance standards were met so, he claims, he voluntarily went to rehab knowing WCW and especially Watts would fire him for his addictions.  He then claims he used equal opportunity employment laws to sue to get the rest of his owed money from WCW for being wrongfully terminated after seeking rehab.  It all sounds clever, but, he says, it’s also the reason he never was welcomed back to WCW in the post-Watts years as “Turner doesn’t hire people who’ve sued him.” 

Thinking back on Jake isn’t the only reason to go back and watch the Clash XX or Havoc ’92 seventeen years on (both available with your Network subscription of course).  At the Clash, you’ll get to see Andre the Giant’s last televised appearance before he’d die in January of ’93.  You’ll also get to see good ol’ JR get bullied by Jesse the Body on the call and Schiavone team up for backstage commentary with Bruno Sammartino (who backhands the WWF big time when he says of WCW, it’s the “style of wrestling” he prefers).  You’ll get to see Shane Douglas get booed as face long before he shot on the NWA.  You’ll get lots of Steve Austin before he was Stone Cold.   If only the Network had the dark matches and you could watch future legends Kevin Nash (as Vinnie Vegas) and Diamond Dallas Page have to job to Erik Watts (yes, son of Bill) and Van Hammer before Havoc ’92, you’d have a real hidden gem.

I think a lot about Jake Roberts.  Probably knowing how flawed he is, and, growing up where he did, understanding some of where the voice and mannerisms and emotional vulnerability come from, I look to him as someone who seemed he was headed for tragedy only to get a hook to grab on to and a turn around in time.  I think we’d all like to imagine no matter how much we messed up, that could happen for us to. 

I don’t think a lot on Jake’s 1992 WCW run.  There’s not enough of it for one.  Between the 90 day noncompete and the chopping block of Bill Watts’ reign at WCW, it just didn’t amount to much.  It’s a damned shame it didn’t.  To think that Jake didn’t have to be gone from our TV for so long.  That he might have tried harder, been in better shape if he was paid and pushed as one of the top star can only be speculated.  But it gnaws at me.  Jake could have been a major heel and Vader wouldn’t have had to shoulder all that load in ’93.  Jake could have been there to greet Hogan with a DDT in ’94.  In my perfect world imagination, Jake would have had a glorious run in WCW from ’92 to ’96, saw WCW into its Nitro years, and then, jumped back to WWF with the same born again gimmick in ’96 because he still had to put fellow Texas Stone Cold Steve Austin over at King of the Ring and give him the angle for that Austin 3:16 business.  And he would have had a gloriously long second run too.

I wonder if Jake will have anymore to say about his WCW days at his Dirty Details Tour show in Jersey a few days ahead of Wrestlemania.  If he doesn’t, don’t forget, there’s a Q&A at the end of the show and you can always ask.

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