With his eerily soft, cold tone and pet snake by his side, Jake Roberts captured wrestling fans’ attention in the ’80s and ’90s. Despite never holding a title in the World Wrestling Federation, he was a revered member of the roster, and his feuds with “Macho Man” Randy Savage, Ricky “The Dragon” Steamboat, and “Million Dollar Man” Ted DiBiase stand the test of time. “The Snake,” however, was never regarded with such status in WCW. This is the fascinating story of Roberts’s short, controversial run in WCW.
Jake Roberts – Holding Up The WWF in 1992
Jake Roberts was dissatisfied by 1992. Pat Patterson had been briefly taken off the WWF booking committee after a scandal. Roberts previously asked for a place on the writing panel, and now a hole had been left that Jake thought he could fill.
Despite Patterson’s absence, Vince left the position vacant out of respect for Pat. This infuriated Roberts.
Not only did Roberts feel that he was being lied to, having been promised the position from Vince in the past, Roberts felt betrayed. In response, he threatened to no-show WrestleMania if he was not granted a release from his contract.
Roberts was set to face the still relatively new Undertaker at WrestleMania VIII, and a win for the “Dead Man” would have further cemented him as a truly unstoppable force in the company.
Moments before showtime, Jake Roberts threatened to walk out before the match if Vince didn’t accept his release. Vince gave in, promising Jake that his release would be served, thus allowing the biggest wrestling show of the calendar year to go on as planned.
Roberts cleanly and decisively put over the Undertaker, becoming the second victim in his storied streak. Here, he made Taker look like a megastar on his way out of the company.
Promises Unfulfilled in WCW
Being a massive name from the WWF, Jake Roberts was signed to rival company WCW in 1992 by then-President Kip Frye. Roberts was offered a multi-million-dollar deal. All he had to do was wait for his 90-day no-compete contract to expire.
Then, on the 87th day, Frye was replaced with Bill Watts.
Watts still had a legitimate grudge against Roberts due to their time together in Mid-South Wrestling. Watts reduced Jake’s reported 3.5 million dollar deal* to $200,000. Having already burned bridges with the WWF, there was nowhere else for him to go.
Speaking about his WCW contract in an interview with Hannibal TV, Roberts admitted his deal with WCW was already in place before his WrestleMania 8 match. However, the contract hadn’t yet been signed.
“I negotiated one hell of a deal, a multi-million-dollar deal,” said Roberts. “I left the WWF, and I had to wait 90 days. Within those 90 days, Bill Watts went into power at WCW, and he tore my contract up in my face and laughed at me.”
Roberts continued, “[Watts] knew that I had already quit one place and couldn’t go back. So now instead of getting the big-money contract, I got peanuts, man. Peanuts.”
Despite receiving a substantially lower contract than the original offer, Roberts made his debut for the Georgia-based WCW in August of ’92. He immediately entered into a feud with Sting.
Watch Jake Roberts Make His WCW Debut:
After attacking Sting multiple times and winning a 4-on-4 elimination tag match at Clash of the Champions XX, where Roberts scored the pinfall victory over Sting, their match was set for Halloween Havoc 1992.
Held under “Spin the Wheel, Make the Deal” rules, the roulette wheel was not rigged, and both wrestlers legitimately had no idea what match stipulation they would have.
In the end, it landed on what observers believed to be the worst option – the Coal Miner’s Glove match.
In this match, a loaded glove with metal wrapped around the knuckles was hoisted on top of a pole for a wrestler to collect and use as a weapon.
The match itself was generally regarded as a ten-minute drag — a shame given the two competitors involved. This pole hovered fifteen feet over the turnbuckle, making trying to climb it difficult and unsafe.
The match was also billed as non-sanctioned, so there were no disqualifications for common WCW illegalities such as throwing an opponent over the top rope, throwing an opponent into the ring post, or hitting a top rope diving attack. The Bill Watts era also ushered in a time of no outside mats, adding more real danger to this bout.
The ending came when Sting hit Roberts with the miner’s glove, knocking Roberts to the mat as he tried to keep his own snake from biting him (which looked a bit hokie as in reality, it was pretty obvious Roberts was trying to get the snake to bite him).
After the match, the snake bit Roberts, and you could see the fangs digging into Roberts’s face with blood flowing out. Lucky for Jake, anti-cobra venom was available at ringside, as referenced by Jim Ross multiple times throughout the match.
The match has since been largely panned, with Wrestling Observer’s Dave Meltzer giving it an abysmal 0.25 out of 5 stars.
After this pay-per-view loss, Jake Roberts was set to face Dusty Rhodes in the first round of the King of Cable tournament, but Jake left before this could ever go down. He was only in the company for a few months.
Why Jake Roberts Cut His WCW Run Short
Citing personal demons as the reason for his release from WCW, Jake Roberts, and his issues with drugs and alcohol became an issue for bookers to deal with.
“[My time in WCW] didn’t last long because of Bill Watts and his great thinking that it would be better to destroy the Jake ‘The Snake’ character. He thought that would make WCW better. No, it just made you weaker because you just killed off a guy who can draw you money.”
Roberts continued, “When [Watts] banned the snake, that’s when I went into rehab, and he fired me.
“I wanted to sue Bill Watts to get him fired, and that worked out.”
The circumstances surrounding Watts’ departure from WCW in 1993 are controversial.
Before being hired by WCW, Watts made controversial statements concerning race and sexual orientation. This was known before being hired by WCW, but Turner president at the time, Bill Shaw, was satisfied with the explanations Watts gave during the interview process.
However, a year later, wrestling journalist Mark Madden brought the statements Watts had made to baseball great Hank Aaron, the then vice president of the Turner organization with the Atlanta Braves. Aaron then pushed for Watts’ removal.
While Madden takes credit for Watts getting fired, Watts disputes this, stating he was not fired for the comments he made but quit his position before Aaron got involved out of frustration over “backstabbing.” Ole Anderson would replace Watts in the company.
Jake Roberts has also gone on record by saying he also played a role in Watts’ removal.
“When [Watts] had the snake banned, I was furious. I saw what they were doing and how they were trying to destroy my character and me. That wasn’t going to happen, so I talked to my lawyer. My lawyer asked, ‘What would happen if you checked yourself into rehab?’ I responded, ‘He would fire me in a heartbeat and take the rest of my money.’ And my lawyer said, ‘Let’s do that.’ So I did.”
Roberts continued, “From there, WCW went to Equal Opportunity employers. I said, ‘Look, I’m trying to do the right thing by getting clean and sober, and this guy (Watts) punished me for that.'”
Roberts would eventually get the money that was withheld from him by Watts.
In the years that followed, Eric Bischoff would take the helm in WCW, and lots of money was being thrown around. While this would have been a great time for Roberts to jump back over to WCW, it wasn’t to be.
“Ted Turner had this policy that if you sued him, you can’t work for him. I [screwed] myself, didn’t I?”
Roberts’s battle with sobriety has been a topic well covered over the years, but thankfully, his life has since been saved by fellow WCW star Diamond Dallas Page and his DDP Yoga program.
While his run in WCW was a dark time in his life and career, it was only but a small blip on his impressive resume.
*$3.5 million is a figure Roberts gave in WWE’s “Jake The Snake Roberts – Pick Your Poison” documentary release. This figure may not be entirely accurate.
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