Professional wrestling legend Jake “The Snake” Roberts has lashed out against the makers of Beyond The Mat, a documentary featuring a side of sports entertainment many fans do not have a chance to see.
Roberts, born Aurelian Smith, was on tour with the Hardcore Wrestling Federation and took time to speak with Slam Wrestling at their Maximum Insanity event in Belleville, Ontario about his career and the documentary, in which he was featured prominently.
According to Roberts and his business partner Valerie Burnham, the documentary was to be a tool helping children see the darker side of professional wrestling. The theatrical release did not sit well with them, as they were not compensated.
“I was approached and told it was going to help children and I was lied to,” said Roberts. “I was used… again.”
Director Barry Blaustein categorically refutes Roberts’ charges.
“I never said to Jake this was intended for kids,” responded Blaustein over the phone from his Los Angeles office.
At one time, Roberts was on top of the wrestling world. During the late ’80s, he worked close to 300 nights a year for the World Wrestling Federation. The loneliness of the road and alienation from family took a toll on him personally and professionally, culminating with an ongoing battle with alcohol and drugs. Beyond The Mat makes note of these battles and features compelling and disturbing images, including Roberts dealing with his personal demons by smoking crack in a hotel room after a reunion with his daughter, Brandy.
Roberts did not appear pleased with the end result or with the actions of Blaustein.
“Blaustein did a lot of lying – you need to know that,” he said.
However, Roberts did note one thing would make the project worthwhile in his eyes.
“If one kid is helped, then it was worth it,” he said.
Blaustein is dumbfounded by Roberts’ accusations.
“I have no idea what he’s talking about,” answered Blaustein. “I know I did not mislead him or anyone else in the making of this film. I’m sorry he feels this way.”
Blaustein isn’t quite sure why Roberts is making these accusations.
“I don’t know why. Jake’s looking for publicity for himself, maybe. I don’t know. He has problems with reality. I wish Jake all the best.”
Burnham noted a fact presented at the end of the documentary is not accurate as Roberts had been in contact with his daughter during the time between its filming and release.
Blaustein argues otherwise.
“My source is the daughter who I think has a better understanding of reality than Jake,” stated Blaustein. “He contacted his daughter a week before the film premiered. I called the daughter when the film was edited — before a film comes out, it has to be completed a month before it gets to the theatres so you can make prints and everything. And up to that point, which was a year and a half, two year period, the daughter said she had not spoken to him, that Jake only called as the movie was about to come out.”
At present, Burnham is working with Roberts on putting together his autobiography entitled The Life and Death of Jake “The Snake” Roberts. She expects it to be published next year.
Roberts’ personal demons, which many wrestling fans know him best for, may not be his true legacy. He has worked with some of the greatest names in wrestling, from Andre the Giant to Stone Cold Steve Austin and helped to preserve and jumpstart the careers of other wrestlers.
During his series of matches against Andre in 1989, many televised and arena bouts were incredibly short and alluded to his opponent’s alleged fear of snakes. In reality, the late wrestling legend was battling a variety of ailments including a bad back. While reminiscing about this period, Roberts noted that in wrestling “you never expose a man’s weakness.”
When Roberts returned to the World Wrestling Federation in 1996, he inadvertently helped to jumpstart the renaissance of professional wrestling. At the time, he was in a feud with Austin and using religion as a central theme during his interviews. An infamous retort by the younger star of “Austin 3:16 says I just kicked your ass” after a match created a catchphrase, sold untold amounts of merchandise and boosted television ratings to new heights. When looking back on the time, Roberts believes his responsibility was to teach Austin.
“I started it because I wanted to,” he said. “He (Austin) was just the Ringmaster then, so it was to teach.”
This teaching role appears to be a running theme throughout his career.
When asked about several other superstars of the period, including Rick Rude, Randy Savage and Ricky Steamboat, he believes his role was to prepare them for greater things.
“The reason I worked with them was to teach them and get them ready for (Hulk) Hogan,” he said.
When asked if he would consider working with any of the “Big Three”, Roberts appeared confident about their interest in him but uninterested in a return to the spotlight at this time.
“If I wanted to,” he said. “I could if I wanted to now.”
— with files from John F. Molinaro
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