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DVD Review:
Derek Burgan reviews Behind Closed Doors with...Jake Roberts
(Taped February 15, 2005)


 


Growing up, I was a huge fan of Jake "the snake" Roberts. It took many years before I fully understood exactly why I liked him so much more than other wrestlers, and looking back I can see it was because how powerful Roberts came across in everything that he did. When Roberts shot a promo on WWE TV, he made the viewer hang on every word that he said. In the ring Roberts had fans salivating over when they would see Jake use his patented finisher, the DDT. It is hard to imagine today, when the DDT isn't even used to setup a pinfall, but back in the '80s the crowds would pop for a DDT not unlike the crowds today getting ready for a 630 from Jack Evans or some crazy move by AJ Styles in TNA. RF Video's Behind Closed Doors... series is sort of an extension of their popular shoot interviews and focuses on the inner workings of the wrestling business, and who better to debut the series than the master of psychology, Jake Roberts?

On to the DVD!

To start off, I was really surprised at how well Jake looked during this interview, and in fact he looked much better than he did several weeks later, when he showed up on Monday Night Raw. That is absolutely amazing when you consider the WWE has a million dollar production facility armed with every resource imaginable, including Jan the makeup girl, while RF Video probably just has Doug Gentry handing Jake a bottle of Jack Daniels in between cuts. I remember watching Raw, and thinking that Roberts looked like David Crosby let himself go (and imagine what that is saying) but here Jake comes across fine. The DVD gets right to the juicy stuff as Jake was asked about his feelings concerning the movie
Beyond the Mat.

This film was a touchy subject for Jake when I went to
WrestleReunion, and this DVD gives the reason why. Jake said the movie was a lie and a scam. Jake was told the movie would be on free TV, but instead it was released. Jake also said it made big bucks (I wouldn't call two million dollars big bucks in Hollywood by any stretch of the word) and said that everyone made money but he wasn't offered a nickel. Jake said that several things in the movie were taken out of context, such as Jake sleeping at the indie show, and pissing in the garbage can. Jake said those were practical jokes. Jake said he was the only one not invited to the movie's premiere in Los Angeles, but, after all of that, doesn't feel the movie affected his career.

"Some days I win, some days I lose." - Jake on his daily battle with drugs and alcohol

Jake talked about drugs, and also the fact that he speaks to kids about them (can you imagine?) by saying at first they are exciting but they soon become a monster. Jake said that he still has to battle his drug problem and takes it, as the AA motto goes, one day at a time. Throughout the course of the interview Jake alludes to the fact that he is his only "the second athlete ever to take drugs," so it's obvious he is still very bitter about being judged about his problems. Maybe Jake is judged so harshly because he had such a bigger fall from grace. Many wrestlers have drug problems, but very few, if any, were as good as Jake. In a way, it's like Barry Bonds getting the spotlight on him in the steroid scandal in baseball right now.

Jake talked about going to England several years ago, and Jake said he went there because he needed time off. Jake also said he wanted to check out the architecture because, growing up, he always wanted to be an architect. Now that I did not know. Jake made a great point of how there is so much travel involved in wrestling, but the boys never get a chance to actually see things and enjoy their visit. That would be kind of a curse, almost like getting unlimited rentals at Blockbuster, only to find out the only movies you could rent starred Whoopie Goldberg and Sandra Bernhardt. Believe it or not, Jake had a wrestling school while in the U.K. and said that of the twenty guys he trained, one or two of them could be in the WWE (which Jake said was "Worst. Wrestling. Ever.") Jake said there was a lot of wrestling talent in England, but there aren't many places to hold shows

Unless you were living under a rock, you probably heard the news of Jake being arrested, across the pond, for animal cruelty after his snake died of starvation. Jake explained this happened to him because, "in England, they care much more for animals than they do for human beings." Jake also said the press can get away with anything they want over there, which is true when compared to the press in the United States as I don't think they have anywhere near the libel and slander laws that we do. According to Jake, the RSPCA (animal rights group) didn't like what he was doing to the snake, so they took the snake from him. Jake said the snake died three weeks later, in their care. Jake said that instead of going through with the court case, which he claimed would be a personal assault against him, he left the country and came back to America.

"That's the problem today, as everyone is doing the big things, but no one is doing the little things."

Jake then talked about psychology in wrestling, and started off by saying that a wrestler's job doesn't begin when the bells rings to start the match, but rather the minute they walk through the curtain. Jake felt that wrestlers today knew more moves than wrestlers in his day, but had no idea how to do all the little things, so that, in the long run, their moves meant nothing. Jake said that the job of the boys is to take the fans on an emotional roller coaster, and that means ups and downs, instead of a series of highspots like many wrestlers do today. Jake said that he had to learn everything the hard way, as his father, Grizzly Smith, taught him nothing and didn't even want Jake in the business. Jake instead started off as a referee, and felt that many wrestlers should start off in the same position as it gives you time to learn what makes a match without having the spotlight on them.

Jake said that bumps alone mean nothing, it is the selling that leads to the big bumps which is where the money is, and no one today knows how to sell. Jake stressed throughout the interview that less is more. Jake said wrestlers today flipped around and would get right back up, destroying all their credibility. Basically, Jake is referring to guys like Lex Luger giving their opponents nine clotheslines in a row along with guys like Jody Fleisch missing moonsaults and not selling it. Jake said the loss of credibility is the number one problem in wrestling, and likened it to a spouse losing the trust of their significant other if there was cheating involved in the relationship.

Jake had a lot of problems with the wrestling we know of today, including the fact that many wrestlers do their matches, move by move, from a script. Well, I don't think DDP will be buying this DVD. Jake also believes there must be authority in the ring, and that is destroyed when wrestlers do whatever they want in front of the referees without any consequence. "The Snake" believes that cheating should always be done behind the ref's back and wondered why heels don't do the obvious things anymore, like pulling hair. Jake said that you gotta build to the anticipation, so that when you finally did do something meaningful, the crowd would go insane.

"That's how you get heat...not by going out and hitting a guy with a sledgehammer three times and hoping the plastic doesn't break."

Jake said that any finish can be a good finish if built to properly and went into a great story about Tim Horner. Back in the '70s Tim Horner was an under-sized wrestler whose gimmick was that he wasn't the toughest wrestler, or the strongest wrestler, but he could wrestle and would always go for a roll-up win. Horner eventually beat Road Warrior Hawk with a roll-up and the fans went bananas. Jake compared this to how he felt a wrestler did things the wrong way, and used Chris Jericho as an example. Jake said that instead of being his own personality, Jericho changes to fit his opponent, and is hurt by that. Jake said, for example, Jericho tries to out kick Rob Van Dam and overpower a guy like Rhyno. Jake called Y2J, "Jeri-blow." Jake was exasperated at Jericho and asked, "Why are you doing that? Stay in your character." One wrestler that Roberts loved though, was Kurt Angle, and especially put over Angle's Ankle Lock because Angle makes it believable. Like the rest of the world, Jake can't believe that Angle has spent so much of his career booked like a clown, calling it idiotic and insane.

I thought that Jake made an incredible point when he started to discuss how wrestlers today didn't know how to protect themselves and used Batista as an example. This is right on the money because there is no way in hell, three weeks before WrestleMania, that Batista should be in the ring with a guy like Gene Snitsky, who makes Batista look small. Other obvious examples are Goldberg putting that stupid wig on and the tag champs losing to one guy (even if that guy is Batista.) This is definitely a fine line to walk, because there is always the danger of wrestlers becoming way too protective of themselves, to the point where it hurts business. You only need to look at the Kliq and Hulk Hogan as examples where that can lead. Jake went completely off on wrestlers who balk at doing jobs though, and specifically brought up Bret Hart and the Montreal Incident. If Vince McMahon watches this DVD I'm sure we'll see Jake "The Snake" immediately put into the WWE Hall of Fame.

Another topic that Jake went into that everyone should listen to was, what makes a good heel promo? I listened to Terry Funk give his thoughts on this very same topic down at WrestleReunion, and Roberts echoes many of the same thoughts. Jake said that the heel needs to "make sense" and doesn't say stupid shit like "I'm gonna kill you!" Jake went to a fantastic rant on the traits of different heel types, such as the chickshit heel, lying heel and a cheating heel. Jake then talked about babyface promos, and said that they are designed to get the fan's attention. Jake said this could be accomplished by a range of facial expressions and a change in the tone of their voice. Jake said that how a wrestler does their promo is more important than what they actually say in it. Interesting. Jake practiced doing promos while driving during 300 mile road trips. Jake said that he thought of a situation and then shot a promo on it. Jake said that good promos come from the heart, and not from a script as Jake called pre-written promos "memorized bullshit."

"When you let the people dictate what you do in the match, your match is over man."

Jake learned the most about wrestling during his time in Mid South but also gave a lot of credit to Eddie Graham in Florida, who Jake called the best finish man in the business. Jake was asked about Pat Patterson, and Jake put over Patterson's career, and his reputation as being a great finish man, but said that Patterson started to be too cute with his finishes late in his career. Jake talked about gimmick matches and felt they are overused. What's amazing about that is I doubt Jake has ever seen one TNA show, and they are beyond bad when it comes to overusing their gimmick matches. Jake talked about how cage matches came about, and what they should be (i.e.: settling a grudge inside the ring) and instead McMahon made cage matches something you can climb out of or leave through a door (or go under the ring, as JBL did in his cage match against Big Show.)

In the weirdest segment on the entire DVD, Roberts said that all sports were a total work. RF had to follow up on this and asked if he meant sports like the NFL. Jake said yes, and used the point spread as his reasoning. Roberts said that unlike wrestlers, pro athletes weren't in on the work and instead blamed offensive and defensive coordinators (in the NFL, I'm sure he would say managers and the like for MLB and so on and so forth). Jake said "think about it" and all I could think about was how Rob Feinstein and Doug Gentry could keep a straight face while listening to this non-sense. Jake redeemed himself when talking about the wrestling fans know the pseudo-sport is fake, but still want to believe when they go the matches. I can almost say, with 100% accuracy, that Torch Editor Wade Keller would agree with Jake on every word he said concerning this subject.

Jake went back to the subject of promos being scripted for wrestlers and found it asinine that two wrestlers, who allegedly hated each other, would trade barbs back in forth in the middle of the ring with a microphone in hand. Jake said that the promotions should at least put a third man in the middle of them as a buffer, to explain why these two guys just don't attack each other. Jake said he learned a lot about the art of promos from working with the Von Erichs, but said that Georgia Championship Wrestling was the most influential in his career. Jake even said that, back in the '80s, Vince McMahon would let the WWE talent go where they wanted to in their promos.

According to Jake, the titles today in wrestling don't mean anything because of several reasons, including the fact that they change hands so often. While I agree with that, how weird is it to note that the TNA title means nothing because it never changes hands? Jake also said that title holders don't even show the proper respect to their belts, let alone their opponents. This is exactly why I love Samoa Joe.

The subject of Jake's WWE career was brought up, and Roberts said his job as a babyface was to get wrestlers ready for Hulk Hogan. Jake said that, as a heel, he was always in a featured position, but as a babyface, that position was always filled by the Hulkster. Jake said that at WrestleMania III, he and Honky Tonk Man did something that no other wrestlers had ever done before or since, a double turn. Jake said that when Honky hit Jake over the head with a guitar it immediately turned Jake babyface and Honky Tonk Man heel. While Jake's right on this point, it certainly isn't the only time as the epic match between Steve Austin and Bret Hart at WrestleMania XIII accomplished the same feat, and that's off the top of my head (and I'm no wrestling historian like Keith Lipinski.) Jake was asked if jobbers were paid a little extra to get their hair cut by Brutus Beefcake or have Jake put the snake on them. Jake said they got more for the hair cut, but if they got any extra money for the taking the snake, it came out of Jake's own pocket. Jake said that lots of guys wanted nothing to do with the snake, including SD Jones and
Kamala.

Jake's return to the WWE years later was brought up briefly. This was the run that led to Steve Austin cutting the infamous "Austin 3:16" promo at the King of the Ring he beat Roberts at, and thus began wrestling history. Roberts was asked about the promo war he had with Jerry Lawler at the time and said that it was "too real and was cheap heat." Jake said he knows now it was wrong to do those promos.

Jake talked about wrestling fans and said that the wrestlers need to acknowledge them during a match, but can't be dictated by them. Jake gave another great example of this as he said if the fans were in charge of the reigns of a stagecoach, they would ride the horses till the horses died, then they would complain about the horses. How f---ing true. Jake said that he has no problem letting the fans onto the stagecoach, but he needs to control the reigns. Jake segued this into talking about how this was another example of how matches can't be put together by a script, as the boys need to react to many various intangibles. Jake said, in his day, he was only given the finish of a match and had to call the rest in the ring. This led to the wrestlers being able to react to any factors, such as crowd response and unplanned mistakes. That's one thing that drives me nuts on matches that are obviously way too choreographed, as the wrestlers have absolutely no idea what to do if they miss a spot.

In another one of those segments that made me roll my eyes, Jake said the difference between Bill Watts and Eric Bischoff was that Bill Watts was a successful wrestler, who beat all the top heels, while Bischoff never wrestled. What the f--- does that have to do with anything?! Jake was also asked about non-wrestlers writing wrestling and said "can you do brain surgery without being a surgeon?" This just in, the guys who wrote Ladder 49 weren't firemen and the guys who wrote/directed The Ring 2 weren't serial killers. I'll never, EVER, understand why those people in wrestling think that it is such an impossible-to-understand business that a good writer couldn't possibly understand it. I'll fully admit that many writers have no idea how to write wrestling, but many don't know how to write sitcoms either. I believe that wrestling constantly only using people who have only known wrestling is exactly why it is looked down upon by most of society. The entire industry is so "in the box" that it constantly regurgitates the same ol' crap. Maybe writers who weren't part of this incestuous relationship with wrestling might be able to bring in the women, minorities, and children, who are avoiding the sport like the plague.

Jake couldn't say what the biggest misconception about him was, as there were just "too many lies out there." Roberts said that Raven is one wrestler who really impresses him, but takes himself too seriously. I think James Guttman might agree with that statement. Jake said he knew Raven (Scott Levy) when he was Johnny Polo in the WWE and said Levy was an angry man, "but probably had a right to be." You have to remember this was a time when the WWE didn't want Levy in the ring because, at 220 pounds, he was considered too small. To quote Dean Hill of OVW, "Jesus Christ!" Roberts closed by giving his thoughts on ECW, which he said gave a lot of people opportunities, but it wasn't up to him whether it was good or bad for the industry.

This review really only scratches the surface of what Jake talked about over the course of almost two hours. Jake went into the ins and outs of being a successful manager along with an unbelievable amount of information on what makes a good match. A huge selling point for me was the amount of great analogies that Roberts used throughout the interview. He really has a mag ical way with words and can pull in an audience just like he could twenty years earlier. I've heard plenty of stories of what ruined Jake's career, from personal demons caused by his completely screwed up childhood, to Honky Tonk Man's guitar shot at WrestleMania III running his neck, and everything in between, but one thing is for sure, Jake Roberts as a wrestling original.

Overall Thoughts: This DVD is highly recommended and pretty much should be forced upon anyone who wants to get into wrestling. Jake is an invaluable resource and I hope that one day a company can harness his mind, as it seems like he still has a lot to offer to the business. All the fans who grew up watching wrestling in the '70s and '80s are going to enjoy this interview as Jake talked about why wrestling used to be successful, and where it has gone wrong in recent years.
Click Here to purchase the disc or head on over to RFVideo.com and check out all the other DVDs they have to offer. It looks like there is a new Behind Closed Doors... with Sabu.

Click HERE to return to The Wrestling Fan.

Derek Burgan can be seen wasting everyone's time with wrestling DVD and comic book reviews over at Wrestling Observer and the world famous Wrestling Enjoyment Index at Figure Four Weekly online~! Don't forget about his Opinion Pieces at World Wrestling Insanity and goofiness at WrestleCrap as well. Whew! Derek can be reached at: derek@gumgod.com

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TWF FLASHBACK

November 2006

SATIRE: DISCONTINUED WWE XMAS PRODUCTS!

by Sean Carless

With Christmas just around the corner, what better way to spend your few remaining dollars (left over after the seemingly infinite line-up of fucking pay-per-views ) then on the following "quality WWE merchandise!" After all, if they don't move this stuff, and fast, stockholders just might get time to figure out what "plummeting domestic buyrates" means!... and well, I don't think they need to tell you what that means! (Seriously. They're not telling you. Everything is fine! Ahem.).