Detractors of pro wrestling like to point out that not everything in the ring is “real.” However, many of the battles that these competitors face both in public and in the locker room are more daunting than almost anyone realizes.
This wrestling superstar grappled with personal trauma for as long as he could remember. Even as he slithered his way to the top of the sport, vanquishing countless opponents in the squared circle, it was the monster in his own mind that threatened to hold him down for the three count…
Looking back at Jake “The Snake” Robert’s career, you can hardly call it a disappointment. He racked up a ton of title wins and developed into one of the most influential wrestlers ever. But behind the scenes, he was suffering.
Born in 1955, he was the son of pro wrestler Aurelian “Grizzly” Smith, who was a monster in the ring and at home. He ruthlessly beat Jake and his siblings, while sexually assaulting and impregnating one of Jake’s sisters.
Grizzly cast a long shadow over the entire household. To cope with the trauma, Jake started drinking at age 11. Soon, he turned to other substances. His sister fared even worse.
Unable to stay under the same roof as Grizzly, the teenager ran off and married a man 35 years her senior. Later on, the husband’s jealous ex-wife kidnapped and murdered Jake’s sister. He tried to block out the horror however he could.
As a young man, Jake had a confusing relationship with his father. While he hated all the pain Grizzly put the family through, he also wanted to make his dad proud. That’s how Jake ended up following in his footsteps by entering the ring himself in 1974.
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As a matter of fact, two of Jake’s siblings became wrestlers as well: Michael “Sam Houston” Smith and Rockin’ Robin Smith. Maybe they were also trying to impress their dad, or maybe it was the only path they knew. Either way, they chose a difficult life.
Early on, Jake struggled to develop a persona and mostly bounced around lower-tier events. His family ties made fights extra painful, as opponents went out of their way to hurt him when they learned he was the son of the sadistic Grizzly Smith.
Jake "The Snake" Roberts
However, Jake turned his career around with one simple rhyme. He styled himself as a slippery villain and entered fights with a live python coiled around his neck. Following a string of big-name victories, he joined the ranks of the World Wrestling Foundation.
Even though Vince McMahon and the other WWF bigwigs never envisioned The Snake as a star, fans couldn’t help but fall for his magnetic personality. Jake’s profile rose, and he earned the opportunity to feud with wrestling legends like Andre the Giant.
Jake’s big personality made him a recognized name even outside of the wrestling world. In the mid-1980s, he hosted a weekly talk show called The Snake Pit, where he interviewed other wrestlers and entertainers. Still, Jake wasn’t enjoying his success.
Notwithstanding the anti-drug campaign he headlined, Jake grew increasingly reliant on substances to get through each day. Still grappling with childhood distress, he chased away his unhappiness with pills, cocaine, and vast amounts of alcohol.
After a while, Jake couldn’t find any way to improve his mood. He admitted that during that period, “Life meant nothing to me. It gets to a point where you put yourself in such a dark hole there is no light.”
Flickr / John McKeon
Jake confessed he tried to take his own life multiple times during the height of his fame. And if he didn’t have enough emotional pain to deal with, his physical injuries also took their toll.
Years in the ring have completely erased stretches of Jake’s memory, and he bears the scars of many showdowns gone wrong, like when his Elvis-themed rival, the Honky Tonk Man, smashed a real guitar into the back of Jake’s head.
By the 1990s, Jake cleaned up his act and decided to transition more into the behind-the-scenes sphere of wrestling. Unfortunately, he found himself pining for the thrill of the fight. The instability brought his alcoholism and depression rushing back.
Falling apart at the seams, Jake let himself go and had trouble caring for his own well-being. A documentary crew even caught him smoking crack. It was clear to everyone around him that if Jake kept this up, he wouldn’t be around much longer.
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Most people wanted nothing to do with Jake by this point, but in 2012 an old friend reemerged to lend the snake a helping hand. Wrestling legend and longtime ally Diamond Dallas Page reached out to Jake and made an extraordinary offer.
Diamond Dallas invited the floundering Jake to move in with him and get sober. He coached his old friend through his entire recovery, teaching him yoga and talking out his long-neglected trauma.
Ultimately, it was the fight of The Snake’s life. Like the champion he was born to be, Jake came out on top. For perhaps the first time in his life, he faces each new day with a happy and healthy mindset. He also has dedicated himself to an entirely new battle.
Jake wanted to connect with people dealing with similar troubles, so he embarked on The Dirty Details Tour. Blending stories from his career, stand-up comedy, and motivational speaking, he tours the country and shares his message of redemption.
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Jake didn’t bounce back from his personal struggles until his 60s, so he’s a shining example that it’s never too late to turn over a new leaf. And in the wrestling world, he’s not the only star to transition into a fascinating second act.
Hailed as one of the greatest wrestlers of all time, Ric Flair and his “Nature Boy” persona remain as iconic now as they were back in the ’70s. Flair is still involved in WWE and just recently married his former WCW valet, Wendy Barlow, in 2018.
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Kane, “The Devil’s Favorite Demon” burst onto the WWF scene in 1997 and has since left a trail of destruction in his wake that includes three world-championship reigns. Outside the ring, Glenn Jacobs is actually the mayor of Knox County, Tennessee!
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No woman in WWE history made a greater career leap than Trish Stratus, going from oversexed diva to seven-time Women’s Champion. Patricia Stratigeas made a return to the ring in 2018, though she spends most of her time as a fitness master at her yoga studio, Stratusphere.
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Known as “The Phenom,” “The Deadman,” and even “Big Evil,” The Undertaker is arguably one of the most well-known – and feared – wrestlers of all time. These days, the 17-time champion works as a real estate investor and is married to former WWE Diva Michelle McCool.
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Hailed as the greatest villain in pro wrestling history, “The Million Dollar Man”, Ted DiBiase, also had the technical skills to cement his legacy as a WWE icon. DiBiase has since become an ordained minister, preaching for the Heart of David Ministry.
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One of the first WWE Divas to grace the squared circle, Sable is not only remembered as a company sex symbol but was also the second woman to hold the reinstated Women’s Championship. She’s currently married to WWE star Brock Lesnar.
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Over the course of his illustrious career, Mick Foley was known for wrestling under three unique monikers: Dude Love, Mankind, and Cactus Jack. Today, Foley is a best-selling author and frequently tours the U.S. to promote his books.
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Most wrestling pundits include “The Heartbreak Kid” Shawn Michaels in the G.O.A.T. conversation. Michael Hickenbottom is currently one of the primary trainers at the WWE Performance Center and also hosts his own television show, Shawn Michaels’ MacMillan River Adventures.
What WWE fan could forget the clock-smashing, worm-eating menace known as The Boogeyman? With his days of terrorizing the WWE locker room behind him, Martin Wright now works as an aerobics instructor in Aurora, Colorado.
Originally billed as “The Giant” during his tenure with WCW, Big Show has been a staple of WWE programming for over two decades. Outside the ring, Paul Wight Jr. earned his first lead acting role in 2010’s Knucklehead.
After a brief WCW stint, Jacqueline Moore made a name for herself in the WWF by winning the Women’s Championship twice and even the men’s Cruiserweight title. Moore left the company in 2004, though she was inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame in 2016.
: Since 1983, “Hulkamania” has been running wild over the wrestling world to the tune of 12 world championships. A 2015 scandal caused WWE to cut ties with Terry Bollea aka Hulk Hogan, but after a series of apologies, he was reinstated back into the WWE Hall of Fame in 2018.
We can’t forget “Stone Cold” Steve Austin. If there was Mount Rushmore of WWE greats, the “Texas Rattlesnake” would be front and center. Austin’s beer-drinking, anti-establishment persona remains one of WWE’s most famous gimmicks, though the real-life Steve Austin prefers to spend his retirement sober on his Nevada ranch.
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During his WWE career, the Edge, the “Rated-R Superstar” achieved an unprecedented level of success, winning a record seven World Heavyweight titles and 12 tag-team championships. Adam Copeland has since made the leap to acting, most recently starring as Ketill Björnsson on Vikings.
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Whether you know him as Hunter Hearst Helmsley, “The Game,” or “The Cerebral Assassin,” Triple H has become synonymous with WWE superstardom. Today, Paul Levesque serves as the company’s EVP of Talent, Live Events, and Creative, continuing to push WWE into the future.
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After getting her start in Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling as Tina Ferrari, Lisa Moretti joined the WWE as Ivory where she became a three-time Women’s Champion. Following her retirement, Moretti opened Downtown Dog, an animal care facility, in Friday Harbor, Washington.
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As the most electrifying man in all of sports entertainment, The Rock put jabronis to shame with 10 world championship wins. These days, Dwayne Johnson is known as a Hollywood A-lister, starring in one blockbuster film after the next.
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Once known as “The Legs of the WWE,” Stacy Keibler was pushed from the get-go as one of the company’s premiere divas on account of her striking looks. She’s currently pursuing a career in both acting and modeling and wed Future Ads CEO Jared Pobre in 2014.
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Dubbed WWE’s top prize from its acquisition of WCW, Booker T’s legendary career is marked by 35 championship reigns, including 21 in WCW alone. The real-life Robert Huffman currently runs the Reality of Wrestling promotion in Texas City, Texas and is planning a Houston mayoral run in 2019.
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Most often remembered for her relationship storylines and feud with Trish Stratus, Lita will forever have a place in the record books as a four-time Women’s Champion. Amy Dumas stills maintains an active presence within WWE, having served as a trainer, producer, and commentator since her retirement.
Arguably the most technically gifted wrestler of all time, Bret “The Hitman” Hart is nothing short of wrestling royalty. After suffering a stroke in 2002 and battling prostate cancer in 2016, the 32-time champion has since focused his time on charity work concerning the two.
If there’s one wrestler most fans wish would return the ring, it’s CM Punk. The six-time world champion was one of WWE’s main draws throughout the late 2000s, but after becoming disillusioned with the company he retired to pursue a career in MMA.
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“The Franchise.” “The Vigilante.” “The Icon.” With nicknames like these, it’s no surprise that 15-time world champion Sting and his 30-year career are the stuff of wrestling legend. Steve Borden is officially retired now, but he has said he’d wrestle one more match if it’s against The Undertaker.
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Getting hit with a “Batista Bomb” was a fate many succumbed to between 2002 and 2014, so it’s easy to see why “The Animal” boasts 6 world title reigns across his career. Dave Bautista has since taken to acting, his most notable role being that of Drax the Destroyer in the Guardians of the Galaxy franchise.
Whether leading the nWo alongside Kevin Nash or winning titles as Razor Ramon, Scott Hall has left an indelible mark on the WWE landscape. The 60-year-old legend has battled substance abuse issues since leaving the ring, but recent reports show Hall is now in phenomenal shape.
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As a member of Extreme Exposé, Kelly Kelly turned heads with her looks and in-ring prowess, eventually capturing the Divas Championship in 2011. Barbara Jean Blank has since taken up acting, starring on E! network’s WAGS and most recently on Days of Our Lives.
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Although his career was relatively short, Goldberg’s dominance in both WCW and WWE have solidified him as a wrestling great. After a 2016 return that saw him become Universal Champion, Bill Goldberg now runs and co-owns Extreme Power Gym.
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From the mid-90s onward, if you wanted to sell tickets, you booked Chris Jericho. “Y2J” ranks among the top pay-per-view wrestlers in history. When he’s not touring with his rock band Fozzy, Christopher Irvine performs for All Elite Wrestling.
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Diamond Dallas Page, or”DDP,” was always told he was too old to make anything of himself in the ring, but 20 years and a few “Diamond Cutters” later, he boasts three world-title wins for his career. Dallas Page – born Page Falkinburg – is now a well-known yoga guru and radio host.
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His infamous “Sexual Chocolate” gimmick aside, “The World’s Strongest Man” Mark Henry successfully translated a decorated powerlifting career into an equally impressive one in WWE. The two-time world champion currently serves as a backstage producer for the company.
Though he wrestled under his real name in WCW, WWE purists will always remember Kevin Nash as Diesel, or “Big Daddy Cool.” After a Hall-of-Fame career that included 21 championships, Nash has now begun an acting career, though he still wrestles on the indie circuit from time to time.
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One of the biggest stars of the early 90s, Lex Luger held eight titles during his career and owns the record for most consecutive days and total days as United States Heavyweight Champion. Today, Lawrence Pfohl works with WWE on maintaining their wellness policy.
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At 7’1″, The Great Khali was the most imposing force in the WWE from 2006 to 2014, defeating a slew of legendary wrestlers en route to a World Heavyweight Championship in 2007. Dalip Rana now runs his own wrestling school in Punjab, India, known as Continental Wrestling Entertainment.
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With a nickname like “The Dragon,” fellow wrestlers knew right from the get-go that 24-time champion Ricky Steamboat wasn’t one to be messed with. After a brief stint as a developmental trainer for WWE, Richard Blood now serves as a company ambassador.
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While his character “Bradshaw” was generally well-liked, John Layfield’s “JBL” gimmick was despised for his big mouth and rich-boy attitude. This character was actually based off Layfield’s real-life business success, and today he serves as the SVP of Northeast Securities.
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As the son of the late, great Dusty Rhodes, Cody received a heavy push during his WWE tenure, winning two Intercontinental Championships and six tag-team titles. He requested his release in 2016, however, and Cody Runnels is now one of the founders of All Elite Wrestling.
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Another mainstay of WWE’s era of scantily clad Divas, Torrie Wilson is remembered for her high-profile feud with Dawn Marie and villainous heel turn as a member of Vince’s Devils. Wilson is now a wellness blogger and fitness model.
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In the days of WCW, Arn Anderson, along with Ole Anderson, Tully Blanchard, and Ric Flair, ran roughshod over the industry as “The Enforcer” for the iconic stable “The Four Horsemen.” Martin Lunde is now heavily involved in WWE productions, serving as the senior producer of Raw.
Despite never winning a title in WWE, Jerry “The King” Lawler currently holds the most recognized championship reigns in the history of professional wrestling. Most know Lawler for his work as a color commentator, and he also hosts a podcast called Dinner With the King.
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