(I don’t know if a wrestling blog belongs amongst the sports stories, but here we go none the less)
Of all the comeback stories in 2013, the one that amazed me the most was Mike Tyson. Here was a man who had been about as far down as a person could get. In the span of my lifetime, he'd gone from nothing, to “baddest man on the planet”, to an inmate, to an insane person, to a combination of a cautionary tale and a punchline. A sad but all too familiar place that FAR too many ex-heavyweight champions wind up in, and from where too few emerge from (George Foreman comes to mind… and that’s the list…). Mike was all set to become another sad story you see on a "Real Sports" piece living under a bridge somewhere. And then all of a sudden Mike finally seemed to figure it all out. Cleaned up his life, confronted his issues, finally got the right people in his life, and all of a sudden was able to tell the world his story, warts and all. Now the way it works in our society today is: we build someone up, we then take great joy in tearing them back down, and then if they have the actual talent to get back up or are able to “reinvent” themselves, we take great joy in the comeback story (now WHY we need to undertake the 2nd step… that’s a WHOLE ‘nother conversation…). Mike took the “reinvention” route, and is executing it perfectly so far. And as a sports fan (especially one who got to see him at his peak…) we’re pulling for him the whole way.
I bring this up because Monday night WWE presented “Old School Raw”. A wonderfully done show for the most part (I don’t get where they’re going with Daniel Bryan. Seriously, I don’t think they could have done a worse job with his character since Summerslam… and my other gripe: Ric Flair. I know he’s in the “elder statesman” portion of his career, and it’s easier to just have him come out, tip his cap, and walk back out after Cena saves him from a beating… but if it’s really an “Old School” night, the “Old School” Flair move would have been to wait until Cena’s back was turned, upper cut him in the groin, slap on the figure four, and walk out to a chorus of “BOO’S” raising Randy Orton’s hand in the air… but again, I digress). Piper got to be Piper, it was cool to see Too Cool back out there (and good call having Rikishi keep his shirt on at this point…), and always cool to see the New Age Outlaws (to my dying day, when I hear that guitar riff, it’s like a reflex to yell out “OH YOU DIDN’T KNOW…”). So the shows moving along, the main event is a solid outing for all, The Shield gets a win to move the storyline along, CM Punk is in trouble, and then…
In 1999 a couple friends and I took the hour long ride down to Milwaukee to see “Beyond the Mat”. We heard the words “Wrestling Documentary” and decided we were in (and then got angry that it wasn’t coming to Sheboygan…). Among my memories of the movie were feeling good for Terry Funk, feeling bad for how Mick Foley’s segment came off (he's a better dad than the movie makes him look like, to be sure...), being astounded that one of my friends (despite us driving an hour to see the movie) fell asleep during it, and being shocked by where Jake Roberts was at in his life.
Jake was one of my favorite wrestlers when I was a kid. His feuding with Ravishing Rick Rude over Rude putting Jakes then wifes picture on his tights is actually one of the first story lines I remember. As one of like 5 people in the world who actually got “This Tuesday in Texas” on pay per view, his match against the returning Randy Savage, where he actually slapped Elizabeth across the face, stole the show from Hulk Hogan and the Undertaker, and was one of the first true “HOLY S***” moments for me as a wrestling fan. (I once got in trouble for attempting to DDT another kid when I was in like 3rd grade… believe it or not I got my butt kicked A LOT in grade school, mostly because whenever I got into a fight on the playground, the other kids would actually fight, and my instinct was to attempt to use WWF moves, which really don’t work all that well in real life… heck, it’s probably my fault the kids today have to sit through the “Don’t Try This at Home” PSA’s during the shows… Sorry about that one kids!)
It’s only looking back that I realize why. Jake was maybe the best promo man to ever grab a mic. With barely a raised voice, Jake could bring an intensity to what he was saying like NOBODY. His matches were decent enough (not great, but decent), but they way he sold everything on the mic… (FFWD to the 9:30 mark)
Perfect. Just perfect.
The problem? Life for WWE superstars in those days was rough to say the least. The travel, the shows, it all became a “human meat grinder” (If you saw “The Wrestler” with Mickey Rourke, despite being a fictional movie, the story is unfortunately WAY too true for a lot of wrestling fans childhood heros…), and Jake’s life kinda gave way to what wrestling fans know as “personal demons”. Jake got himself fired a bunch of times, lost wives, lost family members, and could never really seem to get it back together. Even his WWF comeback (probably most memorable for a loss to Stone Cold Steve Austin in Milwaukee at King of the Ring, where “Austin 3:16” was born) ended when his “personal demons” popped up again.
Fast forward to 1999. Jakes appearance in “Beyond the Mat” was shocking and heartbreaking… (Beware some NSFW language in the following)
And was closely followed up by his appearance at the “Hero’s of Wrestling” pay per view (a disaster all around…) where he was… well, I’ll let you make the call here… (Beware some NSFW language in the following)
...we'll go with "he was in no shape to perform".
Like I said, heartbreaking to see what had become of the man.
From that point on, you didn’t see Jake a lot. He’d pop up on TV here and there for a appearance, and you’d hear about an independent show here and there (and the stories were NEVER good about the shape he’d show up in), but that was about all. And it seemed like Jake had been sentenced to be another “cautionary tale” and a punchline. Just about as sad an ending as someone who was THAT good could find. Especially so, because you got the feeling that if Jake could just get his life together, he’d be the PERFECT guy to be an evil mouth piece for somebody. Even if he couldn’t wrestle anymore, there was still a place in the business for a guy like him, if only…
Fast forward again to sometime last year. I was listening to Diamond Dallas Page on Adam Carolla’s podcast discussing his DDP “Yoga for regular guys” system (Listen HERE and Find out more about the yoga HERE and Jake’s recovery HERE and HERE (beware some NSFW language in the following):
AND I very much encourage you to check out the program if you’ve undertaken some form of “live healthier” new years resolution, as apparently it works… again I digress…) and he happened to mention in passing that Jake the Snake had recently moved in with him, started attending AA, and had started his program in hopes of turning his life around. I smiled in passing and though “Good for him. I hope it works out.” Also mentioned in passing was that Golddust had taken up the same program. A few weeks later, Golddust showed up on RAW looking better than he had in YEARS (as evidenced by the fact they brought him in for one appearance… that was like 6 months ago, and he’s had one of the tag team belts ever since! And he’s been GREAT!) However I didn’t connect the dots between it all until…
...The Shield gets a win to move the storyline along, CM Punk is in trouble, and then:
(Truth be told the first thing I did upon hearing the music was look at my phone, as that’s one of my ring tones, before realizing “HOLY S***! JAKE THE SNAKE!!! ON RAW! WOAH!”).
Now I don’t know if this will lead anywhere. I don’t know if it’s a one time appearance. I don’t know if it catches on like Golddust did and Jake hangs around for a few months/years in one form or another. I don’t know if Jake has one more match in him. I don’t know if it ends in tragedy with Jake falling off the wagon. However I do know this: I’m pulling for him. I’m hoping this a comeback every bit as spectacular and complete as Tysons. And I’m glad that Jake has a chance to re-write the last chapter of the book that is his career.
In the society of 2014, the last part of the cycle is LONG overdue for Jake.