Monday, July 20, 2009

Great Moments in Wrestling: Jake Roberts DDT's Ricky Steamboat

If ever a quote matched the cuthroat competitive nature of professional wrestling, it's Leo Durocher's oft-misquoted "Nice guys finish last". Another apt quote is Durocher's clarification of the above-mentioned quote- " I never did say that you can't be a nice guy and win. I said that if I was playing third base and my mother rounded third with the winning run, I'd trip her up". The world of professional wrestling routinely features friends stabbing each other in the back over titles and wrestlers stooping to the lowest of the low in order to get the win. Wrestling's hive of scum and villainy is perhaps only outmatched by that of the infamous Mos Eisley cantina.

In such a dark world, it's hard to imagine anyone succeeding without an utterly ruthless approach to things. However one man defied the odds and succeeded, despite wearing a white hat throughout his career. Indeed, Ricky Steamboat was one nice guy who didn't finish last. Steamboat would go on to win the NWA World Heavyweight Championship, the NWA World Tag Team Championship, the United States Championship, the Intercontinental Championship, and many other regional belts. Steamboat was the perennial nice guy and one of the very few wrestlers to only work as a babyface throughout his entire career.

While Steamboat didn't finish last, he did end up on the short end of the stick many times throughout his career. Beloved by fans, Steamboat was the kind of wrestler who suffered beat down after beatdown by vicious heels, igniting the fans' desire to see him gain his revenge and in the process, making a lot of money for promoters.

One of the most notorious beatdowns in Steamboat's career was at the hands of Jake "The Snake" Roberts in 1986. Roberts had just entered the WWF while Steamboat debuted roughly a year earlier at Wrestlemania I. Steamboat had just finished his first major feud in the WWF with the Magnificent Muraco and established himself as a top star. Now, it was time for Steamboat to use his star power to get a newcomer over. Little did Steamboat know that what the WWF planned to accomplish this was by means of a potentially life-threatening angle.

By 1986, Jake Roberts had established himself as a main event star just on his finishing move. The second-generation star (the son of wrestler "Grizzly" Smith and brother to woman's wrestler Rockin' Robin) became nationally known due to his finisher known as the DDT. The move involved Roberts dropping his opponent's head into the mat apron in a move reminiscent of the bulldog and the piledriver. Roberts' signature move had a distinct look that made him stand out from his fellow wrestlers as did his extremely effective promos. Roberts' rising star was seen by the WWF and he was soon signed to the promotion.

The plan was for Roberts to deliver the DDT to Steamboat on the concrete floor during an episode of the WWF's popular show Saturday Night's Main Event. Knowing the potential danger, Roberts was reluctant to perform the move. However Steamboat convinced him that he could protect himself. What happened though was another story.

As was planned, Roberts did a Pearl Harbor job on Steamboat, attacking "The Dragon" before the match even began. Before Steamboat could do anything, Roberts grabbed him and DDTed him onto the floor. He then rolled Steamboat's limp body into the ring where he exposed Steamboat to the further humiliation of having Roberts' python Damien writhe all over his unconscious body. The attack was convincing and shot Roberts to the top of the WWF's heel rankings. Naturally, the WWF capitalized by pitting Roberts and Steamboat against each other in rematches, including a gimmick match known as a Snake Pit Match.

What many fans didn't know was how violent the attack really was. When Steamboat went to protect his head, he inadvertently exposed his head to the concrete. Steamboat's efforts actually ended up harming him, leading to Steamboat's head crashing into the concrete and Steamboat being knocked out cold. Roberts then had to pick up Steamboat's limp body and roll him into the ring.

Fortunately for "The Dragon", what could have cracked his skull only led to a concussion (a severe injury to be sure but much better than what could have happened) and one hell of a Fred Flintstone lump on his head. The two would go on to battle all over North America, feuding in arenas (including Toronto's record-breaking show The Big Event) and battling again on Saturday Night's Main Event. The angle and subsequent feud helped build both men's WWF careers with Steamboat moving on to an epic feud with Inter-Continental champion "Macho Man" Randy Savage and Roberts becoming one of the fed's top heels.

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