A horde of screaming middle-aged wrestling fans gathered one Saturday evening in April at the Smoothie King Center in New Orleans to celebrate professional wrestling’s Hall of Fame induction ceremony. The world’s most popular fake-sport organization, World Wrestling Entertainment doesn’t maintain a brick-and-mortar Hall of Fame — no bronze plaques to commemorate its greats (the Ultimate Warrior, Superfly Jimmy Snuka), no interactive widgets to teach young fans storied techniques (“the camel clutch,” “the piledriver”). Instead, once a year, W.W.E.’s former stars relive their glory together, on a stage, face to face with thousands of their most fervent admirers.
Throughout the preceding week, these fans traipsed up and down Bourbon Street until 2 a.m., screaming the names of their favorite wrestlers into the night. Now they wore fake championship belts and chanted ecstatically as retired stars strutted by in big ‘n’ tall tuxedos and sequined gowns. A deafening “hoooe!” greeted (Hacksaw) Jim Duggan; (Nature Boy) Ric Flair earned a high-pitched “woooo!” Hulk Hogan, who arrived in a black suit, black bandanna and yellow wraparound shades, sent hundreds of so-called Hulkamaniacs into a fit of rapture.
This year’s gathering was devoted, in part, to the induction of Jake (the Snake) Roberts. During his prime, from the mid-’80s to early ’90s, Roberts, a lithesome 6-foot-5, was often joined in the ring by Damien, his pet Burmese python, which he carried in a canvas sack. His signature move was the ghastly DDT, which required him to grab his opponent into a front face lock and then fall backward, driving the victim’s head into the mat or the arena’s concrete floor. Roberts would then place Damien atop his stunned foe’s chest, his face contorted in a menacing taunt. “You don’t play around with people like me,” he was fond of saying, “because people like me don’t play.”
Roberts was a first-rate entertainer and, despite the scripted nature of his sport, a gifted technical wrestler. But like many of his contemporaries, he had a difficult time walking away from the limelight. After his career petered out in the late ’90s, he performed sporadically at events in Europe until he hung up his snakeskin boots for good in 2011, at 55. But Roberts was miserable in retirement; he missed traveling the circuit with his buddies and performing in front of tens of thousands of fans. His use of pills, alcohol and cocaine, once recreational, turned into feverish addictions. He became depressed. He and his children barely spoke. Continue reading >>