Jake “The Snake” Roberts was WWE’s most unlikely hero during the 1980s. Initially a villain upon slithering into the company, Roberts reveled in terrorizing opponents with his Burmese python, Damien, after victories. The 16-foot python would hiss and creep before Roberts draped it over defeated foes whom Roberts violently subdued with his dreaded move, the DDT.
Despite his devilish tactics, fans began to warm up to the cold-blooded superstar by the end of 1986. After being matched against other villains, such as the obnoxious Honky Tonk Man, wrestling buffs accepted Roberts as a babyface.
But as the ‘80s turned into the ‘90s, Roberts’ character had grown too fond of the cheers, leading to unfortunate consequences for the in-ring performer.
In late 1990, Roberts, in storyline, was nearly blinded by Rick Martel after Martel sprayed his cologne, Arrogance, in The Snake’s eyes. Then, in 1991, the near-500-pound monstrosity known as Earthquake squashed Damien with a series of Earthquake splashes, turning Jake’s longtime pet into a snakeskin blotter.
While the mileage on those stories varied, Roberts was slowly moving down the card in his role as a hero. Looking to make money by working with the world champion, Roberts knew he needed to change. It was time to return to being a bad guy.
In the summer of 1991, the Ultimate Warrior turned to Roberts for help in his feud with the Undertaker, who tried to suffocate the Warrior by locking him inside a casket that spring. Instead, Roberts turned on the Warrior and began a loose association with the Undertaker and his manager, Paul Bearer.
However, after the Warrior had a legitimate falling out with the company, Roberts was then placed in a feud with Randy Savage that would push the boundaries of what had become a kid-friendly WWE.
Following the on-screen wedding of Savage and his longtime manager, Elizabeth, Roberts and the Undertaker crashed the wedding reception after a cobra popped out of a gift box for the happy couple. The unholy duo then struck at Savage before Roberts turned his attention and his cobra to Elizabeth. Before the situation could escalate, newcomer and do-gooder Sid Justice chased off Roberts and the Undertaker.
Over the next several months, Savage, who lost a retirement match to the Warrior at WrestleMania VII, worked feverishly to get reinstated as an active wrestler. Meanwhile, Roberts saw a feud with Justice go out the window when Justice suffered an injury that put him on the disabled list for the rest of the year.
That accelerated the anticipated showdown between Savage and The Snake as Roberts began taunting him to engage. True to his moniker, “The Macho Man,” Savage responded, but things didn’t go as he had hoped.
After blindsiding Savage, Roberts tied the former WWE Champion up with the ring ropes. With Savage at his mercy, Roberts went into his familiar canvas bag only to unleash a king cobra that quickly began gnawing on the arm of Savage. As blood began to flow, fans winced in horror as Roberts’ fiendish pet tried to devour the arm of the Macho Man.
As Elizabeth, Rowdy Roddy Piper, medical aides, and other personnel rushed to the ringside area to rescue Savage, a female observer shrieked in terror, “Get him out of there!”
A child held by his father had to look away as another young spectator, possibly a toddler, sobbed uncontrollably as the cobra continued to feast on Savage like a Slim Jim.
In 2018, during an episode of the Joe Rogan Experience, where Roberts appeared as a guest, comedian Tony Hinchcliffe relayed how terrifying that incident was, not only to him as a kid but also to his pre-teen friend, who allegedly ran away from home.
“When he saw this, as a kid, all on the same day that I saw it, he ran away from home,” said Hinchcliffe. “He didn’t even have anywhere to go. He ended up coming home later that night after it got cold. He packed a bag and just left.”
Roberts told Rogan that, backstage, Savage was paranoid about the spot and refused to go through with it until he saw the cobra bite Roberts. Roberts acquiesced, letting the snake bite him on the leg, which eased Savage’s concerns that the cobra may have been poisonous.
“Finally, after about 10 minutes, he’s like, ‘I guess you’re gonna be okay,’” said Roberts, and the two went ahead with the angle as planned.
As the rivalry boiled over into 1992, a proper conclusion to their story seemed destined for WrestleMania VIII. However, circumstances behind the scenes led to Savage challenging Ric Flair for the WWE Championship while Roberts faced the Undertaker at the extravaganza.
Instead, the feud ended after The Macho Man defeated The Snake in a short but decisive affair on Saturday Night’s Main Event.
Still, for a moment, wrestling enthusiasts, who were well aware of the scripted nature of the genre, were stunned by the reality of seeing a king cobra biting the arm of Randy Savage. Yet, for the skeptics who doubted the authenticity and wondered how WWE might have faked it, the most surprising revelation was straightforward: they didn’t.