Jumpin’ Jason Sterling is pretty happy to be SOL these days. No, it’s not what you think. SOL stands for “Son of Link” because Sterling (real name Jason Robertson) is the youngest son of veteran Canadian babyface Dewey Robertson, who transformed himself mid-career into the green-painted, bushy-haired Missing Link.
Sterling, who now lives in Squamish, British Columbia and wrestles part-time for B.C.’s All-Star Pro Wrestling, recently revived his father’s old gimmick for a couple of matches and is hoping it will catch on again. He said he uses the acronym SOL in wry acknowledgement of the rocky road his career has followed. “It’s kind of like – before I got to B.C. I was SOL, it went along with the way my life had gone.”
Sterling’s career began in Texas in the mid-1980s, where he was living with his parents. He and his older brother Mark called themselves the Sterling Brothers and worked as a tag team for Wild West Wrestling, an independent promotion founded in 1987 by legendary Texas booker Ken Mantell. While both brothers inherited the wrestling talent of their famous father, they weren’t making a lot of money for their efforts, and Mark grew disillusioned very quickly and left Texas. Jason stayed on and continued wrestling solo.
Mantell merged Wild West with World Class Championship Wrestling in late 1987, becoming a part owner along with Kerry and Kevin Von Erich. Sterling recalls, “Things were looking great when Ken Mantell merged back in with World Class. I was getting tons of work, I was doing great on his TV show, I was thinking ‘wow, things are finally going to happen.'” Sterling got an angle against Eric Embry in the early part of 1988, where he was offered $100 for every minute he stayed in the ring with Embry. He jokes “We always said Eric Embry was sleeping with the rats at the Sportatorium. He had no place to live but he was part booker for World Class, so he used to sleep inside the Sportatorium.”
The rats were no joke, however. “I remember one of my first nights going out into the ring, I’m in the hallway and I look over and watch this huge rat — I’m talking a huge rat, you would have thought it was a cat — climbing up the two-by-fours about 16 feet up this wall. You wouldn’t believe it.”
Sterling considers the 1988 David and Mike Von Erich Memorial Parade of Champions the highlight of his career. “It was held at Arlington Stadium, where the Cowboys played, I think there were probably about 6,000 people there and me and my father opened up the show as a tag team against Angel of Death and Vince Apollo, and we got put over.” Sterling wrestled again that night in an 18-Man Texas Tornado match, which took place in a three-story cage with a fireman’s pole up the middle specially built for the event. Sterling, Steve Casey, and John Tatum eventually triumphed over heavyweight opposition like the Angel of Death, Mike George, Terry Gordy, Michael Hayes, Iceman King Parsons, Buddy Roberts, Shaun Simpson, and Jack Victory among others. “That was my biggest payoff for one night of wrestling. I think I made $1,200 that night.”
However, things were about to go downhill very quickly in the months following that triumph. Ken Mantell had the financial rug pulled out from under him when Jerry Jarrett bought World Class from the Von Erichs and merged it into the USWA. Afterwards Mantell quietly left the wrestling business for good after one more attempt at promoting in California.
Most of the Texas wrestlers were blindsided by the rapidity of the territory’s decline after the buyout, including himself, says Sterling “I didn’t think it would spiral downward so quickly. Not just for me and my father, but for guys like the Freebirds, and a lot of great workers that were relying on that company so much. I can’t imagine how Ken felt with all those wrestlers he had on his shoulders, how hard he was working for them trying to build a good company and give them a good living. It was tough to see so many nice people take it so hard. The John Tatums, the Jack Victorys, some of the greatest workers in our business that never got a chance to really get out there and make big money. It changed so fast it’s still somewhat of a blur. I just thank God I came out of there unscathed.”
Some of the Wild West wrestlers had been going up to Kansas City for matches, so Jason and both his parents — his mother, Gail, played the Missing Link’s valet Sheena — went there in search of work. It was a traumatic return for them all, because Kansas City had been the last place Dewey Robertson had wrestled before adopting the Link gimmick and they had left then because the money was so poor. Five years later the situation had not improved. “There was hardly any work left there. They would do the odd show with Kerry Von Erich in the main event in front of 300 people — and that was at Memorial Arena that could hold about 7,500 people. I remember my dad packing up and driving 600 miles to towns and making no money.”
There is one match from that time in Kansas City that stands out, though. “My best experience out of Kansas City was I got to wrestle at Leavenworth Prison. It was pretty exciting, let me tell you. I had to wrestle Eddie Gilbert’s father, Tommy, and at Leavenworth Prison all the inmates loved the heels, not the babyfaces and this was kind of upsetting to me. I was supposed to win the match but we changed it so Tommy could go over and win, just for that crowd. We’re going into our finish, and the crowd was going nuts for him. I looked around and you wouldn’t believe some of the inmates there. There was a big black man in the third row with nobody sitting in the seats around him there and I remember him tapping a chair and saying ‘you can sit right here, m***********.'”
Frustrated at being forced to lose the match, Sterling decided to show the inmates just what he thought of their attitude. “After the match was over, I turned around and pulled my pants down to my knees and did a couple of circles, mooned everybody in that place. I pulled my pants up, jumped over the top rope and gave them a big ‘whooo!’ and walked out of there.” In the back he was confronted by a furious Bob Geigel, the Kansas City promoter. “Geigel said to me ‘Who the hell do you think you are? Do you know where we are? Jesus, what are you trying to do, start a riot here?'” The prison had a female warden who had been watching the match and Sterling was sent to her office to apologize. “When I got there, a guy who reminded me of Lou Gossett Jr. in An Officer and a Gentleman was waiting. He said, ‘She’s gone right now, but if I were you, I’d never do that again if you’re in a prison.'”
The period following that last stint in Kansas City was a difficult one for the family. Both Jason and his parents were financially destitute, and ended up staying at Gene Anderson’s house in Charlotte, North Carolina for several months as they tried to get enough money together to return home to Canada. They got back to Hamilton several days before Christmas of 1988 with $26 to their names and had to start their lives all over again.
After a few years back in Canada, Sterling married and had two children and decided to open a wrestling training school. He spent most of his savings building a wrestling ring in his parents’ backyard on the Beach Strip in Hamilton. “It was in the backyard because I didn’t have any kind of money for a building anywhere, and we were right off of Lake Ontario, you could be in the ring and look at the lake, it was beautiful.” His wife left him not long after that. “She didn’t want to have much to do with wrestling, she knew what kind of a life it could be.”
Sterling persevered with his wrestling school, but after about a month realized it was getting too cold to wrestle outside and he didn’t have the money to lease an indoor space. He put an ad in the paper for students and the first person to show up for an interview was a quiet guy from Peterborough named Sean Morley. “I was about to give it up, I didn’t know what to do. I had no money and this Sean Morley gave me $3,500 dollars cash right away. It was enough to get me into a 1,200-square-foot building.”
Morley went on to become the WWE’s Val Venis. There was little evidence of the character in him at the beginning, says Sterling. “He was so shy, compared to the person that he is now. Shy, and skinny, but quite the athlete. He was smart, he was tough, he knew a little bit about the business, but he was just not the kind of guy that could go up there with a towel wrapped around his waist going ‘Hello, ladies!’ Now I talk to him on the phone and he’s so flamboyant and the business is so in his blood.”
Sterling figures he had about 30 students in total, though Sean Morley was the pride of the class. “He was a guy that, after the class was over, would say ‘Hey Jason — you want to go back in the ring with me?’ And I’d go back in for a couple more hours and do everything, drills and holds and things, over and over. I’d be exhausted and he’d still be ready to go.”
After a couple of years Sterling was doing well enough to move to a bigger building and buy camera equipment to tape cable TV shows for broadcast every other Friday. Then one day Sterling got a call from the Hamilton fraud squad. It turned out his business partner, who was the son of a fraud officer, was using the wrestling school to launder money to the tune of $50,000. The police seized all the business assets bought with that money, including the video cameras.
While that was going on there was a lot of conflict in Sterling’s personal life as well. His parents were splitting up and his ex-wife was planning to move to the West Coast with their two daughters, so he closed the school and sold the wrestling ring to Val Venis, intending to move out west himself eventually. Val got Jason his first booking as Son of Link in Puerto Rico, where he hoped to earn enough money to start a new life in B.C. It didn’t quite work out as planned. “So I got to Puerto Rico, the rings were hard, I had no money, they weren’t paying me any money. I was there four weeks and they owed me about $2,300. A good friend of ours, Bruiser Brody, got stabbed with a knife right in the dressing room in front of everybody and here I am in Puerto Rico, this guy’s not paying me, he’s telling me to do these crazy finishes that were 10 minutes long and he didn’t want me to miss one bit of the finish. That showed me right there how promoters can treat you.”
The difficult conditions began taking a physical toll. “I was starving, barely working out, I had a slight depression, I wasn’t sleeping well, I was on the muscle relaxants — you were only supposed to use a couple a day and I was on about 15 a day. This was how I found out Eddie Gilbert had died when he was in Puerto Rico. I was sleeping on a couch in 90-degree weather at night with no air conditioning, and that’s when I told myself, ‘You know what? This isn’t going to work.'” He finally called his mother, who was now living in Florida, and she sent him money to get home.
Sterling left Puerto Rico and flew out to British Columbia for good with $40 in his pocket. The night he arrived he met a teenager on the Squamish bus who worked for a local drywaller, got the man’s phone number and called him right away. “He asked me if I had work boots, and I said ‘Yeah,’ and he said ‘I’ll pick you up in the morning.’ I’ve been working for him ever since.”
Sterling sounds quite content with the way his life has turned out. He’s remarried, has lots of contact with his two daughters, and still gets to wrestle on occasion. “I wrestled the Honky Tonk Man last year in my home town here, which was pretty amazing for a town of 8,000 people. We brought him here for a big comeback show.”
There are no plans to take Son of Link on the road anytime soon, however. “I’m just trying to get on TV, that’s the important part for what I want in the future. I want to open up a gymnasium, I want to have another wrestling school, and if I could get my face on the TV that would help it out that much more. People are saying they could get me booked in Oregon, but I’m not traveling down there for peanuts. I’ve done all that before. If I’m going anywhere it’ll be Vince McMahon, or I’ll go back and drywall. I’m not going to spend a year on the road away from my family and not be able to send money home. When you’re in the business a long time, family is probably the most important thing when all is said and done.”
DEWEY ROBERTSON & FAMILY STORIES
- Dec. 2, 2007: Stranglehold show in memory of Dewey Robertson fun and bizarre
- Aug. 19, 2007: Friends recall the many Dewey Robertsons
- Aug. 16, 2007: Cancer claims Dewey “Missing Link” Robertson
- Aug. 11, 2007: Guest column: Author reflects on Dewey Robertson’s many struggles
- Sep. 13, 2006: Missing Link book delves deep
- Jan. 16, 2004: The Missing Link talks in new DVD