For a young wrestler, looking to make his name for himself in a business he’s wanted to be in for as long as he can remember, one could do worse than to get a stamp of approval from former NWA World Heavyweight Champion Harley Race.
“He’s got everything in the world going for him … size, ability in the ring. There’s not a whole lot missing, he’s a very, very good kid,” Race says of Jason Bates, currently the World Champion of Race’s World League Wrestling.
The admiration between Race and his young champion is mutual. Even after working for him for three-and-a-half years, Bates remains in awe of Race. There’s a presence about him,” Bates says, adding that Race is a “super nice guy. He says it like it is. As good of a wrestler as he was, he’s an even better man.”
In a few weeks, Bates will be heading to Japan to wrestle for NOAH, one of the biggest companies in that country. It’s a destination that Bates has been trying to get to for nearly two years, seeing it as “another stepping stone” and a chance to gain more experience and further his career.
“I’ve wanted to do it my entire life,” Bates says of a career in pro wrestling. A career that has taken him to England twice, Puerto Rico, and, for approximately five months, the Canadian Maritimes. “I’ve been from L.A. to New York,” Bates says.
Not bad for a youngster from Mitchell, South Dakota, a small town where everyone knew everyone and you don’t have to lock your car. Bates grew up as a wrestling fan, naming the Ultimate Warrior (“Not a great worker, but I loved his energy”), Hulk Hogan, Ricky “The Dragon” Steamboat (“very underrated”) and the man who he would one day work for, Harley Race (“one of the best”), among his favourites.
After graduating from Dakota Wesleyan University with a degree in Sports Medicine, Bates set out on the first leg of his journey into the world of pro wrestling. It was a journey that initially took him to a job as a personal trainer in Minneapolis, Minnesota, a place Bates knew he had to go to make it as a professional wrestler.
“I didn’t know who I was looking for,” he admits, but it turned out he was looking for former Intercontinental Champion Ken Patera, who trained Bates for his June 2000 in-ring debut.
“(Patera) helped me a lot,” Bates says, “He never steered me wrong.”
Bates admits his debut “wasn’t much of a match.” Appearing as a fan during a wrestling show, he leapt into the ring and called out Jason Vaine. (“I’m not sure if he’s even still wrestling.”) The pair had a three-minute spot that led to Bates’ first real match approximately three weeks later.
His in-ring nickname, “the Streetfighter” is also a product of his time working for Patera, coming from Bates’ background in the martial arts and kickboxing. “I was a brawler who could wrestle,” he notes, saying that in the beginning he incorporated a lot of martial arts into his repertoire, something he admits has receded over time.
In the spring of 2002, Bates headed north to the Maritimes, and it was there where he engaged in his first major feud of his career, against future TNA mainstay Bobby Roode. Bates remembers working with Roode for about ten days in singles competition and another two weeks in tag action. Now, nearly four years later, Bates has nothing but good things to say about Roode, who he refers to as “the most underrated independent wrestler” in the business, and a standup guy who can work with anybody.
Bates says that the people he met in Canada treated him well, admitting that he was very green when he came in, but that he learned a lot during his stay.
Returning from Canada, Bates did a show for Race’s World League Wrestling and has been wrestling there ever since. Although he moved back to Minneapolis after a year and a half, Bates continues to commute to Kansas City, referring to WLW as “his first priority”.
Race is impressed with Bates’ determination. “Look how far he’s driven,” Race points out, “(He’s) never had a complaint.”
The hard work and determination has paid off with the ultimate sign of respect from the former NWA World Champion. On February 26, 2006, Bates won the WLW Championship, after defeating Wild Wade Chism and Keith Walker in a triple threat match. Bates says the win was “pretty emotional.” During the early part of his career, Bates had not thought too much of titles, believing that they were little more than “props.” However, he admits that changed after reading Race’s book. “The way he talked about (his title), it changed my opinion.”
Bates believes that the title represents that Race has “accepted me as a worker”, adding that his WLW Championship “means as much to me as the WWE title.” Of all his career accomplishments, Bates says that he is most proud of “being accepted by Harley” and being able to wear his belt.
“He deserves it,” Race says. “He’s worked here almost as long as I have. You can’t say enough good things about his attitude and the way he conducts himself.”
Working in WLW, Bates feuded with Trevor Rhodes (now WWE’s Trevor Murdoch) in a program that also involved Ted Dibiase. “I liked working with Trevor,” Bates says. “I always knew it was going to be a good match.” Bates says that Rhodes was one of the more physical wrestlers he’s worked with, and that he knew he’d be “sore and beat up” afterwards.
Bates would like to follow Murdoch to WWE one day. Bates has already attended two training camps in Ohio Valley Wrestling. Bates says that he loved training there, meeting several fellow wrestlers that he remains in touch with today. He has appeared on several episodes of Velocity and Heat, including teaming with the late Stevie Lee, who Bates toured the Maritimes with and who he calls “one of my best friends in the business” against MNM on an episode of Velocity.
His first WWE match, however, was against Rob Conway. Bates recalls that “I thought I’d be nervous … but it just felt right. … It felt like what I’m supposed to be doing.”
The only thing that clouds his memories of the camps is being “a little disappointed” that he was never offered a WWE contract. “They told me I was good,” he says, “but I never got the phone call.”
It certainly appears that the WWE is still interested in seeing what Bates has to offer, as he took part in the WWE’s cards in Omaha, NB and Kansas City this past March. “I have been training and dieting so hard,” he said just prior to the shows. “I hope one of these days they sign me. I’ve been told I’ve been close.”
“I never set a huge goal for myself,” Bates says but states that he hopes to obtain a WWE contract. “I just wanted to say I made it.”