If you've followed the podcast close enough, you know there are a few things we, as a group, are very passionate about. One of them (for at least Andy and I) is pro wrestling. It's sometimes more of a trainwreck we can't look away from, but it's just entertainment. However, there are some very real sides to entertainment and real lives involved also. The pro wrestling world lost one of these lives today - Leon White, better known as Big Van Vader, died at age 63.
White began his sports-entertainment career in the mid-1980s after retiring from the NFL due to injury. He rose to national prominence in Verne Gagne's American Wrestling Association before joining New Japan Pro Wrestling as the masked Big Van Vader. He went on to become one of the promotion's biggest stars and most feared competitors. Vader then transitioned to World Championship Wrestling, where he would make the biggest mark of his career. He engaged in memorable rivalries with the likes of Sting and Ron Simmons, becoming a dominant, three-time WCW World Champion in the process. In 1996, Vader joined the WWE roster, where he squared off against Superstars such as Shawn Michaels and The Undertaker.
Myself, as a wrestling fan, remember Vader from his WCW/WWE days. One of the first VHS videos I ever had was Deadly Venom: The Best of Sting, which featured Sting's battles with Big Van Vader. Vader was a massive beast - at 6'5" 450 lbs, he was like me - if I weighed 450 lbs. But at 450 pounds, Vader would climb to the top rope and moonsault onto his opponents. Imagine the fear that would strike in you!
It was in Japan, however, that White first made his name and developed his trademark stiff style. His feuds with the likes of Stan Hansen, which included an infamous 1990 match in which Vader finished a match despite his eye popping out of its socket, are still the stuff of legend in NJPW. Vader was named pro wrestler of the year in 1993 and was atop the world.
In March of 1994, Vader was famously the opponent in the match against Mick Foley which caused Foley to be caught up in the ropes and lose part of his ear.
Vader made a crazy return to WWE in 2012 to show up and trounce Heath Slater. His intro hit and people lost their minds. It's Time. It's Time. It's VADER Time.
Vader's life took a turn for the worst in 2016 when he had congestive heart failure. His doctor gave him only two years to live. Vader fought hard and looked to triumph as his health continued to improve. Ultimately, Vader got pneumonia and his heart gave out after a lengthy battle. Vader will always be remembered in the hearts of many wrestling fans and in the hearts of many people in general as a kind hearted soul outside the ring. Inside the ring, though, no one wanted to hear those daunted words. It's Time. It's VADER Time. Now and always, Vader, rest easy.