Pulse Wrestling’s Top 100 Wrestlers of the Modern Era: #52 – Big Van Vader

52.BIG VAN VADER

Real NameLeon White
Hometown – Lynwood, California
Debuted – January, 1985
Titles Held – WCW World Heavyweight; IWGP World
Heavyweight
; AJPW Triple Crown; WCW United StatesOther Accomplishments – Wrestling Observer Best Heel award in 1993; Wrestler of the Year award in 1993; Wrestling Observer Newsletter Hall of Fame (Class of 1996); Most Improved Wrestler award in 1999; PWI Wrestler of the year 1993; PWI ranked him # 27 of the 500 best singles wrestlers during the “PWI Years” in 2003; PWI ranked him # 36 of the 100 best tag teams of the “PWI Years” with Bam Bam Bigelow in 2003; arrested in Kuwait in 1997 for assaulting TV interviewer; right eye came out of socket during Stan Hansen match in 1990; Mick Foley’s opponent when he lost an ear during match in 1994

Who do I think the top five big men in wrestling are? Simple: Big Show, John Tenta, The Undertaker, Bam Bam Bigelow and Leon White, better known as Vader.

Vader had it all, an imposing look, wrestling skills and a unique charismas that set him apart from every other big man on the block. Vader has an impressive list of ****+ matches to his name with everyone ranging from Mitsuharu Misawa to Mick Foley. Add to that stellar bouts with Ray Traylor, Owen Hart and The Undertaker and you have a list of some of wrestling’s best matches. Not forgetting his legendary series of matches with Sting that redefined Big Man Vs Plucky Babyface matches.

Vader made a statement right at the start of his big time career in New Japan Pro Wrestling by bulldozing through Japanese legends such as Masahiro Chono, Tatsumi Fujinami and the big kahuna himself Antonio Inoki. By blasting through the big stars in Japan, Vader made himself into an international wrestling star and it was only a matter of time before one of the “Big Two” in the USA picked him up. WCW got to him first and Vader began to carve out a legacy as most fans favourite big man of all time.

If you had to name his top three nemeses in WCW you could do no better than chose Sting, Cactus Jack and Ric Flair. His feud with Sting was, and still is in my opinion, one of the best storylines that the company did ever. Everything about it was perfect and the two contested a series of phenomenal matches, that Vader usually won by the excellent strategy of just beating the f*ck out of Sting till he couldn’t get up. My personal favourite battles between these two were their “King of Cable” match at Starcade 92 and their simply amazing strap match at SuperBrawl 93. I am serious that I think every wrestling fan should go out of their way to find this match. Quite simply, it is one of the most brutal, bloody and emotional bouts I have ever seen with neither man holding back and tearing pieces of flesh from one another in an attempt to have one of the greatest matches in wrestling history. And they succeed, oh BOY do they succeed! Just taking a look at Vader’s back after the contest will let you know that you just witnessed a war. Vader and Sting both belong in a top 100 list for their bouts against each other alone.

However, Vader wasn’t happy just having an iconic series of matches with one man, nah that would be too easy! Vader took the bar and raised it even higher with his new opponent Cactus Jack. He didn’t just raise the bar, he punched it, kicked it and shot it with a shotgun before pissing on the ashes! The best bout between these two was, in my opinion, their unfathomably awesome brawl at Halloween Havoc 93 where they tore the arena down to pieces on the way to having what I think you could technically call a f*cking awesome match. Everything about this match is just great. The drama, the violence and the crowd are perfect and it’s probably the only reason to bother sitting through that show, even though there is an hilarious skit with Tony Schiavone at the begging and Eric Bischoff dressed as a gay cowboy provided much entertainment.

You’d think Vader would be done with awesome matches wouldn’t you? Tut, tut, tut you’d be wrong. Vader’s next match in the ****+ range was a match with Ric Flair at Starcade 93 that wasn’t just a tremendous match but also happened to save the company. Not bad eh? After that match Vader went on to have a stellar series of matches with Ray Traylor, better known to many as “The Big Boss Man”, that were both physical and dramatic and only cemented both men as fine workers. Along the way, he had another series of matches of Sting, that were just as good as their past efforts, and then defied time, logic and space by having an excellent bout with a washed up Jim Duggan at Starcade 94. Even though he was way past his peak as a performer Duggan had what many called his finest match since his Mid South days with Vader, which was lofty praise indeed.

Sadly, Vader’s great run in WCW came to an end when he feuded with Hulk Hogan. Despite the match quality generally being good between the two, Hogan did the exact opposite of what Sting had done for Vader. Where as Sting had sold for Vader and made him look like he was a beast, Hogan did his usual “no sell the big guy’s finish” routine that he had one for the past 10 years with stiffs like The Warlord and Barbarian. Not surprisingly, Vader’s star fell dramatically and after getting beaten up by Paul Orndorff he decided to split from WCW and have a mediocre run in the WWF.

Vader certainly had very good matches in the WWF, with Owen Hart and Shawn Michaels most notably. Indeed he was legitimately pushed as the companies top heel for a while against Shawn but the old magic really was just gone. Vader was never really able to recover from Hogan’s politicking and he gradually faded into the background during the Attitude Era. Thankfully, he experienced a career renaissance of sorts towards the end of the decade as he returned to Japan and became a huge star in both All Japan Pro Wrestling and Pro Wrestling NOAH before signing a WWE Legends contract and pretty much retiring from in ring action.

Despite a rather lacklustre middle portion, Vader has a storied career filled with fantastic feuds, angles and matches and thoroughly deserves inclusion on this list. He truly was one of the greatest wrestlers that I ever witnessed compete.

The entire Top 100 Wrestlers feature can be found here.

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