Before the monsters of Brock Lesnar and Bill Goldberg, there was a beast named Big Van Vader. Vader, whose real name is Leon White, was one of pro wrestling’s biggest heels in the 80’s and 90’s for both WWE and WCW. His entrance along with his athleticism for a big man was unmatched at that time. Unfortunately, his size took a toll on his body over the years and back in November doctors told one of the industry’s most beloved big men that years of football and professional wrestling have led to congestive heart failure, which likely will become fatal in the coming years. He then took to Twitter to announce to the wrestling world he basically had only 2 years left to live.
Back in the 90’s, the phrase “It’s Vader Time” was synonymous with a red mask wearing, oversized wrestler with agile moves, whose splash was the most anticipated maneuver of his time. White made his pro wrestling debut in the American Wrestling Association as Baby Bull after a short stint with the NFL’s Los Angeles Rams was cut short due to injuries.
After a few years of unexplained limited use in WCW, Vader received his first big mainstream push in 1992 when he was paired in a feud with Sting. His journey finally started to make sense after becoming victorious at The Great American Bash of 1992 and becoming the WCW World Heavyweight Champion. Even though the program with Sting was highly entertaining, Vader ventured into more defining moments with future wresting legends Mick Foley, Ric Flair, Hulk Hogan and Shawn Michaels in a 31-year career that spans the globe.
It is hardly a secret that the WWE Legend has been in declining health for a while now. After telling the fans last year that he was dying, he quickly decided to take up Diamond Dallas Page on his offer to help. He hoped Page could help him add some time to his life through the DDP Yoga health program that has done wonders already for many former superstars who needed a way out. Vader said that he hoped to lose up to 100 pounds, which would relieve pressure on his heart. Mick Foley started the DDP Yoga program last year, and he dropped 100 pounds in one year. Foley was at 335 pounds when he started, just 10 pounds lighter than Vader, and it took him a full year to hit his 100-pound goal.
However, it sounds like Vader has resigned himself to the fact that the end is near for him. The following disturbing tweet was sent out for all to see.
“As I enter my final days, proud of the Father Son Brother Football player Pro Wrestler The Super Heavy Big Man Goat I’m Grateful for the Time”
There was talk and hope around the wrestling world that this tweet could be linked to a quick bout of depression or that it means something other than what it sounds like. I surely hope so, along the hundreds of fans tweeting him their well wishes too.
As we sit around and hope for the best outcome possible, we can look back at the marvelous career of a wrestler that defied the odds for many years while entertaining and owning his craft all over the world. Vader proved throughout his career that in order to be successful you just have to keep working and good things will continue to come your way. He never looked like the typical wrestler, but that never stopped him from dominating his opponents. The imprint he left on the wrestling ring, will be one that will live on forever and never be duplicated.
The following are a list of matches I felt were worthy of remembrance and offer a great look into the man we call Big Van Vader. They are in not particular order and just listed as observations. What are your thoughts on Vader? Are there any matches we should add to the list?
Vader vs. Sting (King of Cable Tournament Final – WCW Starrcade 1992)
Vader vs. Razor Ramon (WWF In Your House: Good Friends Better Enemies 1996)
Vader vs. Owen Hart (WWF One Night Only 1997)
Hulk Hogan vs. Vader (Bash at the Beach 1995)
Big Van Vader vs. Nikita Koloff (Halloween Havoc 1992)
Vader vs. Ron Simmons (WCW World Heavyweight Championship Match House Show 1992)
Shawn Michaels vs. Vader (WWF Championship Match Summerslam 1996)
***The above article expresses my opinions only. As always, I stand behind my views and am interested to hear yours. I look forward to seeing your comments and don’t forget to follow me on Twitter (@TCutillo23) to get all my updates…………