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Remembering Big Van Vader

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The problem with being a fan of wrestling for so long is that eventually, the superstars you grew up with pass away. It hurts, a lot, especially as the heroes you looked up to in the 80s and 90s are now reaching ages where all the punishment – all the sweat and blood spilt catches up with them. Leon White was one of those wrestlers that gave it everything.

Day in and day out, Big Van Vader put on matches that stopped hearts, caused everyone in the crowd and at home watching on TV to hold their breath. He may have been a big man, but it never stopped him from pushing himself to the limit. He could use his power on the mat with punishing force, yet he was never afraid to take it to the top of the turnbuckle, launching himself into the air with his signature move, the Vadersault.

When Vader made his debut in NJPW, he did something unthinkable. He ended the winning streak of Antonio Inoki. In Japan, Inoki was bigger than Hogan was in the US – a national treasure heralded as a God. Vader stepped into the ring and decimated him, tossing Inoki around like a rag doll. In a later interview published in 2017 on The Hannibal TV, Vader recalled how fans rioted after the match, throwing burning towels at the ring, and when he went to the back to quench his thirst on a cold beer in the locker rooms, he was asked to leave because it wasn’t safe for him to be there. It was a big deal beating Inoki, and Big Van Vader had made one hell of an impact on professional wrestling.

Early on in his NJPW career, he became the IWGP World Heavyweight Champion, defeating Shinya Hashimoto after the final match in an eight-man tournament. He also won the IWGP Tag Team Championship with Bam Bam Bigelow in 1992, further cementing his dominance in Japan. After a knee injury he suffered in a match with The Great Muta, his NJPW appearances dwindled, and Vader focused more on the era of his career that would become his best: his time with World Championship Wrestling.

Vader had one of the best feuds of all time with Sting, taking them on a journey through countless matches and PPVs. It was the one I remember the most, and it was my first time witnessing Vader’s power and agility. He was at the peak of his career, and his matches against Sting remain the finest of his career, and Sting’s. When he enlisted the management of Harley Race, Vader became a legitimate villain, and his time throughout WCW. Some of his most memorable feuds were with other wrestling icons such as Cactus Jack, Dustin Rhodes, and Ric Flair, but his time in WCW ended due to an altercation backstage with Paul Orndorff.

His time in World Championship Wrestling may have been over, but it wasn’t long before Vince McMahon and the WWE came knocking. For a long time Vader was a force to be reckoned with, featuring heavily in the now defunct In Your House Pay Per Views. He feuded with Shawn Michaels, The Undertaker, and Goldust, but it was his feud with Kane that would be his last big storyline in the WWE. Many believe he never got the correct push in the organisation, but regardless, Vader was a fantastic competitor, and his Vader Bomb never failed to excite the crowd.

He saw various returns to WWE, and also travelled the world to compete in AJPW, TNA, and even the independent circuit, but the heights he had been used to were behind him. Vader Time was in the past, but the legacy he left behind was something many wrestlers could only dream of.

By 2017, Leon White was showing signs of poor health, and at Dradition he suffered in the ring, almost passing out. Something was not right, and the whole world witnessed Vader’s reluctance to give in to the disease of congestive heart failure he’d been diagnosed with the previous year. Leon White was willing to die in the ring. He was in love with wrestling, in love with the crowds, and up until the end of 2017 he would do the thing he adored the most.

When the news dropped yesterday that Big Van Vader had lost his life, it sent shockwaves throughout the wrestling industry and the world. Various tweets from Booker T, Matt Hardy, Paige, JBL and The Road Dogg flooded our timelines offering their condolences. His ability in the ring was phenomenal, and he brought out the best in everyone he fought against. I will certainly never forget the impact he had on my life, and from everyone at Fight Booth, we thank you for the effort you put in and the memories you gave us. RIP Vader.

Chris White loves to write, and is a huge fan of wrestling of all kinds. He supports the Boston Celtics, listens to hip hop, and wishes Ric Flair was his granddad. He's a pretty cool guy, just ask his mum.

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