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Big Van Vader (1955-2018)



Wrestling is full of the big and the bad, but few were as big and as bad as Big Van Vader.

Born Leon Allen White, Vader was one of the most fearsome and dominating forces in the history of professional wrestling. Billed at 6'4" and 450-plus pounds, "The Mastodon" was a powerhouse: a behemoth of a competitor who dealt vicious blows to his opponents from and on every corner of the wrestling ring. With his signature red mask, Vader was a formidable force on his own; but what made him even more terrifying was his agility. Vader dealt not only dropkicks and off-the-top-rope moves, but finished off many of his opponents with the Vadersault: a man weighing nearly a quarter of a ton, executing a top-rope moonsault with the grace of a cruiserweight.

White debuted in 1985, after a stint in American football. He proved to be such a skilled and fast learner that it took him but two years to be in the main event of the American Wrestling Association. He feuded against the man who proved to be one of his greatest rivals, Stan Hansen, both on American and Japanese soil. The rivalry with Hansen reached such levels of intensity and physicality that during one match, Vader's eye literally popped out of its socket. Despite this, Vader continued to wrestle Hansen to a no-contest, in one of the most barefaced and defiant displays of toughness in the history of professional wrestling. It was also in Japan where Vader had the most success, and legitimized his reputation as a championship-caliber wrestler with true fighting credentials. With his unparalleled striking, smash mouth wrestling, and incredible agility, Vader not only claimed gold, but claimed the respect—and fear—of wrestlers and fans alike.


He enjoyed many championship reigns in his long, illustrious career, including multiple reigns with some of the world's most prestigious titles: from the AJPW Triple Crown Championship, the IWGP Heavyweight Championship, and the WCW World Heavyweight Championship. While he was not as successful in the WWF/WWE, he figured in memorable storylines: from his days at Camp Cornette, to his rivalries with The Undertaker, Goldust, Kane, and the Hart Foundation. Vader was also known to be protective of the business he loved, going as far as to prove how real—and true—wrestling can be, be it at house shows or even on live television interviews.

Time and health eventually caught up with Vader, who as of 2017 still continued to wrestle, despite lingering health issues. All told, "Vader Time" lasted for almost 32 years, culminating in over 20 championships across the globe. Despite his advancing age and failing health, Vader was insistent on wrestling, and continuing one of the most dominating legacies in the sport. On June 18, 2018, The Man They Called Vader passed on.


Whether he entered the ring wearing a scary mastodon mask, or brutalised his opponents with Vader Bombs from the corner, Vader was a one-of-a-kind wrestler who brought both legitimacy and excitement to the wrestling ring. A sure-fire Hall of Famer and a true wrestling legend, Vader will be fondly remembered and sorely missed by almost every person who had the privilege of watching him perform.

Header image from WWE


*****

Marck Rimorin (@marocharim) is an advertising professional, writer, bookworm, and overthinker. While a lifelong WWE fan, he also watches puroresu, lucha libre, and old clips of European wrestling. When not caught up in reading, making brand communications, or eating waybread under the shade of mallorn trees, Marck writes the overthink piece for Smark Henry: The Word on the Rings.

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