At first glance it would've been easy for a casual fan or outside observer to dismiss Big Van Vader as a typical, meatheaded, giant of a man with a crazy look and gloves made for pummeling. But "The Mastadon" was so much more. After he beat his opponent down with fists and clotheslines, it was just the beginning. A Vader Bomb. A moonsault. Splashes from out of nowhere. This was a monster who could fly.
Though many my age first saw Vader in WCW, the character began in Japan. In recent years a now-deleted YouTube video included a 1988 tag match from Japan with the newly-minted Big Van Vader on one side and, weeks before his death, Adrian Adonis on the other. Talk about a clash of wrestling visuals that one would not associate! Before adopting the Vader character, Leon White was battling his way up the card in the AWA, counting Bruiser Brody among early opponents!
But it was in World Championship Wrestling where Vader carved his legacy. Flanked by Harley Race and dominating the World Title scene, Vader took down the likes of Sting, Ron Simmons, Cactus Jack, and Davey Boy Smith just to name a few. And the best part? Not only were his matches impressive, but they were entertaining, too. While some "big man" matches don't hold up, Vader's do. Any fan could be enthralled by a "best of Vader" compilation. Attention WWE Network, the need for a new "collection" is here.
In one of their bigger blunders, the WWF did not handle Vader well. Following a memorable debut in 1996 where he counted the beloved WWF President Gorilla Monsoon among his victims, Vader seemed to fall down the card rather than climb it. Backstage politics from a certain star have always been rumored to have hindered Vader in the company as far as growth, but it could have been a number of factors. The truth is that "The Man They Call Vader" should have been a far bigger star in a land where big men always ruled. It was just not meant to be.
With a monstrous look comes the merchandising wagon. The terrifying masked face was plastered on action figures, magazines, trading cards, and even comic books. The first Vader action figure, produced by The Original San Francisco Toymakers, was a highlight of that WCW figure line and kicked off a variety of others over the years. Most recently Vader was included in the popular Micro Brawlers line with yet another interpretation of the inhabitant of "The White Castle of Fear."
His recent well-publicized heart problems make Vader's passing less of a shock, but it is still tragic at the age of 63. Re-watching his matches, you can imagine that putting his huge body through so much impact could easily have contributed. Still, we must remember that these men enjoyed what they were doing as well as the fame that came with it. While it ultimately caused shorter lives for many, it's living your life as you see fit that truly counts.
And we'll always be counting the seconds until it's...Vader Time...once again.
Big Van Vader