For the longest time, big men in wrestling were of one mould. Slow, lumbering and of course large, not much was ever expected of a 350lbs+ performer from an athletic point of view. Their asset was their size and as long as they maintained that, they would be fine. Leon White changed that. Making his first (and perhaps biggest) impact in New Japan Pro Wrestling in the late 80’s, White was given the gimmick which he would carry with him for his whole career – Big Van Vader. As a former NFL prospect, Vader was blessed with legitimate athleticism for someone his size. Not only was he as strong as an ox but he could move around the ring with a swiftness that defied his size. His agility was equally as impressive, peaking on the occasions where he would pull off a top rope moonsault (never the prettiest moonsault but still absolutely remarkable). These talents gave Vader the ability to have some really great matches throughout his career, and the combination of guaranteed match quality plus his natural monster aura made him a guy much more suited to being a top guy in the main event scene than most of the big men that came before him.
WCW was the first US company to put Vader in this position on a national stage. Arriving in the early 90s with a big push, Vader was positioned opposite top babyface Sting in a matter of months. The two had one of the best feuds of the time period and had great chemistry together both as characters and from an in-ring standpoint. Vader legitimised himself as a main event player stateside during this run, and he changed alot of people’s perceptions about what a man his size could do. By all rights, Vader should have carried WCW as it’s top heel for many years to follow, however the signing of Hulk Hogan and his influence on the company put the skids on the man from the Rocky Mountains. Vader by this point was a huge superstar in Japan, wrestling for New Japan and the UWF-I (a shootstyle promotion where he was a very unique entity), so he didn’t let WCW’s lack of appreciation slow down his career. Soon the WWF came calling and lured Vader away from Japan with a big contract as a full time roster member. Like with his WCW run, Vader came out of the gate swinging and was a big impact player from early 1996 all the way up to his WWF Title match with Shawn Michaels at Summerslam of that year. However once again the ball was dropped by his employers and this time it lead to Vader floundering as his run as a top name in America came to an end. He was able to reignite his career in Japan once again in the late 90’s as part of the All Japan promotion and had some incredible bouts with the likes of Kenta Kobashi and Mitsuharu Misawa.
Vader was at his best in a David vs. Goliath situation and here’s two very different, yet very awesome examples of that. First is his UWF-I bout with Kyoshi Tamura from 1994.
Defining Match Of The WrestleMania Era: Big Van Vader vs. Sting at The Great American Bash 1992