It seems somewhat fitting amid the much hyped cinematic release of Star Wars: The Last Jedi, that we in the professional wrestling world celebrate the legendary career of our own masked Vader. It's been said by others in the industry before, but I'm going to make my position clear - Big Van Vader must enter the WWE Hall of Fame next year.
In the UK, WCW was (for a few years at least) televised on ITV, then one of our only free-to-air channels. This meant of course, that for most British kids like myself, it was WCW and not the mythical WWF that we watched during our childhood (although I still remember cutting deals on the playground to beg, steal and borrow WWF VHS tapes). It's hard to quantify how much influence those early memories of wrestling had on me, but it certainly makes me realise why I could never quite accept Vince McMahon's undeniably dogmatic portrayal of WCW, let alone his controversial treatment of it's associated talent.
I will never forget the day I laid eyes on Big Van Vader for the first time. Accompanied to the ring by Harley Race; he truly was a real life monster. Vader was entirely enigmatic, billed by the announcer from 'Parts Unknown' - he looked like he feared nothing and no-one. The entrance mask hiding his face was certainly intimidating and overwhelmingly large, the design looked like it had come from the imagination of Alien artist H.R Giger. His body was a solid mass of weight and muscle, dressed in black and red attire as he walked past the crowd with a degree of nonchalance. The way he quickly tore apart his opponents and destroyed them with the dreaded Vader Bomb genuinely frightened me.
The man underneath the mask, Leon White, was a former U.S professional football player with a Japanese wrestling pedigree. His wrestling debut in NJPW was against the legendary Antonio Inoki - where he demolished a run-down Inoki - inciting the crowd to riot and resulting in NJPW being banned from the Sumo Hall for 2 years. Soon after, he was the first non Japanese man to hold the IWGP Heavyweight Champion, winning an 8-man tournament and kick-starting a career that would see him dominate worldwide.
Having made his name in Japan, Vader made rare appearances at events across the U.S for a two year period, helping to build up his mystique, before debuting full-time with WCW in 1992. He was an automatic threat - disqualified in a World Title bout against Sting, and cracking Sting's ribs in the process. It was the first time I looked at my hero Sting, who would later lose the title to Vader at the Great American Bash, as the underdog. Vader's run in WCW was an undeniable success, feuding for the Championship with Sting, Ron Simmons, Davey Boy Smith, Cactus Jack and Ric Flair. As an adult, I can now not only appreciate the technique and skill that Vader possessed but how his in-ring psychology and character set him apart from the rest of a very talented WCW roster.
I was always confused when it came to Vader's booking in WWF - he debuted with Jim Cornette by his side, during The Royal Rumble in 1996, and despite initially being booked strongly, his feuds with Shawn Michaels, Undertaker, Kane never quite lived up to expectations. It always felt like backstage politics (it could be argued his loss to Michaels killed his momentum) and a changing wrestling landscape meant Vader never quite became the star he should have been in WWF. You literally have to shake your head in disbelief when you discover that Vader never won a title during his time there. Madness.
Leon White has been open about how wrestling affected his life; documented alcohol abuse and lengthy times working away from home led to divorce, and the physical impact wrestling put on his body at one point left him in a coma for a month. He's currently fighting ongoing heart problems with a potentially terminal diagnosis, and yet despite all this, wrestling is still running through his blood, making sporadic appearances for WWE, TNA, AJPW, and various independents in recent years. You have to respect that; he's never turned his back on the business he loves.
When you think about the all-time great wrestling monsters - Andre The Giant, Undertaker, Kane, Yokozuna, Sid Vicious, Bam Bam Bigelow, Brock Lesnar, Mankind - it seems only right that Vader is placed highly amongst this pantheon. His career was both ground-breaking and marked by many notable World title victories. It's time to put Vader in the Hall of Fame. It's Vader time.
Would love to hear some of your thoughts on Vader. Let me know in the comments below, or contact me on twitter @thisistruluv