Leon White is a man who was destined for success at a young age dating back to his years playing college and professional football. Lynwood, California was the birthplace for White and he grew up the hard way in one of America’s toughest neighborhoods Compton, California. Ever since his childhood White proved to be a very tough person. It shaped who he would become with him having to fight and survive within this notorious community. The big man showed natural athletic ability while playing football with the Los Angeles Rams.
White broke into professional wrestling under the tutelage of famed trainer Brad Rheingans. He began his wrestling career working for Verne Gagne’s AWA, as Leon While going by his real name and took on the gimmick of Baby Bull after showing much improvement inside the ring. He became a wrestling journeyman also competing for CWA World Championship wrestling which was based in Austria under promoter Otto Wanz where he then became known as Bull Power. But it wasn’t until the wrestler went to Japan that Leon became a made man and that’s where the Big Van Vader gimmick was born. Japanese wrestling legend Antonio Inoki gave White the famous moniker.
Vader would go on to capture the IWGP Heavyweight Championship from Inoki in New Japan Pro Wrestling. One of his big accomplishments has been beating Inoki’s record winning streak that went on for many years. Vader quickly became a household name over in Japan and to their audience as a villain. A match that is still talked about to this very day has to be when Vader went up against Stan Hansen and why one might ask, here’s your answer, Hansen and Vader, both worked a stiffer style and as a result Vader’s eye was knocked out of socket during the match. However to show fans just how tough of a man that he truly was, Vader continued the match against Hansen.
Vader started to catch the attention of an American wrestling promotion called WCW. I think what impressed everyone is you had a guy who was over 400lbs doing moonsaults from the top rope and executing surprisingly agile moves that not a lot of guys his size were able to perform. Vader had a great run with World Championship Wrestling. Vader was managed by legendary wrestler and former NWA World Champion Harley Race and his matches with Ric Flair, Sting, Cactus Jack, and Ron Simmons all stand out for sure. Vader quickly was becoming one of pro-wrestling’s best big men. In my opinion, Vader brought some realism to the entertainment world by working in Japan first before returning back to wrestle in the U.S. Let’s just say as a fan watching him work, whenever Vader gave a body shot to an opponent, someone was getting hurt. He laid them in and it made us believe okay this poor guy gonna get beat up tonight.
Vader also went to work for the WWF/WWE in 1996 debuting in that year’s Royal Rumble, the big monster debuted at number 13 eliminating Jake Roberts, Doug Gilbert, and Savio Vega. Vader and Yokozuna had a memorable fight before Shawn Michaels eliminated the big man. He also beat down Michaels and several superstars as well. Vader made quite a debut for WWE. He was positioned as part of Camp Cornette. Jim Cornette became a manager for Vader. Vader feuded with Shawn Michaels, The Undertaker, Sycho Sid and Ahmed Johnson to name more than a few notable superstars during this time of his being with WWE.
Vader lived in Boulder, Colorado with his family. He stood at 6 ft 5 in and his billed weight is listed according to some sources as being 452 lbs. He was billed as hailing from “The Rocky Mountains” since he lived in Colorado. Leon White the man behind the Vader gimmick was originally born and raised in California. Vader to me had all of the credentials to become a top star whether you’re talking the beginning of when Leon White started to wrestle professionally and those runs in Europe and especially in Japan were so monumentally huge for him getting over. People believed in this big monstrous tough-guy villain and they bought into his gimmick because it was a real extension of who Leon White aka Vader truly and really was.
Vader was a Triple Crown Heavyweight Champion 2 times, World Tag Team Champion one time with “Dr. Death” Steve Williams, and Champion Carnival in 1999 for All Japan Pro Wrestling.
Catch Wrestling Association – CWA Intercontinental Heavyweight Champion one time & CWA World Heavyweight Champion three times.
New Japan Pro Wrestling – IWGP Heavyweight Champion three times and IWGP Tag Team Champion along with Bam Bam Bigelow another great wrestling big man one time.
World Championship Wrestling – WCW United States Champion one time and WCW World Heavyweight Champion three times
BattleBowl winner in 1993
Pro Wrestling Illustrated Wrestler of the Year 1993
Ranked number two of the top 500 singles wrestlers in 1993
That’s not even all the awards and major Championships Vader had won throughout his storied, legendary and Hall of Fame caliber career. Sadly Vader died on June 18th, 2018. Big Van Vader has to be one of my all-time favorite big men and wrestlers period end of discussion.