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It is another sad day in the world of Professional Wrestling as Leon White “Vader” passed away due to congestive heart failure at the age of 63.
White got into professional wrestling after a brief career in the National Football League where he most notably appeared for the Los Angeles Rams in the Super Bowl. A patella injury forced him out of the game but like so many football players at the time he moved to the world of professional wrestling.
Trained by Brad Rheingans, White would be given the name of “Baby Bull” Leon White, which would later morph into “Bull Power”. He was not a top of the card guy but his size made him an instant attraction and an asset coveted by other promotions. The first to take advantage of that was New Japan Pro Wrestling and they did not waste anytime making him an instant star.
Directly following a successful win over Riki Choshu, the now named Big Van Vader challenged and soundly thrashed a tired Antonio Inoki, which led to a riot at the Sumo Hall. The promotion was subsequently banned from the facility for nearly two years but Vader instantly became a major star in Japan.
This would usher in the best period of Vader’s career. He would win an eight-man tournament where he would win the vacant IWGP Heavyweight Title and in the process would become the first gaijin to win the belt. During his second reign with the championship (beating Choshu for the belt) he would make wrestling history by becoming a World Champion on three different continents at the same time. He beat El Canek in Mexico to win the UWA Title and Otto Wanz to capture the Catch Wrestling belt.
With continued success in Japan and Europe Vader would be also used by World Championship Wrestling albeit sparingly for the first two years. He would defeat Sting for the WCW Heavyweight Title in 1992 and his series of matches with him were among the best in the company. The big man would win the championship three times and would also have notable feuds with Ric Flair and Cactus Jack. He would be fired from the company following a backstage confrontation with Paul Orndorff, but by that time the WWF was calling.
His first match for the WWF was a performance at the Royal Rumble where he was introduced with Jim Cornette as his manager. Vader was positioned as a monster heel and top contender and after he went through former champion Yokozuna it was expected that he would have a long run against WWF World Heavyweight Champion, Shawn Michaels. The two would fight at Summer Slam 1996 but the two did not mesh and Michael’s political stroke would push him slowly down the card. He would have later title matches against the Undertaker but his last year in the company (1998) would see him losing match after match and essentially being regulated to a “jobber to the stars”.
While Vader was not the same physical specimen he was earlier in the decade he was still a name and he was rejuvenated. He won the All-Japan Triple Crown twice, the Tag Title with “Dr. Death” Steve Williams and would also later win the Pro Wrestling NOAH Tag Titles with Scorpio.
Throughout the 2000’s and early 2010’s Vader would compete independently.
Vader announced through Social Media that due to his heart issues his doctor had given him only two weeks to live though despite his announced illness, Vader continued to work independents with his most notable performance being a win over Will Ospreay that took place over a Twitter war.
In recent months, Mick Foley had mentioned on his Facebook page that he would like to see Vader enter the WWE Hall of Fame while he was still alive. Obviously any induction now would be posthumous. We had him ranked at #24 on our Notinhalloffame list.
We here at Notinhalloffame.com would like to extend our condolences to the friends and family of Leon White at this time.