Leon Allen White (May 14, 1955 – June 18, 2018) better known by his ring names Big Van Vader or Vader, was an American professional wrestler. White was perhaps best known for his time with New Japan Pro Wrestling, World Championship Wrestling, World Wrestling Federation and All Japan Pro Wrestling in the 1990s. A super-heavyweight wrestler capable of significant aerial maneuvers as well as power moves, he was both a face and a heel in several professional wrestling promotions. He is a thirteen time world champion, having held the WCW World Heavyweight Championship three times., CWA World Heavyweight Championship (3 times), UWA World Heavyweight Championship (1 time). Vader is the only wrestler to hold World Heavyweight titles on 3 continents.
White was an All-American Offensive Lineman in High School, and decided to take a scholarship to the University of Colorado (after being courted by over 40 schools) where he again earned All-American honors and in the process earned a degree in Business Administration. He was picked by his hometown Los Angeles Rams in the 3rd round of the 1978 NFL Draft. He was placed on injured reserve his rookie season but during his second season he was activated for the postseason and played in Super Bowl XIV against the Pittsburgh Steelers. He was cut the following offseason and started a career in real estate.
Professional wrestling career
American Wrestling Association (1985–1987)
While working out at a gym, White was spotted by a man who remembered him from his college football days who suggested he look into professional wrestling. Trained by Brad Rheingans, White got his first national exposure in the American Wrestling Association (AWA). He went by the moniker "Baby Bull", which was later changed to "Bull Power". White honed his skills during this time, and his ring work improved significantly. He was even given a match with Stan Hansen for the AWA World Heavyweight Championship.
New Japan Pro Wrestling (1987–1992)
White actually was originally signed by All Japan Pro Wrestling. After consideration, Giant Baba traded his contract over to New Japan Pro Wrestling (NJPW) in 1987. White's name was once again changed, from Bull Power to "Big Van Vader", and he began to wear a mask (though not the red or black strap for which he is now famous). His new identity was based on a strong warrior of the same name from Japanese folklore. He was introduced as the crown jewel of the Takeshi Puroresu Gundan stable managed by Takeshi Kitano. After a match to which Riki Chōshū had challenged Inoki, only to lose, Vader demanded a match with the already worn down Inoki, and was victorious. This led the pro-Inoki audience to riot, resulting in New Japan being banned from the Sumo Hall, which was its home arena; the ban was rescinded in 1989, when New Japan did their first show back in Sumo Hall on February 22.
After winning the final match of an eight-man tournament against Shinya Hashimoto, Vader was declared the new IWGP Heavyweight Champion. On May 25, one month after being crowned champion, Vader lost the title to Russian suplex master Salman Hashimikov. Hashimikov dropped the title to Vader's old rival, Riki Chōshū, on July 12. On August 10, Vader was given an opportunity at Chōshū and the title. He defeated Chōshū to become a two time IWGP Heavyweight Champion. Shortly after winning the title again, White traveled to Europe, again using the name "Bull Power", to face Otto Wanz for the CWA World Heavyweight Championship. He won the match and, as a result, held the Heavyweight Championship in two separate organizations at the same time. He continued to travel between Japan and Europe, defending his titles.
In November 1989, Vader traveled to Mexico to face El Canek in the Universal Wrestling Association for El Canek's UWA World Heavyweight Championship. He defeated Canek for the title, holding it for approximately one year.
In February 1990, Vader faced Stan Hansen at an All Japan versus New Japan supercard show. The two exchanged very stiff punches, and one of them caused Vader's right eye to actually pop out of its socket, although it was contained by the swelling in his eyelid. Vader took the time to take off his mask and push the eye back in the socket before finishing the match as planned. Vader's success garnered the attention of World Championship Wrestling (WCW), who convinced him to work for them while still the IWGP Champion and an active competitor in New Japan.
Vader's first match in WCW took place on July 7, 1990 at The Great American Bash, where he defeated Tom Zenk in a little over two minutes. Around this time, Vader began a feud with Stan Hansen in All Japan Pro Wrestling. About two weeks later, Vader went to Europe and defeated Rambo in a tournament final to reclaim the vacant CWA World Heavyweight Championship (making Vader a three-time CWA World Heavyweight Championship). In January 1991, Vader defeated Tatsumi Fujinami to earn himself a third IWGP Heavyweight Title reign. This reign was short-lived and on March 4, Vader lost the belt back to Fujinami. Rambo ended Vader's CWA World Heavyweight Championship reign on July 6, 1991. Vader went on to defeat Fujinami for the CWA Intercontinental Heavyweight Championship but, upon his signing of a WCW contract in 1992, the title was declared vacant. At this point, WCW and NJPW were reaching a tentative working agreement. This benefited Vader, as he could now have his schedule coordinated far more easily. This helped alleviate his difficulty in gaining notoriety in WCW, as his previously infrequent appearances did not allow the audience to see him very often.
On March 1, 1992, he and Bam Bam Bigelow began teaming and won the IWGP Tag Team Championship from Hiroshi Hase and Keiji Mutoh. In May, Vader faced Mutoh, now known as The Great Muta, one on one and suffered a legitimate knee injury. This injury was a factor in he and Bigelow dropping the title to WCW World Tag Team Champions the Steiner Brothers after almost four months as champions. This also marked a decrease in his NJPW tenure, as Vader began to focus almost entirely on WCW and the WCW World Heavyweight Championship.
World Championship Wrestling (1990–1995)
Vader was originally signed with World Championship Wrestling (WCW) in 1990, but was only used sparingly until 1992. When he began working for WCW full-time, Vader was paired with a manager, Harley Race, and received a shot at Sting's WCW World Heavyweight Championship on April 12, 1992, but lost by disqualification after punching out the referee. Sting suffered a pair of cracked ribs and a ruptured spleen in the match after taking a splash from Vader, though he continued to compete infrequently while recuperating. Vader was placed in a feud with Nikita Koloff shortly afterward, while Sting recuperated. Vader finally received a rematch with Sting on July 12 at The Great American Bash, which he won to become the new WCW World Heavyweight Champion. His reign was short-lived, as he re-injured his knee, forcing him to drop the title three weeks later to Ron Simmons, who substituted for Sting, who was attacked by Jake Roberts earlier that night. Vader was out of action after the Clash of the Champions in September as he underwent knee surgery.
Upon his return at Halloween Havoc, Vader sent Nikita Koloff into retirement and broke the back of enhancement talent Joe Thurman (in a legitimate accident), paralyzing him for a few hours. At Starrcade, Vader lost to Sting in the finals of the "King of Cable" tournament. Two days later, Vader defeated Simmons by taking advantage of a shoulder injury of Simmons's to regain the World Heavyweight Championship. On March 11, 1993, Vader lost the WCW World Heavyweight Championship to Sting in London, England. Six days later, he regained the title in a rematch in Dublin, Ireland. In subsequent weeks, Vader successfully defended the title against Davey Boy Smith, Sting, and Dustin Rhodes.
In late February 1993, White signed an eight-date agreement with the Union of Wrestling Force International (UWFi), where he competed as Super Vader due to legal issues concerning the Big Van Vader name. By September 1993, he was simply known as Vader in the United States. He worked with UWFi for over two years. His greatest triumph under there was a victory in the Best of the World Tournament, which started April 3 and ended August 18, 1994. Vader first defeated Salman Hashimikov and then Masahito Kakihara in the quarterfinals. In the semifinals, Vader defeated Kiyoshi Tamura, and beat Nobuhiko Takada in the finals to win the tournament and the UWFi World Title. He later left the promotion after a financial dispute.
On April 17, 1993, Cactus Jack defeated Vader via countout in a match on WCW Saturday Night. Foley suffered a broken nose and needed 27 stitches for wounds on his face. The match was heavily edited for broadcast, as WCW did not wish to show the severe bleeding. In a rematch on April 24, Vader powerbombed Cactus onto the concrete floor outside the ring. Foley suffered a concussion and temporary loss of feeling in his left hand and leg. Vader believed he had sent Cactus into retirement, but Cactus later appeared in a series of skits involving his powerbomb-inflicted amnesia and a search for his past. In the meantime, Vader began to feud with a new arrival to WCW, Davey Boy Smith. They met at Slamboree in May for Vader's WCW Title. Vader lost by disqualification when he hit Smith with a chair, though he retained the title. Vader and Sid Vicious then formed a partnership and called themselves "The Masters of the Powerbomb". They faced off with Smith and his new partner, Sting, at Beach Blast in July. Cactus Jack returned for October's Halloween Havoc pay-per-view to face Vader in a Texas Death match. Cactus stood up to a series of devastating moves near the end of the match, though Vader won when Harley Race stunned Cactus with a cattle prod that kept him down for the count of ten. On March 16, 1994, Foley lost his right ear in a match with Vader in Munich, Germany; Foley's head became trapped in the ropes, which were under excessive tension, causing his ear to be torn off.
Vader had originally been scheduled to face Sid Vicious at Starrcade. The real-life dismissal of Vicious after his stabbing of Arn Anderson in England, however, forced WCW to find a quick replacement. Executive producer Eric Bischoff placed Ric Flair in the match, which was scheduled in Flair's hometown of Charlotte, North Carolina. In the storyline, Vader did not take Flair seriously until he agreed to put his career on the line against Vader's title. Vader dominated the match, but Flair capitalized on failed interference by Race and Vader's weakened knees to win the match with a rollup and end Vader's third WCW World Heavyweight Championship reign. Vader continued to feud with Flair until SuperBrawl IV, when Flair once again defeated Vader, this time in a "Thundercage" match.
Vader then feuded with The Boss, defeating him at Spring Stampede. He also faced Sting at Slamboree for the vacant WCW International World Heavyweight Championship. Sting requested the match rather than be awarded the title after an injury to his original opponent, Rick Rude, and defeated Vader. At Clash of the Champions XXIX, Vader beat Dustin Rhodes and earned the opportunity to face the United States Champion Jim Duggan. In the Starrcade title match, Vader defeated Duggan with the aid of Duggan's 2x4 to win his only United States title.
In January 1995, Vader (now alone after Harley Race suffered a car accident that put him permanently out of WCW) confronted the World Heavyweight Champion, Hulk Hogan, and informed him that he could not avoid the monster. The two met at SuperBrawl V with Vader managing to kick out of Hogan's leg drop after a count of one. The referee was knocked out before Vader hit the Vader Bomb on Hogan. Ric Flair ran to the ring, made the three count, and attacked Hogan, resulting in Vader's disqualification. A rematch was signed, a strap match for the inaugural Uncensored pay-per-view. Flair once again intervened (this time in drag) and managed to cost Vader the match by getting himself carried by Hogan as he touched all four turnbuckle pads. Vader was stripped of the United States Championship on April 23, 1995 for multiple violent offenses. However, Vader gained another opportunity to win the World Title from Hogan at Bash at the Beach in a Steel Cage match. He conspired with Kevin Sullivan and the Dungeon of Doom to gain a psychological edge before the encounter, which Vader lost when Hogan escaped the cage. He then restarted his feud with Flair, based on his frustration at Flair's constant interference in his title matches and Flair's annoyance at his inability to defeat Hogan. At Clash of the Champions XXXI, Vader defeated Flair and Arn Anderson in a 2 on 1 handicap match. Following the event, Hogan grew interested in Vader and asked for his assistance in his developing feud with the Dungeon of Doom, by asking him to join him, Randy Savage, and Sting for WarGames. Vader complied but the storyline never developed as, shortly after, Vader was fired from WCW after he was involved in a locker room brawl with Paul Orndorff.
Return to NJPW (1996)
At Wrestling World on January 4, Vader had his first post-WCW match, facing the man whose four-year winning streak Vader had ended over eight years ago, Antonio Inoki. Inoki was over fifty years old at the time, but the match lasted nearly 14 minutes before Inoki got the win.
World Wrestling Federation (1996–1998)
In the weeks leading up to the WWF Royal Rumble, Vader's debut was heavily hyped on TV (he was billed as "The Man They Call Vader"). He made his first WWF appearance as a participant in the Rumble match. He entered at number 13 and eliminated Jake Roberts, Doug Gilbert, one member of the Swat Team, and Savio Vega. He also fought with his ally Yokozuna. Vader was eliminated by Shawn Michaels before he reentered the ring and started assaulting everyone, including Michaels. Vader defeated Vega on the following Monday Night Raw, before assaulting WWF officials. Eventually, WWF President Gorilla Monsoon demanded that Vader cease his attacks, and received a Vader Splash for his efforts. In storyline, Vader was suspended for his actions (in reality, he needed time off for shoulder surgery).
Jim Cornette campaigned for Vader's reinstatement, and by the time Vader returned, Yokozuna had left Cornette's management. At February's In Your House 6: Rage in the Cage, Vader appeared during Yokozuna's match against The British Bulldog. Yokozuna was about to pin The Bulldog, when Vader attacked him, handcuffed him, and delivered a severe beating. This led to what was supposed to be a one-on-one encounter between Vader and Yokozuna at WrestleMania XII. However, the match became a six-man tag team match pitting Vader, Owen Hart, and The British Bulldog against Yokozuna, Ahmed Johnson, and Jake Roberts. The stipulation was that if Yokozuna's team won the match, he would have five minutes alone with Cornette in the ring; this never occurred as Vader's team won the match when Vader pinned Roberts.
Feuding with Shawn Michaels (1996)
Vader then attacked WWF Champion Shawn Michaels after one of Michaels's matches. Vader's attack on Michaels earned him a spot in a six-man tag team match at In Your House 9: International Incident. Vader, Owen Hart, and The British Bulldog teamed up against Michaels, Ahmed Johnson, and Sycho Sid. Vader pinned Michaels to win the match for his team. Vader faced Michaels again at SummerSlam, where Vader won by count-out. Cornette, however, realized that the title could not change hands through a count-out and got the match restarted. This time, Michaels used Cornette's tennis racket and was disqualified. Again, Cornette managed to get the match started over. Finally, Michaels scored a pinfall over Vader.
Feuding with The Undertaker (1997)
Vader faced off against The Undertaker in a singles match at the Royal Rumble. During the match, The Undertaker's former manager, Paul Bearer, attacked him and helped Vader win; Bearer then became Vader's manager. Both Vader and Undertaker went on to compete in the Royal Rumble match, during which Steve Austin was eliminated by Bret Hart. However the referees did not see this, as they were attending to Terry Funk and Mankind on the floor, allowing Austin to sneak back into the ring and eliminate both Vader and Undertaker, then Bret Hart, who was busy eliminating Fake Diesel, and win the Rumble. As a result of this, Vader and the other men Austin eliminated, Bret Hart and The Undertaker, were put into the four-way main event of February's In Your House 13: Final Four for the WWF Championship. Vader, after bleeding profusely, was eliminated by The Undertaker. Bearer then persuaded his two proteges, Vader and Mankind, to go after the Tag Team Title, despite the fact that the two men often brawled between themselves. They failed in their bid to win the tag team gold at WrestleMania 13.
Feuding with The Hart Foundation, Goldust, and Kane (1997–1998)
Vader again received an opportunity to face The Undertaker at In Your House 16: Canadian Stampede but was defeated. On the following night's Raw is War, Vader wrestled The Patriot. The Patriot won the match and then went after Bret Hart, who came to ringside during the match. Vader attacked The Patriot, and then brought him back into the ring, where he went for the Vader Bomb. Hart came into the ring and laid the Canadian flag over The Patriot. Vader got down, picked up the Canadian flag, broke it, and started a brawl with Hart. This turned Vader face and served to bring Vader into the USA vs. Canada feud. At Survivor Series, Vader was the leader of Team USA, with Goldust, Marc Mero, and Steve Blackman (replacing the injured Patriot) as they faced Team Canada, composed of The British Bulldog, Jim Neidhart, Doug Furnas, and Phil LaFon. During the match, Goldust walked out on his team. Team USA lost the match after The Bulldog pinned Vader after hitting him with the ring bell. Goldust and Vader feuded throughout the fall and finally faced off at the Royal Rumble, in a match which Vader won. Goldust eliminated Vader from the Royal Rumble match later that night (Vader entered at number 30).
Kane and Vader had their first in-ring meeting at No Way Out of Texas: In Your House|No Way Out of Texas. Vader lost after a chokeslam and Tombstone piledriver by Kane and was subsequently attacked by Kane with a large steel wrench. Vader was taken away on a stretcher and was kept off of TV for a while. At Unforgiven: In Your House|Unforgiven, a few months later, Vader returned during Kane's Inferno match against The Undertaker. Kane was attempting to leave the match when Vader appeared and fought him back to the ring to continue the match, which Kane lost. Vader and Kane had a rematch at Over the Edge: In Your House|Over the Edge in a Mask vs. Mask match. Vader attempted to use a wrench on Kane (like the one used on him months before), but Kane picked up the victory and Vader lost his mask.
Subsequently, Vader had a series of losses and was reduced to the status of a jobber to the stars. After considering retirement, Vader instead negotiated his own release from the WWF so he could once again wrestle in Japan. His final WWF pay-per-view match was a loss to Bradshaw at Breakdown: In Your House in a No Holds Barred match on September 27. He lost to Edge on Sunday Night Heat in his final televised WWF match. His last match in a WWF ring was on October 25 at a Madison Square Garden house show in a Triple Threat Match with Mankind and Ken Shamrock.
All Japan Pro Wrestling (1998–2000)
After leaving the WWF, Vader went to All Japan Pro Wrestling. He formed a team with his old foe Stan Hansen, with whom he made it to the finals of the 1998 Real World Tag League, where they were defeated by Kenta Kobashi and Jun Akiyama. At the beginning of 1999, he became the number 1 contender to the Triple Crown by defeating Kobashi. He then won the (vacant) Triple Crown Title on March 6, 1999 by defeating Akira Taue. He then won the 1999 Champion's Carnival. After Vader lost the Triple Crown to Misawa on May 2, he regained it on October 31. He then again lost it to Kobashi and took some time off.
Pro Wrestling Noah (2000–2002)
Total Nonstop Action Wrestling, return to WWE, and retirement (2003–2006)
On February 19, 2003, Vader appeared in Total Nonstop Action Wrestling (TNA) to defend Dusty Rhodes, who was fighting with the Harris Brothers. He won a tag team match the next week against the Harris Brothers via disqualification. He then began a feud with Nikita Koloff, whose career Vader ended long ago. However, TNA and Vader soon parted ways.
Vader returned to World Wrestling Entertainment on the October 31 episode of Raw, where Jonathan Coachman announced that Vader and Goldust would be in his corner for his street fight against Stone Cold Steve Austin the next night at Taboo Tuesday. When Austin decided not to participate, he was replaced by Batista. Vader and Goldust interfered in the match on Coachman's behalf and received spinebusters for their efforts. Batista pinned Coach with the Batista Bomb to win the match. Vader left the company soon after and returned to compete in Japan.
Vader returned to Japan, wrestling at a Wrestleland show. He also worked in the independent circuit as Big Van Vader, including a tag match against Samoa Joe and Dan Maff in Jersey All Pro Wrestling with Mike Awesome as his tag team partner. On May 12, 2007, Vader faced Brutus "The Barber" Beefcake at Spartan Slamfest, a World Wrestling Coalition charity show for Wyoming Valley West School District. The match was held at the Kingston Armory in Kingston, Pennsylvania.
Return to wrestling (2010–2015)
After wrestling his last match in 2007, White began working as a high school football coach. On April 29, 2010, White made a one-night return to wrestling under his Vader ring name at the event Vader Time 5 ~ Return of the Emperor ~. At the event, he teamed with his son Jesse and former tag team partner Scorpio to successfully defeat Makoto Hashi, Tamon Honda and Tatsumi Fujinami in the main event.
Vader made his in-ring return to the United States on January 28, 2012. He defeated Arik Royal and Adam Page in a handicap match at WrestleReunion: Los Angeles. On May 11, 2012 at Resistance Pro's event A Small Deadly Space, Vader defeated Jay Bradley.
On the June 11, 2012 episode of Raw, Vader made his first WWE appearance in nearly seven years, where he defeated Heath Slater in a singles match. On July 23 on the 1000th episode of Raw, Vader and several other legends prevented Slater from leaving in his match against Lita, which she won.
On December 7, 2012, Vader returned to All Japan Pro Wrestling, teaming with Keiji Mutoh and Kenso to defeat Bambi Killer, Franz Dynamite and Mazada in a six-man tag team match.
On June 24, 2015, Vader returned to television on TNA Impact Wrestling for a singles match against Bram on Destination America Television. Vader won the match via disqualification after Bram used a ring wrench to hit Vader in the head. Matt Morgan then entered the ring to save Vader and take out Bram.
- Boy Meets World (1995, 1996) in episodes "The Thrilla' in Phila", "New Friends and Old" and "Sixteen Candles and Four-Hundred-Pound Men" as "Francis Albert 'Frankie' Stechino, Sr."
- Baywatch (1996) in episode "Bash at the Beach" as "Vader"
- Late Night with Conan O'Brien (2006) as Musical Guest
- Fist of the North Star (1995) as "Goliath"
- Hitman Hart: Wrestling with Shadows (1998) as "Vader"
- The Unreal Story of Professional Wrestling (1999) as "Vader"
The Fatal Fury character Raiden, also known as "Big Bear", is based on Vader's appearance in Japan. The character Alexander the Grater from Saturday Night Slam Masters also bears a resemblance to Vader. Alexander wears a mask very similar to the mastodon mask Vader would wear prior to entering an arena in the 1980s and early 1990s, and his physical appearance and shape resemble Vader greatly. Vader appears as a downloadable legend in WWE Smackdown vs Raw 2009, he can be downloaded into the game as well as other legends.
While in Kuwait during a WWF tour in April 1997, Vader appeared on the television program Good Morning Kuwait. During the interview, the host asked Vader if wrestling was fake. As a result, Vader flipped over the table they were sitting at and assaulted the host, while using foul language. In December, Vader was fined $164 for the incident.
As of July 2009, White is training his son Jesse White to become a professional wrestler in Japan. Jesse originally committed to the University of Oklahoma and was touted for the National Football League, but was taken out with a back injury.
On June 20, 2018, White’s son announced on Twitter that White had died two days prior on June 18 “at approximately 7:25pm” due to heart problems.
- Finishing moves
- Signature moves
- Body avalanche
- Face Eraser (Standing wheelbarrow facebuster)
- Falling powerslam
- Forearm club
- Lariat, sometimes from the top rope
- Multiple suplex variations
- Punching combination to the opponent's midsection
- Running powerslam
- Running splash, sometimes from the second rope
- Samoan drop, used as a counter for running opponent
- Short-arm clothesline
- Spinning backfist
- Vader Attack (Bell clap)
- "Baby Bull" Leon White
- Leon "Bull Power" White
- "The Mastodon"
- "The Man They Call" Vader
- Entrance themes
Championships and accomplishments
- All Japan Pro Wrestling
- Catch Wrestling Association
- Impact Zone Wrestling
- IZW Heavyweight Championship (1 time)
- New Japan Pro Wrestling
- Pro Wrestling Illustrated
- PWI Wrestler of the Year (1993)
- PWI ranked him #27 of the 500 best singles wrestlers during the "PWI Years" in 2003
- Union of Wrestling Forces International
- UWFI World Heavyweight Championship (1 time)
- World Championship Wrestling
- World Wrestling Federation
- Wrestling Observer Newsletter awards