Yesterday the legendary Leon White better known as Vader passed away at the age of 63 from pneumonia complications. He’s most known for his work in both WWE/F and WCW, but that’s only half the story when it comes to the big man.
White was known as Big Van Vader in Japan, inspired by the story created by Venerable manga creator Go Nagai (who in turn was also responsible for the character of Jushin Thunder Liger) and he came in with a bang! He made short work of beloved wrestler Antonio Inoki that worked the crowd into such a frenzy that a riot broke out and NJPW was subsequently banned from sumo hall for 2 years.
Vader went on to defeat another legend, Shinya Hashimoto, to win a tournament to become the first “gaijin” (non-Japanese) wrestler to hold the prestigious IWGP heavyweight championship, he would go on to win the belt two more times as well during his time in NJPW. Vader would also go on to acquire tag team gold with Bam Bam Bigelow, winning the IWGP heavyweight tag team championship with the fellow big man.
During Vader’s tenure in New Japan he had an infamous match with another legendary gaijin Stan Hansen in which during a heated exchange of strikes, Hansen dislodged Vader’s eye from its socket. In an astounding show of will, Vader managed to put his eye back in the socket and keep it in place to continue wrestling until the match was called off in a no-contest. Word of this match reached the state’s and managed to land Vader a deal with World Championship Wrestling.
Vader also spent time in rival promotion AJPW after his time in WWF, he was equally as successful winning the AJPW triple crown championship twice even defeating the likes of Kenta Kobashi, Akira Taue and even Mitsuharu Misawa, 3 of the “four pillars” of AJPW/NOAH in his time with the company, as well as winning the illustrious “Champion Carnival” AJPW’s version of the G1 Climax tournament. He won the tag team belts with Dr. Death Steve Williams on one occasion as well.
Vader is definitely a name well known to many American wrestling fans, but as you can see by his time in Japan in which he was arguably even more successful, he also held legendary status overseas. He will be remembered all over the world for his size and wrestling ability.
May his legacy live on worldwide.
Leon Allen “Big Van Vader” White
Rest In Power