Sad news of the passing of Leon White who wrestled for Otto Wanz as "Bull Power" but is probably best remembered for his career in the US and Japan as "Big Van Vader" and variations thereof. He had been in poor health for some time with heart issues.
Now that is a shock. although I knew he was ill. I was watching some of his WCW matches just earlier this evening, including his defence against Davey Boy Smith at Clash Of The Champions in '93. WCW could have held its own version of Summerslam '92 at Wembley Stadium in 1993 and had Davey Boy win the belt and then lose it back to Vader. Well, both of them are now gone.
Leon White's first big break was as babyface "Baby Bull" Leon White in the AWA in 1986 where he was tipped as a hot potential challenger to Stan Hansen's AWA World title - the two would continue to feud in Japan and WCW later on. He was given the Big Van Vader gimmick after it was turned down by World Class top babyface Dingo Warrior, who instead chose to go to the WWF as the Ultimate Warrior, a development on the Dingo character.
Bull Power was Otto Wanz's last challenger to the CWA title. He lost by submission after his second, Orig "El Bandito" Williams, threw in the towel in 1990, but shortly afterwards won the vacant title beating French Canadian Rambo (Luc Poirier). He also won the IWGP title in Japan and the UWA heavyweight title in Mexico to become a recognised World Champion on three continents simultaneously.
Although Big Van Vader was initially treated as a novelty by WCW (his wild WrestleWar '91 brawl with Hansen notwithstanding.) he got his big push in Januarry 1992 when WCW World Champion Lex Luger handed in his notice. At Clash of the Champions in Jan '92 he was paired with Luger's manager Harley Race and bodyguard Mr Hughes with whom he tagged against Luger's then storyline rivals the Steiners. Once Luger had jobbed his World title to Sting and left the company, Vader became Luger's replacement in the feud with Sting, eventually beating him for the belt before losing it to former Luger challenger Ron Simmons. After WCW got cold feet on Simmons, Vader regained the belt and, apart from a week long loss to Sting on an early 93 UK tour, held onto it for a year before losing it to Ric Flair. A year later, Vader won the WCW US title and challenged Hulk Hogan for the world title, a feud which ended in Vader turning babyface.
His mid '90s WWF stint is generally deemed a disappointment as, like the Steiners before him, he was forced to tone down his stiff, hard hitting style of work. He won no WWF titles and the only real highlight was a pin on vastly lighter WWF World champion Shawn Michaels in a six man tag at an In Your House in 1996, soon avenged at Summerslam '96.
He was diagnosed with a heart condition and given two years to live in November 2016, but instead has reportedly died from pneumonia. He was aged 63 which is not a bad age for a man of his size and shape to live to (Big Daddy managed 67, Dusty Rhodes managed 69.) Together with the also deceased Yokozuna, he made 1993 running into 1994 an era in which endomorphic superheavyweights dominated the US scene, with the two men having lengthy runs with the two dominant US major-league World Heavyweight titles of the era.
He was good for "big man" wrestler, quite athletic and worked a brutal, stiff style.
There's been some criticism of him not being inducted into the WWE "Hall of Fame" this year - in their defence, I think he wouldn't have been up to travelling in any event. He did have some sort of heart surgery earlier this year and was apparently just too weak to fend off the pneumonia.
He was also half of a very successful tag team in Japan with Bam Bam Bigelow as his tag partner. Two great skilful big men I was fortunate to see them both Bigelow in WWF and Vader on WCW tour in early 1990s. Two of the best big men if not the best to ever set foot in the ring. If you haven't watched them seek out their matches on YouTube both singles and tags.
The Man who was champ in America, in Europe and in Asia...true real Mr World-wide Champion Wrestle