Conducted November 1st 1998
This is an early RF Video release, which means that clips and matches are spliced within the shoot to add flavor to the interview.
The DVD opens with a warning not to copy RF’s property. Then the first thing we see is a New Japan clip. Delicious irony!
We are in Vader’s home, which gives us a chance to see Leon White’s personal collection. He has everything from magazine covers, vintage pictures, video games, PPV posters and other such things with Vader on it.
White was an all-american football player in high school and was recruited by 40 colleges.
Vader grew up in the Los Angeles inner city, so he was thrilled to get a chance to get out of that hell hole.
He ended up drafted to the L.A. Rams in the 3rd round of the NFL draft. He was injured for most of his rookie year, but played in the playoffs and even the Super Bowl as the Rams fell to the Steelers.
In college (Colorado) White earned his business degree. After his NFL days were over he became a real estate agent.
He ended up building 15 houses, 32 townhouses and a car wash.
White was making good money but found himself getting out of shape. This drove him to want to get back into sports.
Vader watched wrestling, but was not a huge fan.
Greg Gagne ended up being introduced to White since the AWA hit up Denver every 3 weeks. Brad Rheingans trained him, but Verne Gagne took the credit.
Bruiser Brody was Leon’s first opponent. Brody roughed him up to make sure White could hack it. He worked Brody several times, with Bruiser teaching him the ropes. His next serious opponent was Jerry Blackwell, who was stiff as well. After that experience, Stan Hansen faced White several times. Vader learned to work stiff from that and never really changed his style. (Results show Scott Irwin was actually White’s primary opponent during this time frame.)
Over his career his weight went from 346 to 440.
The AWA ran an angle where Brody attacked White with a chair in the knee. This was to set up Vader to head to Europe to work for Otto Wanz.
Leon “Baby Bull” White vs. Bruiser Brody
Brody attacks White with a chair on his leg before the match even gets underway. The ref allows the match to start anyway. Brody gets an early advantage but White is able to come back. The men exchange snug shots and Brody even bumps for several of White’s strikes. Sheik Adnan trips White up and that allows Brody to refocus his attack on the Baby Bull’s leg. The ref finally decides to call the match off despite White continuing to try and fight.
The AWA (Verne) promised White 20-25 matches a month. Vader rarely came anywhere near that. Paydays were not great either, with a “good” payday being 250 dollars.
Otto Wanz ran the main promotion in Germany, and he wanted a big man like White to come in and work for him. Wanz promised upwards of 7 days a week of ring work.
Masa Saito worked Vader his first night back out of prison (on an AWA card). He impressed Saito with his size and strength and it helped White get booked in All-Japan. This led to a bidding war and New Japan won out.
White next talked to his wife and she convinced him to honor Baba’s offer. New Japan ended up contacting Baba and they paid him for White’s contract.
Wanz had made White his top heel in Germany, and Antonio Inoki decided to make “Big Van Vader” his top heel in Japan.
Greg Gagne, Scott Hall and Leon “Bull Power” White vs. Masa Saito, Larry Zbyszko and the Super Ninja
This is late 1986 in Minneapolis. Gagne receives some very audible boos from the crowd. That is not a good sign for a guy who was being positioned as the top face for better or worse. Zbyszko refuses to come out at first because he is protesting his enemy Scott LeDoux being the ref. They change refs to appease Larry.
Gagne starts off with the Ninja and quickly finds himself on the mat from a poor looking slam. Zbyszko comes in and stooges for his brother-in-law. The fans do not react to the easy babyface shine spots Gagne is trying. This makes for an interesting look into the AWA trying to force Gagne into a spot the fans seemingly refuse to accept him in. Hall gets a pop for coming in to try and aid Gagne when the heels gang up on him.
Saito tosses Gagne around, dominating him with his size and strength. The Ninja then comes in for some Resthold-Fu. Gagne has been in the whole 6 or 7 minutes the match has been going. White finally gets the hot tag. Bull Power makes Saito look relatively tiny, which is kind of mind blowing. He scoops Saito up with easy and power slams him. Zbyszko then feels White’s power as he chucks him across the ring with a press slam.
Saito and Hall reset things. Saito tries to trick Hall into bowing for him, but Hall kicks him first. Hall trades big forearm shots with Saito before the heels outnumber him to gain control. Hall fights his way out and Zbyszko ends up being pinballed around by Gagne. A sleeper attempt is stopped and Saito and Hall end up back in the ring. Hall quickly finds himself trapped into a sharpshooter. The heels gang up on Hall to really expose their advantage.
I just realized the ref is Jerry Sags. The poor video quality largely blurred out his unique hair style. Gagne comes into the action and finds himself back into the babyface-in-peril spot. Hall tags in but finds himself blinded by salt from the Ninja. Things break down and all six men end up brawling. Scott LeDoux comes down and informs the ref of the salt use. The babyfaces clear the ring. Not a bad little match. It was obvious they didn’t trust Vader much as he was kept out of the match except for his brief spots.
Antonio Inoki vs. Big Van Vader
We are joined-in-progress with Vader knocking Inoki off the apron several times. He drops Inoki with a suplex and several clotheslines before several officials run in and stop the match. We don’t get to see the riot that apparently broke out from that finish. Sid Vicious and the Ultimate Warrior (both green and raw youngsters) were both on the short list for the Vader gimmick.
Back to the normal shoot: Vader explains that Japan wrestlers in the late 80’s did not sell. The guys would take bumps and end up back on their feet before Vader could get himself back under his own feet.
Antonio Vader vs. Big Van Vader
Vader is now wearing a mask, he was not in one for his debut. That’s kind of odd. Vader stalks Inoki and easily tosses him to the mat. Inoki heads to the floor to regroup. Vader tries to remove his arm, and tears into Inoki’s face with his claw for good measure. He misses a charge to give Inoki a brief hope spot, but quickly traps Inoki back in his arm lock. Inoki manages to reverse the arm hold and he traps Vader on the mat by driving his elbow into Vader’s shoulder. Vader manages to pivot to his feet, but Inoki grabs a limb and attempts to break Vader’s arm by bending it across his shoulder while yanking on Vader’s wrist.
Vader powers out, but misses a charge. This sets him up for an enziguri. Inoku scoops him up on his shoulder to get a good pop. They spill to the cement from that position. Vader drives Inoki into the ring post twice. A third attempt ends with Vader being slammed into the post. Inoki appears to slip in the ring to beat the count. Tiger Jeet Singh runs out, throws powder in Inoki’s eyes and beats him as he is vulnerable. Vader walks over and Singh runs away. Vader chases the fans in the stands. This was a pretty good monster vs. underdog tale, and easily set up more rematches.
Back to the shoot as Vader brags up the honor of being picked to win the IWGP title.
Tatsumi Fujinami vs. Big Van Vader
Joined in progress, with Vader viciously tossing Fujinami to the mat. Fujinami sells the impact big. His fighting spirit gets him back to his feet, where he manages to back suplex Vader. Vader hops up and the Dragon takes a big bump off of a shoulder block. Fujinami fight back with a hip toss and body slam. He locks the downed monster in the dragon sleeper, but Vader fights his way out. Fujinami tries a back breaker, and hurts his own leg. The crowd is losing their shit over all these big moves being traded.
Vader drives Fujinami down with a stiff slam, but the Dragon is right back to his feet and delivering dropkicks. He knocks Vader to the floor and planchas him. Fujinami is thrown into the ring post and splashed for maximum effect. Fujinami tries to get back in the ring and is knocked violently into the railing. The ref and Vader have words, and Fujinami tries to steal the win with a roll-up. I don’t believe it was a three-count, but Vader attacks the ref. Fujinami saves the ref and runs Vader off. Fujinami then clocks the ref too. Hard hitting fun here. I’ve read before that Fujinami was the one who taught Vader how to really work, but he killed his own body in the process.
Vader talks about how he had great matches with many workers. The Denver altitude gave Vader stamina while fighting Riki Choshu, Fujinami and Inoki. He could blow those men up despite being 200+ pounds heavier than them.
Riki Choshu vs. IWGP champion Big Van Vader
Vader has been champ for just over a year. He beat Choshu for the title. Choshu is not afraid of Vader and actually backs him into a corner and sends strikes his way. Vader grabs a handful of hair and unloads a number of blows onto Choshu, then takes him down with a stiff short clothesline. He traps Choshu in a knee bar while attempting to smother him with his free hand. Vader gets a big reaction from the crowd by teasing a sharpshooter – the hold Choshu either popularized or outright invented.
Choshu fight back as things head to the floor. Vader sells an eye injury and removes his mask. This only infuriates the big man, and he continues to pummel Choshu in and out of the ring. A splash fails to finish things and the crowd chants for their hero.
Vader attempts a top rope attack, but finds himself trapped and superplexed instead. Choshu gathers back some of his bearings after that and delivers an enziguri to try and keep Vader down. A pair of clotheslines manage to knock Vader back off his feet and he is trapped in the sharpshooter. Vader makes it to the ropes and bails to the floor.
Vader clubs his way back into control and he crushes Choshu with a corner splash. He attempts another but Chosu blasts him in his bad eye. Choshu hits Vader with five clotheslines (one of his signatures moves to finish an opponent) and Vader finally goes down on the fifth blow. This keeps the monster down long enough to eat the three-count.
Vader talks about watching a lot of film on his opponents so that he could call the right moves and spots to highlight his opponent’s strengths.
The Great Muta faced Vader one night and the fans threw pillows into the ring. This was a sumo tradition, but this was the first time it had been done for a pro wrestling match.
Vader traveled with Harley Race in WCW. He hung with Tony St. Clair in Germany.
Masa Chono and Muta impressed Vader when they were just youngsters learning in Japan. Shinya Hashimoto never impressed Vader. Hashimoto was generally out of shape and liked to smoke.
Masa Chono vs. Big Van Vader
We are joined in progress with Vader trapping Chono on the mat in a headlock. Chono gains control with an armlock and Vader shows off his power by deadlifting Chono with one arm and dumping him to the mat. Chono comes back quickly with strikes and grasps Vader’s arm once again. Vader punches his way out of that predicament. Chono blocks Vader’s follow up suplex attempt and delivers his own. Vader barely sells that and comes back with headbutts and punches. Vader lays in a clothesline and drives Chono to the mat with a power slam. He then tosses Chono over the top rope and to the floor with ease.
Chono is flung into the railing, then dropped ribs first down onto them. Chono makes it back to the ring and side steps Vader’s attack. He trips the big man up and locks in an STF (His speciality taught to him by Lou Thesz). Vader fights to the ropes. Vader endures a back suplex and a flying shoulder tackle.
Chono fires into Vader with several more strikes but an attempt to roll Vader up ends with Chono being sat on and pinned. Good effort from both men.
More next week…