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Old 04-19-2018, 07:52 PM   #2301
ThememanXX
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It’s no Wrestlemania, but I’m heading to an NXT house show tomorrow. Kind of excited.
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handjob on the lawn during the encore saved it
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Old 04-20-2018, 12:03 AM   #2302
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If we both end up going, I’ll buy you a beer!
Thank you! I'll buy you one as well.
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Old 04-20-2018, 12:36 PM   #2303
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The Gargano / ciampa match from NXT take over had possibly my favorite finish ever.
The storytelling in this match was unbelievable.

It was Obi-Wan v. Anakin Skywalker, except well-written and well-executed.
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What's this about 'extended delay?' Hardened boarders know TDC was only down for two days: the day it went down, and the day it went back up.
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Old 04-20-2018, 01:47 PM   #2304
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I don't really follow NXT a ton but I got the backstory and then watched that match and was floored. Absolutely excellent.
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Old 06-21-2018, 07:48 AM   #2305
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Can't believe it made it into this week's Observer. Here is the Vader obit:

Spoiler:

Leon White, who was the best and most versatile 400-pound pro wrestler in history, passed away on 6/18 at the age of 63.

Best known as Vader, or Big Van Vader, White was a college football star, a powerhouse who could bench press nearly 600 pounds, and shocked people in the early 1990s when he started doing moonsaults in his biggest matches. He worked very physical, but he was a major star in companies all over the world, a major drawing card on multiple continents and one of the major figures worldwide during the decade of the 90s.

White himself was most proud of the fact that he was the only wrestler to have held the most recognized world championships in as many major markets, being a top drawing superstar in the U.S., Japan, Mexico and in Europe.

During his career he held All Japan’s Triple Crown twice, at the time when it was still a major promotion and selling out Budokan Hall on a regular basis. He held the CWA world heavyweight title in Europe three times and is generally remembered as the greatest rival of that area’s legend, Otto Wanz, which is where he got his first superstar break. He held the IWGP heavyweight title three times, the most of any non-Japanese wrestler in history. He held the UWA world heavyweight championship once, which at the time was the leading heavyweight title in Mexico. He held the UWFI world heavyweight title once, in a shoot style organization, and once sold out Jingu Stadium in Tokyo with 46,148 fans for a match with Nobuhiko Takada. He held the WCW world title three times. He was also scheduled to win the WWF championship in 1996 and do a program with Shawn Michaels, but Michaels nixed the program and that program instead went to Sycho Sid, scheduled with Vader winning the title at the 1996 Survivor Series and losing to Michaels in his home town at the 1997 Royal Rumble in San Antonio at the Alamodome.

He was voted 1993 Wrestler of the Year and an easy pick for the Hall of Fame.

His son, Jesse, wrote, “It is with a heavy heart to inform everyone that my father, Leon White, passed away on Monday night (6/18/18) at approximately 7:25 p.m. Around a month ago, my father was diagnosed with a severe case of pneumonia. He fought extremely hard and clinically was making progress. Unfortunately, on Monday night his heart had enough and it was his time.”

White was told by doctors in November 2016 that he had congenital heart failure and only had about two years left to live. He didn’t last that long. He did have a better diagnosis that he believed gave him more time from another doctor months later. He had serious heart surgery on 3/12 which he said left him in the most pain of his life. He developed the pneumonia in May after a second surgery.

White came into pro wrestling when he wasn’t able to overcome knee injuries that plagued him during an NFL career with the Los Angeles Rams.

White was gigantic from birth, being 11 pounds. He was a football star at Bell High School in Los Angeles, was a two-time All-American center at the University of Colorado and made Denver his home after college.

At 6-foot-3 and 260 pounds, he was a third round draft choice of the Los Angeles Rams. He suffered a knee injury in training camp and was on injured reserve for the 1978 and 1979 seasons. Although the 1979 team only went 9-7, they won the Western Division of the NFC and went all the way to the 1980 Super Bowl, where they lost 31-19 to the Pittsburgh Steelers. White was technically on an NFC championship winning and Super Bowl team, but actually never played a down in an NFL regular season game.

He had gotten very heavy after his football career ended, but was a remarkable athlete for his size. He was put in contact with Brad Rheingans, the former Olympian who headed the training of wrestlers for the AWA. The AWA was on its downslide when White started, at the time called Leon “Baby Bull” White. While understandably green, because of his size and athletic ability, they tried to push him from the start. He debuted in October, 1985 in a Battle Royal in Schofield, WI. There is no record of him losing any matches cleanly in his AWA rookie run other than several AWA title matches with Stan Hansen, who would go on to become one of his most well-known rivals due to a match at the Tokyo Dome, and Bruiser Brody.

Otto Wanz, who weighed about 389 pounds himself, was the promoter and world champion of the Catch Wrestling Association, that promoted in Germany and Austria. He favored using big, thick, powerful opponents, and physically, White, fit the mark. Called “Bull Power,” Wanz found out about White from the AWA, and on March 22, 1987, in Denver, before 2,000 fans, the former University of Colorado football star beat Wanz for his championship.

Bull Power was brought to Europe as the man who defeated the unbeatable local hero, as Wanz had held the promotion’s world heavyweight title since beating Don Leo Jonathan on July 15, 1978, ending a nearly nine-year run.

Wanz himself had gained mainstream fame in Germany and Austria by going on television and tearing thick telephone books. White was brought in and local television stations were brought to the gym to watch the heavily steroided up White bench press close to 600 pounds. The storyline is that the old powerhouse now had a younger and more powerful rival. The two traded the championship back-and-forth over the next four years, including Wanz winning what was billed as his retirement match over Bull Power on June 30, 1990, in his home town of Graz. Borrowing from the Verne Gagne booking, when Wanz then retired, the CWA gave the title to the top contender, Bull Power. In 1981, when Gagne did his first retirement, as champion, it was announced that a tournament would take too much time and the title was given to the top contender, Nick Bockwinkel.

The idea is that the company’s new top local star, Rambo (Luc Poirier) would gain credibility as world champion by beating Wanz’s greatest rival, which took place on July 6, 1991 in Graz. But the promotion’s popularity declined greatly with a combination of Wanz no longer the top star, and with WWF television gaining more of a foothold and like everywhere, made the local promotion look secondary by comparison.

But while his first big break was in Germany and Austria, his biggest break came later in 1987 in Japan.

At first, White was scheduled to start with All Japan Pro Wrestling in 1987, and would likely have been given a decent push, but not a major one due to his not being a major U.S. star and being green at the time.

New Japan, however, offered him a top position.

New Japan in 1987 made a deal with Takeshi Kitano, who at the time was one of the country’s most famous comedians and considered the Johnny Carson of Japan. Kitano would become a heel manager on big shows and feud with Antonio Inoki, with the idea of him being the Lou Albano to Bruno Sammartino.

Kitano’s first protégé was to be a muscular masked foreigner, Big Van Vader, with headgear that blew steam out of it. Jim Hellwig was chosen for the role. They wanted a monster who would do short matches and blow through everyone. But in June, Hellwig signed with the WWF, and shortly after that, became the Ultimate Warrior, and pulled out of the gig. There are a number of original artist sketches of Big Van Vader, with the same outfit, but with the bodybuilder look as opposed to the 350 or so pound look. Sid Eudy, who became Sid Vicious, was also considered, but the decision was to go with White for the role.

In hindsight, it was a great decision, as while Warrior or Sid would have gotten over at first with their size in New Japan, they could have never had the lasting appeal that White had once it was time to do longer matches.

The debut of Big Van Vader, managed by Takeshi Kitano, was announced for a December 27, 1987, show at Sumo Hall. The main event on the show was scheduled as Inoki vs. Riki Choshu, a rare singles match between New Japan’s legend and its most popular wrestler to the younger crowd, drawing a sellout of 11,097 fans. The night was a disaster.

Inoki beat Choshu via a cheap DQ in just 6:06 of a nothing match, and fans were furious. Vader, Kitano and handler Masa Saito came to the ring to challenge Inoki, and Vader pinned Inoki with a powerslam in just 2:49 in a one-sided match. Inoki almost never lost in that era, and never in that type of squash match style. The idea was to create an instant larger-than-life monster. But the fans, unhappy with the show, rioted, doing so much damage that Sumo Hall refused to allow any more pro wrestling shows (the ban was rescinded in early 1989). Kitano didn’t like being involved in such a negative situation and immediately backed out of the gig. Saito accompanied Vader as his manager early on.

Vader and Inoki became the headline program in New Japan, with matches ending without a clean-cut winner. After Inoki suffered a broken foot, he vacated his IWGP championship.

On May 8, 1988, Vader, who had yet to be pinned, wrestled Tatsumi Fujinami for the vacant title, with Fujinami winning via DQ.

While not talked about as much as some of the others, it was the Fujinami program that was really the key to Vader’s long-term success in Japan. The green monster would have had a short shelf life at the top. But in 1988, Fujinami was the equal of any pro wrestler in the world. Fujinami was able to have great matches with Vader, and in doing those matches, Vader’s own work improved rapidly. There was a negative, in that in working that style and having those matches, Fujinami’s back gave out and by the end of the program, he was never the same as a wrestler. Vader, on the other hand, could add great worker to go along with his massive size and unique steamed headpiece gimmick.

Fujinami’s back injury flared up to the point he vacated the title. This led to an eight-man tournament for the title on New Japan’s biggest show in its history up to that point, an April 24, 1989, show at the recently-opened Tokyo Dome. It was the first pro wrestling event ever held in the new home of the Yomiuri Giants, and would go on to become most famous wrestling venue in Japan.

Vader scored wins over Masahiro Chono, Fujinami, and beat Shinya Hashimoto in the finals, in a match with Lou Thesz as referee, to become the first foreigner to hold the title in this form. Hulk Hogan was actually the first IWGP tournament winner in 1983, but at the time the title was something defended once a year, and Hogan lost it to Inoki in 1984. Inoki retained in 1985 and 1986, and then in 1987, after Inoki beat Saito in the IWGP tournament final, it was changed to being New Japan’s version of the world heavyweight title, replacing the International title which had been the lead championship.

When Vader defeated Canek in November, 1989, before a sold out crowd of 18,000 fans at El Toreo in Naucalpan, he became the first pro wrestler to hold major world titles (IWGP, CWA and UWA) simultaneously on three different continents at the same time. He was especially proud of being able to do this.

Perhaps Vader’s most famous match was on February 10, 1990, when he faced Stan Hansen at a sold out Tokyo Dome. The show was built around the first major match-ups of All Japan vs. New Japan, the traditional big two companies. There were two tag team matches that would be split in results, and then each company put its top foreigner against each other in the dream match.

Vader was in his second, and eventual record-breaking run as champion. The match was brutally stiff, with Vader suffering a broken nose, and then, with punches exchanged, it was believed that Hansen accidentally thumbed Vader in his eye which caused his eye to pop out of its socket. Vader unmasked himself and pushed his eye back in its socket and tried to hold it in place with his eyelid. The match continued to its planned double disqualification finish. The visual of Vader voluntarily unmaking and his eye popped out is one of the most memorable images of that era of Japanese wrestling. Vader needed eye surgery.

While news traveled slower in those days, the story of the Hansen vs. Vader match became well known. Vader had wrestled mostly in Japan, taking a few dates in Mexico and more in Europe in between tours.

While fans who watched Japanese tapes in particular were aware of Vader and talked him up from his match quality and the gimmicked headpiece, it was the Hansen match that led WCW to make a big play for him.

Jim Ross and Jim Cornette were on the WCW booking committee and pitched hard for Vader, especially after Ross saw the Hansen match. WCW offered him what at the time was a huge money guaranteed contract where he would split time between WCW and New Japan starting in the summer of 1990. The first-ever G-1 Climax tournament took place over three nights, August 8-10, 1990, at Sumo Hall in Tokyo, all nights sold out.

I can vividly recall getting a phone call from Japan on the second night from Brian Pillman, who told me that the match that had just ended a few hours earlier where Keiji Muto pinned Vader was the greatest match he had ever seen. Worse, he noted, it was not taped for television. A few months later, a handheld tape of the match did appear, and the match was incredible for its time. In those days, because of the box seats at Sumo Hall being uncomfortable, they would sell pillows to sit on. The euphoric feeling that enveloped Sumo Hall when Muto pinned Vader, a result nobody would have thought possible, led to what was called pillow-mania, with fans throwing their pillows, thousands of them in the air in celebration. The next night, when Chono beat Muto to win the first G-1 tournament, fans also threw pillows, but Pillman noted that the Muto-Vader match it was a spontaneous insane reaction, while for Muto-Chono, they were just trying to do what was done, similar to copying certain chants that meant something the first time and then just became routine reactions.

Until 1992, Vader worked primarily New Japan, but WCW upped its offer and got more dates on Vader, and put Harley Race with him as manager. Vader’s biggest U.S. program came at that time with Sting, battling over the WCW title.

While Sting, like almost everyone, had great matches with Ric Flair, he was never able to consistently reach that match level after Flair left the promotion. Vader was a completely different style of opponent, but Vader, after all the years working with top guys in Japan, had turned into the best worker for his size of anyone in pro wrestling history. He and Sting meshed well and this would generally be remembered alongside the Flair matches as the best of Sting’s career. Business wasn’t good, as this was a down period for the industry in general.

But like with Fujinami, Vader’s style hurt Sting. He broke some of Sting’s ribs and fractured his spleen early in their 1992 program. Vader beat Sting on July 12, 1992, to become the WCW champion for the first time, which was part of a Bill Watts plan to get the title on Ron Simmons as the “first black world champion,” a few weeks later.

While Vader was tremendous as far as making matches, his stuff style caused numerous casualties. He injured Nikita Koloff, who then retired with his Lloyd’s of London insurance policy. The Simmons experiment as champion didn’t work, so they went back to Vader, who went back to feuding with Sting over the top spot.

He broke the back of Joe Thurman with a stiff power bomb. Mick Foley suffered a concussion from a sick power bomb on the floor from Vader which led to the infamous Mick Foley amnesia angle, which was one of the worst angles of its time. Foley also suffered a broken nose and bled heavily in a television match that ended up heavily edited before it aired due to the amount of blood. But Foley was actually asking for Vader to hit him in the face with almost full force in those matches to bring out the realism. The matches were some of the best bouts of the time period and were keys to Foley being perceived as a likable mid-carder to being a serious star who could work on top. Although this had nothing to do with Vader, Foley also lost his right ear in a match with Vader in 1994in Munich, Germany when his head was tied up in the ropes.

20 years to the day, Foley wanted to do something to commemorate it. He found out White was booked in Lexington, KY, that day at a convention, so he got himself booked there so they could spent the day together.

“I got myself booked on the show just so we could do a panel together and take some photos together,” said Foley. “I was hoping we could do something similar to that for the 25th anniversary in 2019.”

“Leon played a big role in my career,” said Foley. “At the time of our Halloween Havoc match, I absolutely believed that my career had reached its peak. So I approached every match with Leon like it was going to be the greatest match I’d ever had. A few months ago, a fan from the U.K. told me he was front row for a match with me and Leon in either Birmingham or Manchester, I can’t remember which one. He said he couldn’t believe the intensity of the match, given that it was not televised,. It would not mean much in the bigger scheme of things, but I was so glad he mentioned it, because we went all out every time we were in there together. I specifically remember that match a being one of my favorites. It was nice to get that kind of feedback from a fan.”

Vader also debuted his moonsault during this period. The moonsault, which was probably first used as a body block by Chavo Guerrero Sr., was popularized by Muto in the U.S. and became even bigger when Muto became a true national superstar in Japan.

Vader, whose weight probably ranged from 350 to 430, practiced the move in his swimming pool. At first it was used when he was going to lose, with the idea he’d miss a moonsault and then lose, but that nobody would be talking about his loss, and everyone would be talking about the idea that he did a moonsault, which at the time was move almost nobody did, and certainly nobody within 100 pounds of him. It worked. Of course such a move done by a guy of that size can give significant wear-and-tear on the knees. Vader did limit his usage of the move to major events. In time, the sight of Vader at his size doing a moonsault became one of people’s most vivid memories of him.

In 1993, Vader signed what was at the time a landmark deal with UWFI in Japan. He would get $200,000 for eight dates plus a $50,000 bonus. Those kind of numbers were unheard of in pro wrestling at the time for anyone not named Hulk Hogan.

It was a major coup. Vader was not only WCW champion, meaning he was the champion of the No. 2 promotion in North America, but had been New Japan’s top foreign star.

UWFI was proclaiming itself as real, and with the backing of Thesz, who UWFI had signed as a face of the company, he went back to the 1920s and said that their champion, Nobuhiko Takada, was the real world champion. Thesz used his world title belt from the 1950s when he was as close to an undisputed world champion as there was, and was even bigger in Japan because it was the belt Thesz and Rikidozan battled over in a series of outdoor stadium shows in 1957, including one that nearly everyone who had a television set in Japan watched.

Thesz in particular has singled out New Japan, and their top stars like Masahiro Chono, who at the time was IWGP champion, to face Takada. New Japan of course ignored it as best they could (New Japan later got revenge when UWFI ran into financial problems and needed help and New Japan set business records with the feud but also squashed UWFI in the end). But suddenly Vader, the star they felt they made, had signed with UWFI, for the obvious reason of putting over Takada.

There were legal issues, but Vader was able to make the contract, but had to change his name to Super Vader. Much to the consternation of WCW officials who looked at their world title as what older promoters did, Vader, as WCW champion, did the match with Takada at Jingu Stadium, and submitted to an armbar in a champion vs. champion match. As part of the deal, Vader did get to beat Takada in a rematch and get the UWFI title, only to lose the third match with Takada. The relationship fell apart when UWFI started having serious money issues.

Vader was proud of the physical style in these matches which he said were the closest thing to a real fight without being real, and his being able to pull the matches off in a convincing style, labeling the action as 70 percent fight with a predetermined finish.

Business in 1993 was terrible for WCW. They were building for a big showdown where Sid Vicious would beat Vader at Starrcade and become the promotion’s champion and face of the company. But Vicious got into a hotel hallway brawl with Arn Anderson in England, and was fired. It ended up for the best for the promotion.

Having to redo the top match in Starrcade, which was scheduled for Charlotte, the promotion went to the Ric Flair card, where Flair, as a babyface, would put his career on the line for one last shot at the title that he dominated. Flair won the match, which did WCW’s biggest attendance (8,200 of which 5,500 were paid) and gate ($62,000) and PPV number of the year, which was more of just how bad a year it was.

Vader continued as a top star with WCW, but the big matches were mostly Flair, who went back heel, against the debuting Hogan. But everyone knew that after that ran its course, the natural match-up was Hogan vs. Vader, a match between two of the biggest worldwide stairs of the era that had never taken place.

Still, this was not good for Vader. Hogan wasn’t going to put Vader over at the time as his mentality was still about running through new opponents rather than long programs. The Hogan vs. Vader feud did big PPV numbers by WCW standards, along the lines of what Hogan vs. Flair did. In the first meeting, which Vader lost via DQ due to interference by Flair (who had lost a retirement match to Hogan a few months earlier), Vader kicked out of the leg drop at one. Then, in a strap match, Hogan won, but he was declared the winner by dragging Flair, who was dressed up in drag, around all four corners. The idea was Hogan still hadn’t beaten Vader. Finally this led to a cage match at the Bash at the Beach show in Los Angeles, which Hogan won by escaping the cage.

However, Vader was always mad because Hogan insisted on popping up and no selling his power bomb that had been used as a killer move in WCW, hurting people both legit and in storyline. There was always the feeling that Hogan should have put Vader over at one point, and also that Vader should have put Hogan over via pinfall after that.

Vader ended up being fired from his lucrative WCW contract after a backstage brawl with Paul Orndorff, acting as an agent. There are numerous versions of the story, as Vader always claimed he was not beaten up in the fight while almost every onlooker told a different version.

Orndorff told Vader to come in to do an interview, and Vader ignored him. The two started yelling it started getting physical. Orndorff dropped Vader with a punch and started kicking him with his feet, wearing sandals. Vader got up and wanted to go after Orndorff but was held back. But due to Vader’s behavior in precipitating the fight, even as big a star as he still was, he was let go.

While Vader was largely respected for his ability to have great matches and his agility for a man his size, he had a mixed reputation. He drank a lot. He was often looking for sympathy or a sympathetic ear to the point some labeled him as a big baby. While nobody denied his standing as one of pro wrestling’s biggest stars and that he drew well everywhere he went on top except for the disaster that was WCW until 1996, in a WWE-centric world, to many fans he’s no longer viewed at the level of stars who were not even considered at his level in his prime because his lone WWF run was not a success.

Vader did some acting, including playing Goliath in the 1995 movie “Fist of the North Star,” and playing himself in an episode of “Baywatch,” but was most known for recurring appearances in the 1995 and 1996 season of the TV show “Boy Meets World,” playing the pro wrestler father, doing his Vader character, of one of the friends of the lead cast members.

On January 4, 1996, Vader lost to 52-year-old Antonio Inoki at the Tokyo Dome in what most remember as Inoki’s last truly great match.

Vader had avoided WWF for his entire career because between his high-end WCW contract and his various deals in Japan and other countries, he was one of the highest money earners in the sport and his deals were guaranteed.

But WCW was done, and New Japan would use him, but not at the level he had been at the past, so 1996 was the right time to go to WWF, which was in a business slump. Ross, by this point the head of talent relations in WWE, was the conduit to the new deal.

Vader, called The Man They Call Vader, did a major angle where he gave Gorilla Monsoon, the figurehead president of the WWF, a Vader bomb. Vader was suspended, giving him time off for shoulder surgery. It was also the last physical angle Monsoon was ever in.

Vader returned, being managed by Jim Cornette. The plan was for him to go through a newly-turned face Yokozuna, form a tag team with Foley and then split up, and build to a WWF title program with Shawn Michaels.

The Foley program was teased, with the idea that the demented babyface Mankind was going after the man who caused him to lose his ear. Foley and Vader wanted to do the program in WCW, since Foley knew that Killer Kowalski and Yukon Eric had one of the biggest feuds of the 50s that went all over North America, coming off Eric losing his ear in Montreal.

They teased in commentary a secret that would be revealed, which was going to be revealed as the ear, and started teasing a split between the two, and then Vince McMahon nixed the idea.

“I don’t really know,” Foley said. “It was talked about at one point, and I don’t know what happened.”

But Michaels wanted out of the program quickly, and Vader’s run was not a success. In WWF, he was labeled as a crybaby, knocked for having smelly ring gear and with the mentality by some in the company that WWF was the big leagues and nothing else counted, and that he was both washed up and overrated.

At one point his weight was high and WWE was afraid that his blood pressure would cause one of the athletic commissions that still regulated pro wrestling to give him a medical suspension. Ross sent both Vader and Yokozuna to the Duke Weight Loss Clinic in North Carolina. It wasn’t a success. Ross noted that after the first week both were there, each had gained weight because they were sneaking out at night to eat more food.

By the end, after he lost a mask vs. mask match to Kane, they were using him as a big name jobber, losing cleanly to the likes of Mark Henry, Edge and Bradshaw (John Layfield), especially when he gave his notice as Giant Baba felt he could resurrect his career.

He was battling depression at the time due to his lack of success and once on television referred to himself as a fat piece of shit. After the Kane loss, in an interview he did, whether scripted or not, he buried himself further saying, “Maybe Vader time is over. I’m a fat piece of shit. A big fat piece of shit.”

Away from the WWF structure, Vader, tabbed as washed up, since he was 43 years old, debuted with All Japan Pro Wrestling in 1998 for the final big run of his career.

While past its peak of a few years earlier, All Japan was still very successful and its main events were still arguably the best in the world, with a roster that included Mitsuharu Misawa, Kenta Kobashi, Stan Hansen, Toshiaki Kawada and Jun Akiyama.

Vader & Hansen were pushed as the unbeatable foreign tag team, something of a recreation of the Hansen & Bruiser Brody team. They dominated everyone in the 1998 World Tag League, but lost almost by a fluke in the finals to Kobashi & Akiyama, with Hansen as the one being pinned because even though Hansen was their historical top foreigner, Vader was the money for 1999 and Baba knew it.

He was clearly wrestling’s comeback story of 1999, beating Akira Taue for the Triple Crown, winning the Champion Carnival tournament with a win over Kobashi, trading the title with Misawa before losing to Kobashi.

From December 1998 to February 2000, Vader headlined five sold out Budokan Hall shows with the tag team tournament finals and singles matches with Misawa and Kobashi twice and one with Taue. He also headlined the Tokyo Dome on May 2, 1989, with Misawa, on a show that drew 50,000 fans and $5 million.

He left All Japan with almost all the crew in 2000 to join Pro Wrestling NOAH. But it was clear that 1999 was his last big run. He had a major altercation with the Yakuza while in Japan as well where he was stabbed all over his body, which was the beginning of the end of his stay with NOAH. He was with the promotion full-time through 2002, mostly as a tag team with Too Cold Scorpio, a wrestler he started the career of years earlier, which was the last full-time major promotion run of his career.

Vader bounced around the U.S. and Japan on indies and nostalgia comebacks to All Japan, New Japan, WWE, TNA and other places after that point but it was clear he was no longer the same.

He had a number of health problems stemming from injuries from such a hard bumping style, years of heavy drinking, being so heavy and usage of steroids. He was divorced in 2007, had both knees replaced and was bedridden for six months after an infection from surgery. Later he was in a coma for 33 days. He was in a terrible auto accident in 2016 which left his face badly contorted although it went back to its usual shape.

In 2016, he got into a Twitter war when he knocked a match with Will Ospreay vs. Ricochet from Tokyo, saying it wasn’t wrestling. Revolution Pro tried to turn that into an angle, and the August 12, 2016, match at York Hall in London between Vader and Ospreay had unreal heat. However, when Vader got to London, he reneged on his agreement to put Ospreay over. For the good of the show, Ospreay put him over, but it left a bad taste in a lot of people’s mouths. Wrestling had changed had Vader didn’t understand the idea of a guy the size of Ospreay beating Vader, even though it was the only finish that made sense. Vader had then said he’d put him over in a tag team match that was set up, but they couldn’t trust Vader after that.

In November of 2016, he was told by his doctors that he had congenital heart failure and that he probably was only going to live about two more years. He released that information, but later regretted doing so. He had one health issue after another in recent years, but still went to Japan in April of last year for the Dradition promotion to celebrate the 45th anniversary of the debut of Fujinami. In a match on April 20, 2017, at Korakuen Hall, with Fujinami & Riki Choshu & Shiro Koshinaka vs. Vader & Muto & AKIRA, Vader collapsed right after the match ended. He claimed on Twitter that he was dropped on his head during the match which caused a momentary blackout after the match was over, and that it had nothing to do with his heart. He wrestled the next two nights of his tour.

His final career match was three days later in Osaka, teaming with Fujinami & Choshu to beat Yoshiaki Fujiwara & Koshinaka & Takuma Sano.

He had been really hopeful of being inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame this year. Foley in particular had both publicly and privately pushed for it.

“I have no idea what happened with the Hall of Fame,” said Foley. “I’m sure he is someone who is considered every year. I asked Vince to consider him sooner rather than later, considering his health. I talked to Leon on a fairly regular basis, probably every other month since his diagnosis. The Hall of Fame meant so much to him. My last conversation with him was about a month ago, and he was wondering if he might get in following the open heart surgery. He really wanted to return to the ring. He wanted to be a feel good story that could inspire people.”

Because he traveled to so many parts of the world and his career hit every major promotion in the world at one time or another, and almost always as a top star, probably nobody of his era faced more of the biggest names of different eras in headline matches.

A list of Hall of Fame or major star level opponents he worked with would include Choshu, Sting, Fujinami, Taue, Misawa, Simmons, Akiyama, Kobashi, Saito, Michaels, Undertaker, Goldust, Sid Vicious, Chono, Hashimoto, Muto, Kane, Yoshihiro Takayama, Takada, Davey Boy Smith, Inoki, Foley, Big Bossman, The Rock, Nikita Koloff, Takeshi Morishima, Hansen, Takashi Sugiura, Bret Hart, Seiji Sakaguchi, Jim Duggan, Hiroshi Hase, Shiro Koshinaka, Flair, Larry Zbyszko, Brody, Ultimate Warrior, HHH, Yokozuna, Steve Austin, Ken Shamrock, The Steiner Brothers, Gary Albright, Michael Hayes, Kensuke Sasaki, Owen Hart, Wanz, Bam Bam Bigelow, Jushin Liger, William Regal, Nick Bockwinkel, Jake Roberts, Scott Norton, Greg Gagne, Hogan, The Road Warriors, Curt Hennig, Arn Anderson, Kazuo Yamazaki, Jeff Jarrett, Larry Hennig, Jerry Blackwell, Tiger Jeet Singh, The Mongolian Stomper, Iron Sheik, Bob Orton Jr., Jimmy Snuka, Salman Hashimikov, Barry Windham, Rick Rude, The Head Hunters, Terry Funk, Steve Williams, Jerry Lawler, Ray Stevens, Jose Lothario, Paul Orndorff, Sgt. Slaughter, Baron Von Raschke, Masato Tanaka, Don Frye, Dick Murdoch, Samoa Joe, Ospreay, Tony Atlas, El Satanico, Canek, Lizmark, Kiyoshi Tamura, Shuji Ishikawa, Sabu, Kevin Nash Ricky Morton, Lex Luger and Layfield.
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Old 06-21-2018, 08:08 AM   #2306
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I saw Mick Foley and Vader at the Comiccon in Lexington 2014. It was the 20th anniversary of the match that cost Foley his ear. They were talking about how stiff Vader worked. Foley said "It wasn't uncommon for new guys to walk onto Center Stage and see they were matched up with Vader, and then walk out of the building and quit the business altogether. And no one thought any less of them"

Someone else asked Vader how Stan Hansen did the spot where he hit people with a cowbell. He just said "well, Stan would take a cowbell, and then hit you as hard as he could with it"
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Old 06-21-2018, 11:35 AM   #2307
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Can't believe it made it into this week's Observer. Here is the Vader obit:

Spoiler:

Leon White, who was the best and most versatile 400-pound pro wrestler in history, passed away on 6/18 at the age of 63.

Best known as Vader, or Big Van Vader, White was a college football star, a powerhouse who could bench press nearly 600 pounds, and shocked people in the early 1990s when he started doing moonsaults in his biggest matches. He worked very physical, but he was a major star in companies all over the world, a major drawing card on multiple continents and one of the major figures worldwide during the decade of the 90s.

White himself was most proud of the fact that he was the only wrestler to have held the most recognized world championships in as many major markets, being a top drawing superstar in the U.S., Japan, Mexico and in Europe.

During his career he held All Japan’s Triple Crown twice, at the time when it was still a major promotion and selling out Budokan Hall on a regular basis. He held the CWA world heavyweight title in Europe three times and is generally remembered as the greatest rival of that area’s legend, Otto Wanz, which is where he got his first superstar break. He held the IWGP heavyweight title three times, the most of any non-Japanese wrestler in history. He held the UWA world heavyweight championship once, which at the time was the leading heavyweight title in Mexico. He held the UWFI world heavyweight title once, in a shoot style organization, and once sold out Jingu Stadium in Tokyo with 46,148 fans for a match with Nobuhiko Takada. He held the WCW world title three times. He was also scheduled to win the WWF championship in 1996 and do a program with Shawn Michaels, but Michaels nixed the program and that program instead went to Sycho Sid, scheduled with Vader winning the title at the 1996 Survivor Series and losing to Michaels in his home town at the 1997 Royal Rumble in San Antonio at the Alamodome.

He was voted 1993 Wrestler of the Year and an easy pick for the Hall of Fame.

His son, Jesse, wrote, “It is with a heavy heart to inform everyone that my father, Leon White, passed away on Monday night (6/18/18) at approximately 7:25 p.m. Around a month ago, my father was diagnosed with a severe case of pneumonia. He fought extremely hard and clinically was making progress. Unfortunately, on Monday night his heart had enough and it was his time.”

White was told by doctors in November 2016 that he had congenital heart failure and only had about two years left to live. He didn’t last that long. He did have a better diagnosis that he believed gave him more time from another doctor months later. He had serious heart surgery on 3/12 which he said left him in the most pain of his life. He developed the pneumonia in May after a second surgery.

White came into pro wrestling when he wasn’t able to overcome knee injuries that plagued him during an NFL career with the Los Angeles Rams.

White was gigantic from birth, being 11 pounds. He was a football star at Bell High School in Los Angeles, was a two-time All-American center at the University of Colorado and made Denver his home after college.

At 6-foot-3 and 260 pounds, he was a third round draft choice of the Los Angeles Rams. He suffered a knee injury in training camp and was on injured reserve for the 1978 and 1979 seasons. Although the 1979 team only went 9-7, they won the Western Division of the NFC and went all the way to the 1980 Super Bowl, where they lost 31-19 to the Pittsburgh Steelers. White was technically on an NFC championship winning and Super Bowl team, but actually never played a down in an NFL regular season game.

He had gotten very heavy after his football career ended, but was a remarkable athlete for his size. He was put in contact with Brad Rheingans, the former Olympian who headed the training of wrestlers for the AWA. The AWA was on its downslide when White started, at the time called Leon “Baby Bull” White. While understandably green, because of his size and athletic ability, they tried to push him from the start. He debuted in October, 1985 in a Battle Royal in Schofield, WI. There is no record of him losing any matches cleanly in his AWA rookie run other than several AWA title matches with Stan Hansen, who would go on to become one of his most well-known rivals due to a match at the Tokyo Dome, and Bruiser Brody.

Otto Wanz, who weighed about 389 pounds himself, was the promoter and world champion of the Catch Wrestling Association, that promoted in Germany and Austria. He favored using big, thick, powerful opponents, and physically, White, fit the mark. Called “Bull Power,” Wanz found out about White from the AWA, and on March 22, 1987, in Denver, before 2,000 fans, the former University of Colorado football star beat Wanz for his championship.

Bull Power was brought to Europe as the man who defeated the unbeatable local hero, as Wanz had held the promotion’s world heavyweight title since beating Don Leo Jonathan on July 15, 1978, ending a nearly nine-year run.

Wanz himself had gained mainstream fame in Germany and Austria by going on television and tearing thick telephone books. White was brought in and local television stations were brought to the gym to watch the heavily steroided up White bench press close to 600 pounds. The storyline is that the old powerhouse now had a younger and more powerful rival. The two traded the championship back-and-forth over the next four years, including Wanz winning what was billed as his retirement match over Bull Power on June 30, 1990, in his home town of Graz. Borrowing from the Verne Gagne booking, when Wanz then retired, the CWA gave the title to the top contender, Bull Power. In 1981, when Gagne did his first retirement, as champion, it was announced that a tournament would take too much time and the title was given to the top contender, Nick Bockwinkel.

The idea is that the company’s new top local star, Rambo (Luc Poirier) would gain credibility as world champion by beating Wanz’s greatest rival, which took place on July 6, 1991 in Graz. But the promotion’s popularity declined greatly with a combination of Wanz no longer the top star, and with WWF television gaining more of a foothold and like everywhere, made the local promotion look secondary by comparison.

But while his first big break was in Germany and Austria, his biggest break came later in 1987 in Japan.

At first, White was scheduled to start with All Japan Pro Wrestling in 1987, and would likely have been given a decent push, but not a major one due to his not being a major U.S. star and being green at the time.

New Japan, however, offered him a top position.

New Japan in 1987 made a deal with Takeshi Kitano, who at the time was one of the country’s most famous comedians and considered the Johnny Carson of Japan. Kitano would become a heel manager on big shows and feud with Antonio Inoki, with the idea of him being the Lou Albano to Bruno Sammartino.

Kitano’s first protégé was to be a muscular masked foreigner, Big Van Vader, with headgear that blew steam out of it. Jim Hellwig was chosen for the role. They wanted a monster who would do short matches and blow through everyone. But in June, Hellwig signed with the WWF, and shortly after that, became the Ultimate Warrior, and pulled out of the gig. There are a number of original artist sketches of Big Van Vader, with the same outfit, but with the bodybuilder look as opposed to the 350 or so pound look. Sid Eudy, who became Sid Vicious, was also considered, but the decision was to go with White for the role.

In hindsight, it was a great decision, as while Warrior or Sid would have gotten over at first with their size in New Japan, they could have never had the lasting appeal that White had once it was time to do longer matches.

The debut of Big Van Vader, managed by Takeshi Kitano, was announced for a December 27, 1987, show at Sumo Hall. The main event on the show was scheduled as Inoki vs. Riki Choshu, a rare singles match between New Japan’s legend and its most popular wrestler to the younger crowd, drawing a sellout of 11,097 fans. The night was a disaster.

Inoki beat Choshu via a cheap DQ in just 6:06 of a nothing match, and fans were furious. Vader, Kitano and handler Masa Saito came to the ring to challenge Inoki, and Vader pinned Inoki with a powerslam in just 2:49 in a one-sided match. Inoki almost never lost in that era, and never in that type of squash match style. The idea was to create an instant larger-than-life monster. But the fans, unhappy with the show, rioted, doing so much damage that Sumo Hall refused to allow any more pro wrestling shows (the ban was rescinded in early 1989). Kitano didn’t like being involved in such a negative situation and immediately backed out of the gig. Saito accompanied Vader as his manager early on.

Vader and Inoki became the headline program in New Japan, with matches ending without a clean-cut winner. After Inoki suffered a broken foot, he vacated his IWGP championship.

On May 8, 1988, Vader, who had yet to be pinned, wrestled Tatsumi Fujinami for the vacant title, with Fujinami winning via DQ.

While not talked about as much as some of the others, it was the Fujinami program that was really the key to Vader’s long-term success in Japan. The green monster would have had a short shelf life at the top. But in 1988, Fujinami was the equal of any pro wrestler in the world. Fujinami was able to have great matches with Vader, and in doing those matches, Vader’s own work improved rapidly. There was a negative, in that in working that style and having those matches, Fujinami’s back gave out and by the end of the program, he was never the same as a wrestler. Vader, on the other hand, could add great worker to go along with his massive size and unique steamed headpiece gimmick.

Fujinami’s back injury flared up to the point he vacated the title. This led to an eight-man tournament for the title on New Japan’s biggest show in its history up to that point, an April 24, 1989, show at the recently-opened Tokyo Dome. It was the first pro wrestling event ever held in the new home of the Yomiuri Giants, and would go on to become most famous wrestling venue in Japan.

Vader scored wins over Masahiro Chono, Fujinami, and beat Shinya Hashimoto in the finals, in a match with Lou Thesz as referee, to become the first foreigner to hold the title in this form. Hulk Hogan was actually the first IWGP tournament winner in 1983, but at the time the title was something defended once a year, and Hogan lost it to Inoki in 1984. Inoki retained in 1985 and 1986, and then in 1987, after Inoki beat Saito in the IWGP tournament final, it was changed to being New Japan’s version of the world heavyweight title, replacing the International title which had been the lead championship.

When Vader defeated Canek in November, 1989, before a sold out crowd of 18,000 fans at El Toreo in Naucalpan, he became the first pro wrestler to hold major world titles (IWGP, CWA and UWA) simultaneously on three different continents at the same time. He was especially proud of being able to do this.

Perhaps Vader’s most famous match was on February 10, 1990, when he faced Stan Hansen at a sold out Tokyo Dome. The show was built around the first major match-ups of All Japan vs. New Japan, the traditional big two companies. There were two tag team matches that would be split in results, and then each company put its top foreigner against each other in the dream match.

Vader was in his second, and eventual record-breaking run as champion. The match was brutally stiff, with Vader suffering a broken nose, and then, with punches exchanged, it was believed that Hansen accidentally thumbed Vader in his eye which caused his eye to pop out of its socket. Vader unmasked himself and pushed his eye back in its socket and tried to hold it in place with his eyelid. The match continued to its planned double disqualification finish. The visual of Vader voluntarily unmaking and his eye popped out is one of the most memorable images of that era of Japanese wrestling. Vader needed eye surgery.

While news traveled slower in those days, the story of the Hansen vs. Vader match became well known. Vader had wrestled mostly in Japan, taking a few dates in Mexico and more in Europe in between tours.

While fans who watched Japanese tapes in particular were aware of Vader and talked him up from his match quality and the gimmicked headpiece, it was the Hansen match that led WCW to make a big play for him.

Jim Ross and Jim Cornette were on the WCW booking committee and pitched hard for Vader, especially after Ross saw the Hansen match. WCW offered him what at the time was a huge money guaranteed contract where he would split time between WCW and New Japan starting in the summer of 1990. The first-ever G-1 Climax tournament took place over three nights, August 8-10, 1990, at Sumo Hall in Tokyo, all nights sold out.

I can vividly recall getting a phone call from Japan on the second night from Brian Pillman, who told me that the match that had just ended a few hours earlier where Keiji Muto pinned Vader was the greatest match he had ever seen. Worse, he noted, it was not taped for television. A few months later, a handheld tape of the match did appear, and the match was incredible for its time. In those days, because of the box seats at Sumo Hall being uncomfortable, they would sell pillows to sit on. The euphoric feeling that enveloped Sumo Hall when Muto pinned Vader, a result nobody would have thought possible, led to what was called pillow-mania, with fans throwing their pillows, thousands of them in the air in celebration. The next night, when Chono beat Muto to win the first G-1 tournament, fans also threw pillows, but Pillman noted that the Muto-Vader match it was a spontaneous insane reaction, while for Muto-Chono, they were just trying to do what was done, similar to copying certain chants that meant something the first time and then just became routine reactions.

Until 1992, Vader worked primarily New Japan, but WCW upped its offer and got more dates on Vader, and put Harley Race with him as manager. Vader’s biggest U.S. program came at that time with Sting, battling over the WCW title.

While Sting, like almost everyone, had great matches with Ric Flair, he was never able to consistently reach that match level after Flair left the promotion. Vader was a completely different style of opponent, but Vader, after all the years working with top guys in Japan, had turned into the best worker for his size of anyone in pro wrestling history. He and Sting meshed well and this would generally be remembered alongside the Flair matches as the best of Sting’s career. Business wasn’t good, as this was a down period for the industry in general.

But like with Fujinami, Vader’s style hurt Sting. He broke some of Sting’s ribs and fractured his spleen early in their 1992 program. Vader beat Sting on July 12, 1992, to become the WCW champion for the first time, which was part of a Bill Watts plan to get the title on Ron Simmons as the “first black world champion,” a few weeks later.

While Vader was tremendous as far as making matches, his stuff style caused numerous casualties. He injured Nikita Koloff, who then retired with his Lloyd’s of London insurance policy. The Simmons experiment as champion didn’t work, so they went back to Vader, who went back to feuding with Sting over the top spot.

He broke the back of Joe Thurman with a stiff power bomb. Mick Foley suffered a concussion from a sick power bomb on the floor from Vader which led to the infamous Mick Foley amnesia angle, which was one of the worst angles of its time. Foley also suffered a broken nose and bled heavily in a television match that ended up heavily edited before it aired due to the amount of blood. But Foley was actually asking for Vader to hit him in the face with almost full force in those matches to bring out the realism. The matches were some of the best bouts of the time period and were keys to Foley being perceived as a likable mid-carder to being a serious star who could work on top. Although this had nothing to do with Vader, Foley also lost his right ear in a match with Vader in 1994in Munich, Germany when his head was tied up in the ropes.

20 years to the day, Foley wanted to do something to commemorate it. He found out White was booked in Lexington, KY, that day at a convention, so he got himself booked there so they could spent the day together.

“I got myself booked on the show just so we could do a panel together and take some photos together,” said Foley. “I was hoping we could do something similar to that for the 25th anniversary in 2019.”

“Leon played a big role in my career,” said Foley. “At the time of our Halloween Havoc match, I absolutely believed that my career had reached its peak. So I approached every match with Leon like it was going to be the greatest match I’d ever had. A few months ago, a fan from the U.K. told me he was front row for a match with me and Leon in either Birmingham or Manchester, I can’t remember which one. He said he couldn’t believe the intensity of the match, given that it was not televised,. It would not mean much in the bigger scheme of things, but I was so glad he mentioned it, because we went all out every time we were in there together. I specifically remember that match a being one of my favorites. It was nice to get that kind of feedback from a fan.”

Vader also debuted his moonsault during this period. The moonsault, which was probably first used as a body block by Chavo Guerrero Sr., was popularized by Muto in the U.S. and became even bigger when Muto became a true national superstar in Japan.

Vader, whose weight probably ranged from 350 to 430, practiced the move in his swimming pool. At first it was used when he was going to lose, with the idea he’d miss a moonsault and then lose, but that nobody would be talking about his loss, and everyone would be talking about the idea that he did a moonsault, which at the time was move almost nobody did, and certainly nobody within 100 pounds of him. It worked. Of course such a move done by a guy of that size can give significant wear-and-tear on the knees. Vader did limit his usage of the move to major events. In time, the sight of Vader at his size doing a moonsault became one of people’s most vivid memories of him.

In 1993, Vader signed what was at the time a landmark deal with UWFI in Japan. He would get $200,000 for eight dates plus a $50,000 bonus. Those kind of numbers were unheard of in pro wrestling at the time for anyone not named Hulk Hogan.

It was a major coup. Vader was not only WCW champion, meaning he was the champion of the No. 2 promotion in North America, but had been New Japan’s top foreign star.

UWFI was proclaiming itself as real, and with the backing of Thesz, who UWFI had signed as a face of the company, he went back to the 1920s and said that their champion, Nobuhiko Takada, was the real world champion. Thesz used his world title belt from the 1950s when he was as close to an undisputed world champion as there was, and was even bigger in Japan because it was the belt Thesz and Rikidozan battled over in a series of outdoor stadium shows in 1957, including one that nearly everyone who had a television set in Japan watched.

Thesz in particular has singled out New Japan, and their top stars like Masahiro Chono, who at the time was IWGP champion, to face Takada. New Japan of course ignored it as best they could (New Japan later got revenge when UWFI ran into financial problems and needed help and New Japan set business records with the feud but also squashed UWFI in the end). But suddenly Vader, the star they felt they made, had signed with UWFI, for the obvious reason of putting over Takada.

There were legal issues, but Vader was able to make the contract, but had to change his name to Super Vader. Much to the consternation of WCW officials who looked at their world title as what older promoters did, Vader, as WCW champion, did the match with Takada at Jingu Stadium, and submitted to an armbar in a champion vs. champion match. As part of the deal, Vader did get to beat Takada in a rematch and get the UWFI title, only to lose the third match with Takada. The relationship fell apart when UWFI started having serious money issues.

Vader was proud of the physical style in these matches which he said were the closest thing to a real fight without being real, and his being able to pull the matches off in a convincing style, labeling the action as 70 percent fight with a predetermined finish.

Business in 1993 was terrible for WCW. They were building for a big showdown where Sid Vicious would beat Vader at Starrcade and become the promotion’s champion and face of the company. But Vicious got into a hotel hallway brawl with Arn Anderson in England, and was fired. It ended up for the best for the promotion.

Having to redo the top match in Starrcade, which was scheduled for Charlotte, the promotion went to the Ric Flair card, where Flair, as a babyface, would put his career on the line for one last shot at the title that he dominated. Flair won the match, which did WCW’s biggest attendance (8,200 of which 5,500 were paid) and gate ($62,000) and PPV number of the year, which was more of just how bad a year it was.

Vader continued as a top star with WCW, but the big matches were mostly Flair, who went back heel, against the debuting Hogan. But everyone knew that after that ran its course, the natural match-up was Hogan vs. Vader, a match between two of the biggest worldwide stairs of the era that had never taken place.

Still, this was not good for Vader. Hogan wasn’t going to put Vader over at the time as his mentality was still about running through new opponents rather than long programs. The Hogan vs. Vader feud did big PPV numbers by WCW standards, along the lines of what Hogan vs. Flair did. In the first meeting, which Vader lost via DQ due to interference by Flair (who had lost a retirement match to Hogan a few months earlier), Vader kicked out of the leg drop at one. Then, in a strap match, Hogan won, but he was declared the winner by dragging Flair, who was dressed up in drag, around all four corners. The idea was Hogan still hadn’t beaten Vader. Finally this led to a cage match at the Bash at the Beach show in Los Angeles, which Hogan won by escaping the cage.

However, Vader was always mad because Hogan insisted on popping up and no selling his power bomb that had been used as a killer move in WCW, hurting people both legit and in storyline. There was always the feeling that Hogan should have put Vader over at one point, and also that Vader should have put Hogan over via pinfall after that.

Vader ended up being fired from his lucrative WCW contract after a backstage brawl with Paul Orndorff, acting as an agent. There are numerous versions of the story, as Vader always claimed he was not beaten up in the fight while almost every onlooker told a different version.

Orndorff told Vader to come in to do an interview, and Vader ignored him. The two started yelling it started getting physical. Orndorff dropped Vader with a punch and started kicking him with his feet, wearing sandals. Vader got up and wanted to go after Orndorff but was held back. But due to Vader’s behavior in precipitating the fight, even as big a star as he still was, he was let go.

While Vader was largely respected for his ability to have great matches and his agility for a man his size, he had a mixed reputation. He drank a lot. He was often looking for sympathy or a sympathetic ear to the point some labeled him as a big baby. While nobody denied his standing as one of pro wrestling’s biggest stars and that he drew well everywhere he went on top except for the disaster that was WCW until 1996, in a WWE-centric world, to many fans he’s no longer viewed at the level of stars who were not even considered at his level in his prime because his lone WWF run was not a success.

Vader did some acting, including playing Goliath in the 1995 movie “Fist of the North Star,” and playing himself in an episode of “Baywatch,” but was most known for recurring appearances in the 1995 and 1996 season of the TV show “Boy Meets World,” playing the pro wrestler father, doing his Vader character, of one of the friends of the lead cast members.

On January 4, 1996, Vader lost to 52-year-old Antonio Inoki at the Tokyo Dome in what most remember as Inoki’s last truly great match.

Vader had avoided WWF for his entire career because between his high-end WCW contract and his various deals in Japan and other countries, he was one of the highest money earners in the sport and his deals were guaranteed.

But WCW was done, and New Japan would use him, but not at the level he had been at the past, so 1996 was the right time to go to WWF, which was in a business slump. Ross, by this point the head of talent relations in WWE, was the conduit to the new deal.

Vader, called The Man They Call Vader, did a major angle where he gave Gorilla Monsoon, the figurehead president of the WWF, a Vader bomb. Vader was suspended, giving him time off for shoulder surgery. It was also the last physical angle Monsoon was ever in.

Vader returned, being managed by Jim Cornette. The plan was for him to go through a newly-turned face Yokozuna, form a tag team with Foley and then split up, and build to a WWF title program with Shawn Michaels.

The Foley program was teased, with the idea that the demented babyface Mankind was going after the man who caused him to lose his ear. Foley and Vader wanted to do the program in WCW, since Foley knew that Killer Kowalski and Yukon Eric had one of the biggest feuds of the 50s that went all over North America, coming off Eric losing his ear in Montreal.

They teased in commentary a secret that would be revealed, which was going to be revealed as the ear, and started teasing a split between the two, and then Vince McMahon nixed the idea.

“I don’t really know,” Foley said. “It was talked about at one point, and I don’t know what happened.”

But Michaels wanted out of the program quickly, and Vader’s run was not a success. In WWF, he was labeled as a crybaby, knocked for having smelly ring gear and with the mentality by some in the company that WWF was the big leagues and nothing else counted, and that he was both washed up and overrated.

At one point his weight was high and WWE was afraid that his blood pressure would cause one of the athletic commissions that still regulated pro wrestling to give him a medical suspension. Ross sent both Vader and Yokozuna to the Duke Weight Loss Clinic in North Carolina. It wasn’t a success. Ross noted that after the first week both were there, each had gained weight because they were sneaking out at night to eat more food.

By the end, after he lost a mask vs. mask match to Kane, they were using him as a big name jobber, losing cleanly to the likes of Mark Henry, Edge and Bradshaw (John Layfield), especially when he gave his notice as Giant Baba felt he could resurrect his career.

He was battling depression at the time due to his lack of success and once on television referred to himself as a fat piece of shit. After the Kane loss, in an interview he did, whether scripted or not, he buried himself further saying, “Maybe Vader time is over. I’m a fat piece of shit. A big fat piece of shit.”

Away from the WWF structure, Vader, tabbed as washed up, since he was 43 years old, debuted with All Japan Pro Wrestling in 1998 for the final big run of his career.

While past its peak of a few years earlier, All Japan was still very successful and its main events were still arguably the best in the world, with a roster that included Mitsuharu Misawa, Kenta Kobashi, Stan Hansen, Toshiaki Kawada and Jun Akiyama.

Vader & Hansen were pushed as the unbeatable foreign tag team, something of a recreation of the Hansen & Bruiser Brody team. They dominated everyone in the 1998 World Tag League, but lost almost by a fluke in the finals to Kobashi & Akiyama, with Hansen as the one being pinned because even though Hansen was their historical top foreigner, Vader was the money for 1999 and Baba knew it.

He was clearly wrestling’s comeback story of 1999, beating Akira Taue for the Triple Crown, winning the Champion Carnival tournament with a win over Kobashi, trading the title with Misawa before losing to Kobashi.

From December 1998 to February 2000, Vader headlined five sold out Budokan Hall shows with the tag team tournament finals and singles matches with Misawa and Kobashi twice and one with Taue. He also headlined the Tokyo Dome on May 2, 1989, with Misawa, on a show that drew 50,000 fans and $5 million.

He left All Japan with almost all the crew in 2000 to join Pro Wrestling NOAH. But it was clear that 1999 was his last big run. He had a major altercation with the Yakuza while in Japan as well where he was stabbed all over his body, which was the beginning of the end of his stay with NOAH. He was with the promotion full-time through 2002, mostly as a tag team with Too Cold Scorpio, a wrestler he started the career of years earlier, which was the last full-time major promotion run of his career.

Vader bounced around the U.S. and Japan on indies and nostalgia comebacks to All Japan, New Japan, WWE, TNA and other places after that point but it was clear he was no longer the same.

He had a number of health problems stemming from injuries from such a hard bumping style, years of heavy drinking, being so heavy and usage of steroids. He was divorced in 2007, had both knees replaced and was bedridden for six months after an infection from surgery. Later he was in a coma for 33 days. He was in a terrible auto accident in 2016 which left his face badly contorted although it went back to its usual shape.

In 2016, he got into a Twitter war when he knocked a match with Will Ospreay vs. Ricochet from Tokyo, saying it wasn’t wrestling. Revolution Pro tried to turn that into an angle, and the August 12, 2016, match at York Hall in London between Vader and Ospreay had unreal heat. However, when Vader got to London, he reneged on his agreement to put Ospreay over. For the good of the show, Ospreay put him over, but it left a bad taste in a lot of people’s mouths. Wrestling had changed had Vader didn’t understand the idea of a guy the size of Ospreay beating Vader, even though it was the only finish that made sense. Vader had then said he’d put him over in a tag team match that was set up, but they couldn’t trust Vader after that.

In November of 2016, he was told by his doctors that he had congenital heart failure and that he probably was only going to live about two more years. He released that information, but later regretted doing so. He had one health issue after another in recent years, but still went to Japan in April of last year for the Dradition promotion to celebrate the 45th anniversary of the debut of Fujinami. In a match on April 20, 2017, at Korakuen Hall, with Fujinami & Riki Choshu & Shiro Koshinaka vs. Vader & Muto & AKIRA, Vader collapsed right after the match ended. He claimed on Twitter that he was dropped on his head during the match which caused a momentary blackout after the match was over, and that it had nothing to do with his heart. He wrestled the next two nights of his tour.

His final career match was three days later in Osaka, teaming with Fujinami & Choshu to beat Yoshiaki Fujiwara & Koshinaka & Takuma Sano.

He had been really hopeful of being inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame this year. Foley in particular had both publicly and privately pushed for it.

“I have no idea what happened with the Hall of Fame,” said Foley. “I’m sure he is someone who is considered every year. I asked Vince to consider him sooner rather than later, considering his health. I talked to Leon on a fairly regular basis, probably every other month since his diagnosis. The Hall of Fame meant so much to him. My last conversation with him was about a month ago, and he was wondering if he might get in following the open heart surgery. He really wanted to return to the ring. He wanted to be a feel good story that could inspire people.”

Because he traveled to so many parts of the world and his career hit every major promotion in the world at one time or another, and almost always as a top star, probably nobody of his era faced more of the biggest names of different eras in headline matches.

A list of Hall of Fame or major star level opponents he worked with would include Choshu, Sting, Fujinami, Taue, Misawa, Simmons, Akiyama, Kobashi, Saito, Michaels, Undertaker, Goldust, Sid Vicious, Chono, Hashimoto, Muto, Kane, Yoshihiro Takayama, Takada, Davey Boy Smith, Inoki, Foley, Big Bossman, The Rock, Nikita Koloff, Takeshi Morishima, Hansen, Takashi Sugiura, Bret Hart, Seiji Sakaguchi, Jim Duggan, Hiroshi Hase, Shiro Koshinaka, Flair, Larry Zbyszko, Brody, Ultimate Warrior, HHH, Yokozuna, Steve Austin, Ken Shamrock, The Steiner Brothers, Gary Albright, Michael Hayes, Kensuke Sasaki, Owen Hart, Wanz, Bam Bam Bigelow, Jushin Liger, William Regal, Nick Bockwinkel, Jake Roberts, Scott Norton, Greg Gagne, Hogan, The Road Warriors, Curt Hennig, Arn Anderson, Kazuo Yamazaki, Jeff Jarrett, Larry Hennig, Jerry Blackwell, Tiger Jeet Singh, The Mongolian Stomper, Iron Sheik, Bob Orton Jr., Jimmy Snuka, Salman Hashimikov, Barry Windham, Rick Rude, The Head Hunters, Terry Funk, Steve Williams, Jerry Lawler, Ray Stevens, Jose Lothario, Paul Orndorff, Sgt. Slaughter, Baron Von Raschke, Masato Tanaka, Don Frye, Dick Murdoch, Samoa Joe, Ospreay, Tony Atlas, El Satanico, Canek, Lizmark, Kiyoshi Tamura, Shuji Ishikawa, Sabu, Kevin Nash Ricky Morton, Lex Luger and Layfield.
Thanks for sharing, I was looking forward to that (as sad as it may be.)
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Old 06-21-2018, 11:38 AM   #2308
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Can't believe it made it into this week's Observer. Here is the Vader obit:

Spoiler:

Leon White, who was the best and most versatile 400-pound pro wrestler in history, passed away on 6/18 at the age of 63.

Best known as Vader, or Big Van Vader, White was a college football star, a powerhouse who could bench press nearly 600 pounds, and shocked people in the early 1990s when he started doing moonsaults in his biggest matches. He worked very physical, but he was a major star in companies all over the world, a major drawing card on multiple continents and one of the major figures worldwide during the decade of the 90s.

White himself was most proud of the fact that he was the only wrestler to have held the most recognized world championships in as many major markets, being a top drawing superstar in the U.S., Japan, Mexico and in Europe.

During his career he held All Japan’s Triple Crown twice, at the time when it was still a major promotion and selling out Budokan Hall on a regular basis. He held the CWA world heavyweight title in Europe three times and is generally remembered as the greatest rival of that area’s legend, Otto Wanz, which is where he got his first superstar break. He held the IWGP heavyweight title three times, the most of any non-Japanese wrestler in history. He held the UWA world heavyweight championship once, which at the time was the leading heavyweight title in Mexico. He held the UWFI world heavyweight title once, in a shoot style organization, and once sold out Jingu Stadium in Tokyo with 46,148 fans for a match with Nobuhiko Takada. He held the WCW world title three times. He was also scheduled to win the WWF championship in 1996 and do a program with Shawn Michaels, but Michaels nixed the program and that program instead went to Sycho Sid, scheduled with Vader winning the title at the 1996 Survivor Series and losing to Michaels in his home town at the 1997 Royal Rumble in San Antonio at the Alamodome.

He was voted 1993 Wrestler of the Year and an easy pick for the Hall of Fame.

His son, Jesse, wrote, “It is with a heavy heart to inform everyone that my father, Leon White, passed away on Monday night (6/18/18) at approximately 7:25 p.m. Around a month ago, my father was diagnosed with a severe case of pneumonia. He fought extremely hard and clinically was making progress. Unfortunately, on Monday night his heart had enough and it was his time.”

White was told by doctors in November 2016 that he had congenital heart failure and only had about two years left to live. He didn’t last that long. He did have a better diagnosis that he believed gave him more time from another doctor months later. He had serious heart surgery on 3/12 which he said left him in the most pain of his life. He developed the pneumonia in May after a second surgery.

White came into pro wrestling when he wasn’t able to overcome knee injuries that plagued him during an NFL career with the Los Angeles Rams.

White was gigantic from birth, being 11 pounds. He was a football star at Bell High School in Los Angeles, was a two-time All-American center at the University of Colorado and made Denver his home after college.

At 6-foot-3 and 260 pounds, he was a third round draft choice of the Los Angeles Rams. He suffered a knee injury in training camp and was on injured reserve for the 1978 and 1979 seasons. Although the 1979 team only went 9-7, they won the Western Division of the NFC and went all the way to the 1980 Super Bowl, where they lost 31-19 to the Pittsburgh Steelers. White was technically on an NFC championship winning and Super Bowl team, but actually never played a down in an NFL regular season game.

He had gotten very heavy after his football career ended, but was a remarkable athlete for his size. He was put in contact with Brad Rheingans, the former Olympian who headed the training of wrestlers for the AWA. The AWA was on its downslide when White started, at the time called Leon “Baby Bull” White. While understandably green, because of his size and athletic ability, they tried to push him from the start. He debuted in October, 1985 in a Battle Royal in Schofield, WI. There is no record of him losing any matches cleanly in his AWA rookie run other than several AWA title matches with Stan Hansen, who would go on to become one of his most well-known rivals due to a match at the Tokyo Dome, and Bruiser Brody.

Otto Wanz, who weighed about 389 pounds himself, was the promoter and world champion of the Catch Wrestling Association, that promoted in Germany and Austria. He favored using big, thick, powerful opponents, and physically, White, fit the mark. Called “Bull Power,” Wanz found out about White from the AWA, and on March 22, 1987, in Denver, before 2,000 fans, the former University of Colorado football star beat Wanz for his championship.

Bull Power was brought to Europe as the man who defeated the unbeatable local hero, as Wanz had held the promotion’s world heavyweight title since beating Don Leo Jonathan on July 15, 1978, ending a nearly nine-year run.

Wanz himself had gained mainstream fame in Germany and Austria by going on television and tearing thick telephone books. White was brought in and local television stations were brought to the gym to watch the heavily steroided up White bench press close to 600 pounds. The storyline is that the old powerhouse now had a younger and more powerful rival. The two traded the championship back-and-forth over the next four years, including Wanz winning what was billed as his retirement match over Bull Power on June 30, 1990, in his home town of Graz. Borrowing from the Verne Gagne booking, when Wanz then retired, the CWA gave the title to the top contender, Bull Power. In 1981, when Gagne did his first retirement, as champion, it was announced that a tournament would take too much time and the title was given to the top contender, Nick Bockwinkel.

The idea is that the company’s new top local star, Rambo (Luc Poirier) would gain credibility as world champion by beating Wanz’s greatest rival, which took place on July 6, 1991 in Graz. But the promotion’s popularity declined greatly with a combination of Wanz no longer the top star, and with WWF television gaining more of a foothold and like everywhere, made the local promotion look secondary by comparison.

But while his first big break was in Germany and Austria, his biggest break came later in 1987 in Japan.

At first, White was scheduled to start with All Japan Pro Wrestling in 1987, and would likely have been given a decent push, but not a major one due to his not being a major U.S. star and being green at the time.

New Japan, however, offered him a top position.

New Japan in 1987 made a deal with Takeshi Kitano, who at the time was one of the country’s most famous comedians and considered the Johnny Carson of Japan. Kitano would become a heel manager on big shows and feud with Antonio Inoki, with the idea of him being the Lou Albano to Bruno Sammartino.

Kitano’s first protégé was to be a muscular masked foreigner, Big Van Vader, with headgear that blew steam out of it. Jim Hellwig was chosen for the role. They wanted a monster who would do short matches and blow through everyone. But in June, Hellwig signed with the WWF, and shortly after that, became the Ultimate Warrior, and pulled out of the gig. There are a number of original artist sketches of Big Van Vader, with the same outfit, but with the bodybuilder look as opposed to the 350 or so pound look. Sid Eudy, who became Sid Vicious, was also considered, but the decision was to go with White for the role.

In hindsight, it was a great decision, as while Warrior or Sid would have gotten over at first with their size in New Japan, they could have never had the lasting appeal that White had once it was time to do longer matches.

The debut of Big Van Vader, managed by Takeshi Kitano, was announced for a December 27, 1987, show at Sumo Hall. The main event on the show was scheduled as Inoki vs. Riki Choshu, a rare singles match between New Japan’s legend and its most popular wrestler to the younger crowd, drawing a sellout of 11,097 fans. The night was a disaster.

Inoki beat Choshu via a cheap DQ in just 6:06 of a nothing match, and fans were furious. Vader, Kitano and handler Masa Saito came to the ring to challenge Inoki, and Vader pinned Inoki with a powerslam in just 2:49 in a one-sided match. Inoki almost never lost in that era, and never in that type of squash match style. The idea was to create an instant larger-than-life monster. But the fans, unhappy with the show, rioted, doing so much damage that Sumo Hall refused to allow any more pro wrestling shows (the ban was rescinded in early 1989). Kitano didn’t like being involved in such a negative situation and immediately backed out of the gig. Saito accompanied Vader as his manager early on.

Vader and Inoki became the headline program in New Japan, with matches ending without a clean-cut winner. After Inoki suffered a broken foot, he vacated his IWGP championship.

On May 8, 1988, Vader, who had yet to be pinned, wrestled Tatsumi Fujinami for the vacant title, with Fujinami winning via DQ.

While not talked about as much as some of the others, it was the Fujinami program that was really the key to Vader’s long-term success in Japan. The green monster would have had a short shelf life at the top. But in 1988, Fujinami was the equal of any pro wrestler in the world. Fujinami was able to have great matches with Vader, and in doing those matches, Vader’s own work improved rapidly. There was a negative, in that in working that style and having those matches, Fujinami’s back gave out and by the end of the program, he was never the same as a wrestler. Vader, on the other hand, could add great worker to go along with his massive size and unique steamed headpiece gimmick.

Fujinami’s back injury flared up to the point he vacated the title. This led to an eight-man tournament for the title on New Japan’s biggest show in its history up to that point, an April 24, 1989, show at the recently-opened Tokyo Dome. It was the first pro wrestling event ever held in the new home of the Yomiuri Giants, and would go on to become most famous wrestling venue in Japan.

Vader scored wins over Masahiro Chono, Fujinami, and beat Shinya Hashimoto in the finals, in a match with Lou Thesz as referee, to become the first foreigner to hold the title in this form. Hulk Hogan was actually the first IWGP tournament winner in 1983, but at the time the title was something defended once a year, and Hogan lost it to Inoki in 1984. Inoki retained in 1985 and 1986, and then in 1987, after Inoki beat Saito in the IWGP tournament final, it was changed to being New Japan’s version of the world heavyweight title, replacing the International title which had been the lead championship.

When Vader defeated Canek in November, 1989, before a sold out crowd of 18,000 fans at El Toreo in Naucalpan, he became the first pro wrestler to hold major world titles (IWGP, CWA and UWA) simultaneously on three different continents at the same time. He was especially proud of being able to do this.

Perhaps Vader’s most famous match was on February 10, 1990, when he faced Stan Hansen at a sold out Tokyo Dome. The show was built around the first major match-ups of All Japan vs. New Japan, the traditional big two companies. There were two tag team matches that would be split in results, and then each company put its top foreigner against each other in the dream match.

Vader was in his second, and eventual record-breaking run as champion. The match was brutally stiff, with Vader suffering a broken nose, and then, with punches exchanged, it was believed that Hansen accidentally thumbed Vader in his eye which caused his eye to pop out of its socket. Vader unmasked himself and pushed his eye back in its socket and tried to hold it in place with his eyelid. The match continued to its planned double disqualification finish. The visual of Vader voluntarily unmaking and his eye popped out is one of the most memorable images of that era of Japanese wrestling. Vader needed eye surgery.

While news traveled slower in those days, the story of the Hansen vs. Vader match became well known. Vader had wrestled mostly in Japan, taking a few dates in Mexico and more in Europe in between tours.

While fans who watched Japanese tapes in particular were aware of Vader and talked him up from his match quality and the gimmicked headpiece, it was the Hansen match that led WCW to make a big play for him.

Jim Ross and Jim Cornette were on the WCW booking committee and pitched hard for Vader, especially after Ross saw the Hansen match. WCW offered him what at the time was a huge money guaranteed contract where he would split time between WCW and New Japan starting in the summer of 1990. The first-ever G-1 Climax tournament took place over three nights, August 8-10, 1990, at Sumo Hall in Tokyo, all nights sold out.

I can vividly recall getting a phone call from Japan on the second night from Brian Pillman, who told me that the match that had just ended a few hours earlier where Keiji Muto pinned Vader was the greatest match he had ever seen. Worse, he noted, it was not taped for television. A few months later, a handheld tape of the match did appear, and the match was incredible for its time. In those days, because of the box seats at Sumo Hall being uncomfortable, they would sell pillows to sit on. The euphoric feeling that enveloped Sumo Hall when Muto pinned Vader, a result nobody would have thought possible, led to what was called pillow-mania, with fans throwing their pillows, thousands of them in the air in celebration. The next night, when Chono beat Muto to win the first G-1 tournament, fans also threw pillows, but Pillman noted that the Muto-Vader match it was a spontaneous insane reaction, while for Muto-Chono, they were just trying to do what was done, similar to copying certain chants that meant something the first time and then just became routine reactions.

Until 1992, Vader worked primarily New Japan, but WCW upped its offer and got more dates on Vader, and put Harley Race with him as manager. Vader’s biggest U.S. program came at that time with Sting, battling over the WCW title.

While Sting, like almost everyone, had great matches with Ric Flair, he was never able to consistently reach that match level after Flair left the promotion. Vader was a completely different style of opponent, but Vader, after all the years working with top guys in Japan, had turned into the best worker for his size of anyone in pro wrestling history. He and Sting meshed well and this would generally be remembered alongside the Flair matches as the best of Sting’s career. Business wasn’t good, as this was a down period for the industry in general.

But like with Fujinami, Vader’s style hurt Sting. He broke some of Sting’s ribs and fractured his spleen early in their 1992 program. Vader beat Sting on July 12, 1992, to become the WCW champion for the first time, which was part of a Bill Watts plan to get the title on Ron Simmons as the “first black world champion,” a few weeks later.

While Vader was tremendous as far as making matches, his stuff style caused numerous casualties. He injured Nikita Koloff, who then retired with his Lloyd’s of London insurance policy. The Simmons experiment as champion didn’t work, so they went back to Vader, who went back to feuding with Sting over the top spot.

He broke the back of Joe Thurman with a stiff power bomb. Mick Foley suffered a concussion from a sick power bomb on the floor from Vader which led to the infamous Mick Foley amnesia angle, which was one of the worst angles of its time. Foley also suffered a broken nose and bled heavily in a television match that ended up heavily edited before it aired due to the amount of blood. But Foley was actually asking for Vader to hit him in the face with almost full force in those matches to bring out the realism. The matches were some of the best bouts of the time period and were keys to Foley being perceived as a likable mid-carder to being a serious star who could work on top. Although this had nothing to do with Vader, Foley also lost his right ear in a match with Vader in 1994in Munich, Germany when his head was tied up in the ropes.

20 years to the day, Foley wanted to do something to commemorate it. He found out White was booked in Lexington, KY, that day at a convention, so he got himself booked there so they could spent the day together.

“I got myself booked on the show just so we could do a panel together and take some photos together,” said Foley. “I was hoping we could do something similar to that for the 25th anniversary in 2019.”

“Leon played a big role in my career,” said Foley. “At the time of our Halloween Havoc match, I absolutely believed that my career had reached its peak. So I approached every match with Leon like it was going to be the greatest match I’d ever had. A few months ago, a fan from the U.K. told me he was front row for a match with me and Leon in either Birmingham or Manchester, I can’t remember which one. He said he couldn’t believe the intensity of the match, given that it was not televised,. It would not mean much in the bigger scheme of things, but I was so glad he mentioned it, because we went all out every time we were in there together. I specifically remember that match a being one of my favorites. It was nice to get that kind of feedback from a fan.”

Vader also debuted his moonsault during this period. The moonsault, which was probably first used as a body block by Chavo Guerrero Sr., was popularized by Muto in the U.S. and became even bigger when Muto became a true national superstar in Japan.

Vader, whose weight probably ranged from 350 to 430, practiced the move in his swimming pool. At first it was used when he was going to lose, with the idea he’d miss a moonsault and then lose, but that nobody would be talking about his loss, and everyone would be talking about the idea that he did a moonsault, which at the time was move almost nobody did, and certainly nobody within 100 pounds of him. It worked. Of course such a move done by a guy of that size can give significant wear-and-tear on the knees. Vader did limit his usage of the move to major events. In time, the sight of Vader at his size doing a moonsault became one of people’s most vivid memories of him.

In 1993, Vader signed what was at the time a landmark deal with UWFI in Japan. He would get $200,000 for eight dates plus a $50,000 bonus. Those kind of numbers were unheard of in pro wrestling at the time for anyone not named Hulk Hogan.

It was a major coup. Vader was not only WCW champion, meaning he was the champion of the No. 2 promotion in North America, but had been New Japan’s top foreign star.

UWFI was proclaiming itself as real, and with the backing of Thesz, who UWFI had signed as a face of the company, he went back to the 1920s and said that their champion, Nobuhiko Takada, was the real world champion. Thesz used his world title belt from the 1950s when he was as close to an undisputed world champion as there was, and was even bigger in Japan because it was the belt Thesz and Rikidozan battled over in a series of outdoor stadium shows in 1957, including one that nearly everyone who had a television set in Japan watched.

Thesz in particular has singled out New Japan, and their top stars like Masahiro Chono, who at the time was IWGP champion, to face Takada. New Japan of course ignored it as best they could (New Japan later got revenge when UWFI ran into financial problems and needed help and New Japan set business records with the feud but also squashed UWFI in the end). But suddenly Vader, the star they felt they made, had signed with UWFI, for the obvious reason of putting over Takada.

There were legal issues, but Vader was able to make the contract, but had to change his name to Super Vader. Much to the consternation of WCW officials who looked at their world title as what older promoters did, Vader, as WCW champion, did the match with Takada at Jingu Stadium, and submitted to an armbar in a champion vs. champion match. As part of the deal, Vader did get to beat Takada in a rematch and get the UWFI title, only to lose the third match with Takada. The relationship fell apart when UWFI started having serious money issues.

Vader was proud of the physical style in these matches which he said were the closest thing to a real fight without being real, and his being able to pull the matches off in a convincing style, labeling the action as 70 percent fight with a predetermined finish.

Business in 1993 was terrible for WCW. They were building for a big showdown where Sid Vicious would beat Vader at Starrcade and become the promotion’s champion and face of the company. But Vicious got into a hotel hallway brawl with Arn Anderson in England, and was fired. It ended up for the best for the promotion.

Having to redo the top match in Starrcade, which was scheduled for Charlotte, the promotion went to the Ric Flair card, where Flair, as a babyface, would put his career on the line for one last shot at the title that he dominated. Flair won the match, which did WCW’s biggest attendance (8,200 of which 5,500 were paid) and gate ($62,000) and PPV number of the year, which was more of just how bad a year it was.

Vader continued as a top star with WCW, but the big matches were mostly Flair, who went back heel, against the debuting Hogan. But everyone knew that after that ran its course, the natural match-up was Hogan vs. Vader, a match between two of the biggest worldwide stairs of the era that had never taken place.

Still, this was not good for Vader. Hogan wasn’t going to put Vader over at the time as his mentality was still about running through new opponents rather than long programs. The Hogan vs. Vader feud did big PPV numbers by WCW standards, along the lines of what Hogan vs. Flair did. In the first meeting, which Vader lost via DQ due to interference by Flair (who had lost a retirement match to Hogan a few months earlier), Vader kicked out of the leg drop at one. Then, in a strap match, Hogan won, but he was declared the winner by dragging Flair, who was dressed up in drag, around all four corners. The idea was Hogan still hadn’t beaten Vader. Finally this led to a cage match at the Bash at the Beach show in Los Angeles, which Hogan won by escaping the cage.

However, Vader was always mad because Hogan insisted on popping up and no selling his power bomb that had been used as a killer move in WCW, hurting people both legit and in storyline. There was always the feeling that Hogan should have put Vader over at one point, and also that Vader should have put Hogan over via pinfall after that.

Vader ended up being fired from his lucrative WCW contract after a backstage brawl with Paul Orndorff, acting as an agent. There are numerous versions of the story, as Vader always claimed he was not beaten up in the fight while almost every onlooker told a different version.

Orndorff told Vader to come in to do an interview, and Vader ignored him. The two started yelling it started getting physical. Orndorff dropped Vader with a punch and started kicking him with his feet, wearing sandals. Vader got up and wanted to go after Orndorff but was held back. But due to Vader’s behavior in precipitating the fight, even as big a star as he still was, he was let go.

While Vader was largely respected for his ability to have great matches and his agility for a man his size, he had a mixed reputation. He drank a lot. He was often looking for sympathy or a sympathetic ear to the point some labeled him as a big baby. While nobody denied his standing as one of pro wrestling’s biggest stars and that he drew well everywhere he went on top except for the disaster that was WCW until 1996, in a WWE-centric world, to many fans he’s no longer viewed at the level of stars who were not even considered at his level in his prime because his lone WWF run was not a success.

Vader did some acting, including playing Goliath in the 1995 movie “Fist of the North Star,” and playing himself in an episode of “Baywatch,” but was most known for recurring appearances in the 1995 and 1996 season of the TV show “Boy Meets World,” playing the pro wrestler father, doing his Vader character, of one of the friends of the lead cast members.

On January 4, 1996, Vader lost to 52-year-old Antonio Inoki at the Tokyo Dome in what most remember as Inoki’s last truly great match.

Vader had avoided WWF for his entire career because between his high-end WCW contract and his various deals in Japan and other countries, he was one of the highest money earners in the sport and his deals were guaranteed.

But WCW was done, and New Japan would use him, but not at the level he had been at the past, so 1996 was the right time to go to WWF, which was in a business slump. Ross, by this point the head of talent relations in WWE, was the conduit to the new deal.

Vader, called The Man They Call Vader, did a major angle where he gave Gorilla Monsoon, the figurehead president of the WWF, a Vader bomb. Vader was suspended, giving him time off for shoulder surgery. It was also the last physical angle Monsoon was ever in.

Vader returned, being managed by Jim Cornette. The plan was for him to go through a newly-turned face Yokozuna, form a tag team with Foley and then split up, and build to a WWF title program with Shawn Michaels.

The Foley program was teased, with the idea that the demented babyface Mankind was going after the man who caused him to lose his ear. Foley and Vader wanted to do the program in WCW, since Foley knew that Killer Kowalski and Yukon Eric had one of the biggest feuds of the 50s that went all over North America, coming off Eric losing his ear in Montreal.

They teased in commentary a secret that would be revealed, which was going to be revealed as the ear, and started teasing a split between the two, and then Vince McMahon nixed the idea.

“I don’t really know,” Foley said. “It was talked about at one point, and I don’t know what happened.”

But Michaels wanted out of the program quickly, and Vader’s run was not a success. In WWF, he was labeled as a crybaby, knocked for having smelly ring gear and with the mentality by some in the company that WWF was the big leagues and nothing else counted, and that he was both washed up and overrated.

At one point his weight was high and WWE was afraid that his blood pressure would cause one of the athletic commissions that still regulated pro wrestling to give him a medical suspension. Ross sent both Vader and Yokozuna to the Duke Weight Loss Clinic in North Carolina. It wasn’t a success. Ross noted that after the first week both were there, each had gained weight because they were sneaking out at night to eat more food.

By the end, after he lost a mask vs. mask match to Kane, they were using him as a big name jobber, losing cleanly to the likes of Mark Henry, Edge and Bradshaw (John Layfield), especially when he gave his notice as Giant Baba felt he could resurrect his career.

He was battling depression at the time due to his lack of success and once on television referred to himself as a fat piece of shit. After the Kane loss, in an interview he did, whether scripted or not, he buried himself further saying, “Maybe Vader time is over. I’m a fat piece of shit. A big fat piece of shit.”

Away from the WWF structure, Vader, tabbed as washed up, since he was 43 years old, debuted with All Japan Pro Wrestling in 1998 for the final big run of his career.

While past its peak of a few years earlier, All Japan was still very successful and its main events were still arguably the best in the world, with a roster that included Mitsuharu Misawa, Kenta Kobashi, Stan Hansen, Toshiaki Kawada and Jun Akiyama.

Vader & Hansen were pushed as the unbeatable foreign tag team, something of a recreation of the Hansen & Bruiser Brody team. They dominated everyone in the 1998 World Tag League, but lost almost by a fluke in the finals to Kobashi & Akiyama, with Hansen as the one being pinned because even though Hansen was their historical top foreigner, Vader was the money for 1999 and Baba knew it.

He was clearly wrestling’s comeback story of 1999, beating Akira Taue for the Triple Crown, winning the Champion Carnival tournament with a win over Kobashi, trading the title with Misawa before losing to Kobashi.

From December 1998 to February 2000, Vader headlined five sold out Budokan Hall shows with the tag team tournament finals and singles matches with Misawa and Kobashi twice and one with Taue. He also headlined the Tokyo Dome on May 2, 1989, with Misawa, on a show that drew 50,000 fans and $5 million.

He left All Japan with almost all the crew in 2000 to join Pro Wrestling NOAH. But it was clear that 1999 was his last big run. He had a major altercation with the Yakuza while in Japan as well where he was stabbed all over his body, which was the beginning of the end of his stay with NOAH. He was with the promotion full-time through 2002, mostly as a tag team with Too Cold Scorpio, a wrestler he started the career of years earlier, which was the last full-time major promotion run of his career.

Vader bounced around the U.S. and Japan on indies and nostalgia comebacks to All Japan, New Japan, WWE, TNA and other places after that point but it was clear he was no longer the same.

He had a number of health problems stemming from injuries from such a hard bumping style, years of heavy drinking, being so heavy and usage of steroids. He was divorced in 2007, had both knees replaced and was bedridden for six months after an infection from surgery. Later he was in a coma for 33 days. He was in a terrible auto accident in 2016 which left his face badly contorted although it went back to its usual shape.

In 2016, he got into a Twitter war when he knocked a match with Will Ospreay vs. Ricochet from Tokyo, saying it wasn’t wrestling. Revolution Pro tried to turn that into an angle, and the August 12, 2016, match at York Hall in London between Vader and Ospreay had unreal heat. However, when Vader got to London, he reneged on his agreement to put Ospreay over. For the good of the show, Ospreay put him over, but it left a bad taste in a lot of people’s mouths. Wrestling had changed had Vader didn’t understand the idea of a guy the size of Ospreay beating Vader, even though it was the only finish that made sense. Vader had then said he’d put him over in a tag team match that was set up, but they couldn’t trust Vader after that.

In November of 2016, he was told by his doctors that he had congenital heart failure and that he probably was only going to live about two more years. He released that information, but later regretted doing so. He had one health issue after another in recent years, but still went to Japan in April of last year for the Dradition promotion to celebrate the 45th anniversary of the debut of Fujinami. In a match on April 20, 2017, at Korakuen Hall, with Fujinami & Riki Choshu & Shiro Koshinaka vs. Vader & Muto & AKIRA, Vader collapsed right after the match ended. He claimed on Twitter that he was dropped on his head during the match which caused a momentary blackout after the match was over, and that it had nothing to do with his heart. He wrestled the next two nights of his tour.

His final career match was three days later in Osaka, teaming with Fujinami & Choshu to beat Yoshiaki Fujiwara & Koshinaka & Takuma Sano.

He had been really hopeful of being inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame this year. Foley in particular had both publicly and privately pushed for it.

“I have no idea what happened with the Hall of Fame,” said Foley. “I’m sure he is someone who is considered every year. I asked Vince to consider him sooner rather than later, considering his health. I talked to Leon on a fairly regular basis, probably every other month since his diagnosis. The Hall of Fame meant so much to him. My last conversation with him was about a month ago, and he was wondering if he might get in following the open heart surgery. He really wanted to return to the ring. He wanted to be a feel good story that could inspire people.”

Because he traveled to so many parts of the world and his career hit every major promotion in the world at one time or another, and almost always as a top star, probably nobody of his era faced more of the biggest names of different eras in headline matches.

A list of Hall of Fame or major star level opponents he worked with would include Choshu, Sting, Fujinami, Taue, Misawa, Simmons, Akiyama, Kobashi, Saito, Michaels, Undertaker, Goldust, Sid Vicious, Chono, Hashimoto, Muto, Kane, Yoshihiro Takayama, Takada, Davey Boy Smith, Inoki, Foley, Big Bossman, The Rock, Nikita Koloff, Takeshi Morishima, Hansen, Takashi Sugiura, Bret Hart, Seiji Sakaguchi, Jim Duggan, Hiroshi Hase, Shiro Koshinaka, Flair, Larry Zbyszko, Brody, Ultimate Warrior, HHH, Yokozuna, Steve Austin, Ken Shamrock, The Steiner Brothers, Gary Albright, Michael Hayes, Kensuke Sasaki, Owen Hart, Wanz, Bam Bam Bigelow, Jushin Liger, William Regal, Nick Bockwinkel, Jake Roberts, Scott Norton, Greg Gagne, Hogan, The Road Warriors, Curt Hennig, Arn Anderson, Kazuo Yamazaki, Jeff Jarrett, Larry Hennig, Jerry Blackwell, Tiger Jeet Singh, The Mongolian Stomper, Iron Sheik, Bob Orton Jr., Jimmy Snuka, Salman Hashimikov, Barry Windham, Rick Rude, The Head Hunters, Terry Funk, Steve Williams, Jerry Lawler, Ray Stevens, Jose Lothario, Paul Orndorff, Sgt. Slaughter, Baron Von Raschke, Masato Tanaka, Don Frye, Dick Murdoch, Samoa Joe, Ospreay, Tony Atlas, El Satanico, Canek, Lizmark, Kiyoshi Tamura, Shuji Ishikawa, Sabu, Kevin Nash Ricky Morton, Lex Luger and Layfield.
And I thought MY posts were tl;dr. Did they miss anything? How often were his bowel movements? Dear Lord.

Great character, always liked his charisma...it matched his build and look perfectly.
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Old 06-21-2018, 12:24 PM   #2309
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And I thought MY posts were tl;dr. Did they miss anything? How often were his bowel movements? Dear Lord.

Great character, always liked his charisma...it matched his build and look perfectly.
The observer does these 'obituaries' for every wrestler who passes away.
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Old 08-02-2018, 09:59 AM   #2310
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Obits for Brian Christopher, Nikolai Volkoff & Brickhouse Brown.

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Brian Christopher Lawler, the much-troubled son of Jerry Lawler, and a one-time major regional star in his own right, passed away on 7/29 after what police believe was a suicide while in prison.

Lawler was found hanging in his cell at the Hardeman County Jail. Corrections officer administered CPR until paramedics arrived. He was transported to Regional One Medical Center in Memphis. He was declared brain dead at the hospital, but kept on life support so his father, who was in Raleigh, NC for a Comic Con, could rush back and say goodbye to him.

Born January 10, 1972, Lawler was 46.

Lawler, because of his one-time celebrity status, was placed in a cell by himself and Hardeman County Sheriff John Doolen said that they had no indication he was suicidal.

Lawler had been in prison since 7/7 when he was arrested for a third DUI violation and evading police, which was also a probation violation. Friends of his had noted for years that, with his issues with drugs and self-destructive behavior, the idea that one day that dreaded call would come was not unexpected.

The situation was tragic because he was being held on $40,000 bond. He could have been released from prison, but Jerry Lawler, after talking with his closest friends, made the call that he had intervened in his son’s issues many times and the best decision now was not to, and that he would be healthier and safer on the inside than the outside.

The financial side of it was said to not have been an issue in the decision.

He had serious drug issues dating back to his WWF run, which destroyed what should have been a significant career because he had both in-ring talent and charisma.

In Tennessee, he was one of a large number of people who grew up watching the heyday of Memphis wrestling. But unlike so many others, he had a natural ability that they didn’t. While they dreamed of being stars, he was USWA champion before he was legally old enough to drink.

While being the son of Jerry Lawler made it easier to be pushed to the top when he was so young, the reality is, his talent was such that he deserved every bit of his quick regional success. He had the look, the ability and the outgoing outrageous personality that played well both in the ring and on interviews.

But in the end, after the age of 30 or so, he was back with all of the dreamers and the wannabees. He was the one who made it once, should have made it big, only to be back at square one and largely living off his reputation.

He was working small shows, often for little money and constantly getting into trouble, most of which wasn’t reported. But the big things, such as him nearly being beaten to death in a fight with Chase Stevens, or some of his arrests, did come out.

He had been to rehab before and Jerry Lawler and his closest friends were hopeful that by not bailing him out, that he would learn, hit his rock bottom, and actually went to attend rehab and have it work out. Two people close to the situation noted that they had all believed at the time it was the right decision to make. Jerry Lawler’s closest friends said they thought Brian would best off in jail for now, and hoped that this would lead him to accept rehab. The plan was when he was released, to drive him straight to a new rehab facility.

Brian Lawler had said that he didn’t know when he would be released to attend rehab, but gave the indication that he would do so.

Lawler, who was a headliner as “Too Sexy” Brian Christopher in the company his father and Jerry Jarrett owned in Tennessee, and was best known nationally as part of the tag team Too Cool with Scotty 2 Hotty (Scott Garland) and Rikishi (Solofa Fatu) in the WWF.

His father hinted as not being convinced the death was a suicide, saying that he thought there was more to the story. Another family friend noted that a phone conversation that he had with his father on 7/28 made him also not accept the suicide story. Jerry Lawler said that he was asked not to say more until an investigation into the death was completed but that he believed there was more than meets the eye.

The Tennessee Bureau of Investigations said that, “Preliminary information indicates that the incident does not involve foul play. However, the investigation remains active and ongoing.”

Friends said that there were two Brian Lawlers, saying that when he was straight, he was a good guy, but that wasn’t the case often, especially in recent years.

“When he was drunk, he could be the most obnoxious p**** in the world,” noted another close friend.

He had a reputation in wrestling for being extremely cocky, very similar to the character that he played on Tennessee television.

There was an incident three or four years ago that one friend called a suicide attempt, but others just believed he was drunk, and he was laying in the middle of a street at 1:30 a.m. with a bottle of Vodka waiting for a car to run him over when Memphis police came.

While he and his father weren’t always close, during a Hall of Fame ceremony for his father for the Memphis Wrestling Hall of fame, he told his father, “I love you and I always wanted to be just like you,” and Jerry said, “I love you too.”

Scott Bowden, a wrestling fan who later became a manager in the territory, and has written extensively about the area on his Kentucky Fried Wrestling website, noted that in 1990, he met Brian Lawler when he was a senior at Craigmont High School in Memphis and delivering Godfather’s Pizzas while driving his father’s old Lincoln Continental.

Lawler had been wrestling since the age of 16 on shows that his brother Kevin promoted called the Neighborhood Wrestling Alliance, in a ring set up in a friend’s backyard. At the time he called himself Bodacious Brian and he worked as part of a tag team called The Ultimate Males. At the time, he said that wasn’t interested in becoming a pro wrestler as a profession, and was looking at becoming a physical therapist.

But he was a natural at pro wrestling. He had all the right attributes to be the next generation of Tennessee wrestling superstar, following in the footsteps of his father’s idol, Jackie Fargo, and his father. Well, everything except timing, because such a thing by the time he came around was impossible. The wrestling he grew up on, with his father drawing big crowds every Monday night, was a thing of the past. While Saturday morning wrestling was still drawing big ratings on WMC-TV when he got out of high school, Lance Russell had gone to WCW, and crowds were usually around 1,000 at the Mid South Coliseum.

At 18, he did his first match before an actual wrestling crowd, teaming with childhood friend and tag team partner on his brother’s backyard shows, Tony Williams, on a small-time how promoted by Eddie Crawford, better known in town as The Snowman.

They tore down the house. His in-ring timing was excellent from the start and he was a natural at playing the cocky heel, which even then some would say didn’t require him to act.

His father saw a tape of the match, and started booking the two under a mask as Quasar & Nebula, The Twilight Zone. They were just used as television enhancement guys at first, but would get in a few cool moves they copied from watching British Bulldogs matches.

Their ability was obvious, so the decision was made to allow them to start working as prelim regulars, removing their masks. They worked as Brian & Tony, “The New Kids,” a takeoff of “New Kids on the Block,” a popular rock band, coming to the ring with the song “Hanging Tough.” Whenever they lost, it was Tony doing the job. Soon, Brian was on top and Tony was forgotten.

Jerry would never allow him or his brother Kevin (who wrestled as Kevin Christian but never got past the enhancement level) to use the Lawler name. Jerry Lawler was in his early 40s, and even though he had been on top since the early 70s, he felt it would make him appear to be old if fans saw him as old enough to have a grown up son.

Brian was a natural heel, much like his father. In fact, he was better than his father at the same age. He had just turned 20 when he won the USWA heavyweight title for the first of 22 or 26, depending on the city, times, all before his 26th birthday. Jerry held a regional title in Alabama at 21, but didn’t win the top title in the Tennessee circuit until he was 23.

After Jeff Jarrett left, Jerry Lawler & Brian Christopher were the promotion’s top stars.

He was a more natural worker than his father, and with his familiarity with both weight training and steroids, two things his father never touched, he had a good physique to go with his looks. He was a very good talker as well, although not at the level of his father. But few ever were.

But territorial wrestling was a thing of the past. Like Eddie Gilbert, he believed it was his ultimata destination to be the next Jerry Lawler, only to find out that there could be no next Jerry Lawler. Once fans could see the big stars of the national promotions on television, suddenly the guys who worked every Monday night at the Mid South Coliseum weren’t seen as big stars, but local guys who weren’t good enough to be in the companies where the big stars were. Even if people still watched on television out of habit in big numbers, they would no longer go to the matches. But with overhead low, and a unique situation where the company made a little bit of money off its television show, they were able to limp along until 1997,when it all fell apart.

Even though he seemed like a natural heel with his cockiness, the feeling was they needed a young top babyface to go with guys like Lawler or Bill Dundee, who had been around forever. Besides, fans started to pick up on how entertaining he was.

After pinning Shawn Michaels in a USWA vs. WWF match, he started his babyface turn. For several years he and his father were a tag team, but still were never acknowledged as relatives on television, and interestingly, never held the tag team titles together. In Memphis, everyone who grew up with him, knew him from high school, and all the regular fans knew they were father-and-son since Jerry Lawler was one of the most famous people in the city.

When the USWA was over, things were different. As much success as he had on a regional basis, he was considered too small for a national push based on that era’s standards.

WWF brought him in first for a light heavyweight division, which they started to counter the success of the WCW cruiserweights. Like almost every time they tried this, it went nowhere.

In 1998, he was put together with Garland, then called Scott Taylor, for a tag team called “Too Much.” They were a good team, but they were considered too small to get past a certain level, even though the Too Cool team was very popular for a period of time.

Too Cool defeated Edge & Christian on May 29, 2000, to win the WWF tag team titles on an episode of Raw in Vancouver. They lost them on June 25, 2000, in Boston, at the King of the Ring PPV back to Edge & Christian, in a four-way that also involved Matt & Jeff Hardy and the team of T&A (Andrew “Test” Martin and Matt “A-Train” Bloom).

Paul Heyman, on Raw, suggested, and got it approved, to mention that Brian Christopher was Lawler’s son. On Memphis TV, Lawler would beat around the bush when asked. First he said that he and Brian Christopher did not exchange Christmas presents. Another time when he was about to reveal the truth, there was a supposed glitch and the power went out. Of course, by that time, it hardly mattered.

Those close to the situation said that he had no real issues in the territorial days past his cockiness could rub people the wrong way.

Bowden noted that Lawler was consumed at the time with his physique, building muscle by whatever means necessary. But said that he rarely drank beer, and had a healthy diet. But he said that all changed when he went to WWF.

He started having issues, which culminated in 2001, when he was fired when he was caught with meth and steroids going across the border to Canada.

As soon as that arrest story broke, Brian Lawler called me, saying he would be totally honest about the story. He told me that you can’t understand his family, worried more about how his father and his grandmother (Jerry’s mother) would view the situation.

He noted that his father never drank, never touched drugs and that his family was brought up that way and you just wouldn’t understand how bad this would be to them.

Still, he admitted use, and said that he thought they wouldn’t be that mad about the steroids, but there was no way they would accept the other drugs. Even though it was known that Jerry and Brian in wrestling didn’t hang out together and both led separate lives, he appeared at that time to be more concerned about how his father and grandmother would react because of his feeling he had darkened the family name by the arrest, more than any consequences, including losing his job, that would come from the arrest.

Bowden, who interviewed his mother around that time, and brought up Brian becoming a wrestler when, in high school, that was clearly not his long-term plan, said his mother Kay said, “Brian only wrestles to get Jerry’s attention. Hey, dad, I exist.”

After the breakup of Too Cool, his star was already fading in WWF. He was only 29, and because he was a natural talent, and because he was a television star, and because he was a Lawler, got a number of chances in a number of places. He was going to be given a big push in TNA as Brian Lawler, but his issues had taken the toll and his ring work was no longer good. Jim Ross gave him another chance in WWF in 2004, but he lasted only a few weeks before being fired again.

Brian found himself on CNN in 2007 in an embarrassing situation where he was on Anderson Cooper after the death of Chris Benoit. He had done an interview talking about how so many of his friends were gone. CNN heard the quote and invited him on. Then he did an about-face, talking about how WWF had a strict drug policy and that wrestling’s problems weren’t bad. When Cooper brought up his quote about how many friends of his had died, he responded saying, “Well, I have a lot of friends.”

His life spiraled out of control, making news mostly for unprofessional behavior, a few fights and several arrests. He was arrested at least three times in 2009, including violating a plea bargain agreement to attend an in-patient treatment center and was put in jail for 30 days.

Bowden wrote that once, after a backstage fight that Lawler had gotten the worst end of in Dyresburg, TN, that he was messaged by longtime area fan/writer Brian Tramel, who said, “Did you hear about Bran Lawler?” Bowden wrote that his mind was racing as he thought, “He’s dead.”

Since that time, there had been more arrests. In February, he was beaten up badly by Ryan Clark (pro wrestler Chase Stevens) in an Indiana hotel room, suffering several broken bones in his face, broken teeth and needed facial surgery. Lawler admitted being drunk and on several prescription drugs to police when they came. Clark was arrested, although a witness, Clark’s girlfriend, said Lawler was drunk and causing a scene. Lawler told police that Clark thought he was trying to hit on his girlfriend, but he said he wasn’t.

His father had tried to make a deal with him that if he could stay clean for one year, he’d go to bat for him, and help him get him a job as a trainer at the Performance Center or some type of a job in WWE.

Others noted that there were times he would get clean, or at least clean by wrestler standards because that involved methadon to wean him off the harder stuff. But there was always the relapse.

At 7:56 a.m. on 7/29 I was awoken by my phone.

“Hear about Brian Lawler?” said the text message.

My mind was racing. I’d read the Bowden article years earlier after the fight in Dyresburg. It was a different person sending the message, but the words were virtually identical. So was my immediate response.

Josip Peruzovic, the native of Croatia who achieved fame as a Mongolian and a Russian, best known as Nikolai Volkoff, passed away on 7/29 at the age of 70.

According to long-time friend Brian Blair, the President of the Cauliflower Alley Club, Peruzovic had recently suffered a heart attack and was told that he needed open heart surgery, which he declined. He was then told that he needed to get a stent put in his heart, which would be only a temporary fix because he was going to need the major surgery. He refused that as well.

He had been hospitalized for dehydration and was released in the days before his death. His wife found him dead at their home.

As Nikolai Volkoff, he was a major heel star in pro wrestling, using that name first in the summer of 1973 when working for Jack Adkisson (Fritz Von Erich) in Texas. Previously he had wrestled under a number of names including Joe Peruzovic when he started with Stampede Wrestling in 1968, and Bepo Mongol, as part of the tag team called The Mongols, with Newton Tattrie as his partner, who were really like the Road Warriors of their generation.

He was best known for his tag team with the Iron Sheik in the mid-80s, the top heel team during the period that the WWF expanded nationally. He appeared on national Saturday Night’s Main Event shows on NBC, was a character on the Saturday morning “Hulk Hogan’s Rock n Wrestling” that aired on CBS. His singing of the Russian national anthem made him an iconic figure in that era and he was inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame in 2006.

At 6-foot-5 and 315 pounds, Peruzovic was an age-group champion Olympic-style weightlifter. He was considered Yugoslavia’s big hope as a superheavyweight in weightlifting for the 1968 and 1972 Olympics before he defected.

He was tall, with a huge chest and shoulders, a genuine powerhouse and was the star of The Mongols tag team, which became big in Montreal and were booked as almost unbeatable in the WWWF in 1970 and 1971, where they held the International tag team championship.

As first they were managed by Tony Angelo, who they had known from Montreal, and then by Lou Albano, who replaced Angelo as the lead heel manager.

At the time, the WWWF International tag team champions, the forerunner to the later world tag team champions, were held by Victor Rivera & Tony Marino. After a television angle, the battle of the two undefeated teams was set for the semi-main event of the June 15, 1970, show in Madison Square Garden, headlined by Bruno Sammartino vs. Crusher Verdu.

The show drew an overflow crowd of 20,819 fans and $85,716, breaking a Madison Square Garden gate record that was set 50 years earlier by the Joe Stetcher vs. Earl Caddock world title match. While Sammartino vs. Verdu always got credit for that record, and more Albano as the mouthpiece for the very limited Verdu, The Mongols were really over and the tag team title match was a key part of that record. The Mongols were built even stronger the next month by retaining over the giant tag team of Gorilla Monsoon & Big Bill Miller.

On August 1, 1970, it was Sammartino & Rivera challenging The Mongols for the title in the main event. The big angle was Bepo pinned Sammartino to win the first fall, although Sammartino & Rivera ended up winning via DQ in taking the next two falls. Still, the idea that somebody pinned Sammartino was a huge deal.

He headlined the next two Madison Square Garden shows Sammartino, winning the first via count out before 17,232 fans, but suffered his first loss in the territory when Sammartino won the rematch before 17,491 fans.

After the team broke up, with Bill Eadie replacing Bepo, as Bolo Mongol, he became Volkoff.

He claimed that Nikolai was his middle name, and that Volkoff was his mother’s maiden name. In fact, like a lot of claimed stories, there was nothing to that. His actual middle name was Hrvoje, even though many obituaries listed his name as Josip Nikolai Peruzovic. His mother’s maiden name was Tomasevic.

Those claims were likely to give authenticity to the idea he was Russian. He actually was from Yugoslavia, in a part of the country that is now Croatia.

He didn’t like communism, and wanted to come to the U.S. However, it would have taken him several years when he planned his defection, but was able instead to get to Canada.

During a weightlifting meet in Vienna, Austria, Peruzovic defected, and ended up in Calgary, where, with his size, he attempted to become a heavyweight boxer. Instead, he wound up as a pro wrestler, big Joe Peruzovic (at first he was just called Joe Croatian), for Stampede Wrestling. He met Tattrie there, and they went to a number of territories as The Mongols, before coming to the WWWF.

They actually never lost a tag team match in the WWWF, as they left the promotion as champions to wrestle in the Pittsburgh circuit, that Tattrie had purchased from Bruno Sammartino, who at the time was working there regularly between his stints as WWWF champion.

With them leaving, the WWWF created their world tag team championships, with the first champions being Luke Graham & Tarzan Tyler in 1971.

Volkoff always credited Fred Blassie with convincing him to play a Russian, but clearly that wasn’t the case either, since he had used the name in Texas months before being hooked up with Blassie as his manager in the WWWF.

He had his second big run as a singles headliner in 1974. Blassie had just retired as a wrestler and left California to live in the New York suburbs and become a manager. Volkoff was his first protégé. While he had headlined as one of the Mongols and a lot of fans knew he was Bepo Mongol, he was now billed as a giant Russian, who made his name by going to what was billed as a 53 minute (actually 37 minute) curfew draw with Sammartino for the title on March 4, 1974, in Madison Square Garden before a legitimate sellout crowd. The pair has a second sellout on April 1, 1974, which Sammartino won, and a third sellout on June 24, 1974 in a tag team match where Sammartino & Chief Jay Strongbow beat Volkoff & Blassie.

He next went to the AWA, where he used the name Boris Breznikoff, managed by Bobby Heenan, where he had a number of title matches against Verne Gagne. Because the Midwest had a famous tag team of Boris & Niccoli Volkoff (Steve Gobrukovich was the original Niccoli Volkoff, using the name throughout the Midwest from 1956 to 1973), Gagne wouldn’t let him use that name.

Because of his size, as a giant Russian, he went from territory to territory as a headliner. He worked the key Southern territories like Florida and Georgia, with the obvious matches with Dusty Rhodes. After the 1980 U.S. Hockey team win over the Soviet Union in the Olympics, they played off that patriotism and fans chanting “USA” which boosted his career.

Perhaps his biggest lucky break came when working for Mid South Wrestling, against the likes of Junkyard Dog and Jim Duggan. Watts came up with the idea that he would come to the ring to the Soviet national anthem, which set the stage for easy heat.

Volkoff was big and strong, but didn’t move or bump well. He was universally liked for being a nice guy, and a stand-up guy, such as in 1983 when he defied NWA threats and worked with Bruiser Brody as his key opponent in Larry Matysik’s opposition group to the NWA that year in St. Louis. But he was hard to get a good match out of. With his size, he could get heat but was limited in what he could do. And for the comeback, it was tough, because he was big and didn’t bump well, so the face comeback spot never looked that good. It was okay for a big guy his size punching him, but when a small guy made a comeback and he didn’t bump, it was a flat comeback.

One night while working for Mid South, the tape broke. He called Watts and asked what to do. Watts knew that Volkoff liked singing and knew the words of the song, so told him to just sing the anthem and they’ll get a new tape for the next city. So he sang, and he told Watts he got way more heat singing the anthem then he’d ever gotten before.

He came back to the WWF in the summer of 1984, shortly after Vince McMahon started his national expansion. He was first brought in as a singles wrestler, a big guy to win some prelim bouts and lose some headline matches to Andre the Giant.

He was booked in a tag team match with the Iron Sheik as his partner, and it went well. Several weeks later they were put together as a regular tag team, best known for their ring entrance. Volkoff would sing the Russian national anthem, while Sheik would stand at attention, and then Sheik would scream, “Iran No. 1.” It was easy heat. The two won the WWF tag team titles on March 31, 1985, on the first WrestleMania show in Madison Square Garden, beating a team called the U.S. Express (since American Express was trademarked by the credit card company) of Barry Windham & Mike Rotunda. They lost the titles back quickly, on June 16, 1985, but remained a regular team. Later, Volkoff & Boris Zhukov (Jim Darrell) worked as a tag team called The Bolsheviks.

He later settled in Baltimore and worked as a code enforcement inspector and in 2006 ran for a seat in the Maryland General Assembly.

He eventually had a babyface run, and worked his regular job, as well as independent shows, after his full-time career ended, with his last match ending in May.

Frederick Seawright, better known as Brickhouse Brown, passed away on 7/29 from the brain cancer that had put him in hospice care two weeks ago in Ridgeland, MS.

In a crazy story, Seawright was first confirmed dead by a nurse on 7/20, when his pulse flatlined. A sheet was put over his head and they were waiting for the coroner to take the body.

His mother, Victoria Timmins, was there with him at the time and didn’t leave the room, and then fell asleep after the ordeal.

Some time later, while she was sleeping, she heard her son’s voice saying, “Mom, I’m hungry.” She was halfway sleeping and believed she was dreaming when she heard it again. Then she heard him louder screaming her name. She woke up an the sheet was no longer over his head and he was talking to her, and she screamed. He lived nine more days but the death was inevitable as the cancer had spread throughout his body.

Seawright was 57, and his funeral, scheduled for 8/11 in Florida, where he grew up, will be held on his 58th birthday.

The story itself was sad.

Brian Blair, president of the Cauliflower Alley Club, who, even though he was a contemporary of Seawright and knew of him, didn’t know him personally, said that he was contacted by Rocky Johnson, Dwayne’s son. Johnson asked him if the Cauliflower Alley Club could help Brown, who was destitute after a divorce and had no insurance.

The sad part of his young death was the message about health care in the U.S. Seawright had stage 2 prostate cancer, but without medical insurance, he couldn’t afford the best treatment, and was just treated with pain medication until the cancer became stage 4 and spread to his brain.

Because of a lack of insurance, he was only treated with pain killers as opposed to chemotherapy or radiation treatment. His cancer, which was Stage two prostate cancer, normally treatable, spread and became stage four, which was terminal.

Blair, who had been in contact with Seawright constantly over the past year, noted he was broken up because had they known sooner, he believes his life would have been spared.

Seawright spent time with area wrestlers Matt Riviera, Johnny Morton and Boyd Bradford two days prior to his death and spoke extensively about his experience and memory of what took place during the period he was dead. Blair said the out-of-body experience was similar to what he was told by Buddy Colt, a major 70s star who died and came back to life due to heart being revived, claiming he was there watching over himself but not in his body but could see them working with the defibrillation pads to revive him.

Riviera noted that an attractive woman was feeding him ice and his mother was there watching “Gunsmoke” reruns. At first he thought the woman was his daughter, but it was a lady friend.

“I should have known that on his deathbed Brickhouse would have a gorgeous woman attending to him,” said Riviera.

Seawright told the group that when he died, he saw a dark door which he thought was leading to Hell and that there were demonic spirits floating about messing with his soul. He stated that he couldn’t explain what they looked like as they were in forms he had never seen. Some were happy, some sad and some mischievous. He said he believed this was his judgment period. He said the gates to heaven were a bright light and the scenes he saw were the most beautiful he’d ever seen. He said he was walking towards the lights to heaven, and suddenly, he woke up.

“The look Brickhouse had in his eyes was the most peaceful and assuring look I have ever seen on a human being,” said Riviera. “He was ready to go home and I’m thankful I got to see him one last time before he took the journey there.”

Seawright had gone public in 2017 that he was suffering from prostate cancer, and a year later he noted that the cancer had spread to his brain. He appeared in May at the Cauliflower Alley Club to give a speech accepting the club’s first courage award, and thanking the club for donating money to keep him from being evicted from his home.

Seawright received multiple standing ovations from the audience of hardcore fans and wrestlers and their families, noting that he had lost 100 pounds and his eyesight was getting worse. He said he had been told he had six months left to live, he had made peace with that and said, and he wasn’t joking, that if anyone wanted his ashes they were welcome to it.

“What am I doing to do?,” he asked. “I have had a wonderful life, a blessed privileged life. I have traveled all over the world. I have met some fabulous people.”

Seawright had taken a turn for the worst and wasn’t able to talk on the phone to Blair, who along with Terry Funk, had kept in constant contact with him. Wrestlers in the Tennessee area had done a number of fundraisers for him, since he gained his greatest fame in Tennessee and continued to work indies in that area until recent years.

He said that his reception at the CAC club was the greatest moment of his life with the exception of the birth of his children.

Terry Funk was unable to attend due to health concerns, and felt badly about it, but called in while Brown was on stage and said that he felt the wrestling business missed the boat on him, saying he should have been a much bigger star due to his quick wit, natural charisma and mic skills.

He was born August 11, 1960, in Wilmington, DE, but grew up in Florida.

He started wrestling in San Antonio for Joe Blanchard’s Southwest Championship Wrestling in 1982. He lied and told the promotion he had been trained, and since he had a great physique, they put him in the ring to do enhancement work for Bobby Jaggers. But he was utterly clueless. But Terry Funk liked how he talked his way into the business and helped train him and get him bookings. He went from territory-to-territory, going everywhere making no money and putting people over.

In his first few years he worked in the Carolinas, Georgia, Southwest Championship Wrestling, World Class, Florida, Mid South, Central States, St. Louis, Tennessee and even worked June through August of 1986 as a prelim touring wrestler for WWF.

Bill Watts pushed him briefly in 1984, but the feeling was, even with his great physique, that he was too small and worked as an underneath babyface. His first real push came in 1985, working for Southeastern Championship Wrestling, he formed a tag team called The Soul Patrol with Norvell Austin and briefly held the tag team titles.

He became a genuine territorial star in Tennessee in 1987, when he went heel, a role he was very better suited for with his talking ability and ability to exude arrogance. His catch phrase was, “Be on time cause your butt is mine.” He also would use the term “sucka” for his opponents, a word that Booker T later made popular in his promos on a national basis. Seawright said he was proud that Booker T made money using the word that he had originated.

His size also wasn’t as much of a detriment in a territory with a lot of smaller wrestlers. He drew very well on top in a feud with Jerry Lawler. It should have opened doors for him, but it really didn’t. He was a natural heel, but in those days there wasn’t much of a place for a junior heavyweight sized top heel, even one with a good physique. He ended up being mainly a smaller promotion wrestler, which was a tough spot in the era he came along in because smaller promotions were going by the wayside.

What also didn’t help is that he didn’t get along well with the promotion. He claimed Lawler told promoters that he was hard to work with, and also claimed he was shortchanged $300, which is why he walked off from what the best singles run of his career.

He spent most of the rest of his career working out of Dallas or Memphis, which took him back because anyone who was good who could help business they would use, but they never pushed him at the same level again. Both places were long past their peak and struggling badly. He also had a run in the post-Don Owen Oregon area.

By the early 90s, he was battling drug issues and he wasn’t the same. He held the Southern title in Tennessee briefly in 1987 and the CWA title in 1988, the Texas title in 1989 and the USWA tag team title three times, with The Gambler, Sweet Daddy Falcone and Reggie B. Fine in the 90s.
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Old 08-02-2018, 10:14 AM   #2311
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Thanks for sharing, all three are so incredibly sad.
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handjob on the lawn during the encore saved it
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Old 08-02-2018, 10:27 AM   #2312
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Brian Christopher is a terrible story. Makes me glad that my parents talked me out of being a wrestler when I was a kid.
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Old 08-13-2018, 09:48 AM   #2313
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The Anvil passed away. Always rooted for him, I knew he was in bad shape, but didn't realize it was quite that bad.
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Old 08-13-2018, 10:46 AM   #2314
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Shit.
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Old 08-13-2018, 03:18 PM   #2315
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he died of Alzheimers at 63
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Old 08-13-2018, 08:19 PM   #2316
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he died of Alzheimers at 63
Sure about that?

"According to TMZ, Jim Neidhart's wife Elizabeth (Ellie) Neidhart told investigators that Jim was having problems sleeping and got out of bed to adjust the theromostat. Ellie then said that as Neidhart went to touch it, he turned "weirdly" as if he was "about to dance", then fell into the wall and ground. She immediately dialed 911, believing he was having a seizure, something he was taking medication for. Neidhart had a four-inch gash on his face when EMTs arrived. He died aged 63. According to the Pasco County Sheriff's Office, the fall was his fatal cause of death."
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Old 08-13-2018, 09:57 PM   #2317
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Guess not. That was what I read this morning
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Old 08-14-2018, 08:53 AM   #2318
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Yeah, everything I'd seen was related to a grand mal seizure brought on by the Alzheimer's.
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Old 08-17-2018, 10:12 AM   #2319
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Anvil obit

Spoiler:
Jim “The Anvil” Neidhart, one of pro wrestling’s classic and memorable figures from the 80s WWF, passed away on 8/13 at the age of 63.

Neidhart was at his home in Wesley Chapel, FL, and it was believed he suffered a grand malseizure related to the Alzheimer’s Disease he had been suffering from, according to brother-in-law and Hart Family historian Ross Hart. The seizure led to a fall that proved to be fatal.

Neidhart started his career in pro wrestling in 1979, and was doing independent shows fairly regularly through at least 2013. Before pro wrestling, Neidhart was among the strongest men in the U.S., a shot putter who at one time was ranked among the best in the world while in college.

He was best known for his tag team with brother-in-law Bret Hart as The Hart Foundation from 1985 to 1991, being two-time WWF tag team champions. The team is remembered as one of the classic teams of the era, with Hart as the great technician and workhorse of the team, and Neidhart, especially at first, was the power man with the charisma. It was really during this period that Hart developed in ways outside bell-to-bell that allowed him to be the singles star and eventual champion and generational legend he turned out to be.

While not as well remembered, Neidhart later formed a tag team with Owen Hart, as The New Foundation.

The police report on his death stated that police were called at 6:41 a.m. to Neidhart’s home after hearing that Neidhart had fallen, hit his head and was bleeding.

Elizabeth “Ellie” Neidhart, the daughter of Stu Hart, said that her husband was having trouble sleeping the night before. He told her that he was cold and wanted to adjust the thermostat. She said she got out of bed with him and was watching as he walked to the thermostat.

She said that Neidhart went to touch the thermostat, but then turned weirdly as if he was going to dance. He then fell forward toward the wall and the ground. She called 911, thinking he was having a seizure. She was on the phone and she walked close to him, saw blood and heard him gargling. She then told the operator she believed he was dead.

She said that he had been suffering from seizures, with the most recent one being on 12/21. She said that his doctors think he may be suffering from Alzheimer’s.

The family has openly talked about his suffering from the disease over the past year. Bret Hart had been vocal about wanting The Hart Foundation as a team, or Jim, in the WWE Hall of Fame quickly because of that.

However, his death was completely unexpected and shocked everyone.

“I can’t put into words how hard it is going to be for myself and our family to have to say goodbye to my dad,” wrote Natalie “Natalya” Neidhart. “He meant the world to us, and nothing will ever replace the special times we shared together as a family. My dad was always a fighter and an incredibly special person. There was no one like him! I’m just gonna miss him so much. We are going to hold all of the moments we had with him close to our hearts forever and never let them go. I promise to keep your memory alive. We love you so much, Daddy!”

Neidhart was also a key in Roderick Strong becoming a pro wrestler, helping him start in a makeshift backyard ring when Strong was a kid.

“If it wasn’t for meeting Jim, I would have never realized my love for pro wrestling,” said Strong. “And without that, I have no clue where my life would have went. Thank you for those kind words to my dad about me that changed a 12-year-old boys life forever. I will forever be in debt to you.”

I first became aware of Jim Neidhart as a sports fan when he set the California state record in the shot put as a senior in 1973. He won a national high school championship meet and got a scholarship to UCLA, at a time when track and field was far more heavily covered as a major sport compared with today.

While never the top shot putter in the U.S., Neidhart was nationally ranked and once placed third in a world meet. He fell shy of making the 1976 Olympic team and after college, the same year Terry Albritton, his high school teammate at Newport Harbor High School in Southern California, set the world record in the shot put at 71 feet, 8 1/3 inches on February 20, 1976, at a meet in Hawaii. The record only held up a few months. Even though Albritton was national champion, he also failed to make the Olympic team.

Of that generation of Hart Family members, Neidhart would be the one I’d say I didn’t really know. I met him a few times, and did a couple of long interviews with him, but really didn’t know him. Bret Hart always spoke of him fondly, and would talk in glowing terms about The Hart Foundation vs. British Bulldogs tag team matches as being his favorite matches of his early WWF run.

The little I knew of him is that he was outgoing, gregarious, easy to like and a great story teller. There were few scenes in wrestling history more tense than the Hart Family dressing room after the 1997 Survivor Series, but Jim once gave me his version of what happened with Vince McMahon and Bret Hart, and did so with his delivery and deadpan humor made it actually a funny story. Obviously he had his dark side, bad substance issues that led him to rehab, and some arrests, one of which predated pro wrestling. He broke up and got back together with Ellie, and was one of those pro wrestling characters in every sense of the word.

In wrestling, most will remember his unique look, stroking his unique shaved beard, and the Neidhart laugh that he did in almost every interview. Jimmy Hart, who was not a relative, was the mouthpiece, and Neidhart would give some lines with his cross between sinister and comedic delivery, while Bret Hart would eventually deadpan once he gained more confidence in speaking which those endless local market interviews will give you.

Jim Neidhart went to UCLA on a track scholarship, although he ended up leaving and later went to Long Beach State. Albritton went to Hawaii and then Stanford, where he became well known for his world record. The two high school classmates competed together all over the world, and generally placed highly against the best in the world in 1976, an Olympic year.

Evidently both gave up on trying to stay amateur athletes and wait for the 1980 Olympics, which was a good idea since the U.S. boycotted those games.

The college Jim Neidhart was a thick powerhouse with long curly hair, very different from his trademark pro wrestling look.

Neidhart, who never played college football, got a tryout in 1978 with the Dallas Cowboys. Tom Landry, the legendary coach, praised him for his hard work ethic and athleticism, but he lacked the football experience necessary to make the team.

After being cut, Maylin Wicks, the owner of a San Diego gym that both men knew, felt that with their power and looks, and athletic ability, that he and Albritton should look into pro wrestling, since Ken Patera was doing very well in that business at the time. He recommended them to Stu Hart, who had a fascination with training powerful athletes like football players, strongman and powerful bodybuilders over the years. In those days, competing in pro wrestling meant that your Olympic eligibility was over. The amateur rules were weirder and stricter, and pro wrestling was considered a sport. A few Olympic-level athletes did secretly work under masks, believe it or not, but they were rare.

Both came to Calgary in the fall of 1978. Albritton only lasted a few sessions in the gym before deciding he didn’t like it, and went home. Neidhart took the early beatings and didn’t quit. He had a few matches but had to return to Long Beach to deal with an extortion charge from when he was in college.

After serving a short sentence on the charge, he returned to Calgary in early 1979 where he started his career as a full-time pro wrestler.

“I recall watching some of his sessions with my dad inj the Dungeon,” said Ross Hart. “They would lock up like two bulls and pace back-and-forth, often for 20:00 or longer. But Jim would eventually commit to a move and get caught by my dad in a grapevine or throw. But he would keep coming back for more sessions and always provided a worthy challenge to my dad, who nicknamed him `Rhino,” for his size and stature.”

While he was nicknamed Anvil as a pro wrestler, at times the WWE announcers like Gene Okerlund did use Stu’s term Rhino as a secondary nickname.

He left Calgary that summer to try out with the Oakland Raiders. He actually was signed to a one-year deal, but suffered a broken arm in camp and was put on the injured reserve list. He never played a regular season game, and was released by the team.

He had started dating Ellie during the summer of 1979, and the two got married on December 26, 1979, at the Hart House.

By this time, Neidhart had the short hair, but was clean shaven. He could bench press 500 pounds and was one of the strongest men in an industry that at the time valued strength.

After getting married, he became a pro wrestler for good. He was always a babyface in Stampede Wrestling. Early in his career, he was remembered for a feud with the huge Loch Ness Monster, who was actually the British legend Giant Haystacks. His oldest daughter, Jenny, was born that November. He and Hercules Ayala won the International tag team titles from Mr. Sakurada (who later became known the American version of Kendo Nagasaki) & Kerry Brown.

He got the nickname Anvil in 1981.

During the summer, at the Calgary Stampede, they had an event called the anvil throw. Stu Hart figured as strong as Neidhart was, since this was an off event that nobody was a specialist in and he was probably the strongest man in the area, or at least the strongest with real athletic ability, that he’d probably win.

The pro wrestling story, told during his territorial runs around the United States, was that Neidhart won and set a world record in the anvil throw, and that was where he gotthe nickname.

For whatever reason, once when I spoke to Neidhart about it, he claimed he had no idea what he was doing nor figured out the technique in throwing the anvil and did terribly, laughing about the idea he set a world record.

Ross Hart, who is a stickler for accuracy on all Stampede Wrestling related stories, said Neidhart easily won the event competing against some big blacksmiths and welders. He won the first prize, which was supposed to be $500, but it ended up only getting $50.

In the fall of 1981, he competed for promoter Heinrich Kaiser in the Hamburg Catch tournament, a tour with Bret.

When he came back in January, he was involved in a serious auto accident. He was in a car being driven by Bruce Hart, along with Mr. Hito and Jerry Morrow, headed to Lethbridge, Alberta, a regular stop on the Stampede Wrestling tour.

The car crashed into a semi-trailer, which turned suddenly in their direction. The impact of the crash threw Neidhart’s face into the dashboard and he needed 60 stitches above his nose, and it put him out of action for three months.

He and Mr. Hito won the International tag team titles in May of 1983 from Duke Myers & Kerry Brown, the big heel team of that time frame. He also had a number of North American title bouts with Badnews Allen.

At that point the feeling was that he needed to get experience working in bigger territories and make his U.S. name.

As a legit athlete who was strong, Bill Watts brought him into Mid South Wrestling in 1983. While he had been a career babyface, by this point he had the full Neidhart look, the interview style and everything, pretty much from day one, that he became more famous for in WWF. It’s also possible Watts liked him because of his background in the shot put. Watts’ son, Micah, who was a powerful kid, was a high school shot putter and Neidhart helped coach him. Neidhart was put together with Butch Reed as a tag team, winning the Mid South tag team titles from Jim Duggan & Magnum T.A. on October 12, 1983 at the TV tapings in Shreveport. What was notable was that at the annual Thanksgiving tag team tournament in Atlanta at the Omni, Neidhart as a heel teamed with King Kong Bundy, while Reed as a babyface, teamed with Pez Whatley, and they faced each other, which is surprising, with what a stickler Watts was about these things, that he allowed that to happen.

They lost the titles on Christmas night that year at the Superdome to Mr. Wrestling II & T.A. Reed and Neidhart then split up, had a short program and Neidhart left, working for Jerry Jarrett for a few months, and then went to Florida later that year, where he won his first and only major singles title of his career, the Southern title in Florida, from Angelo Mosca, but only held it two weeks before losing to Pez Whatley. He also formed a regular tag team with Krusher Khrushchev (Barry Darsow, best known as Demolition Smash), holding the U.S. tag team titles for two months at the end of 1984.

While he was away, Vince McMahon had purchased Stampede Wrestling from Stu Hart. Hart had decided he didn’t want to fight for the territory and McMahon offered him $1 million, plus five percent of every house show in Calgary and Edmonton. Stu’s stipulation was that Vince had to give a job to Bret Hart, Davey Boy Smith, Dynamite Kid and Neidhart.

The $1 million would be paid in ten annual installments of $100,000. But after the first year, McMahon said that the Harts violated the non-compete when Bruce Hart ran an independent show, so while Stu remained the local promoter, he never paid the rest of the money and told Stu that he had his blessings to reopen the territory. Of course the key thing McMahon wanted was the television deals throughout Canada that Stampede had, giving him full coverage in several major markets.

Neidhart started as a singles wrestler, being managed by Mr. Fuji, and even wrestled Bret, a babyface cowboy at the time, on a few shows. Bret, who was not getting pushed, came up with the suggestion of the Hart Foundation tag team with Neidhart, managed by Jimmy Hart.

They were immediately considered the best working heel team, feuding with the Bulldogs. Dynamite Kid was badly injured in late 1986 and really, he was never the same. Before he was actually even able to walk from his back problems, he was flown to Tampa for TV on January 26, 1987 at the Superstars TV tapings. Smith had to carry him to the ring, where he immediately got taken out by a megaphone shot by Jimmy Hart, and Smith was pinned, and heel ref Danny Davis was part of that as well, so the Hart Foundation won the tag team titles. This led to Davis becoming a wrestler and often teaming with The Hart Foundation in six-man tag matches.

They dropped the titles October 27, 1987 to Strike Force, of Rick Martel & Tito Santana.

There was a famous match, but only in the city of Montreal, during that period.

The Hart Foundation was defending the titles on August 10, 1987, at the Forum in Montreal, against the local heroes, Jacques & Raymond Rougeau. The finish of the match saw Jimmy Hart drop his megaphone, the Rougeaus got it and used it behind the refs back and won the match and the titles. That night, on the biggest sports bulletin in TVA, it was announced that the Rougeaus had won the WWF world tag team titles.

The next week on the local inserts for Montreal, Jack Tunney said that the belts were being given back to the Hart Foundation due to the use of the megaphone.

“At the political level, the Americans didn’t want French-Canadian babyface tag team champions,” remembered Raymond Rougeau about that time. “But Pat Patterson (who was booking at the time), thought that, for Montreal, it would be good for us to win the titles. So they had to find a way that would allow us to win the titles in the province without having to lose them back in the U.S. It was Pat who came up with this idea.”

“We have been around the world, my brother Jacques and I, working against them (the Hart Foundation), first as babyfaces and then as heels,” said Raymond Rougeau. “Then, we became heels and they became babyfaces and we worked against them around the world one more time. Jim was a good and solid worker. When he gave you a tackle, you felt it. I liked working with him. Every time I was being told we were going to work with the Hart Foundation, I was excited.”

The team broke up when Bret went babyface for a singles series with Badnews Brown (Badnews Allen), but Neidhart quickly joined him and they fired Jimmy Hart, who went with the Rougeaus. They feuded with Jimmy Hart, and Neidhart also had a short program for the IC title with Rick Rude.

They won the tag titles at SummerSlam in 1990 from Demolition in a 2/3 fall match that was one of the better WWF tag team matches of the era.

That led to another story on October 30, 1990. At the time, for whatever reason, the company had decided to cut Neidhart, and the plan was for The Rockers, Shawn Michaels & Marty Jannetty, to win the tag team titles at a TV taping in Fort Wayne, IN. During the 2/3 fall match, the top rope broke in the third fall.

Between when the match was taped and before it aired, the decision was made to not cut Neidhart and keep the titles on the Hart Foundation after all. So in Fort Wayne, for the fans who were at the building, Tunney went on local television and said that because the rope broke, that the title change was reversed. There actually was at least one match, five days later, taped for television, where The Rockers came out as champions and retained the titles over Power & Glory, Hercules Hernandez & Paul Roma.

So the decision to not change the titles and keep Neidhart came after that taping on November, 3, 1990. Bret Hart went to bat for Neidhart to keep his job, and in doing so, they decided to keep the titles on them. As it turned out, The Rockers never would officially be recognized as WWF tag team champions. While they were one of the best babyface teams in company history, they never ended up holding the titles.

The Nasty Boys beat the Hart Foundation at the 1991 WrestleMania, which was done to end the team, as Bret got the singles push that was set up to win the IC title from Mr. Perfect, Curt Hennig.

Neidhart never achieved that level of a push or stardom after the Hart Foundation broke up, although he was part of a key 1997 angle with the Hart family that was one of the best angles in company history.

He was later put together with Owen Hart as The New Foundation. They weren’t given much of a push. He was reportedly fired on February 16, 1992, for refusing to take a drug test.

He did some ECW, New Japan and WCW before returning to the WWF in 1994, to side with Owen Hart in his feud with Bret Hart. Bret Hart claimed that there was a plan for Owen & Neidhart to win the tag team titles, but he was fired for missing dates.

In 1996, he returned under a mask as Who? It was clear who he was, and it was just meant for Marx Brothers-like humor, and it ran it course in three months.

In 1997, he returned after Bret turned heel and formed the new Hart Foundation with Owen, Davey Boy Smith, Neidhart and Brian Pillman. That included being in a ten-man tag main event on the July 6, 1997, Canadian Stampede PPV show, remembered as the best WWF PPV show of the era, beating Steve Austin & Ken Shamrock & Goldust & The Legion of Doom (Road Warriors). The gimmick was that the Hart Foundation were the heels, except in Canada. So it was unique as in the match, the fans were 100% behind the Hart Foundation, but in storyline, they were the heels and worked as the heels, but got cheered.

Neidhart was working without a contract, was about going to be let go after Bret and Davey left for WCW and Pillman passed away a month earlier. There was a lot of heat on Bret over the Montreal screw job in the company, and especially his being vocal on what happened and the fact a documentary had been shot. Owen Hart at the time went home, and was offered a raise from $250,000 to $400,000 to return, even though he had a valid contact. So Neidhart was the guy they used to get back on Hart, with Michaels and HHH humiliating him on the way out.

Bret got Neidhart got a job with WCW in 1998. He worked most of the year there but didn’t get much of a push.

While he continued to wrestle for another 15 years, it was mostly on the independent level.

His life had its ups and downs over the years. He and Ellie split up in 2001, but later reconciled. He had a few arrests, once for burglary, as well as for drug possession with intent to distribute and trafficking illegal drugs in 2010. In 2012, he was sentenced to five months and 29 days in jail, and also had a contempt of court arrest.

Later he went to rehab. More recently came the Alzheimer’s.

Bret Hart was stunned and evidently broken up about the death of his brother-in-law and most famous tag team partner. Aside from a brief tweet after the death, he has not done any interviews that we are aware of, even though Neidhart’s death was a major story, particularly in Western Canada.

“Jim was a gifted athlete and legitimately one of the strongest guys in the business,” said Ross Hart. “He was devoted to Ellie and their daughters, Jenni, Nattie and Muffy. Although he could at times be hard-headed and possessive with people he didn’t like or know, he was always loyal to his family and friends. He was a key component of strength and power, which balanced Bret’s finesse and technical skills in making the Hart Foundation one of the greatest teams ever in WWE.”
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Old 08-17-2018, 10:42 AM   #2320
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By the way, I think this is my favorite mainstream article covering pro wrestling in a long. A great look back at Randy Savage going from heel to the Mega Powers at Summerslam 1988.

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Awesome read, especially after the bummer of reading obits for the past two weeks. It made me watch both Coliseum Videos uploaded to the Network. The Randy Savage & Elizabeth clamshell tape from late 1986 and the Macho Madness released late 1988.
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