I recently spoke with Leon "Big Van Vader" White. White is a former WCW world heavyweight champion, former IWGP heavyweight champion, Triple Crown heavyweight champion and was recently ranked by WWE.com as #5 on the list of "30 best big men in wrestling history." Vader also is a former NFL player, who played for the Los Angeles Rams NFC championship team.

In part one of the three-part interview below, Vader discussed his NFL career getting cut short, getting his start in pro wrestling, The Ultimate Warrior almost getting the Vader gimmick and much more.

You can get a video message from Vader and other wrestlers and celebrities at CelebVM.com. Make sure to check back tomorrow for the second part of our interview, where Vader talks about his WWE career. Make sure to check back tomorrow for part two of the interview, where Vader discussed saving Sid Vicious' life, signing with WCW, Ron Simmons defeating him to become the first African American World Heavyweight Champion and what it meant to him, Eric Bischoff taking charge in WCW, his WCW departure and more.

Wrestling INC: Thanks for talking with us. You were in the NFL with the LA Rams, where your NFL career got cut short due to injury.

Vader: Yeah. Between football and wrestling, we're talking 48 years so I've left a lot of blood, sweat and tears behind in the whole bunch of surgeries. But man, I started out in Compton and you know, we grew up tough. It is a tough place to live and that is where my dad chose to live. He worked in the Navy shipyard down in San Pedro and he was an underwater welder in World War II and he could weld on these ships underwater will and he was doing well and we did well but that's where we lived. That's where my mother's family was. It was a situation where you either had to be able run real fast or be real tough and stand and fight and at the at time in my life I couldn't do either. I couldn't run real fast and I wasn't real tough so we didn't do it and we did the best we could. But we got out of there and we went to a little town called Bell and I went to high school and I started lifting weights and got real Big Early. In fact, my mother is 4'10" and I was nearly 11 pounds at birth. Yeah, that's crazy…a little teensy woman. She's still alive and she is thriving and doing well but they had to get me out of there at seven months and two weeks because I was just too big. So I was a preemie baby and still weighed 11 pounds.

At Bell High I was a high school All-American. In high school, the All-American was fun but there were guys on that team from North Dakota and South Dakota and you look at (this guy) and he's an offensive tackle and he's 6'4 and he's 190 pounds and you go "Wait a minute…That guy couldn't start on my high school team. How'd he make the All-American team?" The All-American is a lot of politics, it's spread out all over the country and the team for me that I was most proud of making was the all Los Angeles team. Now there was about 800 high schools in Los Angeles and if you were on the all-Los Angeles team, that represented the best high school football players in America, bar none. I loved getting in arguments with those people from Texas because they'd just get upset and we had more people so we got better football players or more better football players, I guess I should say. I was recruited everywhere. I got scholarship offers for Oklahoma, S.C., Notre Dame, et cetera, et cetera and I came to Boulder, Colorado and fell in love with those mountains.

I'll tell you a good story: I was at a recruiting party—they had a keg of beer—and I saw some blinking lights out front and I said, Uh oh, the cops are here and coming from L.A., I made a mad Dash; three steps and I was over that fence and I was gone. And they said, "Where'd Leon go? What's going on?" So I snuck back up to the fence and I said, "Look…" through a hole in the fence and the police are standing there and the senior offensive lineman throwing the recruiting party had his arm around the police officer and—I'm not saying the police were drinking beer with us, they just wanted to check and make sure everything was okay and I went, "Wow. This is pretty good. This might be the place for me because it's entirely different from what I grew up being around in Los Angeles." Because the situation with the police was just different.

Going from Colorado and then obviously to Los Angeles where I played in the Super Bowl and I'm the proud owner of a Super Bowl ring because I was a member of that team. I didn't play long. I had a career ending injury—ruptured a patellar tendon on a sweep against the Dallas Cowboys in a pre season game. Got to play against the Hall of fFamer Randy White and had a great game against him. I shut him out for three quarters; no tackles, no sacks and then I came home back to Boulder and I started doing real estate. I had money saved up from a large bonus and money I saved with the Rams and I built a little shopping center and speculated on some homes, bought some raw property, developed it and put some homes on it and I drive around them today and they're still standing. The home I built that my son was born in…I drive by it sometimes and I wish I had it. It's a beautiful home. But I just got bored. I was getting fat and sloppy and making money, I often wonder if I had that choice to do over again would I switch from real estate to wrestling? Probably not, knowing what I know now because 31 years later and 20 world titles later I'm pretty beat up but that brings us up to date and I'm currently writing a book and we'll talk about this. I've invented an exercise device and I'm involved with a company overseas. If you don't mind, can I talk about this company overseas? Because it's about wrestling and wrestling fans.

Wrestling INC: You mentioned if you were able to go back in time and go into real estate as opposed to wrestling…how did you decide to go into pro wrestling?

Vader: I just got bored. I was doing well. I was selling homes—existing homes that were on the market. I was good at it. I had a college degree, I spoke well. And then I thought I need a little more excitement so I buy a home—a raw set of grounds and then I'd buy a print and say "This home would look good on this lot and I'll put it this way…" and I was creative. I don't know; just the process of watching a piece of property go up and then that got boring and then I built a small shopping center and it got completed and finished and unfortunately I sold out of that and I should've held on to it. The long-term income would have been substantial but I was moving on to bigger and better and going to do a bigger and better one and it just…I just got bored, man. I don't know. I'm 6'4" and I could bench press 600 pounds in the gym when I was in shape and I could squat nearly 1,000 pounds and I thought, "I just got to give this a try. I have to see if I can do this."

I was watching wrestling on TV. Again, going back, I don't think I would do it. Now I love wrestling much more than real estate but I'm talking about…you know, you take 30 years of bumps and being on the road and the relationships lost because I live in Boulder, Colorado and that's not far from where you're at… But you go away for 30 days and come back and hibernate because you're tired and you've got to get a workout and get prepared to go out on the road. You're not socializing, you just get dislocated from people. You lose friends and the road becomes your life. It can become very lonely. And then the injuries. I've had 48 surgeries. The fortunate thing about me—you know I've played high school football, I've played college football—but never received a concussion, never was taken out of a high school or college game with a concussion. And then wrestling, let's face it: it's entertainment. The chairs we use are plastic, we don't hit to the head. You do get hurt in wrestling—your feet, your knees, your back, your hips, your shoulders but head injuries don't happen because we're very protective of that. My memory is intact. I think I'm speaking coherently, here. For me, it was all about the challenge and the next thing. I got bored with it. I wasn't looking 30 years down the road. My father left early on so if maybe I would've had a dad, he would have said, "Look, you've done your thing athletically; let's talk about the grandchildren and the wife and kids and stuff like that." With lack of direction, I just impulsively quit, packed my bags, drove to Minnesota and—Brad Riggins, who trained me—and I don't know, I think I'm considered by most as the most dominant champion in the history of professional wrestling, at least from '85 to up until present time. There's a guy named Brock Lesnar right now who is pretty dominant, so I think my reign might be over. He's ragdolling people. He just ragdolled Undertaker and [John] Cena. That was impressive.

Wrestling INC: You were starting to make a name for yourself early on in AWA but you really started to take off in New Japan as Big Van Vader. Is it true that Ultimate Warrior was originally groomed for that gimmick? How close was that to happening?

Vader: Yeah! This is just my understanding, but I heard that Sid Vicious was also up for it. And [Antonio] Inoki had designed this thing and he was going to put this helmet on somebody and pay him a lot of money. They brought the Warrior over and—let's face it…may he rest in peace and with all due respect—he looked fantastic, he had a lot of energy, he's a Hall of Famer, but athletically, he was limited; in other words, he was a little stiff. In other words, I don't think he could play a real good game of basketball. I'm not trying to be disrespectful but I believe the best wrestlers are also athletic in nature. Look at someone like Sting who is a tremendous athlete. Look at Undertaker, who is just a fabulous athlete. A guy like Shawn Michaels, who is a smaller athlete but…tremendous athleticism. I think Ultimate Warrior and Sid, although they looked fantastic, athletically I don't think they'd have been given college scholarships to play football or basketball or something like that.

This is my point: over in Japan, these guys were just very special athletes. They were raised in this. They were like gods and these guys were raised to do this from childhood. These guys started when they were 10, doing squats and pushups and they were handpicked. The best athletes moved on. There was never a case when I got in the ring in Japan and I wasn't with a superior athlete. These guys were all fantastic athletes. They could do anything. A guy named Mitsuharu Misawa—he worked for a while and then started his own company, NOAH—he could do anything physically. He was just gifted. He got heavy and smoked towards the end and still could do 20 and 30 minute matches with me and just do anything—and hold, any move, anything off the top rope. All of them: Kobashi, Akiyama, Inoki—was probably the least athletic of them all—Gret Muta—God, you talk about a 6'3" athlete. So that's just my opinion and they didn't work out because Inoki saw that they could not go 20 minutes a night and work with these athletic, smaller guys. Especially Sid, because of his height. He's 6' 7" and you know, I was a lot taller than these guys and compared to Sid…Sid towers over me. I'm 6'4" and he's 6'7"…6'8" with a boot on. But again, if you watch Sid in the ring, he's kind of stiff. He kind of reminds me of Kane. Kane is stiff. He moves… that robotic kind of thing. Not real fluid. And you compare Kane to the Undertaker and I think that'd be a fair analogy. Kane gets up to the top rope and he comes off and it's kind of difficult for him and it's kind of awkward. The Undertaker walks up backward gracefully and comes of the top rope and there's just a difference in athletic ability. Don't get me wrong; Kane's a Hall of Famer and he's going to do great but I'm trying to make a point here.

Wrestling INC: You mentioned working with Warrior and Sid Vicious later in your career. Did they ever mention how they almost got the gimmick?

Vader: No, we never talked about that. I think things happen for a reason. My first match with Inoki, we sold out the Sumo Palace and Inoki had gone undefeated for seven or eight years and I got into the ring with him… Four minutes and my instructions were, "Try and knock him out if you can." That's what I was told, honest to God. I said, "Are you serious?" and they said, "You'll never touch him. He's Antonio Inoki." And I did touch him. I've got pretty quick hands and they didn't realize I had sparred with Mike Weaver, heavyweight champion of the world and I said, "Really, you want me to try and knock him out?" and he was supposed to block me and dodge me and do all this stuff I was just too big and too strong and surprisingly to them, quick and agile. Especially back then. I mean, I was in the 370s, 360s and I was quicker than him with my hands and I think I surprised him. I did catch him that night and I almost knocked him out that night. I certainly could've. He tagged me once and then backed off. But that was my instruction and the Japanese people didn't like it. They rioted, they burned pillows and I barely got out of there. They rushed me back and said, "No time to get dressed, let's go!"

Wrestling INC: Yeah, New Japan was banned from that building for a while after that match.

Vader: Yeah, they were but we also sold out for like three years running and it was when they gave me the Mastadon mask after that first year that we had sold out. I think they made the right choice. Warrior could have done a great job and so could Sid but they made their choice and Sid had a great career and Ultimate Warrior had a fantastic career and it seems like everything kind of worked out the way it was supposed to.

Wrestling INC: You had a tremendous career in Japan. How did you like working over there?

Vader: For me, it was great. I flew first class from Denver to Seattle, Seattle over to Tokyo and I enjoyed the rides over there. You had a bed and you had a TV and basically a seat that would fold back into a bed. They fed you three or four times out there and you could have a glass of wine and relax, so the trip didn't bother me at all. Now if I was flying coach, that would be a different thing. That was just part of my deal. They'd pick you up at the airport and take you back to a hotel. And that's it. You'd go to bed, get the next day off and get a massage, work out and then, boom… Bus is at 10 the following day. It's a big, luxurious bus and they had these little, small chairs in there so they'd take the two chairs out put the one, big in there for me. So I had a big recliner and I just sat back. Before your match, all you have to do is relax and think about your match because you know who you're going to fight on the way. After the match, they have cold beer on the bus and it was just "relax time." So there was no driving, no real cars.

It was a pretty good life. It was a fantastic life. I often wonder why I never left. I got attracted to WCW, Dusty Rhodes, and Jim Ross said, "We're going to pay you this much money" and I kind of wish I had just stayed. It was good money. If you're making $100,000 a year over there—and I obviously made a lot more than that—if you're making that kind of money over there, that's "net" of Japanese taxes, so Japanese taxes are 20%, so you'd being that foreign tax credit back to America, so the money I brought home I'd only have to pay, I think—I don't know who was in office then but the tax rate was like 32 or 33% so I was paying 12% on the money I brought home. It was a pretty good deal. To justify me to come to America, you'd have to pay me a lot more money to justify that foreign tax credit thing. And it's not a loophole; it's completely legal. It's in the constitution—you can't be taxed twice so if I'm taxed 20% over there, I can't come back and have to pay another. It just turned out very well. That would've been another decision—I think I just would've stayed in Japan and forgot about it. It was a pretty good life.

Wrestling INC: You had that really famous match with Stan Hansen at that All Japan/New Japan Supercard where your eyeball popped out in the middle of the match. What happened there?

Vader: Well, Stan is a friend of mine now and certainly before the match and Stan is the real deal. Fantastic big man. Not just good, great. He was all business. He was stiff. I mean, I'm stiff but he's the stiffest guy in the history of professional wrestling. We had 80,000 people in the Tokyo Dome, we were one of the main events and I came out and I had this mask on—a full mask, not this mask I have now but a full, Japanese, lucha libre mask and that helmet weight about 60 pounds with the engine in it. So I'm carrying it, I took it off so I could see not fall and trip and have everyone laugh while I'm going down the aisle and they're trying to grab me and stuff like that. And I get up in the ring and Stan can't see but if you can't see you shouldn't be swinging that—whatever—big rope he's got, that cowboy rope and that big steel bell on the end of it. So he swung it over at me and hit me right in the face. I mean—BAM! And it about knocked me out, literally. And this is before I got in the ring. So I took two steps up the ladder, got smacked in the face with that steel thing and took two steps back, set the mask down and just stood there. And the Japanese guy who always took me to the ring— and actually he was from Mexico; he looked Japanese but he was Mexican—he said, "Go! Go! What are you doing?" and I said, "Wait a minute, man. He hit me in the face with that bell." I couldn't see and I stood there for about a minute and everyone was like, "What's Vader doing?" I came to, I came back around, I shook it off, I got through the ring and I walked over to Stan and I slapped him upside the head just as hard as I could about two or three times and let's face it: no one did that to Stan Hansen, especially in Japan so he's mad. He don't know why I went over and slapped him but am I justified? Hell yes! You get hit in the face with a bell before you get in the ring? That's crazy! And that's dangerous. He said, "Well, I can't see!" And I said, "Well then why are you swinging the damn thing if you can't see?"

Anyway, I was giving him a few receipts in the corner and I was at the point—hey, I was much younger than Stan and I think he had dropped down to get in shape for this; he was about 260, 270 so he was real light, I was 410 pounds and I was bench pressing 600 at this time—I was in my prime. He was a little older and I had him in the corner and I was like, "Hey, I'm just going to finish this off." I gave him a couple of good shots to the shin. I was like, "Hey, you hit me in the face with that steel thing and now we're back" and so I eased off and stepped back and I'm like, "Now we're even" and he didn't understand and he stuck his thumb in my eye. That's on tape and I've watched it 100 times and I don't care. But it broke my nose, it broke eight bones in my orbit and my eye popped out of my cheek. I lost a lot of vision and I've had four surgeries on the eye. But you know what? Back then, I just shoved it in and the swelling just kind of swelled around it. I shoved it back in and kept fighting. We did another 27 minutes. That was a hell of a match. Finally, I couldn't stand the pain any more because the mask was pressing on the eye and dealing with the pain and fighting him at the same time, I took the mask off and I'm glad I did because he saw it because if he wouldn't have seen it, he probably would have hit it again and either I would have been blinded and then probably killed him or tried to. But he saw it and he stayed away from it and we got through it. It's probably one of the best matches I've ever been in and one of the best matches—Jesus—ever. It technically might not have not been real good but it was one heck of a fight, let me tell you. If you've never watched it's like a 27, 28-minute double count-out draw. And he was the world champion for Baba and I was the world champion for Inoki, so there was a lot of pride representing two of the biggest companies in the world. Inoki was every bit as big as the WWE then and so was Baba.

Wrestling INC: You have also been working with CelebVM, where fans can get a message from you. How does that work?.

Vader: It's a video messaging company and if you want a message from Big Van Vader—Leon White—the 20-time heavyweight champion of the world, the former All-American, the former Los Angeles Ram, for any occasion at all pretty much, in other words if your friend is having a birthday, if your friend is getting married, if your friend is sick in the hospital and you want to send a verbal audio visual recorded message of me talking to your friend or to yourself, if you're having a 30th birthday and I'll say something like this, "From the bowel of The Rocky Mountains in Boulder, Colorado, I bring you the Prince of Power for it's time, it's time, it's birthday time. Johnny, you're going to turn 30 years old. Now I want you to go out and have a good time but you've got to be careful because it's all about getting to the next birthday. So make sure you have someone around you who is going to put their arms around you and slow you down at that time of the night when it's time to slow down and get home. So happy birthday from Big Van Vader." It's a fun company. I enjoy doing the messages. I'm doing about 20 a morning. The company is on fire and let me give you the call-sign to the website. It's CelebVM.com and the other one is WrestlingVideoMessages.com . They range from $25 to $100 depending on which star or celebrity. There's professional wrestlers, there's actors. The list goes on and on so you pick your poison but obviously I want you to pick Big Van Vader because I do the best interviews. That's what I'm told, anyway. I do the best birthday wishes. I'll even sing you happy birthday. I'm having a ball with them, the company's on fire. I tell you what—we all wish we had some money to invest 10-15 years ago…got in on that gold rush because we probably wouldn't be doing what we're doing now. We'd probably be on the beach somewhere.

You can get a video message from Vader and other wrestlers and celebrities at CelebVM.com. Make sure to check back tomorrow for the second part of our interview, where Vader talks about his WWE career. Make sure to check back tomorrow for part two of the interview, where Vader discussed saving Sid Vicious' life, signing with WCW, Ron Simmons defeating him to become the first African American World Heavyweight Champion and what it meant to him, Eric Bischoff taking charge in WCW, his WCW departure and more.

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