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.
You can get a video message from Vader and other wrestlers and celebrities at CelebVM.com. Click here for part one, where 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. Also check back this Monday for the third and final part of the interview, where Vader discussed signing with WWE, WWE not pushing him properly, WWE promising him the World title -- twice, another gimmick Vince McMahon had for him and more.
Wrestling INC: What made you decide to sign with WCW at that time [when he was with Japan]? Because neither WCW nor WWF were on fire in the early '90s.
Vader: Just the next challenge. Let's face it: I had done everything in Japan. Brody had passed, Stan was getting older and I was number one in America and maybe even the number one wrestler in Japan at that time, even with all the Japanese. I'm the first wrestler to hold both the All Japan and New Japan titles—not American, I'm talking the first wrestler and boy, they put that on the front page of the Tokyo Sports Press that an American was the first to hold Baba and Inoki's titles and like two weeks after that Tenryu became the second so they wanted to make sure a Japanese was number two. I thought that was funny as heck.
Obviously, the money was good. I got a great money offer and I started off part time. For good money, I'd go do single shots; I'd do five of them and say, "Wow, this is easy—easy work compared to Japan work." I was doing six or seven minute squash matches because they'd never seen anybody who was 400 pounds and could moonsault and had my type of strength. It wasn't kind of like Lesnar, it is exactly like Lesnar is today. There's really nobody who could go in and compete with him right now, I don't think. They need to find someone. [Roman] Reigns needs to gain a few pounds and get muscled up and then they need to give him a push. And Kurt Angle needs to come back because who can he fight after ragdolling Undertaker? That was kind of my problem and then one night Dusty said, "Hey, let's try Sting and Vader because he's just manhandling everybody." It was more of a respect thing with Sting because I knew what kind of a star he was and I had seen him wrestle and I said, "Wow, this is my chance to show these guys that I can tone it down and not just murder people" and we had a 10 minute match on TV and that was it. Dusty saw it and said, "There it is." Let's face it: Dusty Rhodes knows talent. He knows what he knows.
Then we lit that company up, me and Sting. Started with me and Sting. Obviously, Sting would go do things and I would do stuff with Cactus Jack, Ron Simmons. I can't remember them all right now but I was always involved in the main event with somebody. I was real proud of the fact that Ron Simmons, we exchanged belts. He became the first African-American to win the heavyweight championship of the world--off of me in Baltimore—and I was screwing with Dusty and Bill Watts. But Bill Watts was kind of a—I mean, I understand he's a born-again Christian now and I'm real happy for him—but he was kind of a jerk back then. And that's putting it mildly. I told Dusty, "I know what's going on and you guys better include me or I just won't do it" and Ron and I are friends and I'll just look Ron in the eye and say, "Hey, I'm not doing it." I was proud and honored to do it for Ron and I knew it instantly when I heard about it. But Bill heard this and he came over instantly and said, "What, what, what?" and I said, "I'm not doing it. You didn't bother to include me, you didn't ask me. I should've been the first one to know." Scared the hell out of all of them, man. And I was winking at Ron--I had already talked to Ron—but it was a great work. I had everyone scared. Ron and I went in there and we had what I consider to be my best match ever, which is really saying a lot because I've had a lot of big, historic matches and that was a good one. That "pop" when Ron finally pinned me and took the belt was unbelievable. We just did a fan fest in Charlotte, there was a photo op that we did together and we had them lined up out of the building because it was the 22nd anniversary to the day—22 years to the day that Ron took the belt from me and we signed some autographs together. Just had a ball. But then Ron got hurt, but we changed history. We talked about it. We changed the face of wrestling and we gave a lot of good black men a lot of opportunities that just didn't exist before Ron.
Wrestling INC: The end of that match and that title win is still shown all the time. It's definitely a legendary moment in the business.
Vader: I'm most proud of that. Ron is not a good guy—he's a great guy. And at the end of this fan fest, he put his hand on my shoulder and in that deep voice—powerful voice, powerful man--said, "Leon, I've had so much fun today reliving this moment and you changed my life and we changed the face of professional wrestling forever." It was quite a moment. A great day at the fanfest down in Charoltte. And we both made a lot of money, too. That kind of made it all good, too.
Wrestling INC: Then there was that incident where Sid Vicious, you were supposed to face Sid Vicious at Starrcade and then he had the whole fight with Arn Anderson and then Ric Flair came in and took his spot. What do you remember about that time because it seemed like things were pretty crazy at the top of the card?
Vader: You know what? I saved Sid's life! We had did a shot in Florida, did a daytime shot, ok, so we all got showered and met at the airport, so we're tired to begin with. I mean we'd been on the road for ten days and then we ended up doing the shot in Florida, so we're exhausted. Then everyone gets dressed and everyone's got, you know, leather coats on, nice clothes to travel and we're all in this lounge that they had set up for us and there's cocktails and we're drinking, we get on the plane and, you know everyone can't ride first class so there's a few of us up there and I was one of them, obviously, because I had the biggest butt on the team. So we ride over there, and then we get on a bus and travel four hours so you have to put all this together in terms of wear and tear. Then we do another match with no sleep; in other words the sun had already come up and we did another match and then drove again. I'm going "Now wait a minute man, this is crazy." I mean I was so physically exhausted.
We finally got to this hotel way up in the Highland or some darn thing, I don't even know where it was, but it was a nice hotel, and it was late at night, and there was nobody in the bar except one person: Stone Cold Steve Austin. He was just having a few beers, you know, after that long, long ride. It was torture. I mean I look back and I say "Wow, for me to have the strength to do that," I couldn't do it now. Somewhere along the line I just would have had a heart attack and died. But it just was too much and WCW should take blame for this, but the next thing we know, Steve and I are sitting there having a beer and Steve tells the story… I had shorts on, they were shorts, they weren't underwear, but he says I had on white underwear and they were like white gym trunks, and I didn't have a shirt on, and I didn't have no sandals on, but they were trunks. They were like, you know, those trunks you'd go to the gym with, right? So here comes Leon White, all four hundred and twenty pounds of him walking across the lobby from his room because he had opened his door, heard some noise and he'd seen me in the bar so I was going to come down the bar and come have a beer with him.
Me and Steve are sitting there and then all hell breaks loose. Neither one of us really saw what happened but next thing I know, man, Sid comes walking up to me because I was headed that way to see if I could help or, you know, just hold somebody because it was a violent fight. I mean there were chairs and bottles. And Sid, if memory serves, it was either just to the left of his belly button or just to the right of his belly button, he had a hole in him and I looked and he was doing the Frankenstein walk and he just "Leon, Leon," and I said "Oh sh--" and I looked and it about a nickel sized stream of blood squirted out every time his heart pumped. It came out about four inches before it fell down, it wasn't trickling down his stomach, it was squirting out, and it came out about two to three inches and then it dropped and I thought to myself "He's not going to last long, he'll bleed to death." I said "Sid, trust me," and I grabbed a chair and I sat down and said "Sid, don't move, you're gonna die" and I slowly eased my thumb into that hole and higher and he said, "You're hurting me." and I said, "You gotta take it" and I got it in there a little bit more and it slowed the bleeding enough and kept him alive until the ambulance came.
That's the true story. This was instinct on my part, I knew if I took a towel he'd bleed to death. I thought I had to plug it and somehow I got in there and I had stopped the bleeding partially because I got my thumb on the vein that had been cut and it slowed it down and, you know what? As far as I'm concerned, Anderson owes me a "Thank you" because I don't care if you're right or wrong, when someone gets killed, you're in trouble. Someone dies. And as far as Sid, I probably saved his life and, you know what? Not probably, most definitely did, because I was there, I saw it and (laughs) neither one of them thanked me. No good deed goes unpunished, brother.
Wrestling INC: Wow, that's crazy. During that time in WCW, there was a lot of transitional stuff going on, Hulk Hogan came in, Eric Bischoff was made executive vice president, how was that move and how was it working under Bischoff?
Vader: You know what? When Hulk first got there, it was great, he was real nice and polite, and obviously he got next to Eric real quick, and let's face it, Eric Bischoff, I have to be correct in saying this, became a very good promoter. He gave the WWE a run for its money. But at this time, he was a pretty boy announcer that got promoted because Bill Watts got fired and this other guy got fired, then another guy got fired and he didn't know, he couldn't find his a-- with both hands as far as wrestling went, at that time. He learned; he's smart. He's intelligent, well spoken. Good looking guy. I mean that's what he was there for, he looked like a mannequin. But at this time, he didn't know wrestling and he listened to one person, Hulk Hogan, you know, and he forgot about what had got him to the dance, which was Ron Simmons and Cactus Jack and Sting and Ric Flair and Rick Rude, Sid Vicious and that group before the Hulk Hogan era we were, and you know what, you look at the ratings during the time prior to Hulk Hogan and all the NWO and all that sh--, the company was more profitable and the ratings were about the same because we obviously had lot less salaries going out, know what I mean?
I mean I was making good money. Sting was making good money, but after that, I mean Rude was making good money. I mean everyone was making good money but it wasn't crazy money. So all of a sudden they're paying crazy money and the ratings were about the same. Eric, take my hat off to him, he did what no one's ever has done, he gave the WWE a run but, you know, bottom line, he got his a-- whipped then sent home. So obviously I just didn't fit in their plans and I moved on. I went home. Eric said "Leon," you know, "We're going to suspend you [for a backstage fight with Paul Orndorff] for six months without pay, you can go to Japan." And I said "Eric, you know I have been working for two months on a shoulder that's needed surgery." And I did that for him, you know, I endured the pain and I said "How many pain pills have I been taking to continue working?" It was after the cage and the match with Hogan. So I worked like two months after that with a shoulder that needed surgery, in a lot of pain, because Hogan wanted some time off and he wasn't hurt. "Ok, that's my role, I gotta do it." But I'm taking pain pills and I did and said some things that I shouldn't have said under a lot of pain and working under pain pills and taking way too many of them to get in the ring, you know, you have to take them to get into the ring, you have to take them to get out of the ring, and then you go home and you do it again and it's just, I should have, you know? One injury, it was a very serious injury, it was like an eight or ten month recovery, so, you know? I thought "Well hey, I got a long-term contract here." and you know, and then obviously things just didn't work out and Eric said "For what you did, you can take six months off and come back and all will be forgotten." And looking back, I don't know, I'm glad I moved on, but I don't know.
Wrestling INC: So you asked for your release?
Vader: No, I just told him "Shove it, sh--, take your six months and, you know, if you want to suspend me, you know, suspend me. I'll get my shoulder fixed and go back to Japan, go somewhere."
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.
Click here for part one, where 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. Also check back this Monday for the third and final part of the interview, where Vader discussed signing with WWE, WWE not pushing him properly, WWE promising him the World title -- twice, another gimmick Vince McMahon had for him and more. You can get a video message from Vader and other wrestlers and celebrities at CelebVM.com.