- Vader made his WWE debut in 1996 at the Royal Rumble, where he had an impressive showing, eliminating 13 other wrestlers before being eliminated by Shawn Michaels.
- Vader’s feud with Shawn Michaels at SummerSlam 1996 had severe consequences for him, as plans for him to become WWE Champion were scrapped due to issues between Michaels and Vader.
- Due to health issues, age, and the company’s perception of him, Vader’s career began to decline after the SummerSlam controversy, and he was eventually released by WWE. He later made special one-off appearances before his passing in 2018 and was posthumously inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame in 2022.
When it comes to pro wrestling, specifically in the 90s, fans were drawn to huge, larger-than-life appearances. Aside from Andre the Giant, who was in a league unto himself with his incredible size and stature, you had other big men, like Sid Vicious, Yokozuna, Bam Bam Bigelow, and another wrestler who was rough around the edges, but had a scary demeanor and was tough as they came inside the ring. His name was Vader! After two successful tenures with NJPW and WCW, Vader signed a contract with WWE and made his debut at the 1996 Royal Rumble.
The man who had earned the moniker of “The Mastodon” seemed to be an ideal candidate to become WWE’s next monster World Champion who could dominate the division, but sadly, those plans were derailed by a number of factors.
WCW World Heavyweight Champion (3x)
Battlebowl Winner (1993)
WCW United States Champion (1x)
PWI Wrestler of the Year (1993)
IWGP Heavyweight Champion (3x)
WWE Hall of Fame (2022)
IWGP Tag Team Champion (1x)
NJWP Super Grade Tag League (1991)
Vader Made His WWE Debut In 1996
Vader First Appeared At The Royal Rumble
Vader debuted for WWE during the 1996 Royal Rumble match with an impressive showing, as he eliminated 13 other wrestlers before being eliminated by Shawn Michaels, who would go on to win the Royal Rumble that year. Vader became a member of “Camp Cornette”, a faction of villains that was led by Jim Cornette. The next night, on Monday Night Raw, Vader defeated Savio Vega. Following the match, Vader continued his assault on Vega before being ordered to stop by on-air WWE President, Gorilla Monsoon. Vader turned his attention to Monsoon and attacked him. As a result, he was “suspended” for his actions. In reality, this was done, so Vader could take a few weeks off for shoulder surgery.
Vader returned a month later after being reinstated, starting a short feud with Yokozuna, who had left Camp Cornette prior to Vader’s suspension. A 6-man tag match was booked for WrestleMania 12, as Camp Cornette (Vader, Owen Hart, Davey Boy Smith) defeated Ahmed Johnson, Jake “The Snake” Roberts, and Yokozuna to end the brief feud. Vader would continue his rise to the top and eventually become involved in a feud with WWE Champion, Shawn Michaels.
10 Best Vader Matches, According To Dave Meltzer
Vader is one of the best big men in wrestling history, having put on some fantastic matches throughout his legendary career!
The Controversial Feud With Shawn Michaels Had Severe Consequences For Vader
Vader Wrestled Shawn Michaels At SummerSlam 1996
By the time Vader entered his rivalry with Shawn Michaels, there were rumors floating around that he was promised a WWE Championship run. However, those rumors were put to rest by former WWE Vice President of Talent Relations, Jim Ross. As spoken about on his podcast, “Grilling JR”, Ross spoke about rumors in detail:
“That never happened. S**t, no. When I brought Leon in, Leon was never promised the title. Leon was promised an opportunity to work in the main events. And that’s what he wanted. So he had runs with Shawn Michaels. And Shawn, of course, had some issues with Leon. You know, Leon would sometimes forget to wash his gear and leave it in his bag over the weekend. Then by the time he got back to TV and was going to hook up with Shawn, it could get a little bit stanky, if you know what I’m saying.” (H/T 411Mania)
Why Vader Never Became WWE Champion, Explained
Vader had been a champion around the world. However, a number of factors stopped Big Van Vader from winning the top prize in WWE.
Shawn Michaels defeated Vader at Summer Slam. This was supposed to be a trilogy of matches rather than a one-off match, with future matches being planned for Survivor Series and Royal Rumble, with Vader becoming WWE Champion at Survivor Series, then dropping the title back to Michaels at the Royal Rumble. However, due to the issues that occurred between Michaels and Vader during their Summer Slam match, along with the company’s perception of Vader, those plans were scrapped completely, as Sycho Sid would take the place of Vader instead.
Vader Never Recovered From The SummerSlam Controversy
Vader Is A WWE Hall Of Famer
Due to the controversy and how the company saw Vader as being a detriment due to his health issues and aging body, among other factors, his career began going downhill. By 1998, Vader had reached lower card status and was eventually released by WWE. The Mastodon spent the next several years wrestling for other promotions and also had a stint with Pro Wrestling NOAH and TNA.
Vader & 9 Other Wrestlers Who Got Hurt By The Kliq’s Influence
Shawn Michaels and his Kliq had a lot of sway in WWE. This influence has negatively hurt the careers of various wrestlers, including Big Van Vader!
Vader would return to WWE for special one-off appearances. The first of those appearances came in a match featuring Goldust and Batista at Taboo Tuesday in 2005. His next and last in-ring appearance came in June 2012 on an episode of Monday Night Raw, where Vader would make his surprise return and defeat Heath Slater in a squash match as part of the build for the 1000th Raw episode.
Sadly, in 2018, Vader passed away following a bout of pneumonia after going in for heart surgery. He had previously been diagnosed with congestive heart failure and suffered from years of alcohol abuse. Vader was posthumously be inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame class of 2022.