Saturday, June 24, 2006

Stan Hansen and Vader

Professional wrestling has seen its share of tough men. Today we induct two of the toughest ever into the ITSC Hall of Fame, Big Van Vader and the “Lariat,” Stan Hansen. Both cemented their legacy in the blood and broken bones of their opponents. Both transferred their success on the football field into success in the wrestling ring. Both had great success as stars in the United States. Both went on to their greatest fame in Japan, where they made their reputation as two of the nastiest and most brutal American monsters in the history of Japanese wrestling. And both enter our Hall of Fame together.

Stan Hansen was born in Knox City, Texas in 1949, and was raised as your prototypical rough and tough Texan. He played college football at West Texas State, a school legendary for breeding professional wrestling legends. Besides Hansen, West Texas State football has as alumni Terry Funk, Dory Funk Jr., Ted DiBiase, Dusty Rhodes, Bruiser Brody and others. He was not one to skirt away from physical confrontation, and he went on to be one of the most physical, “hard” workers in pro wrestling.

Hansen debuted as a pro wrestler in 1973. He became a star in the United States very quickly. Part of this was his distinct look and reputation that made the fans think he was a very bad individual. But part of it was simply luck. In a match with Bruno Sammartino in 1976 for the WWWF Title, Hansen accidentally broke Sammartino’s neck and the match ended in a disqualification finish. The injury was then attributed to Stan Hansen’s “Lariat,” which cemented Hansen as a top star and his finisher as one of the most devastating in professional wrestling. Sammartino at the time was one of the beloved and successful wrestlers in the world, and Sammartino and Hansen did big business in rematches for the title.

Early on in his career, Stan Hansen began teaming with fellow legend and alumni of West Texas State, Bruiser Brody. They teamed in numerous NWA territories in the 1970s, and it was Brody that convinced Hansen to go to Japan to wrestle. It was there that Hansen and Brody would achieve their greatest fame, both as Japan’s most famous and popular foreign tag team ever, and as singles stars. Hansen initially began wrestling for Antonio Inoki’s New Japan promotion. Inoki thought so much of Hansen that he had Hansen beat him for his NWF Title in 1980, before losing it back months later. From that point on, Hansen created a monster persona that would be used by many foreigners thereafter.

While Hansen started with New Japan, he achieved his greatest success in All Japan Pro Wrestling. All Japan and New Japan were in the midst of a wrestling war in the early 80s, and the promotions raided each other for top foreign talent. This resulted in Giant Baba signing Bruiser Brody and Stan Hansen away from Antonio Inoki in 1983. Hansen would wrestle for All Japan from then until his retirement in 2001, as he and Baba shared a mutual admiration and respect. Hansen was so respected that he was the only man to ever defeat both Antonio Inoki and Giant Baba for their respective titles.

In All Japan, Hansen became one of the biggest foreign stars in the history of Japanese wrestling. He held just about every honor he could, winning the prestigious world tag league in 1983 and 1988 with Bruiser Brody, in 1985 with Ted DiBiase and in 1989 with Genichiro Tenyru. He was getting ready for his first match with his longtime partner Brody when Brody was murdered in 1988. Their feud was expected to be a gigantic money maker, with the classic confrontation of two destroyers going at it to determine who was the toughest. At that point, Hansen was pushed as a singles star, and perhaps was most successful from 1988 to 1994. He lost to Jumbo Tsuruta to crown the first Triple Crown Champion in 1989, and went on to have classic confrontations with the likes of Mitsuhara Misawa and Toshiaki Kawada. He went on to hold the Triple Crown Championship on four separate occasions. He wrestled occasionally in the United States, most notably a run with WCW that saw him put fear into the heart of a young Lex Luger from 1990-1991, but wrestled mostly in Japan from the 1980s on.

Hansen continued to wrestle throughout the 1990s, but after a while could no longer keep up with men 20 years younger. He retired in 2001, with his legacy having changed. Initially a feared and hated villain, over time the people of Japan took a liking to Hansen. Now he is considered not only one of the most famous, but also one of the most beloved foreign wrestlers in Japan. He now lives back at home in the States, and he recently released his autobiography in Japan. It is our pleasure to induct into the ITSC Hall of Fame, the “Lariat” Stan Hansen.

The other grappler inducted into the Inside the Squared Circle Hall of Fame would be proud to have his name alongside Hansen. He is another wrestling legend renowned for his toughness, Big Van Vader. Vader was a star all over the world, and is considered one of the best “big men” in the history of wrestling.

Vader, born as Leon White in 1957, was a professional football player prior to his days in wrestling. He was an offensive lineman at the University of Colorado and went on to play for the Los Angeles Rams. In 1985, he received pro wrestling training from Brad Rheingans, and he would debut in the ring shortly thereafter. He initially wrestled for the AWA, but he was too new to the sport to make an immediate impact. His first real success came with Otto Wanz’ European CWA promotion. He beat Wanz for the CWA World Title in 1987, which would open more doors than he could have imagined at the time.

Watching his performance in Europe were some influential New Japan figures. They thought White would be perfect for a character they were planning to create, Big Van Vader. They had considered a number of different wrestlers for that role, but settled on White. From that point, Leon White would become Vader. He debuted for New Japan shortly after signing, and was a superstar overnight. He debuted with a giant, smoke breathing mask, and pinned Antonio Inoki in his first match. Inoki hadn’t lost in over four years, and Vader beat him in a matter of minutes. This led to a fan riot, and Vader was Japan’s next great foreign menace.

Over the next couple of years, Vader feuded with all of Japan’s top stars. He had a big feud with Tatsumi Fujinami in 1988 over New Japan’s IWGP Title, and won the belt in a tournament in 1989, beating Masahiro Chono, Shinya Hashimoto and Tatsumi Fujinami. During this time, he began touring all over the world. He continued to wrestle in Japan and Europe, and also started wrestling in Mexico, where he beat Canek for the UWA World Title in 1989. The globetrotter Vader was not done yet, and in 1990, he debuted for WCW. He split his time in all of these different locations, like an old school touring world champion. However, his primary allegiance was to New Japan.

This began to change in 1992. New Japan was beginning to get behind Scott Norton as their next big foreign star, and Vader did not want to put over Norton. Thus, he began wrestling more regularly for WCW, which became his new home base. He had a brutal feud with Sting that saw Sting repeatedly pummeled by the monstrous Rocky Mountain powerhouse. He won the WCW World Title from Sting and after losing it back, won it again later that year from Ron Simmons. He held the title for most of 1993, defeating the likes of Ricky Steamboat, Cactus Jack and Sting. At the end of 1993, he had a very important match with UWFI’s Nobuhiko Takada, billed as world champion versus world champion. He submitted to Takada, an important event in solidifying UWFI’s reputation during that period. He also lost to Ric Flair in a classic confrontation at Starrcade 1993.

In 1994, Vader saw himself take a backseat to the arriving Hulk Hogan. He rotated between the UWFI and WCW during this time. In 1995, he had a feud with Hogan that drew excellent pay per view buy rates, as well as horrible matches with no conclusive winners. By the end of 1995, WCW was turning Vader into a good guy, however fate stepped in. Vader got into a backstage brawl with Paul Orndorf that saw him get his butt kicked. WCW fired him shortly thereafter.

In 1996, Vader signed with the WWF. Unfortunately, he never achieved the success expected of him there. The WWF did not push him the right way from the beginning, and he never became the monster he was in other places. His tenure in WWF lasted two years, and by the end he was losing to the likes of Mark Henry. In 1998, he joined Stan Hansen in All Japan Pro Wrestling. He had some good matches there, but age has caught up with him recently. He currently wrestles for Pro Wrestling Noah, frequently competing in tag team competition with Too Cold Scorpio.

Vader’s legacy in the world of pro wrestling is strong. Not only did he headline in numerous different promotions, and have many great matches, but he changed what is expected of a big man. Despite weighing well over 400 pounds, he did not stick to his brutal powerbomb and splash. Instead, he worked a fast paced style, and regularly used the moonsault. For all these reasons, we induct Big Van Vader into the Inside the Squared Circle Hall of Fame.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have really enjoyed reading these. Please keep posting.

7:20 PM  
Anonymous the Masterbater said...

Vader was my all time favorite wrestlers. Glad to see you post something about him. Just wanted to ask he hasn't reitired yet? He actually really still wrestles now?? He just look sooo out of shape and I thought he was done. I guess not.

6:02 AM  
Blogger Todd Martin said...

Thanks. I will keep posting. I've got plenty of these left that I haven't run.

Vader is basically retired now. I think he does occasional spots, but those are few and far between. As was evident in WWE, he doesn't have much left.

8:03 AM  
Blogger Houston Mitchell said...


Excellent work on all the HOF inductions.

I remember when Vader debuted in WWF and they had him destroy Gorilla Monsoon in an angle. It was a shock because you never saw anyone touch Monsoon. I thought they were going to give Vader a huge push, but they gave up on him fast.

4:57 PM  

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