Big Van Vader
Birthdate: May 14th, 1957
IWGP Heavyweight Championship (Held 3 Times):
IWGP Heavyweight Tag Team Championship with Bam Bam Bigelow:
All Japan Triple Crown Championship (Held 2 Times):
All Japan World Tag Team Championship with Steve Williams:
GHC Heavyweight Tag Team Championship with Scorpio:
WCW World Heavyweight Championship:
WCW United States Heavyweight Championship:
UWF-I Heavyweight Championship:
CWA World Heavyweight Championship (Held 3 Times):
Other Signature Moves:
Few casual wrestling fans realize the full impact that Vader had on puroresu during his career. The first wrestler to win the All Japan Triple Crown and the IWGP Heavyweight Championship, Vader also is one of only three wrestlers to hold the Heavyweight Tag Team Championship in New Japan, All Japan, and NOAH (the others being Yuji Nagata and Yoshihiro Takayama). Vader holds pinfall victories over Antonio Inoki, Akira Taue, Jun Akiyama, Kenta Kobashi, Mitsuharu Misawa, Toshiaki Kawada, Shinya Hashimoto, Riki Choshu, Masahiro Chono, Keiji Mutoh, Tatsumi Fujinami, and countless others. Arguably one of the most dominate American wrestlers in puroresu history, Vader left a legacy that will never be forgotten.
His puroresu career started with a bang, when in December of 1987 in his New Japan debut he defeated Antonio Inoki in less then three minutes. From there things only got better, as in April of 1989 he won a tournament for the IWGP Heavyweight Championship. He wouldn't hold the title long, dropping it to Salman Hashimikov the next month, but in August he won the championship again. This time he held it for a full year before losing to Riki Choshu. After losing the IWGP Championship, Vader began focusing more on the tag team scene, as he teamed with Bam Bam Bigelow to decimate the other teams in New Japan. Together they would win the IWGP Heavyweight Tag Team Championship on March 1st, 1992 as they defeated Mutoh and Hase. Three months later they would lose the titles to the Steiners, and after that Vader slowly faded from New Japan. Vader was vacant from New Japan by 1993, as by then he started wrestling for a new promotion, Universal Wrestling Federation International.
UWF-I was a shoot-style promotion that had been around in some capacity since the late 80s but had been re-started on several occasions. In essence, shoot-style means that the majority of the match was planned and "worked," but there were "shoot" elements as many of the kicks were real and in general the matches were worked in a more realistic fashion (for example, no Shooting Star Presses or Superstar Elbows). One of the forgotten promotions in puroresu history, UWF-I was red hot for several years with stars such as Nobuhiko Takada, Gary Albright, Kazuo Yamazaki, and of course Big Van Vader. Vader fit in perfectly in the promotion, as he was seen as one of the toughest wrestlers in Japan that could lay on the strikes and take them in return. Known as a stiff wrestler, no one would complain in UWF-I as the wrestlers there would give it right back to him. In a famous match on December 5th, 1993 against Nobuhiko Takada, Vader's arm was legitimately injured by Takada's kicks and a particularly painful armbar hold, but Vader would come out on top after a Vader Hammer. Matches with Takada in particular were always exciting, as Takada was known as a wrestler that would work in a very stiff manner and was generally unpredictable. Vader would wrestle Takada three times, with their first match drawing over 40,000 fans. Vader would also feud with fellow American Gary Albright, known for his suplexes, and the two wrestled in early 1995 for Vader's UWF-I Heavyweight Championship. In the spring of 1995 Vader would have his last match in UWF-I, and by the end of the year he joined the World Wrestling Federation.
By 1998, Vader seemed to only be a shell of his former self as injuries had caught up with him. As he was losing on his way out of the WWF, many thought that his wrestling career was over. Vader proved all the critics wrong as in late 1998 he joined All Japan Professional Wrestling. As he showed All Japan that he still had it in him to put on great matches, they rewarded him by giving Vader a big run in 1999. Vader defeated Kenta Kobashi in January of 1999, and on March 6th he defeated Akira Taue to win the Triple Crown Championship. This win made Vader the first wrestler in history to win both the IWGP Heavyweight Championship and the All Japan Triple Crown, which were the two most prestigious titles in Japan. Vader would go on to win the Champion Carnival the next month, becoming the third gaijin to win the tournament. Vader would lose the Triple Crown to Misawa on May 2nd, but on October 30th he would win it back from him. After beating Akiyama in January of 2000, Vader would lose the title to Kenta Kobashi on February 27th. Seven days before losing the Triple Crown, Vader teamed with Steve Williams to win the All Japan Heavyweight Tag Team Championship. Vader would fracture his arm in April, however, and they would have to vacate the titles. By the time Vader recovered, almost all of All Japan's wrestlers had left to form Pro Wrestling NOAH, and as soon as he was able to wrestle again Vader signed up for the new promotion.
Vader's stay in NOAH lasted from 2000 until late 2001, and for much of it he was teaming with his good friend Scorpio. On October 19th, 2001 Vader and Scorpio would be the first wrestlers to ever hold the GHC Heavyweight Tag Team Championship as they defeated Jun Akiyama and Akitoshi Saito. They would lose the belts to Mitsuharu Misawa and Yoshinari Ogawa the next month however, and on December 9th Vader would lose to Jun Akiyama in his shot to win the GHC Heavyweight Championship (if he had won, Vader would have become the only wrestler in history to hold all three major championships). Vader was soon gone from NOAH after that, with rumors circulating that he had a run-in with the Yakuza (Japanese mafia). Vader would not return to Japan for several years as he wrestled mostly in smaller promotions in America as he neared retirement.
In 2003, Vader briefly worked for Riki Choshu's new World Japan promotion. Vader only worked one tour with World Japan though (and an additional show) and saw limited success. His biggest victory was over Dan Bobish, but it came via DQ and was not considered a very good match. After leaving World Japan (World Japan eventually folded), Vader wrestled in HUSTLE, losing to Shinya Hashimoto on January 4th, 2004. Vader next popped up in Japan for All Japan on December 5th, 2004 as part of Kohei Suwama's trial series. Vader would win of course, but Suwama showed a lot of fight as he even managed to hit a German suplex on the much larger Vader. By now, Vader was in his mid-40s and from his many knee surgeries and his increased size he wasn't nearly the agile big man that he was in his prime. Unofficially in retirement, Vader has made a few appearances since then, including a match for DDT in the summer of 2006 and two matches for WRESTLELAND (a New Japan offshoot promotion) in the fall.
Without a doubt, Vader is one of the greatest heavyweights in wrestling history. Both hard hitting and agile, Vader proved to be able to have great matches in a variety of atmospheres against a variety of wrestlers. His only "failed" run was in the WWF, but that was also the only promotion that tried to reel Vader in and not allow him to fully wrestle in the style that he had perfected in Japan and in WCW. Once he was unleashed again, he proved in All Japan during his run in 1999 and 2000 that he hadn't lost the ability to wrestle and more importantly entertain a crowd. Vader paid for his style, however, as he has had over 20 surgeries on his knees and will never be able to walk without pain again. But that is a price that many wrestlers are willing to make for wrestling and he has never shown any regret for putting his body through so much for his fans. From his awesome debut against Antonio Inoki to his feud with Kenta Kobashi in 2000 to him crushing Suwama in 2004, Vader had a long and successful career in Japan and it is unlikely that any American wrestler will ever be able to match his accomplishments.