With the recent passing of Vader, I began to think about what he meant to the business. By the time I started watching wrestling, Vader was in a feud with Kane and the loser of their match had to take his mask off. Not only could you see Vader’s face just fine anyway, I’d already seen him with his mask off on Boy Meets World. So, even as a 12-year-old who wanted to buy into every wrestling storyline, this one to me (and I’m sure to most) was massively stupid. Following the match, Vader called himself “a big fat piece of shit.” He became a jobber to the stars. The Vader I knew had his biggest success on a TGIF show (the best one they ever had).
I always knew Vader had a successful past prior to his massively disappointing WWE run, but I had never known just how successful he was. At one point, he held three different world championship belts on three different continents. In 1989, he was Japan’s NJPW World Heavyweight Champion, Mexico’s UWA World Heavyweight Champion, and Germany’s CWA World Heavyweight Champion.
While working in Japan, Vader began to wear a different type of mask, his new identity based on a strong warrior of the same name from Japanese folklore
He made his name by challenging Antonio Inoki immediately after Inoki had won a match, and Vader defeated a worn down Inoki, leading the crowd to riot. If you don’t know who Antonio Inoki is, think of how popular Hulk Hogan was in the US in the 80’s, and multiply that by 100. Or more. I don’t know popularity math. Anyway, he was really fucking popular in Japan. He founded NJPW, which is the promotion we’re discussing now, and the promotion we’re still talking about today whenever we hear about popular wrestlers in Japan. If you’ve ever watched matches in Japan, the crowd is pretty quiet and reserved. Vader defeating Inoki led them to RIOT, resulting in NJPW being banned from the Sumo Hall, which was their home arena, from 1987-89.
At an AJPW vs. NJPW supercard show in 1990, Vader wrestled Stan Hansen, and had his eye pop out of its socket. He put it back in and finished the match. As a result of the injury, he had a metal plate surgically placed under his eye. At this time, WCW hired Vader while he was the IWGP Heavyweight Champion and still an active competitor in NJPW.
So let’s recap: wears a giant elephant bull BDSM mask, defeats Japanese hero, sparking riots and causing promotion to be kicked out of its home, has a metal plate in his face, and is causing chaos literally around the world.
When he began working full-time in WCW, he challenged Sting for the World Heavyweight Championship. He cracked Sting’s ribs and ruptured his spleen but lost the match. Months later, he defeated Sting, arguably the most popular wrestler in WCW history, for the championship. Following a return from a knee injury, he sent Nikita Koloff into retirement and legitimately broke the back of jobber Joe Thurman, paralyzing him for a few hours. Check it out around the 1:50 mark:
He also defeated Ron Simmons, the first black World Heavyweight Champion, to win his second world championship in WCW. Famously he is the man who was wrestling Mick Foley when Mick lost his ear in a match in Germany.
When Vader arrived in WWF in 1996, he attacked onscreen commissioner and longtime popular announcer Gorilla Monsoon. Monsoon had only ever taken two bumps since his retirement in 1987, one from Vader, and the other from the Brooklyn Brawler (go figure).
So there you have it: evil mask, metal face, attacking heroes around the world, and terrorizing Cory Matthews. Vader is the greatest supervillain of our time, and his only weaknesses were Paul Orndorff’s sandal and atrophied arm.