Many fans of big-time wrestling during the 1990s knows the phrase “Vader Bomb.” It meant Big Van Vader had just flown 12 feet in the air, back-flipped, and then splashed down on his latest unfortunate opponent from the top rope. At an estimated 6’5, 450 lbs, that is no small feat. Of course, athleticism had always been in Vader’s corner. He was after-all Leon White, a former Southern California standout high school football player and member of the Los Angeles Rams.
Leon White was born in Lynwood, California on May 14, 1955, where he lived his adolescent years and attended Bell high school. A standout at Bell, White promptly earned a scholarship to University of Colorado. His hard work with the Buffaloes paid off when he was named as a second-team All-American honor.
White’s NFL dreams came true when the hometown Rams drafted him in the third round of the 1978 NFL Draft (80th overall). Although not the star” Vader” would be later, White stayed with the team for couple of seasons before finally succumbing to injuries and retiring. The highlight of his NFL career was being a part of the Rams when they played in Super Bowl XIV.
A new life began for White in the world of professional wrestling. After training with Brad Rheingans, he made pro debut in 1985 under the name “Big Bull” in the American Wrestling Association. Sharing a field with Jack Youngblood, Vince Ferragamo, and Jim” Hacksaw” Reynolds now turned to sharing a stage with Ric Flair, Harley Race, and Dusty Rhodes. Leon “Big Van Vader” White earned respect in the AWA, subsequently earning a title shot against champion Stan Hansen.
While wrestling in Japan, Vader drew the attention of the American promotion, World Championship Wrestling (WCW). He made his debut for the organization at the “Great American Bash” in July 1990. His career with WCW culminated in three world heavyweight championships. White featured many signature moves, but the move that entertained fans the most was the “Vader Bomb.” That was 450 pounds flying from top rope and coming down on you. Not even the Hulk-a-maniac was doing that, Brother! Like many athletes, he made several television appearances, most notably on “Boy meets World.”
The former L.A. Ram and pro wrestling great passed away from heart complications of pneumonia at age 63 on June 18, 2018. He’s best known as the legendary Big Van Vader, but he was a Los Angeles Ram first. Let’s hope there is a field of dreams somewhere, so he can enjoy hanging with greats like Deacon Jones, Merlin Olsen, and Chuck Knox.