The era of the big man is over in WWE.
Well, that’s not entirely true. It’s almost over.
Want proof? Using my free time wisely, I’ve compiled a list of wrestler stats.
Once Big Show, Mark Henry and Kane retire (which, I expect, will be by the end of 2015), can you name the 3 wrestlers who weigh over 300 pounds? WWE and NXT together, there’s only 3…
Rusev, Erick Rowan and Bull Dempsey, who is listed on the NXT website at exactly 300 pounds, but might be exaggerating slightly. These are the “super heavyweights” in WWE once the old guard retires.
Why am I talking about this on Hall of Friday? Two reasons. First, giving you a sneak preview of future columns regarding the re-definition of “big man” in WWE.
Second, to talk about two men, arguably two of the most athletic big men in wrestling history, and to determine whether they are contenders for the Hall of Fame.
We begin with the larger of the two men, yet the only one (to my knowledge) who pulled off a moonsault.
(Big Van) Vader
Leon White did not have a hugely successful WWE career, outside of beating the tar out of some foreign reporter, but his wrestling life as a whole is worthy of NAIHOF consideration.
After a knee injury ended his NFL career (White played for the LA Rams in the late 70’s and early 80’s), White began training as a pro wrestler and started his career in the AWA, where he was known as Baby Bull.
Really glad that’s not what WWE went with for Bull Dempsey, by the way.
White’s career first took off when he went to Japan in the late 80’s, which is also where he was given the name Big Van Vader, supposedly a warrior from Japanese folklore. Vader traveled all over the world honing his craft. At one point, he held three heavyweight championships on three separate continents. . .At the same time.
Another fun fact – Vader (a notoriously stiff worker) had a match with Stan Hansen (also famous for his hard hitting), and during the match, Vader’s eye popped out of its socket. He kept wrestling, because of course he would.
Vader made his WCW debut in 1990, though he wouldn’t become a full-time competitor there until 1992. Immediately placed in the world title picture, Vader won his first WHC in July, defeating that ‘face painted goon’ Sting.
Vader’s stiffness caused problems, as he injured multiple wrestlers during his stay in WCW, including Sting (cracked ribs and ruptured spleen), jobber Joe Thurman (broken frickin back) and most famously, Mick Foley (multiple, ear included). Despite being more dangerous than Ryback, Vader won 3 World titles in WCW, along with a US title and being a Battlebowl champion. Remember Battlebowl?
Vader was fired from WCW in 1995 following a legitimate backstage fight with Paul Orndorff. After another brief stay in Japan, Vader made his WWE debut at the Royal Rumble in 1996. The Man They Call Vader never held championship gold in WWE – in fact, his Titan Towers career was pretty unexciting, highlighted by feuds with Shawn Michaels, The Undertaker and by hitting the Vader Bomb on Gorilla Monsoon.
Following another successful run in Japan in the late 90’s and early 2000’s, Vader mostly retired, save for select appearances for various companies, including a return to WWE to beat the tar out of Heath Slater.
Vader is best known, oddly enough, for his stiffness AND flexibility in the ring. The list of talents he injured is numerous, but I can’t think of another talent around 400 pounds who could move the way Leon White moved. The man could moonsault, folks. With ease.
When you consider Vader’s international success, his career in WCW and his athletic prowess, I say that Leon White is a Hall of Famer. It’s a shame his booking in WWE didn’t reflect the tremendous talent.
One match that wasn’t mentioned earlier was Vader’s contest at Spring Stampede 1994. The reason is because the feud wasn’t important, but the opponent certainly was, as he is our next candidate for HOF contention.
Ray Traylor wore a lot of different hats in his wrestling career – He was a bodyguard, a police officer, a guardian angel, a grave robber and a puppy killer. No matter what character he played, he is one of the better “big men” of all time.
A legit prison guard before his wrestling career, Traylor got his first big break for Jim Crockett Promotions in the 80’s, where he was Big Bubba Rogers, bodyguard for Jim Cornette. Fellow NAI writers and wrestling historian Magnum MH would be able to tell you far more about Big Bubba than I would, so if you’re curious, hit him up @MagnumNAI.
Lured to WWE/F in 1988, Traylor became the Big Bossman, a heel prison guard character. Bossman feuded with Hulk Hogan and Randy Savage during this time, as well as forming one of the relatively rare “Double Big Man” teams as one half of The Twin Towers with Akeem, the African Dream. Bossman turned face in 1990 and became one of Hogan’s staunchest allies, aiding him in fighting the monster Earthquake and the devious Heenan Family.
Some of Bossman’s most highly profiled feuds were with themed opponents – First, the Mountie (Jacques Rougeau), culminating in a “Jailhouse Match” (where the loser spends the night in jail, of course) and then escaped prisoner Nailz, ending in a Nightstick on a Pole match.
. . .And you thought current gimmick matches were bad. . .
Traylor, along with most of the WWF 80’s roster, moved to WCW in the mid 90’s. He proceeded to have a series of gimmicks, from The Boss (same gimmick, shorter name) to The Guardian Angel, to Big Bubba Rogers once more, to joining the Dungeon of Doom, to being in the nWo, to being Ray Traylor, to being released.
Traylor returned to WWE soon after, becoming The Big Bossman once more, albeit with a more modern look. For the first time in a major promotion, Bossman won gold, sharing the Tag titles with Ken Shamrock (as members of The Corporation) and winning the Hardcore title 4 times.
Sadly, Traylor’s major feuds the second time around in WWE aren’t ones to write home about. He fed Al Snow’s dog to him, leading to one of the worst cage matches of all time with the Kennel from Hell. Following that, he made fun of Big Show’s father at the man’s funeral and then stole the casket, towing it (and Big Show, who had leapt onto it) into the sunset. Painfully, that really was Bossman’s last major moment in professional wrestling.
Ray Traylor was released from WWE in 2003 and passed away at his home the following year, at the far-too-young age of 43 years old.
While Traylor’s career was not littered with gold, he was a major force throughout most of the highest moments in wrestling history. Sadly, that’s not quite good enough, so with a heavy heart, I say that Big Bossman does not make the cut as a Hall of Famer. Like so many other of my favorite talents, he’s a part of that next tier down. . . The Pantheon of Professionals, if you will.
So there you have it. The tale of two athletic big men – one who makes our Hall of Fame, and one who sadly does not.