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.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vRVn_XZPoYM

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.

Big Bossman

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.

Welcome to the first installment of DC’s Network Diaries, where we document one insane man’s attempt to justify spending hours upon hours poring over the massive amount of #NAIstalgia that exists on the WWE Network.

If you’ve been a fan of mine from back before NAI, you know that this is not a new venture.  Back before I had a name, in my Teacher days, I tried doing this over at Number Two Contenders, even including a snazzy syllabus and everything.  Since trying to find “lessons” in each PPV was a difficult endeavor, and also because each of those entries seemed to be about 10+ pages, consider DC’s Network Diaries to be a streamlined version.

As I go through each PPV, I’ll share the following…

-  My personal favorite moment / highlight of each match.
Note: This will not be a play by play recap, nor will I presume to “rate” matches.  Wrestling, like all art, is subjective, so      I will allow you to like what you like.

-  In some cases, a “lowlight” - Either a problem I have or some other “ughhh” moment.

-  A “so what”, in which I aspire to tie in the match with something happening in the modern WWE.

-  At the conclusion of each event, I’ll offer a single recommendation (Match of the Night, if you will), along with a few discussion questions, since you can take the Teacher out of the classroom, but you can’t keep The Teacher from assigning homework.

We begin this endeavor with a topical event, going back to 1990 and exploring the third annual Royal Rumble.

Match 1: The Fabulous Rougeaus vs. The Bushwhackers

Considering my previously stated views on card openers, this is a strange one, though I must admit, the crowd loved Luke and Butch.

Highlight:  Jacques Rougeau, in his pre-Mountie days, does a rather exquisite jumping back elbow, then performs one of the most impressive ‘nip-ups’ I’ve ever seen.

I’ve always been a big Jacques fan, perhaps because he looks like he could be my high school wrestling coach’s twin.  While both Rougeau brothers had in-ring talent, watching in hindsight, Jacques’ charisma leaps off the screen.  Plus, he’s going to be the Mountie.  He’s handsome, he’s brave, he’s strong!

Lowlight:  Do you think the WWF fans who sat in the front row at these events were excited when they got licked by a pair of backwoods New Zealanders?  I don’t.

‘So What’:  Those modern fans (myself included) who complain about the lack of in-ring wrestling logic only need to watch just the opening minutes of this match to realize that it’s always been like this in the WWE.  There are so many blatant double teams its not even funny, and at one point one of the Bushwhackers bites referee Danny Davis on the rump and doesn’t get DQ’ed.  So I suppose you could even say in-ring logic has improved in the last quarter century.

Match 2:  The Genius vs. Brutus Beefcake

Highlight:  1990 was before my time as a wrestling fan, so my main thoughts of The Genius are when he was the know-it-all manager of The Beverly Brothers.  In fact, this might be the first singles match I’ve seen of Lanny Poffo, and its plain to see that he’s the brother of Randy Savage.  Insane athletic ability, even if it doesn’t translate to the wrestling he displays.  At one point, The Genius leaps over the ropes almost as easily as Finn Balor does today.

Lowlight:  I know this is 24 years ago, but I was not expecting so many blatant potshots taken at homosexuality.  Beefcake’s mocking of The Genius would cause some protests today, methinks.

‘So What’:  I couldn’t help but quietly offer a prayer of gratitude that WWE didn’t completely rip off The Genius gimmick for one Mr. Damien Sandow.  Sure, the “Intellectual Savior” wore a robe not too far off from Poffo’s academia garb, but at least Damien didn’t have to prance around the ring.

Match 3:  Greg Valentine vs. Ronnie Garvin in a Submission Match

Watching the Vince-narrated introductory video for this card, I learned that Ron Garvin was using the Sharpshooter (or, as they call it, the ‘Reverse Figure Four’), hence the need for a Submission match.

Highlight:  Both men are wearing braces that should, in theory, prevent the other from using their signature leg submission.  Valentine puts Garvin in the Figure Four, but since Ronnie is wearing the “Hammer Jammer”, it doesn’t faze him.  “Rugged” Ronnie then proceeds to break out some hilarious funny faces to prove it doesn’t hurt, including giving himself moose ears and wiggling his fingers in front of his nose.  You know, like Lou Thesz did.

Lowlight:  On at least half a dozen different occasions, one man tried to pin the other during a submission match.  I’m sure Vince was apoplectic backstage.

‘So What’:  This was an example of a gimmick match done right, even if both combatants seemed to forget the stipulations.  Each man had a signature leg submission and had ways to prevent the other from using it.  It made perfect sense.  Take note, WWE.

I should mention here that there have been some excellent promos with Mean Gene this card.  Ted Dibiase lamenting that he got #1 for the Rumble, compared to finding his way to #30 last year, a great Heenan Family interview (showing that this event is really every man for himself) and now a Mr. Perfect one.  So what?  Shows how much Curtis Axel needs to learn, for a start.

I specifically bring this up because the next segment is a Brother Love show featuring Sensational Sherri and Sapphire, and the less said about it, the better.

Highlight:  Seeing a very young Shane McMahon in a referee’s outfit.

Lowlight:  Everything else.

So what:  I’m glad Total Divas didn’t exist in 1990.

Match 4: Big Bossman vs. “Hacksaw” Jim Duggan

Highlight:  Watching how naturally athletic Bossman was.  He’s one of those guys that just made things look easy.

Lowlight:  At one point we can see Jim Duggan blatantly tell the referee to check his arms when placed in a Bossman bearhug.

So what:  It’s a shame that Ray Traylor is more remembered for the Kennel from Hell fiasco than he is for the rest of his career.

Mental note:  Future Hall of Fridays:  Bossman and Jacques Rougeau

Time for the quick-fire promos before the Rumble.  God, I love NAIstalgia.

Match 5:  Royal Rumble

It’s worth noting that this was before the winner of the Rumble automatically received a title shot, as the WWF champion is not only in this match, he wins the dang thing.

Highlight:  As with every Rumble, seeing the new superstars every 2 minutes is particularly appealing.  In this instance, though, there was a time where we had Ted Dibiase, Randy Savage, Jake Roberts and Roddy Piper in the ring at the same time.  You rarely see so many all-time greats together, and I am not ashamed to admit I marked out.

Lowlight:  Poor Andre.  One of the great shames is that by the time WWF became hugely popular, Andre the Giant was already in poor physical condition.  Seeing him try to manage this Rumble was painful to watch.

Match of the Night:

Obviously the Rumble.  It’s always going to be the Rumble.  Best gimmick match of all time.

Discussion Questions:

Big Bossman: Hall of Famer?
How about Jacques Rougeau?
Which Rumble is your favorite?
Best Andre moment?

podcast@ddtwrestling.com
DDT Wrestling. Copyright 2015-2021.
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