An Article by Mike Mooneyham
Published on July 6, 2002
Leon White, better known as Van Vader and once regarded as the best big man in pro wrestling, made headlines last week when he was arrested at his Colorado home after being suspected of drunk driving and allegedly leaving the scene of an accident.
White, a former WCW world champion who now wrestles primarily in Japan, was arrested on suspicion of spitting at officers and threatening them with rocks, resisting arrest, drinking and driving, careless driving and leaving the scene of an accident.
The Colorado State Patrol and Boulder County Sheriff’s Office on Monday night responded to a call regarding a vehicle that had crashed into a bush. Witnesses reported that the driver, who was later identified as White, left the scene of the accident and drove a block away to his home.
[ad#MikeMooneyham-336×280]Officers reported that the 47-year-old White, who “seemed severely intoxicated and had to hold himself up on the door jam,” told them he was looking for bullfrogs and catfish in a pond and crashed while driving home. The arrest report also stated that White challenged officers to fight him, and when they brought out their dogs for protection, the 6-4, 375-pound White stared them down and threatened to kill the animals.
It took eight officers, two dogs and three sets of handcuffs to finally subdue the Boulder, Colo., native.
According to the Colorado Bureau of Investigation, White has two previous drinking and driving arrests in Boulder County.
White, whose Vader character was once regarded as one of the biggest international names in the business, has seen his stock plummet in the wrestling business since jobbing to Hulk Hogan in a series of high-profile WCW matches in 1995 and subsequent frustrations that resulted in him being released by the now-defunct company in the wake of a backstage incident later that year.
White spent the next three years languishing in the WWF where he frequently drew heat from company brass for being overweight and out of shape. The lowlight of his disappointing tenure in the WWF was his April 1997 arrest and detention in Kuwait after being charged with public humiliation and aggression for allegedly assaulting the host of “Good Morning Kuwait” during an appearance on the show to promote a WWF card in that country. White spent nine days under house arrest being allowed to return to the United States.
White played football for the University of Colorado and was drafted by the Los Angeles Rams but never played a down due to an ankle injury. He began wrestling for Verne Gagne’s AWA promotion in the mid-’80s and got his big career break working for Antonio Inoki’s New Japan office in 1987. Inoki, looking for a masked monster heel to play the part of a Darth Vader-type character from “Star Wars,” narrowed his choices down to White and Jim Hellwig (who later became The Ultimate Warrior), and White got the nod because of his tremendous girth and agility for a big man.
In 1989 White became the first wrestler to hold world heavyweight titles on three continents simultaneously. In November 1989 Big Van Vader defeated El Canek in Mexico City to win the UWA world heavyweight title – his third that year. In August Vader beat Riki Choshu in Tokyo to win that country’s version of the world title for the second time (the only other Americans to hold the IWGP crown had been Hulk Hogan and Scott Norton). Wrestling without the familiar mask and gimmicked headgear as Bull Power in Europe, White captured the Catch Wrestling Association (European) version of the world title earlier that same year in Graz, Austria.
White’s skills had diminished by the mid-90s due to health problems along with an assortment of knee, back and shoulder injuries that resulted in more than 20 surgeries.
- Chalk up a victory for World Wrestling Entertainment.
The Parents Television Council and the WWE reached an out-of-court settlement regarding WWE’s lawsuit against PTC for libel and slander. PTC must pay $3.5 million in damages to WWE and must keep a retraction statement on its Web site for six months.
PTC honcho L. Brent Bozell III was forced to issue a lengthy apology to the WWE last week on the PTC’s Web site regarding statements made by his watchdog group placing the blame of the Lionel Tate murder case in Florida on professional wrestling and the WWE. He also apologized for statements made in regard to WWE losing sponsors. A carbon copy was sent to Vince and Linda McMahon.
“I now believe that professional wrestling played no role in the murder of Tiffany Eunick, which was a part of our “Clean Up TV Now!” campaign, and am equally convinced that it was incorrect and wrong to have blamed WWE or any of its programs for the deaths of the other children,” read part of the statement.
Bozell explained that statements the PTC had learned from those close to the Tate case, such as Tate using a “Stone Cold Stunner” to murder the 6-year-old Eunick and that Tate was watching wrestling prior to the murder, were incorrect. Tate was actually watching “The Flintstones,” according to Bozell’s statement.
“I regret this happening, it wasn’t fair to WWE,” said Bozell. “And I say this emphatically: Please disregard what others and we have said in the past about the Florida wrestling’ death. Neither wrestling’ in general, nor WWE specifically, had anything to do with it. Of that I am certain.”
The WWE will also receive an apology from Jim Lewis, the attorney who represented Tate during the boy’s murder trial last year. Lewis had argued that Tate, then 12, was imitating WWF performers when he accidentally killed Tiffany Eunick in 1999. The defense failed, and Tate was convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to life in prison.
- Jim Ross reported last week that he still hasn’t heard from Steve Austin, but was planning to call his longtime friend if for no other reason than personal closure and to check on his status.
- Vince Russo, who was backstage at the NWA-TNA pay-per-view Wednesday night in Nashville, remains on the WWE payroll as an adviser. Russo recently was rehired by Vince McMahon to take charge of the WWE’s creative team, but reportedly his plans and direction were not well received in Stamford and he was immediately demoted to an adviser’s role.
- Longtime Gulf Coast promoter and referee Virgil “Speedy” Hatfield passed away at the age of 93 on June 30 in a Hattiesburg, Miss., nursing home. He was the father of Mobile legends Don and Bobby Fields and the late Lee Fields, who owned the Gulf Coast territory from 1959 to 1977.
- A street in Wildwood, N.J., will be named in honor of Ric Flair on Sunday. Flair will take part in the ceremony along with the town’s mayor, who is re-naming the street “Ric Flair Way.” The WWE will hold an event later that night at the Wildwood Convention Center.
- Two new performers who should get a strong push in the WWE, based on initial fan reaction, are John Cena and Deacon Bautista. Both are products of the WWE’s Ohio Valley Wrestling developmental territory.
- The Boston Globe reported last week that more than 20 WWE performers packed the Kowloon Restaurant Tuesday night after their Fleet Center performance. The crew, including Chris Jericho, Rikishi, Albert, Mark Henry, Nidia, Stacy Keibler and The Dudleys, ate more than 60 lobsters, 25 pupu platters, 20 orders of Saugus chicken wings and scores of Kowloon specialties. It took the group more than three hours to polish off the food.
- A roast for Captain Lou Albano will be held July 27 at the West End Sports Club in New Rochelle, N.Y.
Among those on hand will be Vincent Pastore from “The Sopranos,” Tony Altamore, Johnny Valiant, Afa the Samoan, David Sammartino, former boxing star Iran Barkley and actor Vinny Vella.
The event will be held at 7:30 p.m. July 27 at the West End Sports Club located at 76 3rd St. in New Rochelle, N.Y. The night is being catered by Frankie & Johnny’s and features live entertainment by Third Stone. Advance tickets for the banquet are $50 and can be purchased by calling (914) 235-4676.
- Kevin Nash is cleared to return from his biceps injury and will return to house shows next weekend.
Mike Mooneyham can be reached by phone at (843) 937-5517 or by e-mail at [email protected] He is the co-author of “Sex, Lies & Headlocks: The Real Story of Vince McMahon and the World Wrestling Federation,” to be published by Crown this month.