In the first of a new series of posts on the blog, we explore superstars that came to a promotion as an established talent but the company then dropped the ball with.
This week Craig looks at the man they call Vader and his run with the WWF.
Some of the more regular readers will know that as well as writing on this blog, I’m also a contributor to the 20 Years Ago podcast. And it was a superstar involved in that podcast and the writing of my weekly ‘Monday Night Wars’ Raw segment that got me thinking about this piece.
The superstar? Vader. The podcast through 1993 and into 1994 saw Vader absolutely dominate in WCW. His matches were top rate and he overcame superstars such as Cactus Jack and Ric Flair along the way. Some of the matches were absolutely brutal in terms of how effective Vader’s offence was. He often looked unstoppable and nearly always looked on top of his game.
My first memory of Vader was as a kid and I got a WCW tape. It featured Vader, complete with smoking mask, take on Stan Hansen at WrestleWar 1991. For a kid brought up on the WWF, this was like nothing I’d seen before. Two behomouths absolutely hammering away at each other.
It was difficult to imagine Vader not becoming a star in America. In 1994 the biggest name in wrestling history, Hulk Hogan, joined WCW and it wasn’t far fetched to imagine the paths of him and Vader crossing sometime down the line.
Instead it was one of Hogan’s hangers-on, Hacksaw Jim Duggan, that Vader was to feud with over the U.S. title.
Superbrawl V saw the two clash for the first time with Vader kicking out of a Hogan legdrop before seccumbing to a DQ finish. This led to a strap match at Uncensored and a steel cage match at Bash at the Beach – both of which Vader lost.
A victory over Ric Flair and Arn Anderson in a handicap match at Clash of the Champions XXXI once again brought Vader to Hogan’s attention. This time, Hogan wanted Vader to join him, Randy Savage and Sting in taking on the Dungeon of Doom at WarGames. However, a backstage altercation with Paul Orndorff led to Vader being fired before this match could take place.
In the weeks leading up to the 1996 Royal Rumble, the WWF began to hype the debut of Vader. He made his first appearance at the Rumble, entering as number 13 and eliminated four participants – including Jake Roberts – before being eliminated by Shawn Michaels. He’d reenter the ring and attacking everyone.
A similar thing happened the following night on Raw after defeating Savio Vega – another superstar eliminated by Vader at the Rumble – Vader attacked various WWF officials. Eventually, WWF President Gorilla Monsoon demanded that Vader cease the attacks and received a Vader Bomb for his efforts. This resulted in Vader being suspended although in reality it was allow him to get surgery on his shoulder.
Despite a bright enough, and well hyped, start to his WWF career, Vader’s time with the company never reached the heights many had anticipated.
Soon after his return from surgery, Vader entered into a feud with WWF Champion Shawn Michaels that led to a high profile match at SummerSlam, which HBK won.
1997 saw Vader largely feud with The Undertaker, including a title match at Canadian Stampede but again he couldn’t conquer the champion. He was soon relegated to feuding with The Patriot and by 1998 was on the losing end of several matches with Kane and Mark Henry.
Vader’s final PPV match was a losing affair against Bradshaw at Breakdown while a defeat to Edge on Sunday Night Heat and a house show tap-out to Ken Shamrock followed before he negotiated his exit from the company.
In a Jim Cornette shoot video, he attributes Vader’s failings with the company due to the WWF’s failure to book him properly throughout his run with the company.
There’s certainly something in that. His debut suggested a continuation of his monster heel gimmick. But, as is ever the case with such gimmicks, a defeat kills much of the mystique.
His most believable title shot was against at the 1996 SummerSlam, by the following summer it seemed less likely that he could win the gold. The fallout of his feud with HBK certainly didn’t help his cause.
Going into that match, only one superstar would have been damaged by a loss. Had Vader steamrolled past HBK, he would have recovered easily. He’d have bounced back in a similar way to how a number of smaller superstars have come back from defeats at the hands of larger men: think CM Punk coming back from his defeat to Brock Lesnar.
Instead, HBK defeated Vader with a weak looking moonsault, bringing to a shattering halt the momentum that the challenger had built. And he was never really able to recover.
Had Vader triumphed it would have led to a series, for the title, with The Undertaker challenging. What a duel that would have been. Vader’s hard hitting offence against a man that looked superhuman on virtually every occasion. What a headliner that would have been for Wrestlemania 13 instead of Sid versus Taker.
A Vader win would have turned him into a true superstar. It’s difficult not to think that HBK had as much sway in the booking of this feud as his friend Triple H did during his feud with Booker T several years later.