Ric Flair vs. Vader (c) for the WCW World Heavyweight Championship, Starrcade – The Tenth Anniversary, December 27th, 1993

I suppose if Hulk Hogan is the figure most associated with Wrestlemania, then Ric Flair would be the Starrcade equivalent. They’d even invade each other’s shows occasionally. But if Flair is Hogan, then maybe Vader is Andre.

Bear with me here.

Hogan was known for his theatrics over his in-ring work. I’m not one of the analysts who tears Hogan apart in this regard, I actually think he was perfect for his era, but I can’t claim that he is the technical equal to Flair.  Their eventual clashes were never the perfect events that one would hope, but Hogan and Flair represented the two views of what the business should be and both deserved their success. Vader also parallels Andre The Giant in this regard. Andre, especially as his career went on, was the ultimate “attraction” in wrestling. Yes, he could perform great feats of strength, but his visage was always paramount to this and he was never going to out wrestle his opponents for the win. Not unlike Flair, Vader was more notable for what he could do in the ring than simply the character he portrayed. While Andre was framed as a giant of myth, Vader was the giant of a brutal reality.

That said, I never think Vader quite got the fair shot he deserved. When he began working for WCW full-time in 1992, the behemoth found himself in one of the most turbulent adjustment periods in Professional Wrestling history. Though he would be pushed to the top of the card immediately, frequent title changes and a general lack of direction plagued what could have been a legendary run. It was a company with a single roster that had two world champions. Vader was having the matches, but the build was never what it could have been. I can’t honestly say the WWF in this period would have been any better, they had their share of confusion as well. Everyone knew Vader was the man, but the machine could just not get its shit together enough to make it so.

Now, I could have chosen one of the Sting matches as my little tribute to Vader, and believe me I thought about it, but I felt like this was a story well told that doesn’t quite get the attention it deserves. And yes, I’m quite aware that Vader was originally going to face Sid, but for this era, things worked out well.

With his career on the line, Flair walked into his hometown arena to face the monster. While they never say it outright, the implication is that his family (including a young Charlotte) are worried for Flair’s life. This seems completely reasonable against the massive, athletic champion that Vader was. The match is a great example of both men’s ability to play the crowd like a fiddle, and their profound athletic prowess. Flair, then ten time world champion, legitimately feels like underdog. He flops around and allows Vader to man-handle him in a very convincing way. I guess its convincing because there is a brutality to it that cannot be a total fiction. Vader hit hard, and while he was not the monster he portrayed, you almost feel the bruising yourself. It is in matches like this that Big Van truly shined.

I’ll avoid spoiling the finish, but I think there are few more things to be said about Vader’s career. Though Vader wouldn’t gain the legendary status of some his contemporaries, he probably should have. I mean, he faced the top guys everywhere he went, it just never completely clicked. His encounter with HBK is especially bizarre, and I can’t help but feel they downplayed Vader’s size too often and too early. Its actually a well told story, but the finish is deflating to Vader’s momentum at best. The Mastodon was never as hated, or as well booked, in the U.S. again.

In another world, Vader could have been a threat to Andre’s undisputed status as the all time greatest big man. A world where the stories had ever truly come together. Vader had all the matches, just not the myth. He may not be the greatest, but objectively, he may have been the best. I truly hope Vader will be inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame in the coming year, as he has made a unique mark in the business regardless of some missed opportunities.

This match, along with many other gems, is available on the WWE Network. You will also find some great stuff on NJPW World.