I saw a Vader squash match live back in 1996, but not in the way you’d think. My mom, her boyfriend at the time, my sister, and I went to the post King of the Ring 1996 taping of Monday Night Raw. We had pretty decent seats and I can pick us out on the hardcam pretty easily. We didn’t realize that it wasn’t just the episode that was airing live, but the next three weeks’ worth of episodes were being taped as well. It made for a long night.
The matches were okay and there were a few Austin 3:16 signs in the crowd, but not nearly as many as there would be in the coming years. The big angle they were building up to for the next pay-per-view was a 6-man tag team match that would pit Camp Cornette, which consisted of Owen Hart, British Bulldog Davey Boy Smith, and Vader, against Ahmed Johnson, the Ultimate Warrior, and Shawn Michaels. There was an angle midway through the tapings where Owen Hart took on Warrior and it ended in Warrior getting beaten down by all of Camp Cornette. This would actually be the last time Warrior would be in a televised match with the WWF/WWE. Warrior was taken to the back and later on there was an announcement that he had been taken to one of the local hospitals. Vader was advertised to wrestle him in one of the main events of the show so my sister and I were really bummed out that the match wasn’t going to happen.
What we didn’t realize was that after the tapings the matches that were advertised as main events were “dark matches” that wouldn’t air on television. We got to see Undertaker and Mankind brawl a few feet away from us and Michaels put down Goldust with one superkick. We did get to see that Vader/Warrior match as well. Warrior came charging out from the back like a bat out of hell wearing a hospital gown and hit Vader with three clotheslines and splash to pick up the win to send everyone home happy. It was so strange seeing the guy who took Sting to his limit and could take a beating from Cactus Jack get squashed, but it made sense the older I got. All of us in the crowd were tired after being there for 4+ hours of wrestling and just wanted to go home. It was, unfortunately, the only time I ever got to see Vader wrestle live.
That squash also sums up Vader’s stint in WWF pretty well where it was something you were looking forward to, but they never got it quite right. But honestly, he didn’t need a WWF run as by the time he got there he was already a legend in Japan and had carved out a spot in WCW’s history as well. His stiff brutal style, quickness, and ability to go to the top rope inspired so many other “big men” wrestlers over the years. It’s hard to watch a Keith Lee match and not spot a little bit of Vader’s influence. If you’ve got the time and inclination, I would strongly suggest checking out more of Vader’s work. A lot of it still stands up today. His matches with Sting never disappointed and his feud with Cactus Jack was a brutal one. If you can though, his match with Ric Flair at Starrcade 1993 is a great David vs Goliath type match and may be one of the best matches that tells that kind of story. He’ll be missed by many, but his work will live forever.