Jim Ross has discussed the state of play in the WWF in mid-1996, including the difficulty caused when Vader refused to lose to recent returnee to the company, Ultimate Warrior.
Vader came to the World Wrestling Federation in early 1996 making his debut in the Royal Rumble match that year. Before joining the company he had been a big name in Japan where he was a three-time IWGP World Champion and in WCW where he had also held their world championship three times.
Ultimate Warrior was already an icon in WWF history as the man who defeated Hulk Hogan in the main event of WrestleMania VI. After several years out of the ring, Warrior returned to the WWF at WrestleMania 12 looking to recapture some of his earlier magic.
When the two men came face-to-face in the ring for a series of matches in the lead-up to the King Of The Ring tournament in June, things went south in the Rosemont Horizon on the 9th of June when Vader walked out of the match. With a threat of packing up his bags and never coming back, The Mastodon returned to the ring only to walk out again and lose by count out rather than being pinned by Warrior.
Speaking on his Grilling JR podcast, Jim Ross recalled the tense state of affairs at the time and divulged one reason he thinks Vader was reluctant to lose cleanly in the ring.
“Leon [Vader] was very gifted as we know and I was always a big proponent of Leons because I was one of the guys responsible for bringing he and [Stan] Hansen into WCW back in the day. So I love that big monster heel persona. But Leon’s one of those guys that’s easily convinced that ‘If I do jobs it’s gonna hurt me in Japan.’ Screw Japan. I mean come on, goddamn, oh but Japan this, Japan that. If you want to protect your money, you shouldn’t have come here. If that’s a concern of yours because you know you’re not gonna get booked or signed to a contract that says I never lose.”
“So Leon’s lucky that night he didn’t get fired, he really is. A lot of bookers in less tenuous times would have said ‘We’ll see you, you’re done, if you can’t lose, you can’t win, so you figure that out.’ So I think if we hadn’t had the WCW thing going on, bubbling and bubbling, Leon might have been out. And that would have been a terrible loss because he was a killer heel, and he got over and all that good stuff.”
“But the Japanese influence on some of those guys, they actually believed that losing in a house show, for example in Rosemont would be detrimental to their Japanese career. I find that absurd. Are we kidding each other? But Leon got lucky that night. I’m not saying his match was good or he didn’t have a reason for being that defiant. Warrior wasn’t easy to work with but on paper from a promoter’s standpoint, Vader vs. Warrior had some sizzle.”
Vader battled Ultimate Warrior for the last time on June 25th, 1996, just two days after the King Of The Ring pay-per-view. At that event, Vader was in the tournament to crown that year’s king but lost to another resurgent star in Jake ‘The Snake’ Roberts by disqualification in the semi-finals.
Jim Ross also discussed which WWF star had a potential career as a commentator after his in-ring days were over, however this never came to pass when tragedy struck.