Monday, August 27, 2007

Height: 6"3' Weight: 280lbs.
Hometown: Wadesboro, NC
Wrestling Debut: mid-1970s, in Stampede Wrestling
Signature Move: Thump

There's not too many Black pro wrestlers who had the impact worldwide that the Junkyard Dog did at the height of his superstardom in the mid-1980s. He was seen as a major star, without winning a major championship, and did not compromise or enhance his personality like some of the other popular Black stars of his time period. He was a great man who met an untimely demise, leaving behind legions of fans who still go on about his career.

JYD (real name Sylvester Ritter) didn't start out as a wrestler: he played football at Fayetteville State Univ., and was even drafted by the Green Bay Packers, but surgeries on both his knees and his back ended those pigskin dreams. He started wrestling in the mid-1970s for a few territories, adopting the names Leroy Rochester and Big Daddy Ritter, a name he took to Stampede Wrestling in Canada, and made some noise with, holding the North American Heavyweight Championship on two occasions (I recently saw him battling Jake Roberts for the belt in a ladder match - don't let the WWE fool you! Ladder matches are old!). Having finished his time in Canada, he moved down to Mid-South Wrestling, where "Cowboy" Bill Watts is reported to have given him his now-legendary moniker, Junkyard Dog. I never saw this, but apparently, JYD used to be billed from "the junkyard", and would bring a cart with all kinds of junk to the ring (sounds like an ECW weapons match). In Mid-South Wrestling, he ended up winning the Louisiana Heavyweight title from Ernie Ladd in one of his greatest fueds (he also defeated Bull Ramos for the Mississippi strap months later, holding both titles at the same time). The Dog also engaged in a fued with the Fabulous Freebirds, where JYD actually got blinded by the Freebirds, leading to the fans down there being near-riotous on many occasions. Michael "PS" Hayes said on WWE 24/7 that during that era, JYD was so adored by the fans that the Freebirds would have to get a police escort to and from the arenas! We're talking death threats, the whole nine (matters got worse when word got out that JYD's daughter was born, and he couldn't even see her). After his stints in many of the NWA's southern territories (Championship Wrestling from Florida, WCCW and Dallas Championship Wrestling), the WWE came knockin'...

Around 1983, JYD made his debut in New York, and helped push the WWE to the younger crowd (this was in the days where MSG events got played on MTV, the whole "Rock'N'Wrestling" thing), often times inviting many fans to the ring to juke with him. WWE 24/7 had one such match, in Canada no less, where the ring filled with young kids, all wanting to get down with the Dog. JYD never got the main-event push he should have, but had memorable battles with Harley Race (their match at Wrestlemania III always stands out), the Funks and Greg Valentine.

He left the WWE in 1988, and in 1990 he returned to the NWA, making his 1st appearance alongside Sting and the "Dudes With Attitudes", taking on the mighty Four Horsemen. He spent most of his time in that feud, and was gone when it ended; he returned soon after, though, and made a run at Ric Flair and the World Heavyweight Title (at this time, it was now named World Championship Wrestling); he was unsuccessful, but ended up battling the Horsemen again. In his WCW stay, he even made amends with Michael Hayes and had a run as a tag team; he also held the 6-Man Tag Team Championship with Ricky Morton and Tommy Rich.

Upon leaving the WCW a second-time, JYD was still active, but on a more independent level. He was still drawing in the crowds like he always did, but time took its toll - his body wasn't the same, mainly due to years of battering! He did establish the "Dog Pound" stable in Mid-South, and was seen in 1998 with the ECW at Wrestlepalooza '98. He also trained future WWE stars Rodney Mack and Jazz. Sadly, about a month after his ECW appearances, he died in a single-car accident, reportedly due to falling asleep at the wheel returning home from his daughter's graduation. in 2004, the Junkyard Dog was posthumously inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame (his daughter accepted the award).

The Dog is a prime example of Black wrestler who was himself: he went on Tuesday Night Titans showing Vince McMahon real soul food; he made a single on The Wrestling Album entitled "Grab Them Cakes"; he'd juke and have a good ol' time both in and out of the ring. He was a powerhouse, not a technical-savvy wrestler, but this never caused him to back down. His headbutts were mean, as was his shoulder breaker. The man is a legend for being able to captivate crowds without a major title, just off of charisma and personality alone. And he is sorely missed, even today.

RIP JYD.

related links:
Junkyard Dog on Wikipedia
Junkyard Dog bio on midsouthwrestling.com
WWE.com's: JYD Bio
Junk Yard Dog on Online World of Wrestling

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