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Full Career Retrospective and Greatest Moments for Junkyard Dog

Erik Beaston@@ErikBeastonFeatured ColumnistFebruary 11, 2015

Credit: WWE.com

The February 9 episode of Monday Night Raw saw World Wrestling Entertainment continue to pay homage to some of the truly great African-American Superstars to ever step foot inside a squared circle. This week, they looked at 2004 Hall of Fame inductee, and one of the most charismatic performers of all time, the Junkyard Dog.

To tell the story of JYD is to tell the story of one of professional wrestling's most historically significant stars. While most fans remember the Junkyard Dog as an immensely popular midcard star for Vince McMahon's promotion during the height of the Rock and Wrestling, Junkyard Dog was the first African-American star to become the top guy in a promotion.

He was a huge draw in Mid-South Wrestling for the great "Cowboy" Bill Watts. His personality and aforementioned charisma struck a chord with the audience in Louisiana, and he became a cultural hero as much as he was a wrestling star.

Few had the ability to connect with the fans the way the Junkyard Dog did. He was not just popular, he was beloved.

When the Fabulous Freebirds blinded Dog in a huge, influential angle, a fan hopped in the ring and threatened to shoot Michael Hayes, Buddy Roberts and Terry Gordy.

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That is the type of passion the performer elicited from the audience. That is the type of connection he had forged with them and the love he experienced in that promotion.

His success in Mid-South ultimately led to a stint with WWE, where fans across the country were allowed the opportunity to bare witness to the character that rose to prominence in one of the most influential promotions in the history of the industry.

Like he did in Louisiana, JYD became one of the most popular characters in McMahon's three-ring circus.

On the heels of WWE's introduction of JYD to an audience full of fans who may not be familiar with his work, enjoy this look back at his Hall of Fame career, told through some of his greatest matches and moments.

Big Daddy Ritter and Stampede Wrestling

While Sylvester Ritter, who would eventually become the Junkyard Dog, had some minimal experience between the ropes, it was not until he arrived in Calgary, Alberta, Canada, and joined Stu Hart's Stampede Wrestling that his skills were fine-tuned and Ritter had the opportunity to evolve and grow as a worker.

While working in the promotion, Ritter was a cocky, arrogant heel who often found himself at odds with a very young Jake Roberts. Together, they worked several matches before culminating their rivalry in a Ladder match.

It was a revolutionary bout used almost primarily in Calgary at the time.

In Stampede, Ritter reigned as the North American Heavyweight champion twice, proving that Hart saw something in the young star that would eventually be better capitalized on by Watts and McMahon later in his career.

Mid-South Wrestling

Junkyard Dog was the most popular star in Mid-South, the biggest draw in the promotion. Watts was smart enough to recognize the connection his young performer had with the audience and, rather than seeing race, the only color he saw was green—as in money.

And lots of it.

Dog became the top babyface in the territory, the star that Watts could build his promotion around.

Whether he was feuding with the Freebirds and partaking in an angle that saw him blinded following a vicious and ruthless assault by Michael Hayes, or feuding with former tag team partner-turned-enemy Ted DiBiase, JYD was growing and evolving as a worker by battling the competitors of different styles and backgrounds.

The DiBiase feud, in particular, made for some wildly entertaining wrestling.

Not only did the two have considerable chemistry between the ropes, their matches allowed fans to follow a story that would be repeated numerous times throughout the decades that followed.

The future Million Dollar Man defeated JYD in a Loser Leaves Town match, seemingly bringing an end to the star's stint in Mid-South. Then, weeks later, a mysterious masked star named Stagger Lee debuted. He moved like JYD, had the same build and fans were in on the charade.

Eventually, the stipulation surrounding their match ran out and JYD returned to the promotion, defeating his rival and capturing the North American Heavyweight Championship.

While JYD would remain an integral part of Mid-South, the biggest draw Bill Watts had ever had, it was only a matter of time before the nationally expanding WWE came calling.

And that was the case in 1984.

WWE

Vince McMahon took the Junkyard Dog character that was so incredibly influential in the South and turned it into a cartoon character that fit his vision for his national product. 

Still, the fans ate the character up. They believed in him and wanted to see him climb the ladder to the top of the industry. It was not uncommon for JYD to receive reactions that rivaled the volume of those that greeted Hulk Hogan, proving once and for all just the magnetic personality that the character had.

He was never really allowed to reach the heights in WWE that he did in Mid-South, though.

Sure, he battled Greg Valentine for the Intercontinental Championship at the inaugural WrestleMania, partnered with Hogan in some major tag matches and feuded with Harley Race entering the biggest show of all time (at least to that point), WrestleMania III.

But he was a midcard talent for his entire stay with the company.

For those fans who had seen just how wildly successful he proved to be in Mid-South, one could not help but feel a bit disappointed by the lack of upward mobility that Dog was allowed to experience once in McMahon's company.

WCW

There is a large portion of the fanbase that may not realize that JYD did not drop off the face of the planet when he left WWE in the late 1980s. Instead, he made appearances for WCW and even challenged Ric Flair for the heavyweight championship of the world.

Unfortunately, it was clear that he was no longer the performer he once was and soon, he was gone from the promotion.

Death and Legacy

In June 1998, the wrestling world lost one of its finest when Sylvester Ritter was killed in a car accident in his home state of Mississippi. He was returning from his daughter's high school graduation, making the incident even more sad and tragic.

Thankfully, his legacy was preserved six years later, when WWE reintroduced its Hall of Fame to WrestleMania weekend activities. Daughter LaToya accepted the honor on her father's behalf while fans cheered the memory of her father one night later at the Showcase of the Immortals.

In the years that have followed his death, Junkyard Dog's contributions and influence in the industry have become more and more recognized. 

Author Greg Klein released The King of New Orleans: How the Junkyard Dog Became Professional Wrestling's First Black Superhero. The book looked at the racial implications of Junkyard Dog's rise to wrestling stardom and the success the character had in Mid-South Wrestling.

Add to that WWE's recent tribute to the star, and fans of today's product are more aware of just how truly special a performer JYD was.

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