He was one of the most charismatic wrestlers of his time. After a short career in professional football, he entered the ring his popularity soared across North America.
Real Name: Sylvester Ritter
Stats: 6′ 3″ 280 lbs.
Born: December 13, 1953
By Steve Slagle
For the entire decade of the 1980’s, Sylvester Ritter (better known to the world as The Junkyard Dog) thrilled fans like few of his contemporaries. From New Orleans’ Superdome to Atlanta’s Omni to New York’s Madison Square Garden, the 280 lb. former professional football player-turned-wrestler was easily one of the most beloved superstars in the entire sport, as well as one of its biggest draws. During the height of the WWF’s popularity in the mid-1980’s, JYD was one of the wrestlers that became a true “mainstream” celebrity and was known all across the country. However, JYD was a huge superstar long before he stepped foot inside a WWF ring, and his exploits (as well as his drawing power) in the NWA’s Mid South, World Class and Georgia territories are legendary. In his day, JYD was truly a wrestling superstar like few others…
After a stint in pro football, Ritter began his wrestling career as “Big Daddy” Ritter during the mid-1970’s in Stu Hart’s Calgary-based Stampede Wrestling promotion. The talented big man quickly made the transition from pro football to pro wrestling, and on December 1, 1978 he won the areas top belt, the Stampede North American Heavyweight championship. “Big Daddy” held the North American title for nearly 6 months before he was upset by another future superstar (who was also breaking into the business through Stampede Wrestling) Jake Roberts. But after a 4-month reign by the future “Snake”, Ritter regained the title from Roberts, only to be defeated by Larry Lane after just a few weeks. After learning much about his craft while wrestling in Canada, Ritter moved on to new challenges — and unimagined fame — in America.
As The Junkyard Dog, Ritter became one of the biggest stars the wrestling hotbed of the southern United States had ever seen. Once he traveled south, and changed his name & persona, The Junkyard Dog quickly established himself as the one of the NWA’s top draws, and most popular fan favorites. One of the first men of the 1980’s to use ring music, whenever fans heard the opening bass notes of Queen’s “Another One Bites The Dust”, they knew the Dog was in the house — and exploded with cheers. On March 14, 1980 in Shreveport, LA., JYD won the Louisiana Heavyweight title by defeating one of his great enemies, “The Big Cat” Ernie Ladd. However, after winning his feud with Ladd, JYD began one of the longest, most intense feuds of his career…
On May 2, 1980 a young Terry “Bam Bam” Gordy defeated the Junk Yard Dog for his Louisiana Heavyweight title, and at the same time began a legendary feud that lasted for years — The Junkyard Dog vs. The Fabulous Freebirds. JYD regained his Louisiana title a few weeks later (adding it to the Mississippi Heavyweight championship he won from Bull Ramos the month before) from Gordy. The Dog also fought a “team” battle against the Freebirds, enlisting the aid of both Col. Buck Robely and Terry Orndorff as tag team partners, as the Dog used every tool available to him while he feuded with Hayes & Gordy over the Mid South Tag Team title throughout 1980.
However, eventually the simultaneous Mississippi & Louisiana Heavyweight champion was forced to relinquish both of his hard-earned belts after a dramatic “sneak attack” by the young team of Gordy & Hayes, an attack that left The Junkyard Dog “blind” for several long months. After losing his sight to the bag of “abrasive powder” that was thrown in his eyes by the `Birds, JYD would eventually return (along with, later on, his “sight”) and gain his revenge during an inspirational series of “blind” Dog Collar matches against his cowardly attackers. Not coincidentally, the fans rallied behind JYD, and his appearances throughout the Deep South drew enormous crowds for the NWA’s Mid South wrestling promotion, crowds that often exceeded 20,000 spectators.
JYD also traveled to the NWA’s other successful regional promotions, such as Dallas’ World Class Wrestling, Georgia Championship Wrestling, and Championship Wrestling from Florida — becoming a top performer and loved hero everywhere he went. Far from a “ring technician”, JYD had a very limited repertoire in terms of technical moves. However, the moves the Dog did possess were more than enough to overwhelm most opponents. His head-butt, football tackle, and of course, his running powerslam (called the “Thump”) led to victory after victory for JYD. Sylvester Ritter was a power-wrestler, and was one of the first in a wave that would soon sweep over wrestling for several years during the 1980’s. Being one of the first — and best — of the `80’s power-wrestlers, he steamrolled over his competition. After years of being one of the NWA’s most popular and successful wrestlers, a man who headlined several cards held in the cavernous New Orleans SuperDome, the WWF — in the middle of its nationwide expansion — convinced Ritter to leave the NWA and enter the World Wrestling Federation in 1983. From then on, Ritter’s life was never the same…
As part of the World Wrestling Federation, JYD became a household name, and although he never wore any WWF gold, he was a huge star in the promotion for several of its best years. JYD’s merchandise was always a top seller, and he appeared as a “special guest star” on numerous television shows. JYD — with his charismatic personality and good-hearted charm — was a big hit with the WWF’s large base of kid viewers, and his animated character on the WWF’s Saturday morning CBS cartoon show, “Hulk Hogan’s Rock `N Wrestling” was very popular. In the ring, the Dog continued his winning ways in feuds with numerous opponents, including his old Stampede rival Jake “The Snake” Roberts, the effeminate Adrian Adonis, and of course, “King” Harley Race. JYD’s feud with Race over the King of the ring crown and robe was perhaps his last major feud in the WWF, as he slowly began to slide down the ladder after several years of competing in the Federation.
By the end of the decade, The JunkYard Dog moved on to new challenges, specifically a run in the NWA against World Champion Ric Flair. As part of Sting’s “Dudes with Attitudes” counter-Horseman group, he created numerous headaches for Flair & Co., and competed on several NWA Clash of the Champions cards and PPV’s before disappearing after the angle had run its course. However, he returned to the promotion (by then renamed WCW) and again challenged Flair. During this 2nd stint in WCW, JYD also patched up his longtime feud with “Freebird” Michael Hayes, as the two formed a fairly successful tag team. After a year in WCW, JYD again faded out of the WCW storylines. Although he was still very popular, it was clear that, after 15 years in the game, he was no longer the steamrolling wrestler he once was. However, Ritter proved on the independent circuit that he could still draw a crowd, and he ended his career as he started it — on the independent circuit. In fact, not long after being honored by today’s leader in independent wrestling — Extreme Championship Wrestling — tragedy struck JYD, and the entire world of wrestling. On June 1, 1998 Sylvester Ritter was killed in a tragic auto accident at the age of just 45. The world was shocked and saddened by his sudden demise, which was, of course, totally unexpected.
In his own way, JYD was a pioneer in the world of the 1980’s “power wrestler”, and his technique was mimicked by many that followed him. As a role model and celebrity, JYD was about as good as they got. And as a committed, reliable, and top-drawing performer, Ritter was a promoter’s dream — a true class act, by most accounts. Due to his numerous contributions to the sport, The Ring Chronicle is proud to posthumously induct Sylvester Ritter — the world famous Junk Yard Dog — into the TRC Professional Wrestling Hall of Fame…