Throughout the years, many men have made the transition from the football gridiron to the squared circle. Perhaps none, however, have ever done it with the panache of one Sylvester Ritter, a man better known to sports-entertainment fans as the Junkyard Dog.
Sylvester Ritter (December 13, 1952 – June 2, 1998) was an American professional wrestler and professional football player, best known for his work in Mid-South Wrestling and the World Wrestling Federation as The Junkyard Dog (or JYD for short). Entering the ring with his trademark chain attached to a dog collar, to the music of Queen's “Another One Bites the Dust,” JYD regularly headlined cards that sold out the Louisiana Superdome and other major venues.
JYD was one of the most electrifying and charismatic wrestlers in the country, particularly during his peak in the early 1980s. JYD was most known for his head butt and upper-body strength, the latter of which saw him regularly body slam such large wrestlers as the One Man Gang, Kamala, and King Kong Bundy. The word “thump,” which referred to JYD's power slam, was prominently displayed on his wrestling trunks.
Ritter played football at Fayetteville State University, twice earning honorable mention All-American status, and is a member of The Sports Hall Of Fame. He graduated with a political science degree and was selected by the Green Bay Packers organization, but knee and back surgery ended his football career. Also a member of Groove Phi Groove and All CIAA member Chet Grimsley who authored a book on their travels The White Golden Bull.
Ritter debuted in the Tennessee territory, working for promoter Jerry Jarrett, before moving to Nick Gulas's company and using the ring name Leroy Rochester. From there he moved to Stu Hart's Stampede Wrestling as Big Daddy Ritter, where he captured the North American Heavyweight Championship twice.
In the early 1980s Ritter moved to Mid-South Wrestling, where booker “Cowboy” Bill Watts gave him the name and gimmick Junkyard Dog, as he would wear a long chain attached to a dog collar, and white boots. He originally came to the ring pushing a cart filled with junk called the “junk wagon” and lost most of his early matches before his character caught on and became the top face in the company. While on top he feuded with some of the top heels in the company, including a now infamous angle with the Fabulous Freebirds where they blinded him with hair cream.
At the peak of the feud JYD's wife gave birth to their first child, which was made part of the storyline. It was explained that JYD could not see his new daughter, something that increased the heat on the Freebirds to the point where they needed police escorts in and out of arenas. The feud ended with the still-blinded JYD and Freebird leader Michael “P.S.” Hayes wrestling in a dog collar match.
Other notable feuds involved Ted DiBiase, Kamala, King Kong Bundy, and “The Natural” Butch Reed. The feud with DiBiase was particularly notable as DiBiase, once JYD's friend and tag-team partner, turned heel and subsequently won a loser-leave-town match against JYD with the help of the loaded glove, which was a DiBiase calling card, forcing JYD to leave town for an extended period of time.
A masked man physically resembling JYD, known as Stagger Lee, subsequently appeared in the region and began to defeat the competition, one by one, including DiBiase. Though DiBiase and the other heels strongly suspected that Stagger Lee was in fact JYD, they were unable to unmask him to prove their suspicions. Stagger Lee disappeared once the loser-leave-town clause in the JYD-DiBiase match had expired, and JYD returned and reclaimed the North American Heavyweight Championship.
The feud with Reed was notable in that Reed, a protégé of JYD, had turned heel. The two had a series of matches, many of which were bouts for the prized North American Heavyweight Championship. These matches were also notable for their brutality, which included “ghetto street fights,” “dog-collar matches,” two-out-of-three pin-fall matches and steel-cage matches. JYD was lured to the WWF at the peak of the feud with Reed.
Late in 1984, Ritter left Mid-South for the World Wrestling Federation, where he was still an over face. While in the WWF, JYD made a habit of interacting with the growing number of young people in attendance, often bringing them into the ring after matches and dancing with them. Ritter won The Wrestling Classic tournament, often cited as the first-ever WWF pay-per-view and his most notable feuds in the company came against King Harley Race, the Funk Brothers, Adrian Adonis, Greg “The Hammer” Valentine and “Outlaw” Ron Bass before he left the company late in 1988.
In 1990, he had a brief run in World Championship Wrestling while it was still under the National Wrestling Alliance banner, where he feuded with Ric Flair over the NWA World Heavyweight Championship and won the Six-Man Tag Team Championship with Ricky Morton and Tommy Rich.
Ritter died on June 2, 1998, in a single-car accident on Interstate 20 near Forest, Mississippi, as he was returning home from his daughter LaToya's high school graduation in Wadesboro, North Carolina. The apparent cause was falling asleep at the wheel. Ritter's body was laid in an unmarked grave in Wadesboro, North Carolina.
Ritter had stayed active in professional wrestling until the time of his death, appearing at Extreme Championship Wrestling's 1998 Wrestlepalooza event, just one month prior. He was the founder of the Dog Pound stable in independent Mid-South promotion, based in southern Louisiana. Among Ritter's last contributions to professional wrestling was the training of former WWF wrestlers Rodney Mack and Jazz.
His daughter, LaToya Ritter and his sister Christine Woodburn, represented JYD as he was inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame at a ceremony held on March 13, 2004 by Ernie Ladd, the day before WrestleMania XX.
His daughter, LaToya Ritter, died on October 19, 2011. While talking on the phone to a friend, there was a loud thud and the friend called family members to go check on her because she thought LaToya fell down the stairs. Her brother went to check only to find her unresponsive and called 911. Paramedics were unable to revive her, She was 31 years old.
December 13, 1952
June 1, 1998
- He played football at Fayetteville State University, graduating with a degree in political science.
- He debuted in the WWF in 1984.
- He had a feud with Ric Flair in the WCW.
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