Sylvester Ritter (December 13, 1952 – June 2, 1998) was an American professional wrestler and college football player, best known for his work in Mid-South Wrestling and the World Wrestling Federation as the Junkyard Dog (or JYD for short), a nickname Ritter received while working in a wrecking yard.
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 drew large crowds and regularly sold out the Louisiana Superdome and other major venues, becoming "the first black wrestler to be made the undisputed top star of his promotion".
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.
Professional wrestling career
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.
Universal Wrestling Federation
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 Ernie Ladd, 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-leaves-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. Reed with the help of Buddy Landell attacked the Dog many times.On a couple of occasions, they covered the Dog in chicken feathers. The two had a series of matches, many of 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.
World Wrestling Federation (1984–1988)
In the summer of 1984, Ritter left Mid-South for the World Wrestling Federation, where he was still an over face. JYD would debut on a Georgia Championship Wrestling taping held at the Kiel Auditorium on August 10, 1984 when he defeated Max Blue. 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 by defeating Randy Savage by countout in the finals, as well as beating Moondog Spot and The Iron Sheik in earlier rounds. The tournament is often cited as the first-ever WWF pay-per-view. JYD's 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 in October 1988.
World Championship Wrestling (1988–1993)
Ritter would make his debut for the National Wrestling Alliance on December 7, 1988 at the Clash of the Champions IV. He would appear during an altercation between The Russian Assassins and Ivan Koloff, saving the latter. His first match came shortly after in a television taping in Atlanta against Trent Knight. JYD finished the year winning a $50,000 bunkhouse battle royal on December 26, which was held as a dark match after Starrcade '88 went off the air. He spent the first few months of 1989 teaming with Ivan Koloff and then Michael Hayes against The Russian Assassins. On April 2, 1989 JYD defeated Butch Reed at Clash of the Champions VI in New Orleans. Before the match he was accompanied to the ring by a jazz band.
JYD began a main event run in May 1990. On May 20 he defeated Mean Mark Callous (Undertaker) in 39 seconds. He quickly became embroiled in a feud with Ric Flair for the World Heavyweight Championship. After gaining disqualification and non-title victories in house show matches, JYD would give Flair a televised defeat by DQ on June 13 at Clash of the Champions XI. JYD would then be part of the short-lived Dudes with Attitudes faction along with Sting, Paul Orndorff, and El Gigante. In the fall he would feud with Television Champion Arn Anderson, defeating him in non-title matches in less than 10 seconds on three house shows in September. He would finish the year defeating Moondog Rex, The Iron Sheik, and Bill Irwin on the house show circuit.
On February 17, 1991 he would win his first WCW title, teaming with Ricky Morton and Tommy Rich to defeat Dr Z (Randy Culley), Dutch Mantell, and Buddy Landell and gain the WCW Six-Man Tag-Team Championship. He also began a short feud that month with The Master Blaster (Kevin Nash), winning each encounter. JYD would hold the title until June 3, when they were defeated by The Freebirds in Birmingham, Alabama. He would then leave the promotion in August.
After dropping a significant amount of weight to improve his conditioning, Junkyard Dog returned on February 29, 1992 at SuperBrawl II. During a segment where Abdullah the Butcher was attacking Ron Simmons, JYD came out of the crowd to make the save. He found himself wrestling in tag-team matches with Ron Simmons, Barry Windham, or Big Josh for the next few months. In April and again in June, JYD would face former Six-Man Championship partner Ricky Morton, defeating him on each occasion. He also formed another tag-team, this time with The Big Cat. They would feud with The Vegas Connection (Dallas Page & Vinnie Vegas) the rest of the summer. In April 1993 he formed a new tag-team with Jim Neidhart and began a feud with Dick Slater and Paul Orndorff that would last the next few months. After defeating Slater on July 28, 1993 he left the promotion.
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 at Westview Memorial Park in Wadesboro, North Carolina, however a marker was placed at his grave by November 2012. 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. LaToya died on October 19, 2011. While talking on the phone to a friend, there was a loud thudding sound 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 9-1-1. Paramedics were unable to revive her. She was 31 years old.
- Finishing moves
- Signature moves
- J.R. Foley
Championships and accomplishments
- Mid-South Wrestling Association
- NWA Mid-America
- Pro Wrestling Illustrated
- Professional Wrestling Hall of Fame
- Stampede Wrestling
- United States Wrestling Association
- World Championship Wrestling
- World Wrestling Federation / Entertainment
- Wrestling Observer Newsletter awards