Junkyard Dog
By: Tom Nealon | Categories: HiLo Heroes

JUNKYARD DOG (Sylvester Ritter, 1952–1998) was a regional wrestling legend long before he became a national one with the WWF. In the early 1980s, Bill Watts decided that given the success of African Americans in other sports, especially football, and in the interest of kayfabe (pro wrestling’s term for portraying the industry’s fights and rivalries as genuine) he needed to do something about the lily-white Mid-South Wrestling circuit. So he hooked up with a former Packers draft pick who had been thumping heads in Tennessee and Calgary as Big Daddy Ritter. Despite the long history of crypto-, blatant, and sideways racism in New Orleans, Junkyard Dog became the biggest draw on the circuit and the headliner of cards that sold out the Superdome. But his North American Heavyweight Championship was put in jeopardy in 1982, when one-time partner-turned-heel Ted Dibiase (The Million Dollar Man) used a loaded glove to beat him in a loser-leave-town match. JYD was barred from the ring at the peak of his popularity… but not long after, a kayfabe-stretchingly similar-looking masked wrestler named after the pimp-flaneur Stagger Lee (a mythic flouter of white authority) showed up and systematically beat all the wrestlers between him and the title before strolling off into the evening once the loser-leave-town diktat against JYD had expired. In 1998, Ritter ran into a tree, and was buried in an unmarked grave near Wadesboro, North Carolina. Supposedly.

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WRESTLERS as HILO HEROES: Hulk Hogan | Giant Haystacks | The Iron Sheik | The Rock | George “The Animal” Steele | King Kong Bundy | Jimmy “Superfly” Snuka | Junkyard Dog

On his or her birthday, HiLobrow irregularly pays tribute to one of our high-, low-, no-, or hilobrow heroes. Also born this date: Tom Verlaine.

READ MORE about members of the Blank Generation (1944-53).

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Tom Nealon runs the online rare bookshop Pazzo Books specializing in early printed books, cookery and literature. In his spare time he works on barbecue techniques in the test pit in his backyard. He can be found at pazzobooks.com and @pazzobooks on twitter.