Class of 2004
Rock’n Wrestling Superstar; Grabs Them Cakes
Hall of Fame Rating
5 out of 10
Simply put, I dislike the Junkyard Dog. It’s not that he is particular offensive, especially considering his era. Instead, it is that he had almost absolutely nothing to offer to wrestling, but got over anyway. He was a one trick pony at best. His one trick was charisma (kinda). Now many wrestling fans, experts and professionals alike will tout charisma as one of the most if not the most important aspect of a professional wrestler. Charisma is the unteachable; encapsulates the IT Factor.
The belief is that no matter how good you are in ring, if you are boring….
…..no one wants to watch you.
I tend to ascribe to Bret Hart’s philosophy, that a wrestler’s worth can be split into three sections, namely In Ring Ability, Charisma and Look.
So, with that in mind let’s take a look at the Junkyard Dog.
Let’s start with his greatest and only attribute, charisma. JYD, started off his career around the territories and ended up quickly in Mid South. Mid South was owned and run by another WWE Hall of Famer, Cowboy Bill Watts. Watts had a few things he was known for. He was a drinker, he was a hot head and he was good ol boy from Texas. He took one look at Sylvester Ritter (JYD real name) and said “You look like trash” and coined the name the Junkyard Dog.
Now, this was originally designed to be a golden era version of Santino, a lower card wrestler who didn’t do anything and lost all the time. Who would you cheer for a guy who literally brings trash in a barrel to the ring?
The answer is the fanbase of early 1980s Mid South. This character got over and go over a lot. People in the south for the first time in its history cheered a black babyface and JYD ascended into the semi-main event.
Ritter was a trail blazer in that regard. He did play a very second largest babyface role in the South….in the early 80s. Both Ritter and Watts deserve credit for trying something new. (Also Ernie Ladd who was doing some of the booking at the time). It was revolutionary and was most definitely against the grain of the time and the norms found in their Southern location.
So why did the Junkyard Dog get over? Your guess is as good as mine. Watts, not a terrible businessman by territory owner standards, saw that the fans took a likeing to JYD and decided to push him. This novel approach has never been done again.
And push him they did. JYD, leaning solely on his fun and unusual cadence, references to literally being a dog and bouncing around became one of the biggest things in Mid South. He became big enough that Vince McMahon came knocking.
In WWF, JYD used his only asset to his advantage as well, getting over with the children who were being overly marketed to in the Rock’n Wrestling ERA. JYD was a doll, appeared in the Saturday morning cartoon and danced with children. He was the perfect real life cartoon character. JYD’s contribution ends here. When you are a one trick pony, you can only go so far. So if on Bret Hart’s scale JYD is a 6 in charisma. How is he on the other two?
In the looks department, JYD struggles. He looked like a barrel chested man (common in the 70s and 80s) who thought he was a dog, complete with dog chain, tearing things apart, literal junkyard garbage and barking. He looked ridiculous. Not more ridiculous than let’s say the Bushwhackers, 2015’s Hall of Fame malaise, but ridiculous none the less.
There is also another point. Taking an Africian American man, and turning him into a literal dog-man is kinda racist. It would never fly today. Can you imagine if Titus O’Neill instead of doing is bark taunt, was JYD Jr, wearing a dog chain and rolling around the ring. Oh how the sponsers would cry!
Later in his career, especially once he left WWF in 1988, JYD toned down the barking and all the silliest parts of his gimmick. What was he left with then?
JYD would definitely be a one or two in the look category, whether it was his out of shape, beer drinker body or his bothersome racist gimmick.
Bret’s third criteria is an easy one for this blog and you my dear reader. WRESTLING ABILITY!!!! Now, correctly many of my favorite stars, Warrior and Hulk Hogan included, would be low scorers in this department. Simply put, technically they weren’t great. Yet both look like Flairs or Briscos (Jack not Gerry) compared to JYD.
Yet, both Warrior and Hogan understood the story of a match, which is a major part of in ring work. We tend to forget that up until the last 15 years, it was very uncommon to have tons of high spots, kicking out of finishers, reversal fests we see today. A good match was one which told a story. Hogan/Andre or Savage/Warrior did the trick. Both Warrior and Hogan understood this element and it would bump their “in ring” numbers up. JYD on the other hand…..
Here is an example of JYD storytelling
JYD proceeds to do nothing, headbutt, and lose to a belly to back suplex, then play sore loser. What a great match!
Now for those who might say, he was restrained by his character and the gimmick match- Sure.
Here’s JYD vs Ric Flair at Clash of Champions- noteworthy for its ability to make even Ric Flair look terrible. (This link below works, just click on it.)
Plainly Junkyard Dog fits into a similar category in the Hall of Fame as George Steele or Hacksaw Jim Duggan. They were memorable characters who did little else, and are flimsy in terms of “Hall of Fame Careers”
I’ll always remember JYD, even if what I remember is kinda embarrassing.
The Junkyard Dog’s career ended with a whimper. He was a product of territories and very limited, growing more and more limited as he got older. It is possible that had JYD been retiring before the end of the territories, he may have continued to work, similar to a Bobo Brazil or Thunderbolt Patterson. . Like many of the biggest stars in the 1980s, suffered from lack of place to go.
Junkyard died in a car accident in his 40s in 1998. You’ll see him on all the lists of the wrestlers who died young.
2004 was the return of the WWE Hall of Fame. It was three years after WWE won the war against WCW and their first class included only those who made a mark on 70s and 80s WWF. JYD was a crowd pleaser in his time with the E and served as both the Africian American inductee of the year and as one of the deceased,
With 11 inductees, 2004 was a year which hit on all the major and minor well known faces. If Santana, Race and Studd were going in, JYD made sense.
Opens Door For?
Ko Ko B. Ware and the Bushwhackers. Comedy characters with low win/loss record who kids always remember fondly.
Reasons this shouldn’t have happened.
Grab Them Cakes….a song so strange its either about the joys of diabetes or some kind of sexual inuendo. Certainly one of the weirdest songs on the WWF 1985 “The Wrestling Album”, Keep in mind that’s an album which features a song where Captain Lou claims to be the creator of music while George the Animal Steele yells for ambiance.