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The Junkyard Dog was a dynamic figure on the wrestling scene in the 1980s. His charisma helped win over the city of New Orleans and put the city at the top of the wrestling world. He was also the first black wrestler to break through the still prevalent racial barrier and reign as champion. Outside the ring, Sylvester Ritter struggled with drug abuse and personal turmoil. The demands of the job meant he was on the road more than at home, alienating him from his family. As the Junkyard Dog’s wrestling career came to a premature end brought about by drugs, weight gain and waning popularity, so did Ritter’s life. He died in a car accident in 1995 at the age of 45. Despite the titles, years of popularity, and advances in civil rights (as far as wrestling is concerned) his legacy in the sport is minimal.
As a wrestler, JYD was nothing special. His physical abilities pale when compared to today’s stuntmen in the ring. Though large, his size seems average next to today’s giants. His match history consisted mostly of short, two-minute flurries of intense action that culminated in a pin. There was a reason for the short matches: JYD could talk better than he could wrestle and he relied on far superior wrestlers like Ted Dibiase, Kamala and King Kong Bundy to carry his matches.
But JYD made up for his athletic deficiencies with charisma and personality that won over the crowds.
For such a charismatic figure, “The King of New Orleans” spends remarkably little time dedicated to its subject. Rather, Greg Klein lectures on wrestling history in the heyday - and dying days - of the territorial system before Vince McMahon took the WWF (later WWE) national. In particular, he spends a lot of time recounting the Mid-South Wrestling legacy led by “Cowboy” Bill Watts.
The Mid-South story is a fascinating one and worthy of its own book. The rise and fall of the territorial system is full of drama and intrigue that rivals the storylines used by its performers. Klein knows his stuff and his passion for the era shows through every word.
As a biography of JYD, however, it falls short. The professional side is a flurry of matches and rivalries that take up a few paragraphs before moving on, and the personal story and struggles that make an inspiring biography are sparse.