The Junkyard Dog is still not in the Wrestling Observer Newsletter Hall of Fame.
After many years on the ballot and many jumps and declines, he sits as a figure in the US region that is hanging out as his eligibility years add up.
My only question is, why is he still here in the first place?
I can handle Junkyard Dog not being a first-ballot Wrestling Observer Hall of Famer. But in 2022, after many years on the ballot, thinking of the criteria that go into such decisions, and further researching his candidacy, he is a home run candidate for the Wrestling Observer Hall of Fame.
I’ve decided to make it a mission to appeal to the voter base to look further into Junkyard Dog’s impact on Mid-South Wrestling and wrestling.
I cannot sell Junkyard Dog as a work rate candidate under any criteria. I cannot place myself in the Dog’s Yard in 1982 and tell you he had matches redefining wrestling as we knew it.
I also cannot tell you about the history of pro wrestling in America and leave out Mid-South Wrestling.
And if I cannot leave out Mid-South Wrestling—a territory that peaked 40 years ago—with tentacles still influencing modern pro wrestling, how could we leave out its top star?
On Lost Ones, Jay Z rapped, “I heard motherf*****s sayin’ they made Hov/Made Hov say, “Okay, so make another Hov.” Let’s apply that line to Bill Watts, a Wrestling Observer Hall of Famer himself, as he tried to replace Junkyard Dog with George Wells, Butch Reed, and numerous other black wrestlers that failed to sniff the level Dog reached from 1980 through 1984. We’ll get back to this timeframe later.
Watts later tried the Dog Strategy in 1992 WCW with Ron Simmons to failing results. After all those years, he was still chasing the dragon of The Junkyard Dog, his central claim to fame. If this doesn’t tell you that the exceptional talent in this equation was Dog, I don’t know what will. Bill Watts can never break off as a successful promoter without Dog.
I am not saying Junkyard Dog was the biggest draw of the 1980s. Hulk Hogan and Ric Flair would have something to say about this, but he was someone that found his way to get to the money. At a particular time, only Andre The Giant competed with his weekly salary. The money he drew was no less historically significant than anyone else.
The WWF had long leaned on Irish, Italian, and Latino heroes in New York City. Watts, to his credit, looked around in New Orleans, Louisiana, and the demographics in the city, as other promoters reviled in horror and assumed white fans would never get behind an African-American as the top babyface.
This audience is the first generation of people post-civil rights act.
Junkyard Dog defied any conventional logic, and the further we get away from this period—seeing as how race relations throughout the country have not gone as far as some would think—it should be MORE impressive that Junkyard Dog appealed to so many demographics of people when he did.
Junkyard Dog drew approximately 293,000 fans to the Superdome over four years. He was the most enduring black wrestler at the time since Bobo Brazil, a full 20 years before Dog’s Era.
Every year I look at Historical Significance as a criterion, and I don’t understand how he does not clean up in this area in spades. Junkyard Dog is the definition of historical significance. He showed it was possible to monetize and cultivate an African-American audience in pro wrestling. Whether that matters to you or not is a judgment call, but I can say it means a lot to me.
Promoters have struggled for years in this area as they lack the understanding of how to connect with this audience, using everything from Hip Hop to outside sports stars as a bridge to connect the dots hopefully. Dog was not just a wrestler, but a folk hero amongst the Mid-South faithful who lived and died with their hero to the tune of sending him money to his house while he sold his famous blinding angle with The Freebirds (more Wrestling Observer Hall of Famers).
Ted DiBiase (Wrestling Observer Hall Of Famer) likely owes some of his candidacy to the legendary pairing and rivalry following his turn with the Junkyard Dog.
Junkyard Dog worked with and against many of the top wrestlers of his time, and he was not on the B side of these pairings. While DiBiase and The Freebirds succeeded in other places, the Junkyard Dog runs for both are an unremovable part of their legacies. This seems to be an injustice. Watts, The Freebirds, and now DiBiase can all tie large parts of their legacy to Dog, but somehow he has slipped through the cracks of time, and past Hall of Fame voters.
The arguments against Junkyard Dog are the previously mentioned lack of sustained national success under Vince McMahon, his low work rate output, and fall from grace in the late 80s and early 90s, culminating in an underwhelming program with Ric Flair in WCW. Junkyard Dog’s post-Mid-South Wrestling run spanned everything from drug use, to enjoying food a little too much, and stopping his training altogether, which saw him go from a chiseled adonis to who Dave Meltzer later nicknamed “The Junkfood Dog.” A stark difference from when he looked like a Black Superman in 1982.
Those things alone did not kill the Junkyard Dog’s star power or diminish his peak.
Junkyard Dog enjoyed a run from 1980 to 1984, which seemingly gets dismissed as not an extended period. Dog was running hard while dealing with addiction issues during his Mid-South run. While WWE can go a decade without anyone thinking about how anything has changed in that product in modern times, outside of that, thinking about five years ago to 2017, we are in a radically different wrestling world now. Compare this to 1980-84, which preceded the WWF going national. We were square in the middle of Kenny Omega and Kazuchika Okada and did not have a #2 American promotion.
Flash forward to 2022, Vince McMahon no longer runs WWE, and Tony Khan has built another thriving company.
If we can figure out the difference in time from 2017-2022, we can figure out what the sustained dominance of The Junkyard Dog as an attraction was for this entire time in the southeastern United States. The Louisiana Superdome filled up to the tune of allegedly 30,000 to 36,000 people on the back of Junkyard Dog looking for revenge against whatever evil white man turned on him in the preceding months. As an add-on throw in his WWF run, one of them as the clear #2 in the company.
Junkyard Dog was not gifted the hottest territory in the country with the most extensive distribution. Instead, he built a region of the country that had no significant history before him. After reading King Of New Orleans twice, I’m struck with the opinion that if this were any other city in the country, people would be doing backflips to crown what he was doing in a historical sense.
If Junkyard Dog drew massive crowds to Madison Square Garden for five straight years, this column wouldn’t need to exist.
If Junkyard Dog’s cardinal sin was that he could not make it under Vince McMahon as a longtime headliner, that puts him in the boat with numerous wrestlers McMahon made less money and impact with than he could have. Add Junkyard Dog to the list with Vader, Ricky Steamboat, Ric Flair, Sting, and others. That is a weakness of Vince McMahon, not JYD.
The likelihood of Vince McMahon replacing Hulk Hogan was low, with anyone, let alone a black man, in the 1980s. Dog was a consistent B-town headline act, touring the circuit opposite Greg Valentine, Don Muraco, Adrian Adonis, and Harley Race.
Vince could have grabbed anyone from Mid-South; his #1 selection was The Junkyard Dog.
Junkyard Dog was a pioneer in wrestling theme music as well. Queen’s “Another One Bites The Dust” accompanied explosive short matches that Bill Watts voiced as “The Dog’s not getting paid by the hour.” In addition, the “Who Dat” chant that lives on through the New Orleans Saints can be traced directly back to the Junkyard Dog. Arn Anderson on his podcast is quoted as saying “he was over as Rock, Austin, Flair, Dusty, whoever you wanted to name.” Seeing his entrance reminded him of why he got into the business.
Let’s come back to the length of Junkyard Dog’s top run. How long is five years?
Five years is longer than The Attitude Era.
As long as the Monday Night War.
The time Cody Rhodes spent away from WWE before returning.
As long as The Rock’s full-time wrestling career.
The age of AEW in 2024.
The totality of Bret Hart’s WWF main event run.
As long as Bill Watts was out of wrestling before returning in 1992.
1/9th of Sylvester Ritter’s life was spent carving his unique legacy and delivering smooth, charismatic promos that pushed him to superstardom in Louisana.
I do not expect to flip every vote to yes on The Junkyard Dog. What I hope to achieve is to re-open the dialogue on him in a new light. Consider the odds he defied, the people that benefited from his stardom, and the 1-of-1 figure he was.
Also, the money.
As of this writing, I do not have a vote to make my voice heard in the balloting process. To those that do, use your power to make this following sentence untrue:
The Junkyard Dog is still not in the Wrestling Observer Newsletter Hall of Fame.