“King of New Orleans: How the Junkyard Dog Became Pro Wrestling’s First Black Superhero” has a very simple goal: it wants us to remember the Junkyard Dog (JYD) as the first black superhero in pro wrestling, his dominance in Mid-South Wrestling from 1979 to 1984, and most importantly, why he was a transcendent and important person in pro wrestling history. Greg Klein takes us from his beginnings, the story of Mid-South and his impact there, his years in the WWF and WCW, and shows us his influence on the sport. He even makes a case that he should not only be a member of the Wrestling Observer Hall of Fame, but even a part of the states and sports Hall of Fames.
Not only do you get the story of the Junkyard Dog, but also of Mid-South Wrestling. It goes from Bill Watts’ history in the business and how he came upon the idea of having JYD as a headliner. All he did was look around his crowd in New Orleans to know that he needed an African-American superhero to attract all crowds. Other promoters thought he would fail by not only having an African American main eventer, but one that was not that proficient in the ring. Booking genius proved how wrong that was.
Part of the JYD formula of success is explained succinctly and with details, but can be summarized in the following way: he always won, and when he lost it was unfairly. He never needed help, so even when the heels were overcrowding him, JYD found a way to fight back. Since he was not that good of a wrestler, his matches were short and to the point, mostly hanging on to his off the charts charisma. He went into the ring with Queen’s “Another One Bites the Dust,” dancing and prepared to fight. Part of the formula was also his opponents. Some of his dancing partners were the Freebirds and Ted DiDiase, who made sure to fly around him and make him look like a million bucks. Every feud he had in Mid-South is explained one by one and every booking trick that was used.
How popular was the Junkyard Dog? Between 30,000-35,000 people went to see his big blow-off matches at the Superdome in New Orleans. The weekly TV tapings were always done in front of full crowd because of him. JYD could not lose cleanly unless you wanted riots. The man was so popular and Mid-South was so hot that the book reports that he was earning $12,000 a week during the hottest periods. We are talking about serious headlining popularity and money. JYD was so popular and unique that when Watts tried to recreate his magic by doing the same thing with George Wells, Butch Reed, Iceman, and Ron Simmons, it did not work.
The book also explores the racial implications of JYD being a main eventer on the territory. JYD became the face of the Mid-South post-Civil Rights act. He was a star not only to the African-American audience, but to everyone in New Orleans. He became a superhero, like the title of the book says. New Orleans was considered a dead territory, but everyone came out to watch JYD’s matches during his years there and in turn Mid-South became a hot territory were everybody wanted to be at. The fact that the man became a superhero during the 70s in the south of the United States, and in New Orleans, that is a major cap to his name.
That proves that the man was sensational.
My only complaint about this book is that I wanted more. It has the whole story of JYD’s wrestling career, the story of Watts and Mid-South, but I feel like more could be written on this topic. I would have liked to know more about the man Sylvester Ritter, JYD’s real name. I would have loved the addition of new interviews. But as a succinct work to explain why he was popular and his importance, it does its job of preserving the memory of this man.
I’m writing this review during the Wrestling Observer Hall of Fame season, and this book is one of the reasons I’m convinced that the man deserves the spot in this prestigious Hall of Fame. I first heard about this book on the VOW WON HOF 2021: Modern US/Canada podcast when Trevor Dame made the case for his inclusion. Rich Latta made his case last year for this website. Klein, at the end of the book, even made his case about why he should be in the WON Hall of Fame. Add my voice to those convinced that he should be a part of it.
Junkyard Dog was one of the first African-American wrestling superstars, a man who proved that African-American pro wrestlers can be a draw. He was so big that he was instrumental in making Mid-South a hot territory. He was uber-popular with the fans, making over 25,000 of them go to his Superdome shows. He was an important part of the careers of Watts, the Freebirds, and DiBiase, other legacy wrestlers. He is a culturally significant part of pro wrestling history. JYD is a man who should not be forgotten to time.
Klein explains that part of the reason for writing the book was his worry that pro wrestling would forget about JYD and his legacy.
Luckily, his book has been successful enough that even though it was released in 2012, it is still a great read, and it is still used as a way to always remember not only one of the hottest periods in pro wrestling in New Orleans, but the story and legacy of pro wrestling first black superhero.