Shining a Spotlight 1.18.13: The King of New Orleans
Posted by Michael Weyer on 01.18.2013
From his legendary career in New Orleans and his feud with the Fabulous Freebirds to his WWF run in the 1980s and more, 411's Michael Weyer looks back at the career of the Junkyard Dog in this week's Shining a Spotlight!
One of the best bits of news coming out from 2012 was that WWE had finally reached an agreement with Bill Watts to gain rights to his library of wrestling. Thus, fans of today will finally be able to enjoy Mid-South/UWF in all its glory, one of the best booked and innovative promotions the business has ever seen. It was home to slews of great stars that would become famous over the years like Jim Duggan, Steve Williams, Ted Dibiase, Sting and more. But one name Watts was associated with deserves to be remembered above the others. A man who was truly a trailblazer as well as one of the biggest and most iconic stars a territory has ever seen.
The Junkyard Dog.
To many young fans, he's someone they've heard of only by rare mentions. To older fans, he's a face from the late 80's of a cartoonish guy doing goofy dances. But to those in New Orleans, he was a true legend, a fantastic hero who was a champion to the fans in many ways. He was aided by amazing booking by Watts but also his own charisma and drive to succeed. Sadly, his personal demons kept him from achieving greater fame and his untimely young death in 1998 robbed him of the chance to connect to a new generation of fans. Thankfully, Greg Klein is correcting this with The King of New Orleans (ECW Press, $19.95), which follows JYD's rise to fame. True, the book can have conflicting messages (Klein will talk about JYD being a legend in New Orleans then suddenly talk of him as a forgotten hero) but it's still an amazing look at a man and a promotion that paved the way for so many more to follow.
The Dog and NOLA
Klein begins by talking to people in New Orleans on their experiences watching JYD and how it got them into wrestling, how they felt like JYD was fighting for them. For five years, JYD made wrestling hot as hell in New Orleans and when he left, so did the city's power as a wrestling center. The book starts by talking about Bill Watts creating the Super Shows out of the New Orleans Superdome with the main event of Ernie Ladd against Ray Candy, two black workers who helped the show draw 23,800 fans with a $142, 675 gate, both records. Leroy McGuirk, a co-promoter, was not happy about the two black stars, actually snapping he disliked seeing such a black crowd with Grizzly Smith snarling at him that "the money's green and it's the most we've seen in a long time." Watts knew he had something but needed the right guy to make it work. Enter Sylvester Ritter.
Klein breaks to discuss New Orleans itself, a town where racial tensions have been around even since it was founded. Desegregation led to whites fleeing the city to the suburbs by the droves and in 1956, a ban was made against interracial sporting events. It didn't last but the tensions did; when the AFL scheduled their All-Star Game to New Orleans in 1965, black players of teams were banned from many hotels and restaurants. Their white teammates agreed this was wrong and so the entire AFL put aside their various differences and united to go on strike until the game was moved to Houston. Watts realized that a black wrestling star was needed. Yes, there had been many like Bobo Brazil and Thunderbolt Patterson but often, they were booked to lose for fear of riots if crowds saw a white man lose to a black man. Tony Atlas was promising but lacked charisma and guys like Rocky Johnson were played out. The fact that New Orleans was still seeing race riots into the 1970's didn't help although the election of their first black mayor in 1977 seemed right. However, the Superdome was a huge place to run, not to mention the bribes needed for the infamously corrupt Louisiana politics so you needed the right guy for it.
With this set up, Klein digs deeper into the life of the Dog. Ritter was born on December 13th, 1952 in Wadesboro, North Carolina, growing up rough as Wadesboro integrated in 1965 amid harsh relations with Ritter a standout for football. For wrestling, he was set against a 400 pound man, taken down fast but biting the guy in retaliation. Things got serious when the local KKK chapter tried to fight against integration and Ritter's coach, Ed Emory, told them point blank "This is not a democracy. Football is a dictatorship and I'm the dictator." Ritter soon found himself in the middle of a national story as the son of the KKK's Grand Dragon was in his class and a match between them almost turned into a full-fledged brawl. Everyone who knew Ritter says he loved kids and wrestling, which would do him well, along with his great heart. He was funny with a tendency for pranks although his grades were only so-so. He enrolled in Fayetteville State University, a standout for the Broncos whose coach considered him a quality talent to recruit. Ritter made All-American and while he wasn't drafted in the NFL, he did have tryouts for the Oilers and Packers until his knee injuries ended that.
Ritter moved back to North Carolina, becoming a sheriff's deputy in Mecklenburg County before taking a shot at wrestling. He was upbeat through his career with a fun bit of being asked if it was fake, pulling out a wad of cash and saying "tell me to stop counting when it looks fake to you." He was actually rather poor starting out working for a small Carolina promotion and teaming with Gypsy Jones to win the NWA Mid-American tag team titles. He worked briefly for Bill Watts in Tri-State, Watts seeing his potential but knowing the man needed more work in the ring. So Ritter headed to Calgary where he hooked up with Stampede. He was given the gimmick of "Big Daddy Ritter," a borderline-racist character, a big black man who lusted for white women. Despite that poor idea, Ritter did well, winning the North American title and working often with Jake Roberts as a team and rivals, including an early ladder match. Both men soon moved to Louisiana, an odd place for a black man to get ahead but damned if it didn't work.
The Cowboy and Fame
We get a biography of Bill Watts and his rise in wrestling and how he got into his ultra-kayfabe-keeping ways early. While his work as a wrestler was good, it was as a promoter that Watts shone brightly as he and McGuirk (also so kayfabe loving that he blamed the loss of an eye on a car accident rather than a bar brawl) worked together but clashed with McGuirk's drinking getting in the way. They moved operations to Shreveport with Danny Williams soon becoming a terrific announcer to win fans over. Watts wasn't making fans with the NWA due to his insistence on going over right off in every territory he appeared in, not wanting to do long matches either and he was voted down as a champion. He did work with Mike Graham to boost the Georgia territory but when Graham died, his wife struggled to keep things going. Thankfully, Jack Brisco took a shine to Watts to boost him there and in Florida with Watts improving as a worker and learning more of how to plan matches and programs.
Watts bought out his partners to gain control of Tri-State and while at first unsure of Dick Murdoch rising as a star, he was smart enough to put his own ego aside to push Murdoch as a big draw. But McGuirk's racism was becoming a problem, especially with star Ernie Ladd, as big a pioneer for black workers as Bobo Brazil if not as famous. His feud with Andre the Giant (Ladd one of the few men able to match Andre in size) was a hit across the Northeast but he preferred Tri-State as it was close to his Louisiana home. He and Watts hit it off well but even Watts (a man infamous for his litany of sins and ego) was put off my McGuirk's attitude and in 1979, broke off amid lawsuits that forced Watts to give up Oklahoma and Arkansas in return for keeping New Orleans. McGuirk would soon fade away so Mid South bought it up and expanded into Texas. But New Orleans remained the nut to crack due to its ethnic issues.
Klein does another nice segue into talk on how territories always played into ethnics for their babyfaces. The Southwest favored Mexicans, the Crusher was huge in the Midwest due to his Polish origins, the Northeast preferred Italians. Because of this huge popularity with ethnic crowds, these guys rarely lost for fear of legitimate riots. There's also the ethnic bad guys of Russians, Arabs, Germans, Japanese, etc. An interesting comment is on how wrestling supporters actually enjoy the use of stereotypes as it helps them get over faster. Klein offers perspective with how Jim Cornette created the Gangstas in Smokey Mountain in the 90's as he figured his audience of "rednecks" would respond to a pair of cliché street black criminals. A smart bit is pointing out how the South has varying demographics so something that would play in Tennessee might not in Kentucky or Georgia while Louisiana was built on black cities. This leads to talk on various black stars like Art Thomas, Brazil, Johnson, Atlas, Patterson and more. However, various factors (from money to worries over them being faded) kept Watts from going to them and Klein takes another moment to discuss the factor of New Orleans' history with how the city is a proud and faithful people, the city dirty but no more than others and thus were JYD's people. The heavy Catholic influence along with its mix of French and Spanish culture contributes to some of the racial tension that includes the infamous White League symbol, raised against a government led by Confederate hero James Longstreet and is home to rallies by various anti-black groups. And yet, somehow, amid this mess of racial inequality, the Junkyard Dog became one of the most amazing crossover success stories wrestling has ever known.
Rise of the Dog
Ritter came to Mid South in 1979, now a beefy 300 pounds (thanks to steroids) and after teaching from Watts, a great promo guy. His ring skills were still rough but Watts figured he could get around that. He was renamed the Junkyard Dog after a line from the Jim Croce song "Bad, Bad Leroy Brown." He came to the ring with a wheelbarrow full of junk and while that was dropped, he kept a dog collar around his neck attached to a long chain. He would get on the ring apron and do a quick dance, accompanied by Queen's "Another One Bites the Dust." (remember, music wasn't common for guys back then). He was booked in short matches that had him easily beating down other opponents, some fans upset at this black superman but Watts defended JYD to the extreme as he became popular as hell with Superdome shows selling out constantly. Klein segues into the "Who Dat" chant and its origins which the Dog played a part in. While he was over, he needed something truly special to get to the next level.
Enter the Fabulous Freebirds.
By this point, Michael Hayes and Terry Gordy had become stars in their native Georgia and came over to Watts amid a very ugly and complicated lawsuit with a Mississippi territory that puts most fake wrestling stories to shame with its double-crosses. Watts loved the beefy but skilled Gordy right off but not happy with Hayes. He tried to push Gordy as a singles star but he refused to go without his best friend. Watts decided to add Buddy Roberts to the mix in hopes of reeling them in but as it turned out, Roberts became just as big a hell-raiser, clicking perfectly with Hayes and Gordy to forge a fantastic trio. With Hayes' talk, Gordy's skills, Roberts uncanny ability to get beaten up without being weakened in the eyes of fans and a party style still legendary in wrestling today and you had wrestling's first cool heels, the rulebreakers fans loved to cheer for.
The set-up for the epic clash began with JYD beating Ladd for the Louisiana championship and later the Mississippi state title followed by teaming with Buck Robley to win the Louisiana tag team titles. The May of 1980, Gordy won the Louisiana belt and he and Roberts would take the tag titles as well after major interference. Leading up to a major Super Show, Watts hid upon what would become one of the most famous angles in wrestling history. First, JYD faced the Freebirds after cutting some of Hayes' hair in a hair vs hair match. Rather than be with scissors, Watts instead had them use "hair cream" with some getting into JYD's eyes, blinding him. Watts sold it big with Ritter actually wearing bandages in public to make it seem real and thus the fans believed it, thinking there was no way their hero could return. They even did a video bit of the Dog unable to see his newborn daughter, LaTaoya, milking the sympathy for all it was worth. The heat was insane as fans actually tried to take the Freebirds out themselves. JYD appeared on TV to announce his retirement and a fan actually came out of the stands with a gun. Keep in mind, the Internet did not exist, you didn't see huge things like this so fans bought it as totally real and to this day Hayes talks about how he was in mortal fear of his life during it all.
Despite his "blindness," JYD demanded a chance for revenge with Hayes keeping up insults on JYD, his family and New Orleans constantly. So the August 2nd, 1980 Super Show was made the site of their blow-off. It was made a dog collar match so JYD could know where Hayes was and it did blockbusters. The attendance was announced as 26,000 which might be an exaggeration (as Dave Meltzer said, even though the truth is impressive, why not make it even more so?) and its gate of $183,000 was probably less than what fans paid thanks to kickbacks for the city. But it was still huge with JYD beating Hayes to gain revenge. Thanks to how distant communication between towns was then, Watts was able to book this "farewell match" several times across the week with news of the huge crowd rocking many in wrestling. The blindness angle would be dropped fast as JYD teamed with Paul Orndorff to regain the Mid South tag titles from the Freebirds who would soon hightail it to World Class for greater fame.
JYD's fame in New Orleans can never be discounted as a poll had schoolkids wanting a visit from him over any other star in the city. Watts said that the key to it all was that he always put JYD in impossible situations but he always got out of it himself without anyone, especially a white man, helping out. He had limits, proven when he was pitted against Scott Irwin in a 20-minute match and was blown up in just a couple of minutes. JYD was also completely outmatched in a fight with the Grappler in a match that never aired as JYD looked so bad. Watts basically laid it out to all workers that they had to do their best to protect JYD and make him look better. This led to him squashing guys in two or three minutes, thus able to face a steady rotation of heels, many of whom faced serious heat with the crowds if they got the better of the local hero. Grizzly Smith had his tires slashed and a preliminary worker named Tony Zane was stabbed (leading to Jim Cornette's priceless reaction: "They just stabbed one of the job guys, they're going to kill me!") Add in the weather that ranged from ice in the winter to tornadoes in summer and the long drives over thousands of miles of highways and tempers could be short.
JYD suffered with the end of his marriage due to his time on the road but was still drawing thousands of dollars more than anyone else around. There was still resistance from promoters who hated this black man coming in to beat the white heels all over the place and Watts had to handle the tough Louisiana license committees but JYD was a huge star, even loaned out to WCCW and others. Of course, a hero needs a great heel and throughout his four years in Mid South, JYD had a few of them, including some who had been friends. First was Buck Robley who Watts was having trouble with as the co-booker kept pushing himself hard despite JYD being big, teaming with Dick Murdoch (who secretly disliked being pushed aside for this new star) to win the vacant tag titles. JYD then feuded with Paul Orndorff who had turned heel on the Grappler before winning the North American title and the chase for he belt would last through the year as Ted DiBiase beat Orndorff for it in November of 1981. Orndorff turned face when he had "car trouble" for a match, ally Bob Roop beat DiBiase for the belt, then boasted of sabotaging Orndorff's car to get the shot. Orndorff soon left as Watts found him a malcontent who wanted too much cash.
JYD finally got the belt, beating Roop in June of 1982 and Watts knew he had to keep things going hot. He and Ladd told DiBiase to look for a hot new heel and DiBiase suggested himself. He'd gone as far as he could as a face under JYD so it made sense, aided by the two close friends, JYD even the best man for DiBiase's wedding. The set-up was DiBiase "injuring" his hand and wrapping it with bandages that would lead to the infamous black glove. DiBiase challenged JYD to a match and JYD agreed on their friendship. It started off nice and clean but DiBiase got more and more frustrated as it went on, thrown over the top rope but the ref ruled it an accident. As the ref and JYD argued, DiBiase got an object out of his tights, hit JYD with it and won the belt.
Fans were stunned to see their hero lose the belt just a few days after gaining it and under such circumstances. The Superdome Spectacular drew 22,800 fans which ended in a double DQ. But fans were kept happy by JYD and Mr. Olympia defending the tag titles as JYD would feud with DiBiase, who would form a stable called the Rat Pack with Matt Borne and "Hacksaw" Jim Duggan would challenge JYD and Olympia for the tag titles. The heels would win the belts with the stipulation that JYD had to leave town for 90 days. Naturally, a masked man named Stagger Lee would soon come to town, named after the main character of a famed New Orleans murder trial that inspired a hit song. It was the perfect gimmick for a black babyface turned on by his best friend and although the act fooled no one, it helped JYD win back the belt. DiBiase would soon leave for Georgia but returned to feud with Duggan, turning babyface with the famous angle of Dick Murdoch bloodying him up before an NWA title match with Flair.
JYD returned sans mask to challenge for the now-vacant North American title but was opposed by Olypmia who first turned on mentor Mr. Wrestling II with a bit of Wrestling II finding Olympia stealing his masks so Olympia could be the top masked guy around. When the title match between he and JYD ended in dispute, Olympia had manager Skandar Akbar's lawyers make threats with Watts actually selling them as a danger. JYD finally got the belt back in April of 1983 in a cage match before 21,400 fans. The same show would feature Butch Reed, an up and comer presented as a protégé of JYD. Reed's turning on JYD was seen as worse by fans, a black man turning on a black hero with Reed talking of tired of pushed aside. He challenged JYD in a two-out-of-three falls match, claiming JYD wasn't the same caliber of athlete. The match had liberal interference from Buzz Sawyer, King Kong Bundy and others with Bundy using taped fists to allow Reed to win. The feud would continue for a while with JYD coming up short and Reed eventually deciding he wouldn't defend the belt anymore. So, JYD got the young Magnum T.A. in to beat Reed. Twelve days later, Magnum accepted a challenge from Nikolai Volkoff, losing the belt to the Russian. Watts said that because the match was never sanctioned, the belt was vacated and JYD would beat Reed in a special match to win it back at last.
Fall of Orleans
The bizarre booking of the JYD/Reed feud probably contributed to a downturn in Mid-South business, that blow-off bout only drawing 8,000 fans. Buddy Landel was brought in to partner with Reed for a promising program, JYD beating Reed again at the Superdome in front of 21,700 fans. Klein does a nice analysis of the racial overtones of the various programs, especially how the Reed one had him accusing JYD of being a sellout, the old "house slave" mentality and he and Landel even tried to tar and feather JYD, the angle harder to take as "black-on-black crime is viewed with horror and sorrow." JYD always came out on top after all the talk and Landel would be the one ending up in feathers. Klein says it's up to the reader to decide right or wrong with today's hindsight but times were different there.
"The Last Stampede" chronicles two major angles. The first would be the biggest success Mid-South ever had; the second pretty much ruined New Orleans as a wrestling market. Watts brought in Jerry Jarrett and Jerry Lawler, who asked "where are the blow jobs?" At first jarred at the comment, Watts listened to them explain that he had pushed the alpha male stuff with JYD so long but wrestling was gravitating toward female fans (The Von Erichs in Texas, the Fabulous Ones in Memphis) and if they were hooked, their boyfriends would be too. Watts listened, bringing in some younger and handsome babyfaces like Terry Taylor and the Rock n' Roll Express and Magnum T.A. still pushed, beating Reed with help from ref JYD.This led to T.A. teaming with Mr. Wrestling II, who started berating T.A. for mistakes and soon turning heel. He challenged JYD for the North American title with JYD saying if he lost, he'd leave Mid-South for 90 days. They fought on March 12, 1984 in a match with huge effects for the territory. It ended with Wrestling II loading his kneepad to hit JYD but it was out of position so instead of hitting him in the face, JYD took it on the chest. It was awful-looking as Wrestling II made the pin but the fans were outraged at their hero going down to what was obviously a fake move. The very next week, attendance dropped by half as Klein states this match is the reason New Orleans ceased to be a major wrestling town.
It wasn't helped as Wrestling II's heel turn bombed as older fans kept on cheering him over Magnum and even moves like II claiming to now be the only Mr. Wrestling. Magnum would win the title but the heat was off and he would soon move to Crockett Promotions. JYD was stuck doing "monster of the week" battles against Kamala, King Kong Bundy and others which showcased how poor a worker Dog really was. Plus, his party life was getting out of control, his rampant cocaine use leading to him ballooning up to 350 pounds, his wife was committed to a psychiatric institution and his daughter moved in with his family while JYD was dating a twisted voodoo queen. He did find success bringing back Stagger Lee as Watts was involved in a feud with the Midnight Express, coming out of retirement to team with Lee against the heels, the big match bringing in another massive crowd and gate and leading to sellouts throughout the Mid South area. But his personal finances were bad due to his drug use and when WWF came calling, JYD left without any word to Watts, ruining some main events.
Watts did his best to hold on, aided by Bill Dundee helping with booking. He got Kerry Von Erich and Ric Flair to do some matches in their feud and found great success with DiBiase, Duggan and Steve Williams as top faces. However, New Orleans itself was done as a major city, crowds just dead there without the Dog and the Oklahoma economy suffering in the late 80's didn't help either. Plus, Crockett and McMahon were picking off stars one by one but Watts was also seen as just too regional to break out. ESPN came calling about a possible weekly show with Watts' reputation as a great booker but the name Mid South scared them off so they went with the AWA. By the time he changed things to the UWF, Watts was bleeding money and as soon as he'd build a star like Big Bubba Rogers, Crockett or McMahon would pick them off. He was finally forced to sell in 1987 to Crockett with Dusty Rhodes basically burying the entire UWF. Also, Watts fell into the classic trap of bookers/promoters by trying to repeat magic with more comebacks from retirement but it just didn't do the same business. A 1986 show at the Superdome drew 7200 fans with Watts claiming the problem was the Flair-Ricky Morton title match. A few weeks later, that same match drew 25,000 to a Crockett show, proving it was Watts that was the problem.
A fun bit is on how Watts tried to duplicate JYD time and again. "Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. By that logic, Watts spent the rest of his time in wrestling flattering the Junkyard Dog." Watts never grasped that he'd caught lightning in a bottle with JYD and couldn't do it again with some random guy. First was George Wells, brought in as "Master Gee" and squashing guys left and right, including Reed. But he lacked charisma while having a major cocaine problem and was soon gone (although Klein points out his story ended happier with him cleaning up his act and teaching inner city youths in California). Undaunted, Watts turned Butch Reed face but blew it by having Duggan rescue Reed from Akbar's army when no one had to rescue the Dog. While Reed had skills and charisma, he never got the right superman push which instead went to Terry Taylor. After Reed left, Eddie Crawford was brought in as the Snowman who did get that big push with Muhammad Ali claiming the man was his protégé. Unfortunately, Ali's promos weren't convincing and the heels in the locker room hated putting this guy over and Watts' decision to scale back ticket prices bit him when the Superdome Show drew only 11,000 fans. The match itself was marred as Jake Roberts refused to sell either Crawford or an Ali punch. Crawford was pushed aside as Reed returned, winning the TV title and a push but his own personal problems led to his leaving. Then came Eddie Sharkey, billed as Savannah Jack who got over fairly well but was just proof that the time of fans wanting someone like JYD had passed. We finally come to Watts' tenure running WCW in 1992 where he made Ron Simmons the World Champion but Simmons' lack of charisma and bad challengers ruined things badly. Watts never duplicated that success again although certainly not for lack of trying.
As the book focuses on New Orleans, it's not surprising Klein skims over JYD's stint in WWF. He came in with good spirits and a decent push although his promos turned to more grunting and growling than his usual jokes. However, kids loved him, how he would crawl on all fours to head-butt someone and his THUMP powerslam bouncing guys off the canvas. They'd cheer him as he'd come to the ring and then, after a match, have kids dance with him in the ring. Fun bits included a segment on a May "Saturday Night's Main Event" in New York with the Dog's mother treated to a NYC vacation by her son as a Mother's Day gift and dancing with him after a win. McMahon had hoped that taking the Dog would give him an in with Southern crowds but they didn't like the flash of WWF and TV shows featuring star vs jobber bouts. JYD headlined many of the "B" shows with WWF trying for the Superdome in 1985 with the Dog and Hulk Hogan teaming but it drew only 6000 fans and it would take years (and the fall of Crockett) for them to crack the South.
As wrestling took off into "sports entertainment," the Dog was perfect for it. He was featured on Hulk Hogan's Rock N Wrestling cartoon series and at the first Wrestlemania, challenged Greg Valentine for the Intercontinental title. He also beat Randy savage in the finals of the Wrestling Challenge tournament, a big move for the time. And he also earned fame with his song "Grab Them Cakes" which would become his dance anthem.
However, his personal problems became worse. Take someone with an already large cocaine habit and put him in an environment with more money and pressure and it's no surprise he became even more of an addict. Klein does point out that WWF was hardly the worst when it came to drug use (World Class deserves that dubious honor) but it was bad as the attitude about "recreational" drug use in the 80's was a hell of a lot more lax than today. Dog's weight ballooned to nearly 400 pounds some weeks with guys nicknaming him "the Junk Food Dog." Plus, WWE wasn't smart enough to protect the Dog's obvious ring weaknesses with longer matches against guys not able to carry him. He became more of a caricature although Klein points out that happens to a lot of guys moving to WWF. His ex-wife escaped an institution to kidnap their daughter and when JYD tried to get her back, his brother-in-law, a cop, was accidentally shot in the struggle. His run became more of a mess, against Terry Funk with a bit of Funk and brother Dory "branding" the Dog with an iron carrying cream. In 1987, he feuded with Harley Race, who was boasting of being the "King" of wrestling. One match ended with crooked referee Danny Davis counting the Dog down and JYD headbutting the man. At Wrestlemania III, he and Race battled, Race winning but the Dog just made a half-hearted bow and then beat him down, leaving with Race's crown and robe.
But his run was winding down as he began missing shows and clearly in no shape to continue. He was in the 20-man battle royal at Wrestlemania IV and lost to Rick Rude at the first SummerSlam before being cut in a massive layoff of talent a few weeks later. WCW decided to bring him in to help sell their big "Clash of the Champions" card coming out of the Superdome in 1989. JYD was set against old rival Butch Reed, coming to the ring with a classic New Orleans band but the word was he'd missed eight shows prior and would have been fired if WCW hadn't already made a big video on him and wrestling in New Orleans. The Clash is remembered for the classic Steamboat-Flair title match but it was a financial disaster, only a thousand tickets sold so the company had to "paper" it to get to 5300 with the announcers claiming the darkened arena held 25,000. JYD stuck around, becoming part of the face group Dudes With Attitudes and even challenged Flair for the NWA World title on a Clash show in what The Wrestling Observer would name the worst feud of 1990. He teamed with Tommy Rich and Ricky Morton to win the six-man tag title but WCW soon dropped the belts fast. In 1992, Watts called JYD back to WCW with hopes of pushing him only to realize the man was in no condition to perform at all. JYD would move to the USWA, actually winning their title but it was clear he was just coasting on his past fame and sad to see him as he was in the present.
In 1998, JYD was introduced at Wrestlepalooza by Joey Styles as a "hardcore pioneer." The notoriously jaded ECW crowd actually gave the overweight and bald Dog a standing ovation and chanting his name. But that was marred by New Jack attacking the Dog outside the ring, claiming he owed New Jack money. The man was broke, living with the family that owned the auto repossession business he worked for. Friends indicated he wanted to get clean but just couldn't do it although he did hold it together to attend his daughter's college graduation but arrived late, only speaking to her by phone. On his way home, on June 2nd, 1998, he fell asleep at the wheel of his car, driving off the lane and was killed instantly. WWF paid tribute to him with a video package on their shows that week to remember him for the good times, not the bad. He was inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame in 2004 by old friend Ernie Ladd and DVDs like the "Superstars of the 80" set point out the massive star he was to so many.
Klein wraps up the book with his own personal remembrances of the Dog, seeing him in New Orleans in 1984 with his best friend, Trae. Being black, Trae paid attention to race in new Orleans and thus loved the Dog. Klein also admits to having a soft spot for Butch Reed who he feels never quite got the stardom due him. His in-depth description of a JYD/Duggan vs Reed/Landel match shows his love for JYD and Mid-South as well. It's why Klein wrote this book as he feels the Dog has been forgotten by even many in wrestling (Buddy Landel the only worker to attend his funeral) although his funeral was attended by thousands, including Michael Jordan. Klein also points out that as much as people mock the WWE Hall of Fame, they were the first to induct the Dog as others seemed to feel his lack of major titles weakened his standing despite his massive success carrying New Orleans for so long. Klein is personally pushing for the Dog to be inducted in Halls in New Orleans and North Carolina, both for stardom and his civic standing. Klein insists that JYD never be forgotten by either fans or the city he did so much for.
For those who loved the Dog in his prime, the book is a treat replicating that era. For those who missed it, it's a fantastic history lesson on how one man truly carried an entire city on his back and his absence left a void never quite filled. The book may be short, about 180 pages, but packs so much into it, taking you back in time to feel the 80's of New Orleans and how JYD, for all his personal flaws, paved a trail for many to follow. Well worth reading, The King of New Orleans is a fantastic biography of a man and a time that wrestling fans should remember and one can hope WWE gives it its due on DVD soon for younger fans to enjoy as well as the older ones did.