On the World Wrestling Federation's first-ever Pay-Per-View, the 1985 "Wrestling Classic" tournament, he defeated the Iron Sheik and Moondog Spot before being narrowly eliminated by Randy Savage in the finals. With less than a year in the Federation, the Dog had already become one of the top attractions in the industry, and appeared religiously on subsequent Pay-Per-Views and special events. In 1985,1986 and 1987, Ritter took part in the annual-and then untelevised-King of the Ring tournaments, taking on such superstars as Don Muraco, Paul Orndorff and Nikolai Volkoff. He was also a frequent competitor on NBC's "Saturday Night's Main Event", as he faced such notables as Harley Race, the late Adrian Adonis and current superstar Terry Funk.
Over the course of his Federation career, the Junkyard Dog also took part in the WrestleMania spectaculars, as he beat then-Intercontinental Champion Greg Valentine by countout at the first, and teamed with Tito Santana to take on Terry and Dory Funk Jr. at WrestleMania 2. In 1987, Junkyard entered into a bitter feud with "King" Harley Race, and nearly won the cape and crown from his foe at WrestleMania III. Then, at WrestleMania IV, as he joined Bret Hart and Bad News Brown as the remaining trio in a 20-man over the top rope battle royal before being eliminated by his opponents.
Following that Pay-Per-View, JYD engaged in feuds with "Outlaw" Ron Bass and Dino Bravo before stepping away from the Federation to pursue other personal goals, which included a stint in World Championship Wrestling in the early 90s. He also promoted bouts in North Carolina and Louisiana, as well as competed in hundreds of independent wrestling events across the country. Sadly, this superstar's life came to a tragic end this past June 2 as the result of a single vehicle accident en route to his home in North Carolina. JYD was returning from his daughter's graduation in Mississippi when he crashed his car on nearby I-20. He was 45 years old.
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Fans around the world chanted JYD during his matches, and Ritter was one of the first major acquisitions for Vince McMahon as he began to take the WWF to the next level in the early 80's.
JYD had first gained attention in the Mid South area and was one of the top box office draws in that area. Coming to the ring to the song "Another One Bites the Dust", he headlined shows in Louisiana, Oklahoma, Arkansas, and Mississippi, and helped draw enormous crowds in the Superdome on more than one occasion.
Ritter was recently honored at ECW's Wrestlepalooza PPV in Marietta GA, and received one of the largest ovations from the crowd at the Cobb County Civic Center.
In the last few months, he repossessed cars part time while competing in small matches and benefits in the South.
Ritter had returned to Mississippi on Monday after attending his daughter's high school graduation in Wadesboro, N.C. He crashed on a stretch of interstate near Forest in central Mississippi late Tuesday.
"He retired in 1988 and 10 years later he was still in the ring. He had a hard time giving it up," said International Wrestling Federation promoter Guy Walters.
"He enjoyed it all, the big crowds, (the) small. It didn't make any difference as long as he was around to sign autographs and take Polaroids with the kids," he said. "Every kid he met, he'd say, 'Are you still in school? Stay there baby, do it."
Ritter, a native of Charlotte, N.C., and the divorced father of two daughters, had asked for the weekend off to attend the graduation. "He said 'If that's the last thing in the world I do, I'm not going to miss it,"' Walters said. The 6-4, 325-pound "Junk Yard Dog" wore size 15 shoes and "took bumps" many wrestlers today can't handle, Walters said.
Playboy Mike Rhodes, Ritter's tag-team partner and the IWF heavyweight champion, said the Dog was always "full of life." "We figured Junk Yard Dog would always be there. It's rocked everybody's world," he said. Ritter's contemporaries in the ring included Hulk Hogan, Jesse Ventura, Roddy Piper, Randy Savage and Nikolai Volkoff.
He had a trademark finishing move called "The Thump," a giant power slam. Ritter claimed he earned his nickname while working in an auto junkyard.
"The way that I worked as hard as I did, and the way that I stood my ground for what I believed in, well, my boss said to me, just like the song, 'You are meaner than a junkyard dog,"' he once said.
"So to this day, I kept my boss' advice and stayed tough and, well, I just thank the man up above for the rest."