Mid-South #31 Page #2

In summer 1984, the World Wrestling Federation was wreaking havoc with the traditional territories, by getting syndicated TV spots and top stars from groups.

The AWA and Mid-Atlantic groups were hardest hit when the nationwide wrestling war began in late 1983, while Mid-South appeared to have been spared.

Suddenly, though, the WWF struck, plucking Mid-South’s resident super hero from the tops of the group’s cards.  JYD left without notice, in the midst of a main-event feud with longtime rival Butch Reed. The Dog had never taken a beating like the verbal one Bill Watts put on him in the weeks following his abrupt departure.

Watts told fans that Dog had been gaining a lot of weight and possibly had some “personal problems” (wrestling code for “he’s on drugs”) as a result of the fact that he couldn’t hang with Reed in the ring.

JYD had gotten fat, complacent and left for a place where the competition wasn’t nearly as fierce as what Mid-South prided itself on.

Because of a recent influx of talent, fresh booking and many hot feuds, Mid-South business was actually stronger in the 12-month period after Dog left than during his last 12 months with the company. However, New Orleans business never recovered from his loss.

The Dog was never the same in New Orleans, either. The WWF ended up booking the Superdome, where JYD still holds the record crowd for wrestling today (for the aforementioned dog-collar match with Hayes).

JYD teamed with WWF top dog Hulk Hogan. They drew an anemic 5,000 fans, or about a fifth of what JYD drew for the Hayes match five years earlier.

Did the fans lose faith in Dog for leaving? Did they buy Watts’ burial? Was there something special, something that just clicked about JYD in Mid-South that was never the same anywhere else? Probably a combination of these things kept Dog from ever again reaching the heights he had achieved in Mid-South.

Watts knew he had to replace Dog, but never quite managed to make lightning strike twice. Soon after Dog left, Watts brought in an old tag partner of Reed’s, George Wells, to fight JYD’s ex-rival. The two fought in “ghetto street fight” matches, but Wells never caught on as Master Gee.

Another black star was making waves around this time, as well. Brickhouse Brown came in with little fanfare, but handily beat Reed protege Buddy Landel in his debut. Brown ended up teaming with black wrestling veteran Sonny King, who had been backing up Dog in his feud with Reed and the returning Ladd. 

Brown made a big impression initially, but seemed to be lacking something, and before long, he and  Master Gee were putting over teams like the Guerreros, the Midnight Express and others. Soon after, both were gone. Brown came back the next year, in 1985, but never made it out of the midcard.

Watts’ next attempt to make a new black superstar was Reed himself. Reed turned into a huge babyface after refusing to join a returning Skandor Akbar.

Reed spent a lot of late 1984 and early 1985 battling Kamala, a black wrestler whose real name was James Harris. Harris wrestled as Sugarbear Harris in the 1970s, but never made it big until he donned the leopard skirt and face paint, and became a Ugandan warrior.

Reed also battled former friend Landel, in a short feud that culminated in a series of “shoeshine” matches, in which the loser would have to shine the winner’s shoes. This seemed to me, at the time, to be a terribly racist idea, but ultimately it was the snide Landel who shined Reed’s loafers after getting trounced in two to three minutes.

Reed faded out after a few months, then came back to achieve his aim of becoming the first black world’s heavyweight champion. He didn’t succeed. For more on Reed, go back a few months and find my two-part column on the Hacksaw. 

Watts’ final attempt to recreate the Junkyard Dog came in the form of another powerfully built athlete, Eddie “The Snowman” Crawford. Crawford came in like a whirlwind, powerslamming his way to the TV title with a series of 10-second wins over established stars like Steve Williams and Jake Roberts.

Unfortunately, he was a lot of things, but was not The Junkyard Dog.

No one ever accused JYD of being a fleet-footed, exciting worker, but The Snowman made him look like Ted DiBiase by comparison. JYD also had once-in-a-lifetime charisma, something the Snowman did not exactly exude. It didn’t help that Snowman’s mumbly promos were a weak echo of JYD’s raspy, attention-getting patter.

Watts gave it one more shot in 1986, with Savannah Jack. Fortunately for me, the company was called UWF by then, so Jack ain’t my problem.

The thing about these guys was that Watts did not emphasize their ethnicity. They did not have abnormally hard heads, although the Dog did love to use the crawling headbutt. Candy (not counting his 1985 stint as the Zambuie Express), JYD, Snowman, King, Reed, Brown and Master G were simply portrayed as incredibly tough athletes who could wrestle or fight, depending on the situation.

Watts never did find another star to fill the shoes of The Junkyard Dog. Still, Mid-South Wrestling’s track record for promoting African-American wrestlers stood head and shoulders above its contemporaries in the 1980s.


Bill Watts Explains the Universe

Please email me with comments, compliments or complaints at rocksays@prodigy.net.

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