Monday, January 17, 2011

Junk Yard Dog and the Killer Hurricane Full Story




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BREAKING NEWS:  
 SATURDAY NIGHT, JANUARY 29TH, 2011!!! 
COMPLETE SELL OUT!!! 

Last Saturday night marked a GREAT NIGHT in the storied and venerable history of Nashville wrestling events.   I was part of a huge card...and one that I predicted had  a chance to fill the building.  This is what I said last week here on the blog.

 As a matter of fact,  I think this card has a chance of actually SELLING OUT the FAIRGROUNDS ARENA!!!!

And it did.  Great night of action and this card would have been a great card anywhere in the country. Wrestling fans want to see WRESTLING and of course,  wrestling with a purpose.   The crowd was a LEGITIMATE 1707 FANS PAID...and I personally saw the box office receipts for the event which the proceeds went to benefit the Make a Wish Foundation which do great work for the kids.  I  personally conducted at least 6 interviews promoting this event including an appearance on Nashville's Channel 4, Channel 5 and Channel 17.  And the fans did not leave disappointed.  It was a trip back into the PAST  but also a TRIP TO THE FUTURE.  Wrestling never dies...it just changes form.  This should be a way to introduce new stars to the wrestling world.   I am presently working to help bring more shows of this type to the area.  Stay tuned. 

PHOTOS OF THE NASHVILLE SELLOUT!!!   

The view from the top balcony...floor area was sold out a week in advance which
is unheard of in Nashville for a wrestling event on a local level.   Little did
the promoter know that when he booked this card,  Jerry Lawler
would be one of the WWE's biggest stories.  So for long time
wrestling fans,  they got the past and the present all in one night. 

This photo taken with my cell phone camera...right outside the
dressing room area.  As you can see...every seat is filled with
the balcony in the background which is completely packed.  This photo
was taken about 15 minutes before the show officially started.  The final
attendance ended up at 1,707 OFFICIALLY PAID.  

This shot taken between the first and second match when the lights were dimmed,  show what
this arena looked like years ago.  It was a full house with REAL
WRESTLING FANS in attendance.  Seriously, the night was a surreal
experience and if someone had told me a couple of months ago that I would work on a card,
IN NASHVILLE that would sell out,  I would have not believed them. 

A view from right over the dressing room area overlooking the entire arena.
This photo was also taken about 15 minutes before the show began. 
I've seen this arena sold out a lot of times mostly years ago but this is the
first time I've seen it completely full since the late 80s.   This is the
 same arena that TNA used on their weekly Wednesday night PPV's
when they first came into existence.  But I never saw it sold out for TNA. 
Every person you see in the audience paid for their ticket...and only 25 comps
were issued.  The comp ticket section you can see at the bottom right
on the photo. That section was reserved for the Make a Wish people and the kids.


Pictured above is Abriella...one of my student trainees at my wrestling school
THE UNIVERSITY OF DUTCH.  Saturday night, she served as the OFFICIAL
GUEST RING GIRL and within the next week or so will be making
her first appearance as a wrestler.  Abriella has entered the WWE Tough Enough
Challenge and IMO, has a very good chance of making it.  Good luck
to her as she stands an excellent chance of doing well.  Also, on the show
was Jocephus Brody...and he did well.  I'm proud of both these kids.    



THANK YOU NASHVILLE...FOR A GREAT NIGHT!!! 


Author's note:  This is the second and final part to my story about the Junk Yard Dog and Hurrican Hugo.   Enjoy it....its 100% TRUE.   

THE JUNK YARD DOG AND THE HURRICANE FROM HELL!!!

The JUNK YARD DOG in one of
his signature photos...1983

The story today is a story about one of my old friends...Sylvester Ritter who was more commonly known by his wrestling name of the Junk Yard Dog. A little background on Dog..he was from a small town in North Carolina, Wadesboro, which is located about 45 minutes east of Charlotte. Dog played football at a Division ll school, Fayetteville State and actually received an honorable mention on the All American team that year. But he wanted to become a wrestler and he succeeded with his goal.


Dog ended up in the Mid South promotion which consisted of Louisiana, Mississippi, Arkansas and Oklahoma in the early 80's, which was booked and owned by Bill Watts. Watts was the original creator of the name, THE JUNK YARD DOG and it was here that Watts made the Junk Yard Dog a household name. Dog became legendary for taking on the biggest and baddest villains that the Mid South had to offer such was the Million Dollar Man, Ted Dibiase, Jake the Snake Roberts, Kamala and King Kong Bundy among others. Dog also headlined what was then billed as the SuperCards...at the Louisiana SuperDome in New Orleans and all of those cards did tremendous business at the gate.


A very young JYD while he was still
in the Mid South territory
But there was another promotion starting up at the time and it was turning into a monster...the WWF and Vince McMahon was blind to what was available to him if he just waved a checkbook in front of people. Dibiase, Kamala, Jake the Snake an King Kong all took McMahon up on his offer and when the WWF offered Dog a chance to work with them, he had no choice but to accept the offer. He could not make anywhere close to the money that McMahon was offering him so Dog followed the trail of dollars an in 1984, Dog found himself in the WWF where he had a very successful run. But alas...all good things must end and Dog left the WWF in 1988 and returned back to Wadesboro.

But the Dog, due to his popularity not only in the Mid South but in WWF,  soon picked up another run  in 1990 when he signed with WCW and this is where I reconnected with him.  I was also working in WCW, at the time, cohosting a syndicated show with Tony Schiavone that aired in the international markets. WCW held a lot of their tapings at the time in Marietta, Georgia at the Cobb Convention Center about 20 miles north of downtown Atlanta. Those taping days were brutal...sometimes as many as 20 matches a day were taped and by the end of the night..not only were the wrestlers completely dead but the fans as well.



Here we see JYD being interviewed by the
always loquacious David Crockett on the
set of the WCW show when they
were doing TV on Saturday mornings
on the SuperStation Channel 17
in Atlanta. 
So one day, while Dog and I were in catering, subject of Puerto Rico came up in general conversation. When Dog heard Puerto Rico being mentioned, his ear pricked up and he told me he would never go back to Puerto Rico. Usually, when guys said that,  it was always an issue  it was with the fans or the promotion over money  but Dog told me he loved Puerto Rico and liked wrestling there. What he didn't like was the weather.  I said the weather was beatiful there and he said..not when its HURRICANE SEASON. 
Dog started his story by saying when he finished his run in the WWF,  he started making weekend tours in Puerto Rico and he was there in September of 1989 when a massive hurricane was bearing down on the island. As Dog explained, this was not just your regular
tropical storm..this was a MONSTER hurricane by the name of:

HUGO!!!

HUGO is a name that still strikes fear into the residents of  Puerto Rico and all the Caribbean.  Hugo was a dangerous Category 5 hurricane and folks,  a Cat 5 hurricane can't get any bigger.   A Category 5 hurricane packs sustained winds in excess of 160 mph and HUGO'S sheer mass was the size of Texas.  Plus it was moving slowly over water and not losing any punch.  Hurricanes pick up power while over water and the power only subsides when it touches landfall.    Hugo was headed on a direct path right into the heart of the island.   To compare it to a hurricane that is more familiar in size and deadliness, think KATRINA.



The date was mid September, 1989 which is exactly in the middle of hurricane season in the Caribbean.  Dog had come into Puerto Rico just a day or so earlier when it was broadcast that HUGO was headed straight for San Juan.   The wrestling office had provided a room for JYD a block off the beach and Dog knew that he sat at the very center of the storm.   Dog had wrestled one night and had two more nights to go when he learned that the tour had been cancelled.  It was the best thing but Dog told me that he had a bad feeling about all of it.  Actually, everything was cancelled...because hurricanes are not a laughing matter in Puertot Rico or anywhere they hit.   


This was what Dog saw when he went to the airport.  Hurricanes are
considered a life and death situation in the Carribbean and
 everybody knew how serious HUGO was going to be.  They
weren't wrong either.   
Dog told me he was staying in a small but much older hotel right on the beach in San Juan and when he learned that the matches were cancelled, he made a beeline to the airport which was only a 10 minute taxi ride away from his hotel.  But upon arrival at the airport,  he was met by a sight that he wasn't prepared for.  The airport was JAM PACKED with thousands of  people, mostly tourists, who all had the same idea that Dog did.  They all wanted to leave the island before the hurricane hit. 

At the airport, there were literally thousands of people all trying to achieve the same thing.  Get booked on the next flight out.  Trouble was, demand far and away outweight supply.   The ticket concourses were so packed and the lines were so long that it would have taken all day just to get up to the counter.  Dog said that as soon as he got out of the cab,  his cab driver told him that they had just from his dispatcher that the airport would be closing in two hours.  His driver informed him that if you didn't already hold a reservation in your hand,  you were out of luck.   Dog had no choice but to return to his room and wait out the storm.
Dog told me that the first stop he made on the way back was the liquor store where he bought two fifths of Jack Daniels and 2 liters of coke.   His next stop was at a grocery store which was completely overrun with people.  When he went to get water, all the water was COMPLETELY GONE!!!  There was no water at all because it was the first item to go.  Not to be defeated, Dog did get one gallon of water but he did it by grabbing it out of someone else's shopping cart when they weren't looking.

Dog said almost all the food had been depleted but he did manage to get some little snacks such as crackers and a few cans of tuna.  In a hurricane anywhere in the world, there is no telling when the natural order of things will be restored.  Dog said, he was all alone...and he knew that it was going to be a long, long night. There were no other American wrestlers on the tour and he didn't speak Spanish.


Dog told me he sat alone in his hotel room that afternoon...saving his water and eating a little of what he had just purchased.  There was no going out to eat...everything was locked down tighter than Mick Foley's wallet.  The hotel that the wrestling office had provided him with didn't look sturdy or hardy enough to withstand a big storm.   He watched the sky get darker and darker as it got later in the day.   And gradually,  he listened as a light rain started falling and the winds started to pick up.  He could see the Carribbean through his window and noticed the palm trees outside the hotel as they started to bend more and more as the wind started becoming stronger.   The waves on the beach started crashing in with more force and Dog me that you could feel the pressure in the air drop.    


This was HUGO at the peak of
its intensity.  A MONSTER STORM!!
At the time in the late 80s,  cable TV was really in its infancy and it was rare for anyone to have cable in Puerto Rico.  Puerto Rico,  as with most of the Caribbean at the time,  was about 5 years behind the states in technological gadgets and with TV, were even farther behind.  Since there was a lack of cable exposure in Puerto Rico,  there were only three local channels to watch for English speaking people to get news or weather reports. There was no CNN, no Weather Channel, no MSNBC,  no NBC, ABC or CBS.  But HUGO had hijacked all  the daily programming and even though he didn't speak Spanish, he told me you didn't need to speak Spanish to know how serious these reporters were taking this storm.  He could see when they posted their radar graphics.    HUGO WAS A MONSTER STORM and it was scheduled to make landfall in Puerto Rico at around 11PM that night.

Dog said he had never been so alone in his life...he called his wife and told her what was going on but in the middle of the call...the phone went dead. The storm was closing in on Puerto Rico and all Dog could do was pray and hope that he and the little hotel he was staying at was strong enough to withstand the storm. Then Dog said the wind started really blowing and from his balcony of the hotel, he could see gusts of wind carrying the rain and all the debris it was picking up from the street lights that were still on. There was no traffic..there were no people on the street..no police cars...nothing. It was as deserted as a ghost town Dog said. Finally..at about 10 PM, the power went out and with that, all the lights in San Juan. It was total darkness in Dogs room and on the street.

Dog felt a long night coming on.  Dog just didn't know how long. 


Finally, the hurricane hit and hurricanes move slowly sometimes as slow as 10 miles per hour and due to Hugo's size, that meant that the storm could possibly have a life span over Puerto Rico of 6 to 8 hours before it lessened. Dog looked at his watch.  It was 11:20PM.  The lights were out and the hotel had no emergency lights at all.  The only light he had, Dog told me,  was a bic lighter, a box of matches and a candle.   Dog said he didn't know why there was a candle in his room but I told him that was standard fare for rooms in the Caribbean...and not only in Puerto Rico.  A candle was in his room for exactly the same reason he was holed up in his room that night.   Hurricanes.  All hotel rooms in the Virgin Islands,  Barbados,  Aruba,  Antigua,  the Bahamas...had the same emergency rations of matches and a candle.  I've been in a lot of rooms in the Carribbean and they all had three things in common.  Matches, a candle and a Gideon Bible which, if you think about it, could prove very helpful in a Category 5 hurricane. 


   
 The slower speed of the hurricane allowed Hugo to punish the island of Puerto Rico with the worst beating of any location along the hurricane's destructive path. At 2 am local time on September 18, 1989, Hugo's eyewall struck Puerto Rico bringing incredibly strong and deadly 140 mph winds.


Dog said time literally crawled by and the winds were deafening as it sounded like the whole island was being blown away.  Through the roar of the intense winds,  he heard objects outside slamming into other things.   As he sat in complete darkness, Dog said he found a spot in the bathroom and put as many walls between him and the hurricane as he could.   As the wind pummeled the island,  the little hotel was shaking and he said he had never been so scared in his life because the only thing that stood between him and the WRATH OF GOD  was a small guest house type structure that wasn't  built to withstand a hurricane of this magnitude.  

This is the actual hotel that the Junk Yard Dog was in
during Hurricane Hugo.  I took this photo two years ago while I was 
in Puerto Rico and for some reason,  I kept the photo. 
Dog's room was up on the third floor facing the street.  I've been
in this hotel dozens of times as a lot of wrestlers during that
time period.  It was set one block off the beach
 in the tourist section of San Juan and was wrestler
friendly.   Ironically,  this was the same hotel that
 Bruiser Brody was staying on the night he died in 1988.  
As Dog hunkered down in his bathroom praying for a lessening of the storm,   he  suddenly heard a huge ripping sound which was very close to where he was.   He knew it was part of the hotel he was in and he heard screams..but it was total darkness and he was helpless to do anything.  The screaming continued for a few minutes and then stopped but the hurricane didn't. 
The hurricane continued on and on and on.  Dog looked at his watch...1:38AM...2:16AM....3:47AM...Dog said it was the longest night of his life.  Finally...at around 5:45AM, Dog heard  the winds and rain subsiding.   It was 6:15AM when Dog started seeing rays of sunshine  starting to break through the  window blinds in his room.   Then Dog ventured to his window to get his first look at at how much damage Hurricane Hugo had manufactured the night before.  



On the eastern end of Puerto Rico, massive
was done to the infrastructure.  Here is
a beachfront dock in Fajardo, PR
that was completely demolished.
He was stunned at what he saw.    
Dog told me it looked like a war zone. Trees were down, power lines were down, cars were sitting on top of each other and there was flooding on the streets.   Even though everything was in turmoil on the ground,  the sky was a brilliant blue color and the day was beginning to look like another beautiful day in Paradise.   beautiful.    It wasn't until later that Dog learned the severity of the storm.

Damage in Puerto Rico was severe, especially in the eastern part of the island. Agriculture was devastated, the crops of coffee and bananas were completely destroyed and the infrastructure was severely damaged. 12 people died with 30.000 people losing their homes and the damage was estimated at exceeding 1 billion dollars. And those dollars in in 1989 dollars. 

Dog also saw how close he came to meeting his end  when he found out about that   that was completely destroyed.   It was only a 100 feet from where Dog had been hovering in his bathroom floor and two floors up.   The winds had completely sucked the roof off one end of the building exposing a couple of the hotels room which were on the corner.  In the rooms, there had only been a woman and her pet dog.  Both of them were missing.  

Dog knew that it was time the get the hell outta dodge but he had to wait until the traffic started moving again to grab a cab to the airport.  As he grabbed his bags and made it down to the street,  he saw hundreds of tourists all hurrying to get off the island.  Dog caught the first cab he could signal down and intructed the driver to take him to the San Juan International Airport. 

When Dog got there...about 11AM,  again, he wasn't the only one with that idea. The airport was packed just as much as it had been the day before.   But Dog had seen planes circling the airport from the cab so he knew that at least, air traffic had already been restored.  


Street lights were not working because the power was out but the airport was running on emergency power.  When Dog arrived at the airport,   Dog headed to the USAir counter to grab the first flight he could get and the line stretched out into the street.   But he was lucky.  He booked himself on a 8PM flight to Charlotte which meant that he would spend all day at the airport but at least,  he was getting off that island.  Dog said most of the food places at the airports were closed...not that they didn't have food.  The reason they were closed was because none of the employees came to work.  Dog said he was starving, irritable, hot and crowded.  He had eaten all his snack foods that he had gotten the day before and all he had left was a couple of candy bars to last him until he got on the plane.    
 
Dog caught the flight to Charlotte and gave thanks to God that he made it safely. Dog said he slammed down the meal that was supplied to him.   For those that can't remember,  airlines used to serve meals on the plane..in first class and in coach.   Since he hadn't slept, other than short cat naps,  he slept the entire way to Charlotte.  As he stepped off the plane,  he again gave thanks to God for sparing him and vowed to never, ever get caught in another freaking hurricane in his life.   Dog told me North Carolina never looked so good!!!!  

END OF STORY...well not yet.  Keep reading.  It gets better. 

This would be a great time to end this feel good story..of a man overcoming adversity and triumphing in victory having survived a Category 5 hurricane.  It would be great to end it that way...but what's that old saying about Truth Is Stranger Than Fiction?   Even though the Dog was through with HUGO...or thought he was,  that didn't mean that HUGO was done with him.

Dog made it back to his home in Wadesboro and he was so glad to see his family again.  Just the night before,  Dog had been in the midst of a MONSTER Category 5 HURRICANE with 150 MPH winds knowing that he was seconds away from death at any moment.

Hurricane Hugo right before
it hit the US mainland.
But hurricanes don't really have a destination...Dog tole me....they just meaander on and on until their power expends itself.  Dog sat there in his living room that night with his two little girls surrounding and watched the news reports from Puerto Rico.  But Hugo wasn't dead yet.  Hugo was still on the move and was still a Category 5 hurricane and moving directly northwest toward the US mainland.  The forecasters predicted a direct hit on the US southern coast. 

   

As you can see, Hugo made a direct
path from Puerto Rico to the interior
of the Carolinas and hit JYD's house,
dead on!!! 

Hugo moved northwest along the coast of Florida and hit Charleston, SC on September 22nd but it didn't stop there. HUGO moved right up into the interior of the Carolinas  and Dog watched in horror as HUGO seemed to be coming directly at him.  Dog told me that Hugo was coming on a straight path toward him almost as though the he had personally supplied the hurricane with this mailing address.    And sure enough, the next day, Hurricane Hugo hit North Carolina and again the Dog had to hunker down, for a second time,  in three days as HUGO came to visit him one more time.   Before Hugo moved on,  the Dog's house
was damaged to the tune of $10,000.   

Dog told me that he had never heard of any person being caught in the same hurricane twice in different locations 1.800 miles apart but somehow, he had managed it.  And I'll have to admit, that I had never heard of that before either.  

Now that's a helluva story even if I do say it myself.  

Post script:
 The Junk Yard Dog is no longer with us and its a shame because he was a man with a good heart and a man who contributed greatly to the wrestling profession.  I liked and respected him very much as he was always the same guy every time you saw him.   Very personable and very friendly.   He died on June 2, 1998 in a car accident on Interstate 20 in Mississippi as he was returning from his daughter's high school graduation in North Carolina. The apparent cause was falling asleep at the wheel.

On March 13th, 2004, the Junk Yard Dog was posthumously inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame by the great Ernie "the Cat' Ladd and was represented by his daughters LaToya and Christine.

RIP Mr. Ritter. I honor you today with this story and it was a good one.

And as Paul Harvey used to say..."that is the REST OF THE STORY".

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1 comment:

  1. That is a great story Hugo versus JYD!

    ReplyDelete