If you’re looking for a little controversy behind the seemingly always smiling and positive Junkyard Dog, then this episode of Dark Side of the Ring is right up your alley.

Wrestling luminaries Ted DiBiase, Jake Roberts, Jim Ross, Koko B. Ware, and more, all pay tribute to the superstar that JYD was in Louisiana and in Bill Watts’ Mid-South Wrestling promotion — along with the nationwide superstar he could have been with the WWF were it not for factors that prevented it from happening. Some of those factors were personal, some were business, and some were societal, as the episode will explain.

JYD’s early beginnings in wrestling were up against was Ross described as the sad, unwritten rule that the predominantly white owners had: if they already had a back babyface, they felt they didn’t need another. Watts took a chance on JYD, partly because he was always more of a brawler than a wrestler, which fit right into Watt’s style.  Watts encouraged the development of a moveset based on JYD’s football background, and he stuck to a few moves that he could do really well.

JYD is then paired up with DiBiase, who remembers working matches designed to highlight the Dog’s strengths. They became close friends, with JYD serving as DiBiase’s best man. At last, it seems, Jim Cornette shows up in the episode (he’s a series regular) to recall an angle where JYD was “blinded” by hair-removing cream by the Freebirds, with the capper being JYD sitting at ringside, blind, and seeing a fan reach over the railing beside him holding a gun to shoot the Freebirds. As Cornette tells it, as told to him by JYD, he says, the Dog was conflicted for two seconds over whether to break kayfabe and grab the gun, but the police saved him the trouble by tackling the fan.

Following a non-linear format, the episode goes back to JYD’s youth as Sylvester Ritter from Wadesboro, North Carolina. We meet Jarvis Woodburn, Jr., Ritter’s nephew, who walks us through Woodburn’s family home and tells tales of JYD coming home to visit from the road whenever he could, but of course that wasn’t all too often. Roberts relates the drug use that he and JYD were getting into, and Woodburn remembers his uncle doing drugs in front of him but warning that he’d kill Woodburn if he ever did drugs himself.

The circumstances surrounding JYD’s exit from Mid-South for the WWF are told from different perspectives, be it for money, fame, or as Teddy Long describes, a time when JYD heard Bill Watts say, in a supposedly private conversation, that JYD wasn’t going anywhere, using the n-word. The episode puts up a title saying that Watts was contacted about this story and says it’s “complete fiction.”

What is agreed upon by all was that Watts was really shook up when JYD left, having put so much time and effort into his young career. At first, the WWF seems to be everything JYD could have hoped for — an action figure, music video, and the fans on his side — but Tony Atlas and Koko explain that JYD’s bookings and promotion in the ring with Vince McMahon was not the same as it was with Watts.

With most in the episode attributing it to JYD feeling let down over his decision to leave Louisiana, his drug use ramps up and becomes debilitating. Roberts explains that JYD was likely let go for the simple reason of being unreliable. He wrestles on the indies, but hopes that an offer from Bill Watts, now in charge of WCW, might rekindle his success. It doesn’t go well, either in the ring or in the locker room as he doesn’t strike friends as the same person anymore.

Tracking his exit from wrestling altogether, Woodburn recalls his uncle trying to make it home for his daughter Latoya’s high school graduation but showing up late. Ritter gets in his car to drive home, a nine hour drive, and fell asleep somewhere the next morning, veering off the road and dying in June of 1998.

Woodburn takes us to a cemetery where Ritter and, sadly, his daughter Latoya who later died of a ruptured heart valve at only 31 years old, are buried beside each other. There’s a sense of sadness from all in the episode beyond the obvious reasons for losing someone they were close to, but more so because they all hoped that Ritter would get himself better and kick his demons. In wrestling, and more importantly in his life, much of Ritter’s greatness was still left untapped.