This month marks the 20th anniversary of one of the most infamous incidents in pro wrestling history, "The Mass Transit incident" at an ECW house show in Revere, MA in 1996. At the time, the firestorm of negative press prompted the cancellation of the company's debut on pay-per-view the following year before owner Paul Heyman persuaded providers to distribute the event. Two decades later, retrospect provides a much clearer picture of what actually happened and what the results could've been if the stunt wasn't recorded.
Eric Kulas, a 17-year-old attired in a bus driver outfit, showed up at the non-televised event in hopes he could get a spot on the card that night. Axl Rotten, who was scheduled to team with D-Von Dudley in a match with The Gangstas, had a family emergency and couldn't work the show so Kulas took his place. Kulas used a fake ID that said he was 23 and claimed to be a student of Killer Kowalski, the legendary grappler that ran a school in the area for years. The aspiring wrestler also claimed that he had wrestled previously as "Mass Transit," but it was later revealed that he had no wrestling experience.
Where the controversy starts is that when planning the match, Kulas stated that he wanted to bleed during the bout, but didn't know how to blade, or cut himself in a safe manner, a common practice in the business for decades. He asked New Jack, one of the most notorious figures in the history of the business, if he would make the cut for him. New Jack agreed, and it was determined that the contest would be one-sided since The Gangstas were an established team.
According to The Blue Meanie in the "Forever Hardcore" documentary, Kulas was extremely arrogant backstage and even tried to light a cigarette while sitting next to Taz, one of the veterans on the roster. When Mass Transit climbed in the ring, he taunted the crowd in typical heel fashion, but there was nothing typical about what happened after The Gangstas stormed the ring with a collection of weapons for their trademark entrance. Given that Kulas hadn't endeared himself to the rest of the crew, The Gangstas made a point to keep D-Von outside of the ring and focused on not letting Mass Transit get any offense. When the time came for New Jack to blade Kulas as he requested, the ECW tag champion sliced deeply into the teenager's forehead, opening a geyser that squirted a continuous stream of blood onto the canvas.
Realizing that his son was injured, Kulas' father, who vouched for him prior to the show, can be heard on the video tape yelling that Mass Transit was only 17. Soon after the incident, Kulas and his family filed a lawsuit against ECW and New Jack. As mentioned, the negative press almost costs ECW their chance on pay-per-view, and New Jack, the real-life Jerome Young, was eventually charged with assault and battery.
In hindsight, the spin that the press put on the story is almost comical, considering that it made no mention of the fact that Kulas lied about his age to get work on the card that night. Ultimately, Kulas, a naive fan that wanted to play wrestler, couldn't keep his story together and the inconsistencies led to Jerome Young being acquitted and nobody was found to be liable for the injuries. The key to determining this was at the trial when the video tape was played that showed Kulas waiting for and then allowing Young to cut him. After that Kulas can been seen compressing his forehead, a common way to attempt to produce more blood from a blade job. What the court case came down to was Kulas asked to be cut and then knowing what was going to happen, waited to get bladed. Weather it was morally right or not is a completely different matter, as far as legally, Kulas wasn't "attacked" as he originally claimed.
At the time, the incident enhanced the view that New Jack actually was the violent "gangsta" that he portrayed in the ring. The former bounty hunter claimed to have four justifiable homicides during his time pursing bail jumpers, but it was later revealed during Kayfabe Commentaries' "Breaking Kayfabe" series that it was one justifiable homicide and the numbers were exaggerated as a part of Young's wrestling persona. On the flip side, while it might've added to the perception of New Jack's character, it could've done major damage to ECW as a promotion. If the Barely Legal pay-per-view had remained cancelled, who knows if Extreme Championship Wrestling would've made it off the ground to revolutionize the business in the United States?
In the years that followed, Eric Kulas passed away in 2002 after complications from gastric bypass surgery. The incident was discussed in a variety of documentaries and interviews, with seemingly everyone expressing varying opinions about the validity of the responsibility of what happened to Kulas. While Jerome Young is a very complex individual that hasn't always made the best decisions and he undoubtedly decided to cut Kulas deeper than he probably should've, he wasn't legally responsible for Mass Transit's injuries. Kulas lied about his age, his experience, the details of the events, and got himself into a situation that he wasn't prepared for at the event. Eric Kulas asked to be cut, waited to be cut, and he was cut. Again, it doesn't make it morally right, but Kulas had no right to file a lawsuit when he lied to ECW to get a chance to play wrestler. It's tragic that Eric Kulas passed away at a young age, but he clearly had no business attempting to be a wrestler in 1996.
As for New Jack, he had a very complicated career, as some speak about his generosity as a person and a performer, while others claim he was dangerous in the ring. Despite displaying a limited range of skills during most of his career, New Jack is actually an underrated performer, mostly because he presented a believable character and he cut promos that could sell an event. Plus, he could actually wrestle technically matches earlier in his career when The Gangstas had an extensive feud with the Rock n' Roll Express in Smokey Mountain Wrestling in 1994.
Despite an undeniable charisma, in many ways, New Jack couldn't get out of his own way when it came to opportunities during his post-ECW career. Considering his promo skills, New Jack could've landed work with either TNA or ROH on an extended basis, but some of his choices in the years after ECW closed made it difficult for those companies to invest into the character. In 2003, Jack worked a match with veteran Gypsy Joe, who had a reputation for carelessly stiffing opponents. At 68, Gypsy Joe decided to legitimately punch New Jack during the contest and he responded with real punches to the senior citizen. The very real situation continued when New Jack pummeled Joe with various objects until the promoter stopped the match. The following year when wrestling in Florida, New Jack legitimately stabbed an William Lane nine times after the independent wrestler tried to actually fight him during the bout. If New Jack was provoked during this incidents is irrelevant, the point is, main stream promotions wouldn't want the negative press involved.
In some respects, the controversy that surrounded New Jack outside of the ring overshadowed a notable career in the ring. From insane dives from the balcony that were staples of the opening of the ECW TV show to falling twenty feet from a scaffold, New Jack would probably receive more notoriety if he wasn't involved in various infamous events. However, it's interesting to consider how serious the consequences of The Mass Transit incident could've been at the time and the ripple effect it would've had if Barely Legal remained cancelled. Regardless, two decades later, the incident is still talked about as one of the most controversial events in pro wrestling history.
Until next week
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