In the annals of wrestling history, ECW stands as a mythical promotion that birthed hardcore wrestling as we know it today. It was the hallowed ground that launched the American careers of wrestling legends like Eddie Guerrero, Dean Malenko, Rey Mysterio, Chris Jericho, and many others. ECW also introduced the world to the extreme antics of Sabu and the unbridled charisma of Rob Van Dam while rejuvenating the career of Terry Funk. However, there exists a dark chapter in ECW’s storied history, an incident so shocking that it almost spelled the end for the promotion, and it’s known as “The Mass Transit Incident.”
Around twenty-five years ago, just as ECW was on the cusp of reaching a nationwide pay-per-view audience, this incident unfolded, threatening to cast a long shadow over the entire promotion. It was a time when ECW was gearing up for a show in Revere, Massachusetts, with a lineup that included Axl Rotten teaming with D-Von Dudley to take on The Gangstas, New Jack and Mustafa. However, when Rotten couldn’t make it to the show, a sequence of events was set in motion that would lead to a catastrophe of epic proportions.
Erich Kulas, then a 17-year-old wrestling fan who went by the ring name “Mass Transit,” convinced ECW’s promoter, Paul Heyman, to let him fill in for Rotten. Kulas claimed to be 21 years old and under the tutelage of esteemed trainer Walter “Killer” Kowalski. Whether due to trust, desperation, or negligence, Heyman allowed Kulas to step into the ring, not realizing the impending disaster.
The incident itself unfolded during the match. New Jack, known for his hardcore wrestling style and disregard for personal safety, was asked by Kulas to help him get color, a term used to describe blading to produce blood during a match. New Jack, never one to shy away from inflicting pain, agreed to assist. However, things went terribly wrong. The cut New Jack made was far deeper than intended, severing a few arteries. Kulas lay in the ring, blood pouring from his head, while New Jack and Mustafa continued to assault him with various hardcore weapons. It was a horrifying scene, and as Kulas’s father came out, he shouted to ring the bell and revealed that his son was only 17 years old.
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In the midst of this chaos, New Jack, unrepentant and fueled by controversy, used the incident as an opportunity to cut a promo. He callously expressed that he didn’t care if Kulas died, making racially charged statements in the process. Kulas was eventually taken away on a stretcher after receiving 50 stitches. The entire match and the incident were recorded by a fan in attendance and later used as evidence in a lawsuit.
The aftermath of “The Mass Transit Incident” was not limited to the wrestling ring. As news of the incident spread, ECW, particularly Paul Heyman and New Jack, found themselves facing legal consequences. They were taken to court on charges of assault. However, the incident had even more significant repercussions in the wrestling world. On Christmas Eve 1996, cable companies removed the first-ever ECW pay-per-view event, “Barely Legal,” from their schedules due to the controversy surrounding the incident. It was a tumultuous time for ECW, both in and out of the courtroom.
In court, the truth about the incident emerged: Kulas had falsified his age and level of training to participate in the match. Once this revelation came to light, New Jack was acquitted of all charges, and after negotiations with pay-per-view providers, “Barely Legal” was put back on the schedule. The incident seemed to be a case of a young wrestler’s deception gone awry, and the wrestling company’s supposed negligence. While this lawsuit was not the first of its kind in the wrestling world, it was a stark reminder of the inherent risks in the industry.
For Erich Kulas, the young wrestler who had lied about his age and nearly derailed ECW with his deceit, tragedy struck as he passed away at the age of 22 due to complications from gastric bypass surgery. “The Mass Transit Incident” remains one of the most talked-about moments in wrestling history, an unfortunate reminder of when the scripted world of wrestling collided with the real world in the worst possible way.