SPOTLIGHTED PODCAST ALERT (YOUR ARTICLE BEGINS A FEW INCHES DOWN)...
Tonight on Vice, the latest “Dark Side of the Ring” episode airs with a documentary detailing the New Jack-Erich Kulas incident. The following is Bruce Mitchell’s feature-length column written for Pro Wrestling Torch Newsletter #421 (cover dated Dec. 28. 2020). We will be posting more coverage here at PWTorch.com today.
We recommend you start with the initial cover story of the PWTorch Newsletter published three weeks before this column. Access that article first here: New Jack-Erick Kulas Incident – Our Original Coverage (Pt. 1): Initial PWTorch Newsletter cover story by Wade Keller from Dec. 7, 1996 issue: “An embarrassing, scary incident – is ECW too reckless, too violent, too extreme – too bush league to go national?”
By Bruce Mitchell, Torch columnist
Originally published December 28, 1996
Pro Wrestling Torch Weekly newsletter #421
Of lust and hate is the candy?”
– “Candy Everybody Wants,” 10,000 Maniacs.
“Sow the wind and reap the whirlwind.” – Hoseah 8:7.
The horrific incident in Revere, Mass. involving Extreme Championship Wrestling has become the defining moment for a promotion that, for all of its talk about a national pay-per-view, in its current state has neither the discipline, judgement, nor simple human decency to ever be anything other than a bush league promotion.
ECW has so desensitized its wrestlers and fans to the consequences of their actions that it may have permanently ended its chances of competing in the pay-per-view arena, the one thing a promotion must do to be major league in this era. And this is the least of ECW’s offenses.
New Jack’s 50 stitch butchering with a knife of a 17 year old minor is the terrible apex so far of a series of senseless acts in ECW’s short history. Because ECW has done nothing to curb this escalating series of incidents involving wrestlers and fans, a 17 year old kid, Erich Kulas, now has to deal with the consequences of a trauma that will scar him physically and emotionally for the rest of his life.
Kulas was cut so deep that muscle on his forehead was sliced clean through which will result in a permanent scar. The cut was so long that his grandmother burst into tears when she saw it.
Really, though, he’s lucky.
First, he’s simply lucky to be alive. The stomach churning scene in Revere where blood shot out of his vein every time his heart beat underscored that it took EMT’s over ten long minutes to staunch the bleeding.
But even luckier, according to Paul Heyman immediately after the show, the kid got his ECW “initiation.” And all of those smart, savvy ECW fans are going to see the moon-faced fat kid with the huge scar across his face as “one tough son of a bitch” the next time he wrestles.
Of course the ECW talent coordinator might be wrong there. Kulas obviously wasn’t tough enough for the fans at Revere who chanted “You fat f—” while he lay in his own gore.
And, of course, the kid’s blood didn’t buy him a part in an important ECW angle, since this was just a meaningless match on a little spot show – something extra for the ECW fans there to enjoy.
And Heyman felt no compunction trying to spin Kulas’s agony to his promotion’s advantage. He told media members after the show that this was just part of the Extreme scene. No big deal, and no indication of whether ECW, to paraphrase New Jack, cared whether the kid lived or died. How bad could it be if the president of ECW, with negotiations for a pay-per-view on-going, didn’t seem overly concerned?
The horror and inhumanity of what occurred simply can’t be captured with words.
But it sure was captured on videotape. Here was a scene which had longtime observers – who had seen the worst gore that the WWC in Puerto Rico, or FMW in Japan, or Memphis, had to offer – reeling in shock. The video, filmed on a handheld camcorder, was pulled from sale by ECW management a week after the incident when someone belatedly realized the implications of what could happen if the wrong people saw it.
The video starts with this big kid who, even if you had no inkling of what was about to occur, seemed completely in over his head. He looks like what he is, a kid playing “wrestler,” swearing at the fans in this adolescent, slightly nervous voice. He’s the classic fat guy who decides he ought to be a wrestler because, well, that’s what fat guys who don’t play football sometimes think. Right from the get-go, you know this guy is in the wrong place.
And then the entire Revere situation becomes as clear as the color of blood.
The video shows the exact point where Erich Kulas ceases to be a kid who didn’t belong and became a piece of meat. That moment was even before his forehead was carved up when New Jack smashed him on the skull, full-force, with a metal toaster oven.
The worst, though, was to come. Forget any of Paul Heyman’s excuses about the kid moving his head. New Jack didn’t cut a small place on Kulas’s forehead, causing Kulas’s sweat to make the blood from the little cut seem worse than it was – the way a gig job is supposed to work. New Jack put his muscle behind his blade and sawed several inches across his forehead as the kid cried in agony.
And as the gore began to spew, the kid’s father began to cry, “Lay off, he’s only 17!” over and over. New Jack’s grin got wider and his eyes brighter as he and Mustafa, ECW’s babyface tag champions at the time, continued to work the kid over, ending with New Jack leaping from the top rope and smashing a chair over the kid’s wounded forehead, adding to the serious damage. Apparently, staying in character was more important than this kid’s well-being.
It’s not fair to blame New Jack solely for this sickening debacle, however. This fiasco took a concerted effort from several corners, starting with the Kulases themselves.
Independent wrestling shows across the country are choked with untrained “play” wrestlers who have such little respect for the business that they think all they have to do to be a star is show up. All these types ever do at indy shows is fake their way through a match, insulting both the fans who are naive enough to buy a ticket and the wrestlers around the country who actually work to learn their craft. If they are lucky, their ineptitude doesn’t cost them a broken leg, or worse.
Hey, just because I shoot baskets in the gym sometimes doesn’t mean I expect Allen Iverson to throw me the ball if I show up at the Core State Center. If Eric Kulas’s father really wanted his son to be a professional wrestler, he should have encouraged him to drop his excess weight, get into shape, and then be trained by someone with a track record of producing successful wrestlers. All of which takes more discipline and sacrifice than, say, driving to a spot show town and b.s.ing your way into the dressing room.
Everyone backstage at ECW should have taken one look at the kid, invited the Kulases to buy a ticket to the show, and left it at that. Unfortunately, that’s not what happened. They just saw a fat cop gimmick that could be abused to get the Gangstas “F’ The Police” attitude over. From watching the tape it’s obvious the whole match was a set-up to make the green rookie the brunt of the Gangstas beating. D-Von Dudley, the kid’s supposed partner, brawled into the crowd and never came back into the ring, leaving the Gangstas to their fun.
Worse, no one came from the back until the Gangstas match was over, despite the obvious fact that this babyfaced kid was in serious danger. He just lay there on the mat, blood pouring out of his forehead like a faucet, and after using every towel in the place to mop up the blood, and after the ambulance left, incredibly, the show went on. Like nothing happened.
With the exception of those fans who walked out and the police who threatened to shut down the show, everyone there – the ECW management, wrestlers, and fans – callously tried to deny the obvious, that this was in essence an assault with a deadly weapon against a minor without the opportunity or means to defend himself.
ECW management is ultimately responsible for this fiasco. Let’s knock down their three paper thin defenses for their actions.
No. 1: “Your honor, we didn’t know the boy was only a minor.” Which implies, of course, that if he was 18, this sadistic ambush would be okay. And as soon as Kulas was cut, his father yelled he was only 17 and to stop the match, but the match continued anyway.
No. 2: “But your honor, he said he’d been trained by Killer Kowalski.” Which implies, of course, that a trip to the emergency room would be no big deal, then. This wasn’t a valid excuse, either, since several wrestlers in the dressing room know Kowalski’s trainees and alum and should have questioned why they had never heard of nor seen Kulas before.
No. 3: “Well, uh, anyway, your honor, he agreed to be bladed.” Maybe, but obviously he didn’t agree to what New Jack and ECW did to him. ECW should have shown more control than to put a kid in a position for such an incident to occur, either deliberately or by accident.
ECW has yet to quell the growing anger of Erich Kulas’s father since, he says, they have yet to call and show any remorse for what happened.
New Jack, whose amazing charisma and superlative mic work sometime gets lost in the coverage his out of the ring problems receive, is not the cause of ECW’s problems. For management, the locker room, or the press to make him the scapegoat for the Revere situation in order to maintain the ECW status quo would be wrong. He’s just a symptom of a pattern that has been allowed to go on too long.
And then there’s Paul Heyman, who apparently has been too busy “spinning” to have time for Erich Kulas.
Paul Heyman doesn’t spin like a normal person, or even a normal wrestler. Spinning for Heyman is an art form, a challenge for him to prove that he is smarter than the person to whom he is spinning. Creative half-truths, variations of the truth, irrelevant truths, the truth, and lies are all mixed until Heyman has his subject so dazed that he or she just gives in to the avalanche of verbiage or, in some cases, refuses to talk to Heyman anymore.
For example, Heyman’s detailed account of how Kulas moved his head while New Jack was blading him sure sounded good, didn’t it? Too bad that one viewing of the tape dispels his entire assertion.
But then Heyman went too far. Anyone at Revere or anyone who had seen the video knew damn well that Heyman would be crazy to let any television executive, who was not an ECW apologist already, see the incident or even hear the details of it.
But Heyman couldn’t resist the opportunity to spin the situation to make it sound as if he had everything under control. That’s why he claimed during the TORCH interview regarding that incident: “This tape has been seen by everybody who is in a decision making position that regards anything in our future, including the eight network affiliates in L.A., Detroit, Cincinnati, Boston, Miami, Orlando, Tampa, and Dallas that we are in negotiation with to clear our Friday night late night timeslot. Including Viewer’s Choice. Including Request Television. Including Direct TV. And including all potential and signed on sponsors for the event. They have all seen the tape already. They were all notified Monday morning that we had an incident, that it most probably was going to cause bad publicity, and that we wanted to be the first ones to alert them to the situation, tell them our side of the story, and give them a tape so that three months down the road it’s not like, ?Oh my God! You told me it was bad, but I didn’t know it was this bad.’ ?Here it is guys, this is how bad it is, if you’re going to tell me to f— off, tell me now.'”
There are at least some people at the television stations who either knew or didn’t care about what happened, including a higher-up at Network One. But when Request TV was asked about the incident in Revere by Wade Keller in the course of checking the pay-per-view date and then seeking the reason for the delay in securing one, they not only hadn’t heard about it, they became curious. When their curiosity was sated, they decided they no longer wanted to be in business with ECW. Viewer’s Choice had already nixed the ECW pay-per-view because of content problems before hearing about the incident, although they, too, said no one there had received the Revere tape. At this point ECW’s pay-per-view was effectively dead.
And a string of needlessly violent incidents that threaten any chance ECW has to grow have been inflamed by ECW’s “extreme at all costs” atmosphere: Shane Douglas gets into two separate fights with fans at the latest ECW show. Fans and wrestlers, including New Jack and Tommy Dreamer, fight in the crowd at the mountaintop bar in Jim Thorpe, Pa. Devon Storm is bashed in the face by a fan requiring stitches. An angle using fire sends Terry Funk to the hospital and injures at least one fan. Bleeding wrestlers constantly fighting among the fans. Fans constantly throwing things at the wrestlers in the ring.
All of these incidents didn’t happen because of bad luck. Heyman has used blood in the ring, the constant abusive searing, the self-destructive stunt bumps, the beating of women, and the brawling among fans as a substitute for true, cutting edge action for too long.
ECW fans have seen so many dangerous stunts that they react to pouring blood or heads bouncing off concrete as casually as other fans do to WWF undercard matches. And ECW wrestlers have poured so much blood and bounced so many heads that they must resent some of the more callous fans. Add that to an often lax security force and you can understand why these incidents seem to come faster and more severe by the month.
All of this has now backfired on Heyman. ECW’s bush league actions and reactions have needlessly crippled their chance to go major league and wasted all of the creativity and sacrifice of the principles who have worked so hard to bring the best new concept in worked wrestling to the audience it deserves.
ECW, due in part to the incident in Revere, has lost its chance to go on pay-per-view. Any public airing of that videotape on a tabloid TV show, for instance, might end ECW television for good.
And what’s so revolutionary about gore matches and all the rest of ECW’s cheap heat, anyway? Blood has been a part of the business since before anyone involved in ECW was born. For some guys, it’s easier to cut your forehead than actually work. Remember the Sheepherders or even Dusty Rhodes? The best part of ECW is its unique combination of wild action, hard-edged real music, fast video cuts, and profane characters that adult males could identify with or lust after. Not one of those things requires desensitizing the audience or the wrestlers to the point they lose their common sense. ECW can still thrive if it can return to those things that made it a true revolution in the first place.
And as Chairman Mao might have told you, you’ve got to be subversive to get your message to the masses. ECW, though, keeps giving the forces of oppression the means to silence them. A revolution takes discipline – discipline ECW doesn’t have.
If Paul Heyman doesn’t use all of his creative genius to pull back ECW from the brink of nihilism, if he doesn’t have the guts and pragmatism to deliberately take ECW back a step in order to drive off the creeps and the gore hounds attending their events and put some heart back into his promotion, the worst thing that happens won’t be that fans miss the chance to see ECW on pay-per-view. The worst thing will happen one night soon when some wrestler or some fan gets hurts badly enough that all the money and all the talk in Philadelphia won’t be able to make it go away.
Perhaps for ECW, and Erich Kulas, that night already came in Revere.
RELATED: New Jack-Erick Kulas Incident – Our Original Coverage (Pt. 1): Initial PWTorch Newsletter cover story by Wade Keller from Dec. 7, 1996 issue: “An embarrassing, scary incident – is ECW too reckless, too violent, too extreme – too bush league to go national?”