The Mass Transit Incident took place on 23rd November 1996 at an Extreme Championship Wrestling show in Revere, Massachusetts when 17 year old Erich Kulas using the ring name Mass Transit was badly cut by wrestler New Jack in the ring.
The incident sparked a debate about safety in wrestling, especially with regard to the practice of bladeing, where a wrestler make a small cut in their forehead to simulate a serious injury, as well as the rise of more brutal hardcore matches.
By 1996 the two main Wrestling Promotions WWF and WCW were engaged in a ratings war, wrestling was high profile in what was the peak of interest in the sport. The number three company in the US was ECW or Extreme Championship Wrestling run by Paul Heyman aka Paul E Dangerously. ECW had re-branded itself from Eastern Championship Wrestling in 1994 and specialised in putting on Hardcore matches.
By 1996 ECW was finding a firm fan base and was establishing itself. It had Pay Per View television specials scheduled and was looking to expand into 1997.
The November 23rd house show was to be a normal ECW show. It was not being televised but some camcorder footage was recorded. The main event was to have been a Hardcore Tag Team match between The Gangsters consisting of New Jack and Mustafa Saed and a team of D-Von Dudley and Axl Rotten.
However Axl Rotten didn’t show, he was taking care of a family matter, so his place was taken by Erich Kulas using the ring name Mass Transit. Kulas was over 6′ in height and large. He told Heyman that he was 21 and had been trained by legendary wrestler and trainer Killer Kowalski.
In fact Kulas was 17 and untrained his only previous match was a comedy skit against three midget wrestlers. He had never met Kowalski, some reports say Kowalski was in attendance others refute this.
Kulas was told that his job was to be beaten, the idea being that Jack and Saed isolate him from Dudley so that Dudley can later look good saving him. A common style of Tag Match, Kulas should just sell everything that was thrown at him. Heyman also requested that Kulas get colour, or bleed.
Kulas had no experience of this, and asked New Jack to do it for him.
During the bout Kulas was slammed, hit with kendo sticks, metal chairs and other weapons, New Jack would always drag a trash can of items to the ring, and used every one of them. Because he was untrained Kulas didn’t take any of the blows well. Then New Jack took a surgical scalpel on a long wooden handle and cut open Kulas’ forehead severing two arteries and causing Kulas to pass out from blood loss. Kulas’ father who helped him approach Heyman started to should “Ring the bell he’s 17”.
After the bout Kulas was taken to hospital while New Jack was charged. He was acquitted because of Kulas’ duplicity.
The aftermath of the incident was mixed. Many people tried to apportion blame, that Heyman should have checked into Kulas’ background. However Wrestling is a very honour based industry. Lying about something easily checked wouldn’t be done, because you will be found out. So Heyman didn’t feel the need to double check the story.
New Jack was known for going too far, and when it came to bladeing Kulas he certainly went over the top. The incident only cemented New Jack’s status as the band boy of wrestling, something that he has reinforced over the years with many other controversial incidents.
Even to this day New Jack is known for being brutal in the ring and on other occasions has taken things too far, including in 2004 stabbing William Jason Lane nine times with a pocket knife in the ring.
Request TV cancelled a planned Pay Per View event with ECW although later did screen events after the conclusion of the court case.
A VCR of the event was traded by wrestling fans and did much to help the growth of more extreme wrestling. After the demise of ECW in 2001 the one remaining large company WWF started to put on more hardcore matches, and allow bladeing, although this has been dropped in more recent years. Many independent promotions also rely heavily on extreme matches and in the years after the debate sparked by Mass Transit the style has become normalised. Hardcore wrestling’s inclusion in the 2008 film ‘The Wrestler’ even more cemented it’s place in the mainstream.
Erich Kulas himself never wrestled again he died at the age 22 in 2002 from complications following gastric bypass surgery.