22 year old Erich Kulas passed away in his Craston, Rhode Island home last Tuesday. New wrestling fans may look at that, and shrug. At 22 years old he couldn't possibly have had anything to do with professional wrestling. But he did, and his short stint as a professional wrestler changed the scope of the sport forever.
November 23, 1996 in Revere, Massachusetts, ECW was running a house show. It had been promoted that ECW tag-team champions The Gangstas were to face D-Von Dudley and Axl Rotten. Unfortunately for ECW owner Paul Heyman, Rotten no showed the event, and he was left in a jam.
Meanwhile, a 17 year old kid by the name of Erich Kulas had dreams of being a star. Tipping the scales at 400 pounds, Kulas either had little, or no training to be a professional wrestler to that point - though he had watched it on television, so figured he could work a match with no problems.
Kulas with his father arrived to the ECW arena with a couple of midget wrestlers, and somehow worked their way backstage. Dressed in a bus driver's outfit, Kulas introduced himself to Paul Heyman, and offered his services as a professional wrestler. A piece of fake ID was enough proof that he was of age to be wrestling, and his story of being trained by Killer Kowalski was enough to sell Paul Heyman, who was in a bind. From this overweight kid in a bus driver's outfit, Heyman saw a man called Mass Transit, who would be a law enforcer type. It was perfect, since the current tag-team champions whole gimmick was telling authority to fuck off.
Kulas discussed the match with Mustafa and New Jack, and confided in the both of them that he had no idea how to properly do a blade job, so bleeding was out of the question. New Jack told Kulas he could do it for him - and Kulas agreed.
So it came time for the match to begin, and New Jack had other plans. A hardcore match with all the typical weapons began, and took place. Finally, it came time for the blade job, and all hell broke loose.
New Jack produced a knife from his pocket, and drove a deep gash into Kulas' forehead. Immediately the 17 year old screamed out in pain - and it was clear something was wrong. New Jack had cut right through the muscle on the boy's forehead, and blood was literally squirting from his head all over the mat. New Jack began to smile, and continued to work over the kid - refusing to stop the match there.
From the front row, Kulas' father began screaming for mercy on his son. "He's only 17 years old!" were words that could be heard all the way to the ring. If the cut wasn't bad enough, it was abundantly clear by this point that the kid had no reason to be in the ring.
New Jack, a man with 4 justifiable homicides under his belt, finally finished the kid off with a top rope dive, culminating in a chair being driven into the head of Kulas. It was at this point the EMT's came to Kulas' rescue and spent over 10 minutes trying to stop the bleeding, which was squirting from open veins in his forehead. The ever concerned ECW crowd simply chanted "you fat fuck" while Kulas was being treated.
Kulas survived, but received 50 stitches in his forehead. Meanwhile, nobody in the ECW locker room appeared to be the least bit concerned. The show continued, as if nothing had happened.
New Jack was questioned about the event afterwards, and he responded with the fact he didn't care if the kid was dead or alive. Paul Heyman simply passed off the event as another day in ECW. But it was abundantly clear to those who saw the tape that this was more than an Extreme act from a wrestling federation. This was assault with a deadly weapon, and it can be argued if there was an intent to kill as well.
The pay-per-view networks got wind of the event, and many backed off of ECW - not wanting to be part of any federation that could allow an underage kid to be butchered without any regard for his safety. They did manage to go through with their first pay-per-view, though several companies didn't pick it up based on this one event.
And Kulas? He didn't get a single phone call from ECW, or anyone on their roster to check up on his condition. The assault, coupled with the mental stress he was feeling was more than enough to take ECW to court.
Erich Kulas never got a dime from ECW. He changed the story of the events that transpired, and couldn't keep it straight. Kulas may have been able to walk off with a sizable chunk of money due to the events of that night. However Kulas, for whatever reason, was caught in a series of lies on the stand, and wound up losing anything that was coming his way.
ECW wound up receiving plenty of negative press, and wasn't able to go national until late 1999 - at which point the company was more or less dead in the water anyway. The incident with Kulas may or may not have kept them from getting a television deal until then. The first ECW pay-per-view was not carried in Canada, and they weren't picked up for a long time.
Erich Kulas is a name that will not go down in wrestling history - though in his one night was able to receive more press, and alter the face of the sport more than most trained athletes ever will.