Dark Side of the Ring took on a hell of a myth when it took on New Jack. Stories about the late wrestler and his violent tendencies were and are legion. However, in Season 2, Episode 3 of Dark Side of the Ring, we look at the man behind the monster. While this introduction to the show seems scary, the truth is more complicated than it first seems, as the episode highlights the lack of mental health support for the poorest and most vulnerable within society, as well as tense race relations in America during the 1990s. This episode isn’t just about New Jack and the lengths he would go to in order to entertain his audience; it’s truly about why he did those things.
Who The Hell is New Jack?
New Jack was born Jerome Young on 3rd January 1963 in Greensboro, North Carolina.
In the episode, he tells the story of being a child with an alcoholic father, who Jack witnessed stabbing his mum five times in front of their whole family. Then, a few months later, when his mother decided to leave with the young Jerome, his father shot his mum in the back of the leg so she couldn’t leave. His father would pass away when Jerome was just five years old, but he remembers it all and explains that this is a huge reason why sometimes he ‘flips out’. These are things we already know about him but hearing it from his own lips and how it has haunted and affected him even years later is chilling and something that anyone from a broken home or with a violent parent will relate to.
Growing up in that environment would deeply scar him emotionally, making him tough and street smart. By the time he was a teen, he had begun robbing stores, resulting in him ending up in prison. He talks about his time in prison in a very cagey way, mumbling and not wanting to go into too much detail, but once he was out on parole, he made the effort to attend school and get an education.
Racism And The Perception of Black Male Wrestlers
In creating a character, New Jack was given some advice: “you have to create something you’ve never seen,” and that is just what he did. Jim Cornette was running Smokey Mountain Wrestling in 1994 and brought in New Jack and Mustafa Saed, who were already working as a tag team known as The Gangstas down in North Georgia Wrestling Alliance. Cornette says in the documentary that New Jack was such a great bad guy that he could make a crowd hate him in an instant. D’Lo Brown would be added to the group as their enforcer to add more authenticity to the gimmick.
Hitler could have walked out and been a babyface.
New Jack was heavily inspired by the emerging rap scene and gangster culture in LA at the time, with the emergence of the NWA and Tupac Shakur. His look would include gold chains, dressing in predominantly black clothing and a bandana worn in a similar fashion to Tupac. D’Lo Brown comments that they were “angry black men who said what every black person wanted to say but didn’t.” The Gangstas in Smokey Mountain were a master class in getting a crowd riled up while also addressing race relations in America. Having a predominantly white crowd in the south, it seemed easy to get them going, but with that, the team of New Jack, Mustafa Saed and D’Lo Brown were subjected to racially aggressive language, with the N-word being used like an adjective, even in the 90s.
The Gangstas, in an angle with The Rock and Roll Express, recreated the beating of Rodney King with the roles reversed. Ricky Morton would be beaten down in the middle of the ring with nightsticks being used. This was so horrific for the crowd to see that the police were called to the show. Even though being called the N-word hurt them and made them angry, they knew that this was the world they lived in and that they were hitting a nerve with the audience; it certainly wouldn’t stop them from addressing serious issues in their promos.
The racism in the area was so ingrained that New Jack tells a story later in the episode about a boy who shook his hand, brushed his arm and then looked at his own hand. When New Jack asked the kid why he did that, his response shocked me as a viewer; his father had told him if you touch a black man you will turn black yourself. This story really shows how our actions and words as adults and parents to small children can create prejudice in the most innocent of creatures.
ECW and Pushing Extreme Violence in Wrestling
New Jack took Extreme Hardcore Wrestling to a whole different level, bringing authentic brutality to the scene. It was in June 1995 that New Jack and Mustafa Saed would join ECW. The Sandman is the first person who met New Jack, describing him as someone who had to be the most extreme wherever he went. ECW was a family, with Paul Heyman spearheading the movement.
The problem with New Jack was that he had to be the most extreme person on the card, and ECW had no limits, resulting in violence and destruction reaching unimaginable levels. His two matches with Vic Grimes are still talked about by wrestling fans; the first was the match that took New Jack out for over a year while the second was retaliation for the first.
During the first match, Grimes would back out of a planned spot, resulting in New Jack hurling the two men off of a balcony onto some tables. Grimes would land on New Jack’s head, cracking his skull open. This would cause lifelong health issues, including severe headaches and insomnia. A year later the two would face off in a scaffolding match, with New Jack tasering Grimes and throwing him off of it. Grimes came out of it with just a dislocated ankle but it could have been so much worse. New Jack admits that he was trying to kill him because Grimes didn’t do the right thing and call him after his cracked skull to see how he was doing.
The Mass Transit Incident, Hunter Red and Gypsy Jack
The Mass Transit incident is still talked about to this day. According to New Jack and several other people who were there at the time, Erich Kulas aka Mass Transit claimed to be a 21-year-old wrestler. It wasn’t until after the incident that it was discovered that he was in fact 17. Kulas had lied to ECW owner and head booker Paul Heyman about his age and training, so as to get onto an ECW house show in 1996, being originally booked in a handicap match against his friends Tiny the Terrible and Half Nelson. With Axl Rotten being unable to take part in a later match, Kulas was inserted into the bout as D-Von Dudley’s partner against the Gangstas, cutting his friends out of the whole event.
New Jack states in the documentary that Eric Kulas had come backstage and tried to tell the veteran what was going to happen in the match, which is one of the most disrespectful things you can do. They agreed to add colour to the match via a blade job. This is the ‘easy way’ of obtaining blood; the hard way, for those who don’t know, is to legitimately split someone open using hard forearms or punches.
New Jack claims he was high at the time; it is well documented that he liked to use coke and other substances backstage before matches. Jack cut Kulas too deep using a surgical scalpel, something that had already been agreed upon, resulting in two severed arteries and Kulas passing out from blood loss. To take the heat off of everyone else while security and medical staff dealt with the situation, New Jack cut one hell of a vicious promo. This incident would cause New Jack to be charged with assault, leading to a criminal trial. He was acquitted of all charges because everything had been agreed on before the match and also due to Paul Heyman’s testimony that Kulas’s father had called New Jack the N-word.
In an effort to keep up with the new fresh crop of deathmatch wrestlers, New Jack began to push his performances to new levels of extreme. Two incidents are showcased in this episode; his matches with Gypsy Jack and Hunter Red.
Gypsy Jack is a man who is billed as being unable to feel pain, so he sells nothing that New Jack is giving him. The match descends into chaos after the crowd begin hurling racist abuse at New Jack, using the N-word, and causing him to snap. He took his anger and frustration out on Gypsy Jack and even admitted that the match should never have taken place.
With Hunter Red, it was another case of backstage disrespect which led to the incident. New Jack tried to lay out the match beforehand with Red, only for him to get up midway through and leave the locker room. This one moment of idiocy from Red would cause New Jack to come prepared to the ring. After being hit hard in the nose several times, New Jack stabbed Hunter Red multiple times. The line between co-operation and assault is a blurred one, but Jim Cornette says it’s assault when asked about it in this episode, and it seems that he isn’t the only one with this opinion, with the police showing up and New Jack being arrested, facing up to 15 years in prison. Hunter Red offers to drop the charges against New Jack, suggesting the two make a year-long angle out of the situation. New Jack agreed but, when he got out of prison three days later, he packed all his stuff up and left Florida.
Yet again, New Jack got himself out of a bad situation and was able to live his life.
Who is Jerome Young?
Several people are interviewed during this documentary, with The Sandman and D’lo Brown coming off as genuine people who knew New Jack during his early career. With that, New Jack comes off as a man who doesn’t care, but there is a sadness behind his eyes and he definitely appears to be a man who is a product of the things he has seen and the world he has been around. It seems that MMW might be one of the only people who truly knew New Jack, describing him as someone with a great sense of humour and a talent for cooking, who went out of his way to make the people around him happy.
Who is Jerome Young? No one knows and the lines are blurred. No one thinks they have met Young, but they have all met New Jack.
This Dark Side of the Ring episode is a truly fascinating look at New Jack. They said it’s a look behind the monster, but I think it’s more of a look at a man who is a product of his circumstances and the experience of mental health issues and race relations in America.
Rest in peace, Jack.
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