PW Insider is reporting, and social media has confirmed, that Jerome Young, better known to the wrestling world as ECW’s New Jack, has passed away of a heart attack. He was 58.
Young grew up in North Carolina in a childhood that Wikipedia generously describes as “tumultuous”. His mother cheated on his father, and when the dad found out, he stabbed the mother in front of Young and his siblings. Father later shot mother when she tried to leave the house with the kids. Then the father died of a heart attack when Young was five.
Young entered wrestling at age 28 in the USWA after being trained by Ray Candy. His name was based on the Van Peebles family film “New Jack City”, and his in-ring persona reflected that of an unhinged fighter from the streets. He soon moved to northern Georgia, and while there he met up with former WCW jobber Mustafa Saed, forming a team called the Gangstas.
When they went back to Tennessee to work for Jim Cornette’s Smoky Mountain Wrestling, he and Mustafa thrived. A pair of streetwise brawlers who operated outside the law (Young and Saed would often take shows off with the excuse being they were arrested), it didn’t take much for them to be top heels among the Tennessee wrestling fanbase. Cornette wasn’t above using racial tensions to make them more hated, as they demanded that due to affirmative action, opponents would need a five-count to beat them (meaning every strike of the mat only counted 3/5ths against them — though that may have been coincidence). They had a lasting rivalry with the Rock’N’Roll Express, and the rivalry of the naturally pretty All-American heroes and menaces to society villains made money throughout the South.
It was only a matter of time before a bigger stage would roll the dice on them, and that stage was nascent Northeastern promotion Extreme Championship Wrestling. In the Gangstas’ first feud, they had bloody wars with Public Enemy and, even though PE won the final battle, the Gangstas claimed to win the war by driving them off to WCW. It would take about a year before the duo were able to capture the ECW Tag Team Titles, doing so in a four-way dance against then-champions The Eliminators, Samoan Gangsta Party (cousins Samu and Lloyd Anoa’i), and the Bruise Brothers (Ron and Don Harris).
While champions, New Jack was involved in one of the single most infamous moments in the history of ECW (which covers some ground). The original plan for their match in Massachusetts was to face the makeshift team of D-Von Dudley and Axl Rotten. However, Rotten was unable to make the event. Paul Heyman, scrambling for a replacement, accepted the offer of a 17-year-old untrained comedy wrestler named Erich Kulas, having been told (lied to) by sources that he was a 21-year-old Killer Kowalski trainee. Kulas was informed he’d have to bleed, and nervously asked New Jack to run the blade over his forehead.
During the match, Young did just that to his opponent, who was doing a Ralph Kramden lookalike gimmick called “Mass Transit”. Of course, when trying to draw blood from someone else, you don’t know when you’ve gone too far, and Young bladed Kulas way too deep with what sources say was an Xacto knife. Kulas nicked an artery and began spewing blood. Young, for his part, never once broke character and began cutting a promo on the kid before Kulas was given fifty stitches to stop the bleeding. (New Jack was sent to both criminal and civil court for what happened, but once the facts came out, he was exonerated.)
Even after Saed left ECW, the man known as New Jack remained. As time went on, he ended his focus on teaming with John Kronus to help Spike Dudley get revenge on his bigger half-brothers, then segued into a solo career. It was around the time of his friendship with Spike that he began to adopt the practice of carrying any weaponry he could think of in a trash can with him to the ring.
1999 was a rough year for New Jack. While he was often used when a match had fallen apart in the ring to run in and clean house with his Can Of Weapons, story-wise he was going nowhere. It didn’t help that Mustafa had returned and sided with the Dudleys against him; the duo had a match on ECW PPV that New Jack may have won, but Mustafa and the Dudleys would beat him and impromptu teammates Axl Rotten and Balls Mahoney later. From there, New Jack was trying to keep his crown as King of the Streets against Da Baldies, a group including future WCW and WWE lower-carder “Big” Vito LoGrasso, future ROH Carnage Crew member Tony DeVito, attempted breakout star of the group Spanish Angel Medina, and Vic Grimes.
It was the last of the bunch that would lead to New Jack’s scariest moment in the ring, both with and against him. In March 2000, he and Vic Grimes were battling on a scaffold above some tables. According to the plan, both would fall off together and go through the tables at the same time; in reality, Grimes double-pumped and as a result the fall was a disaster. Young pulled Grimes with him, fully expecting him to jump in unison, and the end result was the two falling short of the tables and Grimes landing on Young, giving him a broken leg, broken skull, brain damage, and partial blindness.
After ECW’s closing, Young would get even. He and Grimes would meet in an XPW scaffold match, with Young winning by tossing Grimes off the scaffold through the tables set up in the ring… in theory. In practice, Grimes almost missed the tables and bounced off the top rope on his way down, suffering multiple injuries. Young claimed on several documentaries that this was an attempted murder on his part to get even with Grimes for not doing anything to protect him nor showing sympathy. (Although, as many observers pointed out, Young was notorious for keeping kayfabe; it’s uncertain whether he legitimately tried to kill him or just said he did as part of his image.) This wouldn’t be an isolated incident; Young would later face legal issues thanks to matches against Gypsy Joe and William Lane.
Even though New Jack appeared on some early TNA Pay-Per-Views, he never was called to take part in the ECW Resurrection brand by WWE. The closest he came was in fall 2004, when he was to have been John Cena’s assailant in a Boston nightclub, paid off by Carlito. The deal fell through when Jack was asked to put on a wrestling match (despite the fact that this was not his strength and his match with Cena would almost certainly not be wrestling) and did not meet WWE standards.
Young’s last appearance on national television was as part of the Hardcore Justice reunion event in 2010. Though he didn’t have a match, he and Mustafa Saed ran in after a match featuring Team 3D and beat them up. Joel Gertner even entered to take Jack’s signature guitar to the head. After the match and beating, everyone involved (the Gangstas, Team 3D, Joel Gertner, Axl Rotten, and “Kahoneyz”) took a curtain call. Later, backstage, he interrupted a plug by Jeremy Borash and SoCal Val and, after Saed chased Val off, more or less promised to sodomize Borash.
During his career, Young won the USWA Tag Titles once, the ECW Tag Titles three times, and the SMW Tag Titles once. However, it was never about titles with him; it was about mayhem. The angry snarl, the carved forehead, the many weapons shots, and the indiscriminate scorched-earth promos solidified one of the most memorable characters of the three-brand era, aided by being the only one whose theme music didn’t end when the bell rang. From the moment the gunshot signaled “Natural Born Killaz”, you knew someone was going to regret being in the segment and the blood was going to flow. For good or ill, New Jack will be often imitated, but never duplicated.