New Jack: Looking Back on the Life and Career of the Controversial Wrestler
If you’ve never been a professional wrestling fan, you’ve likely never heard of “New Jack” Jerome Young. One of the most notorious names in the business, he’s been described by both his colleagues and industry insiders as “dangerous” and “sadistic”. He was best known for his time in Extreme Championship Wrestling (ECW) from 1995-2001, where his name would be synonymous with controversy and blood. Jerome Young died on May 14th, 2021 of a heart attack in North Carolina at the age of 58. His career was like no other and here, we’ll look back on his most controversial moments.
Warning: this article will contain links to New Jack promos and match clips that some may find disturbing.
Jerome Young was born in Greensboro, North Carolina in 1963. Violence became a part of his life at an early age when, at 5 years old, he and his siblings witnessed his father stab his mother multiple times during an argument. Five months later, he shot young Jerome’s mother in the leg as she was attempting to leave the house and take him and his siblings with her. His father would die from a heart attack later that same year. They relocated to Atlanta where Jerome would attend high school, play football, and even be recruited by several regional programs such as North Carolina A&T. Although, football would not end up being his chosen path, as he would instead begin training to become a wrestler, making his debut in 1992.
Jerome would spend the first two years finding his footing in the wrestling business as well as his identity. He began calling himself New Jack, taking inspiration from the 1991 film New Jack City. Around that same time he partnered with Mustafa Saed to form The Gangstas, a tag team which would be the vehicle that set New Jack on the path to infamy. They would find the most notoriety in Smokey Mountain Wrestling as a heel team normally squared off against the favorite Southern babyface team of the Rock ‘n’ Roll Express. New Jack’s abrasiveness instigated the mostly white southern crowds so much that a constant police presence was required at shows and The Gangstas were not welcome in many cities on the regional tour. Protesters would gather outside the venues, fans spewed constant slurs and expletives, the KKK reportedly attempted to shut down multiple shows, and New Jack’s antics on the microphone even earned him heavy rebuke from the NAACP. The controversy drove ticket sales for a while, but eventually the act garnered so much heat that many fans refused to attend the shows altogether, prompting The Gangstas to leave the promotion and head to ECW.
“People didn’t want The Gangstas beaten. They wanted them dead.” – Bill Behrens, pro wrestling agent and former NWA Wildside owner
In the mid-late 1990s, Extreme Championship Wrestling was the perfect promotion for a man like New Jack. The cult-like atmosphere full of bloodthirsty fans who routinely brought household items for the wrestlers to use as weapons fit The Gangstas like a glove. But even the most extreme wrestling promotion in North America at the time couldn’t contain the violence that New Jack would become known for, prompting police intervention on multiple occasions. In 1996, a 17-year-old minor named Eric Kulas was introduced to ECW promoter Paul Heyman backstage at a show, and after lying about his age and experience, Kulas was inserted into a match with an open slot. Unfortunately, this match had Kulas opposite New Jack, and during the match, New Jack sliced Kulas across the forehead with a surgical scalpel, hitting an artery in the process and requiring fifty stitches to close it up. From New Jack’s account of the events, there was an argument backstage about the match and Kulas had requested to be cut. However, it’s clear from the video and his own words that New Jack had absolutely no regard for Kulas’ safety. Three years later, New Jack was acquitted on two charges of assault and battery with a dangerous weapon.
“I hope this fat piece of s*** bleeds to f***ing death because I don’t give a f***!” – New Jack yells into the mic as Kulas laid in a pool of his own blood
Four years later, at an ECW pay per view in March of 2000, New Jack would suffer a 20-foot fall that almost took his life (the first fall in that video is the one in question, but feel free to watch the entire insane compilation). The man who fell on top of Jack was fellow wrestler, Vic Grimes. In a planned spot, the two were meant to fall on top of some tables, but Grimes got spooked by the height, causing him to hesitate. New Jack pulled him off the scaffolding and the 300-pound Grimes fell on top of Jack’s head, cracking his skull and causing permanent damage. New Jack blamed Grimes for the incident, which kept him out of action for over a year, and his personal vendetta culminated in a match between the two at an Xtreme Pro Wrestling (XPW) pay per view in February of 2002.
It’s hard to describe what happened as anything but a premeditated act of revenge. At the end of their match, New Jack and Vic Grimes were on top of a 40-foot scaffolding suspended over the ring with twelve tables stacked beneath them. Grimes was once again spooked by the height, but this time Jack wasn’t going to take the fall with him. After hitting Grimes multiple times with a stun gun, Jack threw him off the scaffolding (4:50 mark). Grimes missed the tables, but miraculously fell on top of the ring rope; only a few inches separated him from falling onto the concrete floor below, which surely would have killed him. As Grimes was being attended to by medical personnel, Jack leaned to his ear saying, “Now we’re even, motherf***er.”
“I wanted him to die. I have no love for Vic, none.” – New Jack in a 2005 documentary
New Jack’s controversies would continue when in 2003, he was wrestling for an independent promotion and was put into a match with then 69-year-old hardcore legend Gypsy Joe. Verbal altercations between the two backstage and in the ring lead to a savage beating in which Jack beat Joe with chairs and a baseball bat wrapped in barbed wire. It got so bad that the Tennessee crowd turned on Jack, hurling slurs and death threats while some left to get their firearms. The police were called and the promoter had to stop the match for excessive violence. Jack had to escape the venue in the trunk of a friend’s car. In a 2018 interview, New Jack would recall “snapping” on Joe after a headbutt to the nose and later saying, “I didn’t give a f*** if I would’ve killed him.”
In 2004, a year after his attack on Gypsy Joe, New Jack would find himself in Florida filling in a match as a favor to a friend trying to launch a new promotion. In front of a crowd of maybe 15 people, Jack once again snapped on his opponent, Hunter Lane, after a couple of stiff punches to the face. As Hunter went for a tackle, Jack caught him in a headlock, grabbing a knife from his pocket and stabbing him a reported sixteen times (though Jack claims it was nine). The police were called to the scene, drawing their firearms on Jack and ordering him to drop his knife and get on the ground. Both him and Hunter were taken to the hospital where, strangely enough, the two seemed cordial to each other and asking if the other was alright. A confused doctor reportedly asked why, after the violence inflicted, were they so friendly to which New Jack responded, “It’s wrestling, you wouldn’t understand.” Jack spent three weeks in jail, but the charges were later dropped.
Where did Jerome Young begin and New Jack end? This was the most mind-boggling thing about New Jack as a performer. He was bombastic and violent. Controversial to the very end. He was born into violence and molded by it. Like the very nature of the profession he excelled in, it was hard to tell how much of his character and actions were real and how much was planned. A performer such as himself could only have existed in the time he did. There will never be another like him and perhaps there shouldn’t be. Regardless of whether or not he belonged in jail instead of in the ring, his career will be celebrated for years to come. RIP New Jack.