The Four Horsemen. The Fabulous Freebirds. The New World Order. D-Generation X. Wrestling’s history annals speak each of these names with hallowed breath. Factions that changed the wrestling industry, launched the careers (and in some cases saved them) of many present and future Legends and Hall of Famers, gangs of wrestlers so connected and able to suck in the most ardent fan with the most casual, that the faction became a brand outside of the individual members. But there’s one faction that, in the years to come, we may all be looking back on as the most influential and impactful faction of all time, and that’s The Bullet Club.
I’m sure many of you just rolled your eyes. The other groups produced such icons as “Nature Boy” Ric Flair, Arn Anderson, “Hollywood” Hulk Hogan, The Outsiders (Kevin Nash & Scott Hall), Triple H, Shawn Michaels and more. The Bullet Club are a cast of misfit toys and “spot monkeys”, how could they even be considered to be in the same breath with the nWo or the Horsemen?
Because in case you haven’t noticed, following this past weekend’s Ring of Honor Global Wars PPV, the Bullet Club is currently in the main event picture of the FOUR major promotions in international wrestling. FOUR. The Four Horsemen never seeped into the WWF (Arn Anderson and Tully Blanchard‘s Brainbusters were more Bobby Heenan‘s henchmen rather than an off-shoot of the Horsemen), D-X never strayed to WCW, The Freebirds had runs with WCCW and NWA/WCW, and the nWo had the appearance of being staged by WWF guys, but they were all pretty exclusive to the territory or promotion they were born in. Sure some teams, like the Steiners in NWA, WCW, WWF and ECW, or the Dudley Boyz in ECW, WWE and TNA, have appeared in multiple promotions, but they weren’t all during the same time frame. While the nWo had shirts in WWE and WCW audiences, the ECW die-hards had already dismissed them as dinosaurs – but you’re just as likely to see a Bullet Club shirt in a PWG or Chikara audience as you are in WWE. And the Bullet Club hasn’t splintered – not if you look at the big picture. It’s simply grown. It began as a small entity in NJPW in 2013, and slowly began to stretch out its tentacles of influence, overtaking promotions one at a time, like a black suit on Eddie Brock. They’ve survived restructuring and shifting membership, but those that move on, have never lost their continuity with the Club itself. They’ve simply franchised elsewhere. This faction isn’t splintering into knock offs, they’re forming franchises wherever they go. And they’re infiltrating their way right to the Main Event around the globe.
New Japan Professional Wrestling (NJPW): 2013 to present
The birthplace of it all. A young Irish babyface named Prince Devitt turns heel by attacking his tag team partner Ryusuke Taguchi with the help of Bad Luck Fale in early 2013. The pair, initially meant to simply create a new heel tag team, are soon joined by Karl “Machine Gun” Anderson (whose partner Giant Bernard had recently left NJPW to return to the WWE as Lord Tensei) and Tama Tonga, son of WWE/WCW Legend Haku/Meng. Devitt, whose nickname is “The Real Shooter” and Anderson, dubbed “Machine Gun”, coin the name The Bullet Club, after both of their “gun like” gestures with their hands previously in matches. The gun gestures soon morph into the “Too Sweet” hand gestures, as a way of paying homage to the industry’s previous most dominant faction, the New World Order. The fact that the four original members were also backstage best friends lent further tribute as they were essentially the Kliq of NJPW. The Bullet Club immediately became the promotions hottest faction, as they became a group of Invaders similar to their inspiration, adding three more gaijin (foreigners) in The Young Bucks (Nick & Matt Jackson) and Doc Gallows, who’d recently left TNA and the failed Aces & Eights storyline.
Devitt left NJPW a year later to pursue WWE aspirations in NXT, with Karl Anderson stepping in as the interim leader of the Bullet Club. In April of 2014, Anderson brought in recent TNA exile AJ Styles and a month later, the first Japanese member, Yukiro Takahashi, emerged to help Styles win the IWGP Heavyweight Championship. Shortly after, Takahashi would capture the NEVER Openweight Championship for the stable, adding to their already impressive collection of gold. With his IWGP title win, Styles would assume new leadership of the Bullet Club, adding “The Cleaner” Kenny Omega in the fall of the same year. In early 2015, The Young Buck’s would bring in their own “young boy”, a protegee under their guidance, in the giant Cody Hall (son of WWE Hall of Famer and nWo/Kliq original Scott Hall).
Styles leadership lasted until the beginning of 2016, when he was kicked out by Omega, who took reigns of the Club. Anderson and Gallows soon followed Styles to WWE, while Tama Tonga brought in his real life brother Tanga Loa (formerly Camacho in WWE and Micah in TNA) to form the Guerrillas of Destiny and capture more IWGP Tag Team gold. Omega created a new three-man leadership unit at the top entitled The Elite, featuring himself and the Young Bucks.
With the summer of 2016 on the horizon, the Bullet Club still holds onto three NJPW titles, including Kenny Omega’s IWGP Intercontinental title, the Guerrillas IWGP Tag Team titles, and The Elite captured the NEVER Openweight 6-Man Tag Team titles. It’s only a matter of time before Omega turns his sights on the IWGP title itself. There’s no denying that as long as their is gold to be had, the Bullet Club will always be sniffing around the main event of NJPW.
Ring of Honor (ROH): 2013 to present
ROH was the first American promotion to feel the infiltration of the Bullet Club, following the allegiance of Ring of Honor’s Young Bucks in the fall of 2013. From that moment on, whenever the Superkick party appeared at Ring of Honor, so did the Bullet Club hype and merch machine. With ROH’s business relationship with NJPW, it also made for frequent appearances by other Bullet Club members whenever the two did combined programs, like Global Wars or War of the Worlds. The ascension of former ROH World Champion AJ Styles to Bullet Club leader only increased the presence of the Bullet Club in the American promotion, where he began as the US contingent leader before assuming full control following his IWGP Championship win.
And while the Bullet Club had tastes of the main event in Ring of Honor, it wasn’t until the past weekend, following the 2016 Global Wars and the following night’s tapings in Dearborn, Michigan, that the Bullet Club took over the main event in Ring of Honor.
Ring of Honor has helped create many stars who have gone on to become icons in other federations, such as Daniel Bryan, Samoa Joe, AJ Styles, CM Punk and Seth Rollins, but when it comes to lifelong ROH Superstars, there’s few more associated with being ROH lifeblood than Adam Cole (with the exception of Roderick Strong). Cole, a former ROH World Champion, has been with ROH since 2009, following a short start in CZW, and has remained Honorable to the Ring every since. In 2013, Cole teamed up with The Young Bucks and Kevin Steen (pre-Owens) to form the Mount Rushmore of Wrestling, a faction representing the elite of the indie world, months prior to the Bucks joining the Bullet Club.
This past Sunday, at the co-joined ROH/NJPW PPV Global Wars, Adam Cole emerged from the darkness as the newest member of the Bullet Club, joining the Bucks and Guerrillas of Destiny in their beat down of ROH World Champion Jay Lethal and his opponent Colt Cabana. The following night in Dearborn, during a set of tapings for ROH TV, Adam Page, former member of B.J. Whitmer‘s The Decade, also turned his back on Ring of Honor to done the white and black of the Bullet Club, when he interfered in the Bullet Club’s match versus Motor City Machine Guns, Colt Cabana and the Briscoes, hanging MCMG Chris Sabin by a noose at the matches end melee.
With two Ring of Honor mainstays joining the Young Bucks, the Bullet Club not only solidified their ROH presence, but made themselves a part of the Ring of Honor main event by singling out its champion Jay Lethal.
NXT: 2014 to present
Original Bullet Club founder Prince Devitt emerged in NXT in September of 2014, changing his moniker to Finn Balor. Video packages produced by WWE focused heavily on Balor’s Japanese career and association with the infamous Bullet Club – Karl Anderson and other members were featured prominently on NXT in short documentary style vignettes that brought Balor’s prior history as Devitt into the kayfabe world of the WWE. After a brief introduction to the NXT and WWE Universe, Balor was in the main event by March of 2015, when he unsuccessfully challenged NXT Champion Kevin Owens for the title. But by July, not even a year into his NXT run, Balor claimed the title from Owens at the WWE Live Event Special The Beast in the East, capturing the gold from Owens in front of the Japanese crowd he’d originally gained his notoriety in front of. The Bullet Club references were a constant part of the storyline, both in video promo and by the announcers, and the emergence of Finn’s own spin on the brand – Balor Club – began to take hold. Balor wasn’t just in the main event. He was the main event.
When news began to circulate on social media that Gallows, Anderson and Styles had left NJPW in early 2016, Balor began to tease a re-alliance with his Clubmates, including Tweeting pictures of them together and insinuating that Anderson and Gallows were coming to watch his back once more. Anderson, in his final matches with NJPW, even wore Balor’s red and black trunks to show his continued allegiance to his former leader
While Balor’s record setting reign of 292 days as NXT Champion was ended last month by Samoa Joe, Balor’s rematch is now officially set for June’s TakeOver special, and, while many assume he’ll lose the rematch to head to the Main Roster, Balor is still the face of NXT and the undisputed main event of NXT.
When news began to appear on Twitter and dirt sheets that Bullet Club members Karl Anderson, Doc Gallows and then leader AJ Styles had given notice to NJPW, the social media world of pro wrestling exploded with “What If” scenarios. Would they all be joining WWE? Or were they going to TNA? Days after the announcement, WWE seemed to give a better indication when they posted a story furthering the rumours, by discussing the free agents’ domination on the global scene as part of the Bullet Club. Within weeks, it was official: all three were WWE bound.
Styles debuted first, in a memorable Royal Rumble appearance, and soon after, Balor began to suggest new Balor Club merchandise that added the word “Bulletproof” to it’s marketing, furthering the connection to the Club that had started it all. Still, the world sat and waited. When – and with whom – would Anderson and Gallows align when they made their WWE Universe insertion.
That question was answered on April 11, when the two debuted on Raw in an entrance that reminded many of the way Scott Hall returned to WCW at the onset of the nWo angle. Out of the crowd and in their civvies, Anderson and Gallows made a statement by dismantling the Usos – the cousins of WWE World Champion Roman Reigns, who just happened to be the man that their Club mate AJ Styles was currently entering a feud with. Anderson and Gallows continued to assist Styles in his feud against Reigns and the Usos – often seemingly unwanted – but now all three are seemingly united, known simply as The Club, and proving to be the main event foil to Reigns and his Family.
With ROH and NJPW’s business arrangement, their historical kayfabe has always been intact. NXT continued this lineage with their video packages hyping Finn Balor’s arrival and domination in the brand, and now WWE continues that continuity with the unification of The Club. Never in the history of wrestling has one faction spread it’s tentacles into as many top promotions without diluting it’s product. The Bullet Club is only three years old and it’s core team is still as strong as ever, while it’s offshoots are dominating elsewhere. Even the nWo had lost it’s steam of credibility within a year. And though the nWo had a Japanese version, lead by Japan icon The Great Muta himself, it still just felt like a watered down version of an already weakening nWo squad in the US (complete with a “fake Sting”). The four current versions are all still in their proverbial prime as far as draws and ability go. Whether it’s an actual alliance or not, there’s no denying that all four denominations of the Bullet Club are currently shaping the main event landscape of the four promotions they currently inhabit.
And best of all, they’re showing no signs of slowing down. As of now, the Club – whether it’s Bullet, Balor, or simply “The” – is showing the world that it doesn’t matter which promotion they are inserted into, one thing is certain. If there’s gold to be had, they are here to take it.
(Main Photo: njpw.co.jp)