BULLET CLUB: Decade (Year Zero)

History of the legendary faction

On May 3 at Dontaku 2023, BULLET CLUB marks a full decade as a force in New Japan Pro-Wrestling. As the group continues into its eleventh year, a look back at the origins and evolutions of one of the most influential factions in wrestling history. 

Year One–> 

May 3 2013 would see BULLET CLUB officially formed, with the ‘core four’ of Tama Tonga, Bad Luck Fale, Karl Anderson and leader Prince Devitt at its center. Yet just how did the four come together?

Prince Devitt and Karl Anderson’s first encounters had been in the original LA Dojo, where they were part of a generational melting pot of talent destined for big things in Japan. After a stint in the Shinsuke Nakamura led pre-CHAOS RISE faction until its dissolution, Devitt would end the 2000s at the top of the junior heavyweight ranks, with dominant reigns as IWGP Junior Heavyweight singles, and tag champion alongside Apollo 55  partner Ryusuke Taguchi. 

Karl Anderson had enjoyed similar tag team success along with Giant Bernard as Bad Intentions. Their 564 day, V10 reign from June 2010 to January 4 2012 remains a record to this day, but just as the main event scene changed at Wrestle Kingdom 6 with the arrival of the Rainmaker Kazuchika Okada, another era ended when Bernard left NJPW for WWE

Anderson would have another run at tag team success alongside Hirooki Goto at the first World Tag League at the end of 2012, winning the league, but coming up short of the IWGP tag titles. Yet scores of pundits were highlighting the Machine Gun as a breakout singles star. A summer shock would see Anderson become the first non Japanese since Rick Rude 20 years earlier to make the G1 final, and months later he would be a finalist in the tournament to crown the first NEVER Openweight Champion. 

Anderson and Devitt were soon the international aces of Hontai, and forged more than a few bonds in the Noge Dojo, with Tama Tonga often seconding Anderson to the ring, and King Fale receiving support as he headed into his excursion. For both Anderson and Devitt though, an Ace shaped glass ceiling was in place. 

A key win for Anderson en route to his 2012 G1 Climax final was over Hiroshi Tanahashi, drawing himself level at 2-2 over his career with the Ace. On February 10, 2013, Anderson would convert that G1 victory to a challenge for the IWGP Heavyweight Championship, but a hard fought challenge in front of a capacity crowd in Hiroshima would see the Machinegun turned away. Just as Anderson had been in the G1 finals, and the last hurdle of the NEVER Openweight Championship, singles glory was so close, yet so far for Anderson. 

Three weeks later then, it would be a special anniversary singles match as NJPW celebrated 41 years. Harkening back to a 1994 Budokan classic between then IWGP Junior Heavyweight Champion Jyushin Thunder Liger and IWGP Heavyweight Champion Shinya Hashimoto, a champion versus champion clash would see Tanahashi take on Prince Devitt. The result? Another win for the Ace, but the match itself was what turned heads. Far from the hard fought, competitive battle between two fan favourites that Tanahashi and Anderson had been, Devitt seemed hell bent on smashing glass ceilings for himself as an international wrestler in Hontai, and as a junior heavyweight. 

A hirtherto unseen aggression was evident throughout, as the Prince would take a steel chair to the back of Tanahashi before launching a vicious attack on the outside. As Korakuen cheered both men, a High Fly Flow brought the win for Tanahashi, but the post match would see Devitt shove the Ace aside rather than receive any show of respect, something that took his second Ryusuke Taguchi aback. In the coming weeks, Devitt continued to show a harder edge as the chip on his shoulder deepened, and Taguchi seemed ever more perturbed as Apollo 55 headed into an IWGP Junior Heavyweight Tag Team Championship challenge in April at Ryogoku against the Timesplitters of Alex Shelley and KUSHIDA.

Devitt and Taguchi came up short- or in Devitt’s mind, Taguchi did. After an O’Connor bridge helped KUSHIDA retain for he and Shelley via pinfall over the Funky Weapon, Taguchi offered up a handshake to his partner, but was blasted from behind immediately afterward. An incredulous Shelley and KUSHIDA confronted Devitt over his actions, but were attacked by the sudden appearance of the man once known as King Fale. Now Devitt’s personal bodyguard, and ‘underboss’ Bad Luck Fale, the imposing Tongan would leave with Devitt on his shoulders and a lot of questions- and eyebrows- raised. 

The main event that night in Ryogoku would see Hiroshi Tanahashi fall in his defence of IWGP Heavyweight Championship gold against New Japan Cup winner Kazuchika Okada. In the wake of his defeat, Karl Anderson would challenge the Ace to one more go around at Dontaku the next month in Fukuoka. For both men, a fairly fought rubber match could see the victor bounce back to IWGP Heavyweight contention; little did fans know at the time that Devitt’s recent match with the Ace had given Anderson much to consider.