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.
After the shocking reappearance of Bad Luck Fale from excursion to assist Prince Devitt in a post match attack on former partner Ryusuke Taguchi, attention turned to Dontaku on May 3 in Fukuoka. The second match of the card was billed as Fale’s homecoming bout, but in practice, the tag bout saw Fale positioned underneath Devitt; quite literally. Both headed to the ring to Devitt’s music, and the IWGP Junior Heavyweight Champion, now calling himself the Real Rock ‘n’ Rolla sat on the shoulders of the rechristened Underboss.
Opposing them were Devitt’s once close friend and ally in Ryusuke Taguchi, and Captain (‘Fookin’, in Devitt’s incredulous Irish brogue) New Japan. Taguchi hoped to get revenge for what had happened weeks earlier in Ryogoku, but barely got any action in as Fale and Devitt stormed through the poor Captain. Captain New Japan had his night ended with the Grenade from Fale, but the Rock ‘n’ Rolla and his Underboss bodyguard weren’t done for the evening.
The seventh match of the evening would see Machinegun Karl Anderson, accompanied by his protege Tama Tonga, facing Hiroshi Tanahashi in a bid to put himself into contention for the IWGP Heavyweight Championship. The Ace had been a difficult stumbling block to Anderson in his quest for true singles stardom, and always had seemed to have Anderson’s number when the chips were down and stakes were high. Here too, a top rope TKO and Bernard Driver weren’t enough to grant the Machinegun victory, as Tanahashi repeatedly denied the Gunstun and landed the High Fly Flow.
Tanahashi had no chance to celebrate his victory, as he would be jumped from behind by the returning Fale and Devitt After a tense face off with Anderson, the Machinegun would strike Tanahashi with the Gunstun he could never hit during the match, and an alliance formed with a familiar ‘too sweet’ gesture. Still not named as a group, the four men’s ambitions were clear and ominous indeed, Anderson saying that it wasn’t just wrestlers in Japanese rings that needed to watch out, as Devitt declared his intentions to win Best of the Super Jr, enter the G1, and gun for Kazuchika Okada.
19 days later, and BULLET CLUB was official after an eight man tag in Nagoya, ever beleaguered Tokyo Sports reporter Okamoto having to deliver the news that the club was ‘real’. Their first mission would be to ensure that Prince Devitt would win the Best of the Super Jr. as IWGP Junior Heavyweight Champion, allowing him to shatter the glass ceiling divide between junior and heavyweight ranks in the process.
It was a feat achieved with aplomb, Devitt not picking up a single loss in his entire campaign. Emerging through A Block undefeated, and with the tournament using a semifinal format at the time, he faced B Block runner up Kenny Omega. Then representing DDT, Omega’s bout with Devitt was an intriguing footnote to the tournament in hindsight, and one that saw Omega’s attempts to use anything at his disposal, including a table, to even the odds being defused by BULLET CLUB interference, a double stomp into that table and the Bloody Sunday.
Many would speculate that Ryusuke Taguchi, having himself won B Block, would be the one to face Devitt in the finals, finally getting his singles match with his one time friend, but fate intervened. A lower back injury put him out of the tournament at the last hurdle, TAKA Michinoku instead emerging into the semis. With Alex Shelley defeating the junior heavyweight legend, it was down to Shelley and Devitt; a red hot and furious Korakuen crowd would see the Prince victorious and showered with boos, BULLET CLUB having delivered on the first part of their mission statement.
Next on the agenda for Devitt, having won BOSJ as champion was, past Tanahashi at Dominion, Kazuchika Okada and the IWGP Heavyweight Championship. The Rainmaker was not immediately accepting of the challenge- first Devitt would have to grant Gedo a junior heavyweight title match to earn his shot. The Kizuna Road bout would be a Korakuen classic; Devitt was relatively new to rule breaking ways, but the veteran heel tactics of Gedo was more than a match, and Gedo’s long time partner Jado and Okada were at ringside to counter the BULLET CLUB presence.
It wasn’t quite enough. A Bloody Sunday would see a now exhausted Red Shoes Unno count three, and Devitt advanced to Okada, but despite the best efforts of Fale, the champion would retain. The ensuing G1 Climax would see Devitt and Anderson denied as Tetsuya Naito captured summer glory, and though the Machine Gun would challenge for heavyweight gold later in the autumn, the richest singles prize would elude BULLET CLUB.
Tag team success was a different story though, thanks to the addition of extra manpower. The Super Junior Tag Tournament saw Devitt recruit Matt and Nick Jackson, the Young Bucks instantly shooting to the tournament trophies, and a win over Taichi and TAKA Michinoku at Power Struggle to follow scoring them the first of seven IWGP Junior Heavyweight Tag Team Championships. For Anderson, just as dominance with Giant Bernard as Bad Intentions had proven, it was tag team wrestling where he most excelled, and he would be joined by Doc Gallows in World Tag League, again converting tournament victory with IWGP gold at Wrestle Kingdom 8.
Despite the Good Brothers starting a year long reign with heavyweight tag gold, and the Bucks successfully defending in a four way, BULLET CLUB’s first Tokyo Dome appearance was a mixed one. Prince Devitt’s dominant run with IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championship gold would be brought to an end by a long running rival in Kota Ibushi. Ibushi would overcome a stacked deck, with interference from the Bucks and the Good Brothers from jump, and finally scored a Tokyo Dome win over Devitt on his third attempt.
The cracks forming in Devitt’s dominance after an incredible year long stretch, the Real Rock ‘n’ Rolla would soon have to come face to face with his past. One year after his betrayal of Ryusuke Taguchi and the dissolution of Apollo 55, April 6 2014 in Ryogoku would see Devitt take on Ryusuke Taguchi one on one at last, and with his position in NJPW on the line.
Devitt may have entered Ryogoku in demonic body paint, but there was a shred of humanity and respect for his one time ally. Devitt would prevent the Young Bucks from interfering on his behalf, and would be attacked by the Jacksons as a result; as Devitt flew over the top rope to the tag team he had brought in, Devitt ensured that the match would continue without distraction, but this was more than the Prince pulling rank. Moments later, Dodon The End would give Taguchi closure after a long year, and expel Devitt from NJPW rings.
A sudden question mark loomed over the future of BULLET CLUB with its founder out of the picture, but it was one dispelled almost as quickly. With the New Japan Cup winner Shinsuke Nakamura choosing to face IWGP Intercontinental Champion Hiroshi Tanahashi in the main event that night, Kazuchika Okada was without a challenger for the IWGP Heavyweight Championship, and without a title match in Ryogoku. Instead, he would team with YOSHI-HASHI to face Bad Luck Fale and Tama Tonga.
After a convincing victory, Okada went nose to nose with Fale, but was attacked by a hooded figure that revealed himself to be AJ Styles. After a Styles Clash to the champion, AJ reminded Okada that to him, the Rainmaker was still the ‘young boy’ that had shared IMPACT locker rooms with him a few short years earlier. A title match was set for Dontaku, and the one year anniversary of BULLET CLUB.