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MAR.31.2023

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BULLET CLUB: Decade (Year Two)

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 Year Three–>

BULLET CLUB approached its first anniversary in the midst of turbulent times. The group had only been a going concern for 11 months, but its founding leader in Prince Devitt had been ousted from NJPW, with AJ Styles making an abrupt appearance to challenge Kazuchika Okada for the group’s first birthday, Dontaku 2014

Styles made his challenge to Okada by saying that to him, the Rainmaker was still the ‘young boy’ that had shared IMPACT locker rooms with him a few short years earlier. That was the confidence with which Styles wrestled in the early going of this bout, backed up with a solid insurance policy at ringside. It wouldn’t be long before Matt and Nick Jackson, and Karl Anderson would get involved in the match, but after Okada took out the pile of humanity with a surprise tope con giro, and all interfering factors were removed from ringside, the match took a turn in the champion’s favour.

As the Dontaku main event wore on, champion and challenger both showed just why they were viewed among the best in the world, but a Tombstone from Okada seemed sure to wrap up a successful defence. That was, until the expelled Anderson, Doc Gallows, and the Young Bucks returned to the ring, all to provide a distraction for Yujiro Takahashi to attack his now former CHAOS mate Okada setting up the match winning Styles Clash.

Where some thought Devitt’s departure would result in the BULLET CLUB flash in the pan dying out, the result was exactly the opposite. IWGP Heavyweight, Tag Team and Junior Tag gold was all in the clutches of the Club, which now had its first Japanese member in Yujiro. 

Takahashi’s presence was a subtle transformation for BULLET CLUB. Once a collection of non Japanese wrestlers railing against a Japanese establishment now had a more inclusive dynamic, one that was poised for global domination. As IWGP Heavyweight Champion, Styles was at the forefront of that expansion; though well known for his efforts in IMPACT, Japanese fans hadn’t seen the Phenomenal One since a brief NJPW spell six years earlier, and with his victory at Dontaku a tainted one, AJ had some convincing still to do. 

Styles would rise to that task with two defences in an eight day span, first in a three way bout in New York as NJPW and Ring of Honor combined for War of the Worlds, and then a mere week later in a rematch with Okada at Yokohama Arena. While the outside presence of BULLET CLUB members was cause for consternation and boos from the New Japan faithful, it was Styles’ world class ability that won out over the Rainmaker. Styles’ intense schedule confirmed to NJPW fans that AJ was indeed the real, phenomenal deal, a confirmation redoubled with a stunning debut G1 Climax campaign including a fan favourite bout with Minoru Suzuki. 

Fan reception to BULLET CLUB, molten with rage a year prior, varied between grudging admiration and outright admiration. The latter was especially the case overseas, as the spectacular style and arrogant swagger of AJ Styles and the Young Bucks made them easy fan favourites, no matter whether or not they courted that attention. Even for the detractors, there was little arguing with the success of the group; the Good Brothers of Doc Gallows and Karl Anderson were in the midst of a year long reign with the IWGP Tag Team Championships, and at Dominion in June, the IWGP Intercontinental Championship was added to the BC trophy cabinet. 

A year removed from his return from excursion and alignment with Prince Devitt, Fale rode a wave of momentum in the New Japan Cup, running to the final with his Bad Luck Fall finish quickly becoming among NJPW’s most feared. In that final he would meet Shinsuke Nakamura, and though he came up short, Fale made a literal mark by breaking Shinsuke’s nose. It led to a title bout in Osaka, one that saw Fale overwhelm the champion with his power, before both he and the crowd were stunned with the strength of the King of Strong Style. Shinsuke landed a stunning superplex and reverse powerslam, but Fale would kick out of the Boma Ye, and after a terrifying top rope splash, landed the Bad Luck Fall to capture Intercontinental gold. At the end of June, Yujiro Takahashi would upset Tomohiro Ishii to capture the NEVER Openweight Championship in Korakuen Hall, and now all the gold was in BULLET CLUB hands. 

All, that is, except the first title to come to BULLET CLUB. Ever since Devitt’s departure, the group lacked a junior heavyweight singles star, but as Rysusuke Taguchi benefitted from banishing his former partner, winning the IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championship in the autumn of 2014, a new addition was waiting in the wings. After Taguchi retained his title against Taichi at Power Struggle, he would be confronted by Karl Anderson, who introduced a new figure to ‘clean up the junior division’- Kenny Omega. 

Far from the endearing, Japanese speaking fan favourite who would get laid out by BULLET CLUB in the Best of Super Jr. finals a mere year prior, ‘The Cleaner’ Omega was a maniacal, money hungry egotist. Snatching the junior heavyweight title away from Taguchi at Wrestle Kingdom 9, Omega would stop at nothing to earn success, and to humiliate his opposition along the way. Although Wrestle Kingdom 9 wasn’t a complete success for the Club- Katsuyori Shibata and Hirooki Goto ending the Good Brothers’ year with IWGP Tag gold and brief member Jeff Jarrett, together with Bad Luck Fale and Yujiro being turned away with an emphatic Kokeshi from Tomoaki Honma- Omega’s victory was paired with success for AJ Styles as well. Having lost his IWGP Heavyweight Championship to Hiroshi Tanahashi in September of 2014, he put himself back on track with a win over Tetsuya Naito that set himself in good stead for The New Beginning. 

February 11 2015 was yet another grand slam of an event for BULLET CLUB. The Young Bucks would win out in a three way tag over ReDragon and the Timesplitters, becoming IWGP Junior Heavyweight Tag Team Champions for a second time. The Good Brothers would win back their heavyweight tag gold from Shibata and Goto, bringing a quick end to Meiyu Tag’s title run, and in the main event, AJ Styles captured the IWGP Heavyweight Championship from Hiroshi Tanaghashi for his own second reign. Tanahashi would attempt to counter a stacked deck as BULLET CLUB members surrounded ringside, giving himself an ugly gash on his head as he dove onto the group with a super High Fly Flow to the floor, but even with distractions eliminated, he couldn’t overcome the Phenomenal One.

 

Before champions regained heavyweight gold on the run order that night in Osaka was Kenny Omega retaining the IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championship in a Wrestle Kingdom rematch with Ryusuke Taguchi. As seemingly unstoppable in the junior ranks as AJ was in the heavyweight, Omega’s new Cleaner persona was ruthless and inhumane- to almost all his opposition. 

A long time ally and partner of Omega’s past in Kota Ibushi would win the New Japan Cup in 2015, and as BULLET CLUB approached the second anniversary of its origins, in the spring setting of Ryogoku Sumo Hall, converted for his shot at the IWGP Heavyweight Championship. As an intense match approached its climax, Ibushi would threaten victory, beginning an ascent to the top rope for a Phoenix Splash that would assure victory. Omega was conflicted as he hopped on the apron to provide enough of a distraction to allow a stunning mid air catch and Styles Clash from the champion to retain. As BULLET CLUB completed its second year in dominant form and with growing popularity, there was just the barest hint of dissent that would result in a power play months down the line. 

 

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