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.
Despite ominous glances and a momentary crisis of conscience for Kenny Omega in assisting AJ Styles in April 0f 2015, the group marked two years at Dontaku with a relative lack of drama. After dominating the landscape through 2014 however, BULLET CLUB were not as successful in 2015. True, a good deal of NJPW’s rapid expansion, and the presence of Dominion on the big stage of Osaka Jo Hall for the first time as opposed to its original home of the Osaka Prefectural Gymnasium had much to do with BULLET CLUB’s popularity, but though the house was packed, it wasn’t a night to remember for the Club.
Omega would lose the IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championship to Best of the Super Jr. winner KUSHIDA, while Styles’ second reign with the IWGP Heavyweight title came to an end at the hands of Kazuchika Okada. While Doc Gallows and Karl Anderson recaptured IWGP Tag Team Championship gold, ending a months long feud with the Maria Kanellis led Kingdom team of Matt Taven and Mike Bennett, BULLET CLUB headed into the summer a step off the front lines. The G1 Climax would follow, with Styles pipped to the block post by eventual trophy winner Hiroshi Tanahashi in a thrilling bout, but the autumn approached without a major trophy or singles championship. Meanwhile, as Tetsuya Naito found an Ingobernable form of himself, and a sea change seemed to be happening in the main event scene, BC was still a threat, (and especially thanks to the efforts of AJ and the Young Bucks, a wildly popular part of NJPW’s sojourns into ROH and RevPro in the UK) but didn’t dominate the headlines until 2016 rolled around.
January 2016 would become a key turning point for BULLET CLUB, with seeds planted in Kobe in September. Kenny Omega would recapture the IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championship on the 23rd, while reigning IWGP Intercontinental Champion would be confronted at the end of the Kobe tour closer by Karl Anderson. The Machinegun vowed to become a double Intercontinental and Tag Team Champion come Power Struggle in November, having already beaten the King of Strong Style during the G1 Climax; while Anderson failed in the task, there was a Phenomenal follow up waiting in the wings.
AJ Styles presented Nakamura with his title belt, but with the simple statement of ‘This? I’m taking it,’ a first time ever dream match was made. There was nothing more hype needed for the semi main event on January 4 2016, and the match delivered on all of its expectations. Yet Styles’ defeat, and a post match fist bump and embrace was symbolic of much more bubbling underneath the surface. Speculation was rife about both men’s futures in NJPW, as well as those of Karl Anderson and Doc Gallows. A BULLET CLUB team meeting in the Tokyo Dome Hotel went deep into the night, and in Korakuen Hall on January 5, a bold new direction was taken.
A tag team bout for Nakamura and YOSHI-HASHI against Styles and Omega ended in shocking enough form when Omega, relieved the prior night of junior heavyweight gold, pinned the IWGP Intercontinental Champion. Things only escalated when Styles celebrated on the top rope only to be struck with a One Winged Angel himself. There was little containing the manic glee on the face of Omega as the proverbial knife stuck in the back of Styles, and though the Young Bucks and Good Brothers looked for a second to try and defuse the situation, they too would join in the expulsion of the Phenomenal One from BULLET CLUB.
‘They called you the leader, well now you’ve been fired,’ Omega would state, in one microphone screed declaring himself a heavyweight, challenging for Nakamura’s title and ushering in a new Elite era of BULLET CLUB. It would be the last time AJ Styles would set foot in a New Japan ring, and the group now coalesced around Omega, but plans were still shifting at a near daily basis.
Nakamura officially withdrew from NJPW by the end of January, heading to WWE and putting paid to Omega’s plans to challenge the Son of Strong Style. As one dream match would be left on the table, another took its place; a battle over the now vacated IWGP Intercontinental Championship at New Beginning would see Omega face a mystery opponent, revealed by way of Nakamura’s last NJPW match to be Hiroshi Tanahashi.
A battle of classical skill against unorthodox athleticism, Omega and Tanahashi did battle on Valentine’s Day 2016, Young Bucks showing their love to an Elite leader by hiding out underneath the ring to make an opportune intervention. While the Bucks would be chased off, and Tanahashi looked to continue an assault on a wounded Omega knee, High Fly Flow would only find empty canvas, and Omega would sacrifice the injured joint with a V-Trigger before the One Winged Angel to crown a new Intercontinental Champion.
Impromptu post match karaoke aside, it wasn’t an entirely happy night for BULLET CLUB; Gallows and Anderson would lose their IWGP Tag team Championship match earlier in the evening, a prelude to their departure from New Japan days later in Korakuen Hall. Young Bucks would also lose their IWGP Junior Heavyweight Tag Team Championships to ReDragon, but the Bucks were not without team success. Later that same month, the Elite trio would secure the NEVER Openweight Six Man Tag Team Championships; their trios bouts would provide Omega with an outlet for his cartoon villain maniacal nature to shine while he got down to business in the singles ranks.
In two on two competition though, the departure of the Good Brothers left BULLET CLUB hurting. Meanwhile, Karl Anderson’s protege Tama Tonga, while one of the core founding four of the group hadn’t achieved the standout success of his founding partners. As Anderson departed though, he would entrust not just the Gunstun to Tama, but tag team supremacy. IWGP Tag Team Champions Great bash Heel were set to defend their belts in April at Sakura Genesis against Tama Tonga and a mystery partner- with a brutal attack to Makabe in Korakuen, that partner was revealed to be Tonga’s own flesh and blood, Tanga Loa.
Ryogoku would see the two wrestle their first tag match together, and capture the IWGP Tag Team Championships on their first try. A history making tag team was formed, and this wouldn’t be the only history w\BULLET CLUB members would make in the coming year.