BULLET CLUB: Decade (year 4)

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 three  Year five-> 

With Kenny Omega having won the IWGP Intercontinental Championship that February, and Tama Tonga and Tanga Loa grabbing the first of seven IWGP Tag Team Championships in Ryogoku in April, BULLET CLUB’s third birthday May 3 in Dontaku was a relatively low key affair for the group, marked as it was with a successful first defence of tag gold for the Guerrillas of Destiny. Omega was instead on a road to a rematch with Hiroshi Tanahashi over the Intercontinental title slated for June at Dominion; wanting the first and to date only ladder match in NJPW history, Omega went overboard with an attack that left the Ace sidelined, and Omega eventually forcibly relieved of his IC gold, but his summer was far from over.

Overseas however, the third birthday month for BULLET CLUB was much more eventful. After Dontaku, members of the NJPW roster would head over for collaborative events with Ring of Honor under the War of the Worlds banner. Two fast rising young prospects in Adam Cole and Hangman Page were added to the BULLET CLUB mix during that tour, as the shape of the group continued to evolve. 

NJPW’s footprint overseas through TV, international working arrangements NJPW World and more, was growing its footprint internationally, and BULLET CLUB was right there with it. In and out of the ring, through YouTube shows, social media and more, the once despised group of outsiders was a boiling pot of talented young and charismatic antiheroes. Soon, whether at NJPW events (or even pro-wrestling in general) or not, the BULLET CLUB logo became a familiar sight on Tshirts and signs the world over. 

Back in Japan, Kenny Omega was preparing to take BULLET CLUB to a new height over a stunning one month run. After stumbling out of the blocks in his first G1 Climax, pinned by YOSHI-HASHI on opening night, Omega went on to a strong 6-3. His last group match had him surviving New Japan Cup winner and the pick of many to win the tournament in Tetsuya Naito, making Omega the third non-Japanese to reach a G1 Climax final

Omega’s opponent on that last night in Ryogoku was Hirooki Goto, himself an unlikely finalist, who pieced together his own solid run through the league off the back of joining CHAOS back in the spring. With Kazuchika Okada and Hiroshi Tanahashi going to a draw on the last match of A Block action, Goto would reach the final opposite Omega, and hunted for his second G1 victory. 

Yet the Cleaner would do one better than Rick Rude and Karl Anderson in years past. Goto would resist Omega’s signature offence early and unleashed punishing moves of his own, the Ushigoroshi striking with painful accuracy, and followed with a sickening version off the top rope. Yet Omega would not be denied, kicking out of the now rare use of the Shoten Kai, and eventually landing a trifecta of former leaders’ finishing moves- Bloody Sunday to Styles Clash and then the One Winged Angel. 

Omega had made history in becoming the first, and to date only non-Japanese wrestler to ever win a G1 Climax, and both the achievement, and the way he achieved it were clear declarations that BULLET CLUB was a clear and indelible part of the pro-wrestling fabric; after years of raging against the establishment, it had become an establishment unto itself. It felt as if all of NJPW was rewritten under a new Elite order, with Young Bucks adding to notable summer successes. With a win over the Motor City Machineguns at the Super J-Cup, the Young Bucks would break down weight classes in the tag ranks, challenging the Briscoe Brothers that September for heavyweight IWGP Tag gold; though they came up short, they would become the second team to win tag championships in two different weight classes before their time in NJPW was through. 

A famous second generation wrestler was leaving a different establishment in 2016, and with a mission of redefining himself, headed to ROH, NJPW and BULLET CLUB with newfound ambition. Cody would debut at Wrestle Kingdom 11, defeating Juice Robinson on a night that also saw Adam Cole retaining the ROH World Heavyweight Championship. Yet this wasn’t an Elite evening, disappointment for the Young Bucks in losing IWGP Jr. Tag gold compounded by heartbreak for Omega after the main event. 

For 46 minutes and 47 seconds, Omega and Kazuchika Okada engaged in what many regarded as the most spectacular Wrestle Kingdom main event of all time up to that point, and perhaps since. At a high pace from the bell and only accelerating, Okada, now in the midst of what would be a 720 day reign as IWGP Heavyweight Champion, ultimately persevered, countering One Winged Angel into a corkscrew Tombstone and then landing the Rainmaker. Both men would speak afterward of the incredible rigours the match had put them through. Omega would want immediately to get back on the horse, but his next chance to do so, in the New Japan Cup, would see him quickly turned away by Tomohiro Ishii. As the Cleaner sought to regroup, it would be a different figure rising to the fore.

For the second time, Bad Luck Fale proved to be a powerful foe for most in the 2017 New Japan Cup. Completing a run to the finals, he mirrored his achievements in 2014. Though he fell to winner Katsuyori Shibata at the last hurdle, he would still convert runner-up status into a title match; after winning the IWGP Intercontinental Championship in June 2014, now he had his sights set higher. Fale would gun for IWGP Heavyweight gold, and on BULET CLUB’s fourth birthday at Dontaku 2017.