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.
‘Wrestlers are superhuman.’ Kazuchika Okada’s words after a main event IWGP Heavyweight Championship defence at Dontaku 2017 carried with them a lot of subtext. The Rainmaker’s comments were certainly influenced by concern over Katsuyori Shibata’s life threatening injury, sustained in his match with Okada not one month before, but also adequately explained the champion’s efforts to overcome the immense Bad Luck Fale. Fale’s challenge on the fourth anniversary of BULLET CLUB resulted in defeat, but Okada set himself yet another Herculean task for June in Osaka.
‘The world’s wrestling fans want to see Okada vs Kenny again,’ Okada would state, setting the stage for Dominion. Omega didn’t need words to accept, and the ensuing match would go on to best even their Wrestle Kingdom meeting for intensity, effort and drama on June 11. Through Okada’s 720 day reign with the IWGP Heavyweight Championship, this would be the only blip; a 60 minute draw that saw both men push the limits of human endurance. As Omega withstood a signature elbow drop from Okada to the outside through a table, the champion started to close in on the kill, but his challenger refused to yield, eventually avoiding certain Rainmaker disaster only because his legs gave way from underneath him.
The bell would ring out to close the 60 minute match leaving it very clear there was more business on the table between Omega and Okada, but it was the actions of someone else entirely that would create friction within the Club. As the match got deeper and Okada had built momentum, Cody would hit the ring, seemingly determined to throw in the towel on behalf of Omega and only stopped by the Young Bucks. How genuine Cody’s intentions were in looking to protect the Cleaner were far from clear, and the situation clouded even more when he issued a challenge to the Rainmaker backstage after the bout. The challenge would take place on one of the biggest weekends of BULLET CLUB’s history, not in Japan, but in Long Beach, California.
NJPW’s rapid rise of popularity in the US was in no small part thanks to the efforts of BULLET CLUB, and with the Long Beach Convention Center an instant sellout, it was of little surprise that BULLET CLUB members be front and center of the two night G1 Special USA event. While Cody came up short in his pursuit of the IWGP Heavyweight Championship on the first night, Young Bucks retained IWGP Junior Tag gold, and it was Kenny Omega closing out the weekend; after a grueling tournament and a war with Tomohiro Ishii in the night two main event, Omega walked out the first ever IWGP United States Champion. It would be Cody presenting the Cleaner with the new title, and an embrace center ring seemed to thaw temperatures within the Club- for the time being.
Kenny Omega would have other fish to fry. Coming just shy of a second straight G1 Climax, losing the final to Tetsuya Naito in a gripping Ryogoku battle, his IWGP US title reign would see defences over Juice Robinson, YOSHI-HASHI and then, at Power Struggle in November, Beretta. Afterward, a video message from a recent free agent would send the entire wrestling world into frenzied conversation, as Chris Jericho issued a monumental challenge- ‘Alpha versus Omega’ at Wrestle Kingdom 12.
As the next month saw the World Tag League run through Japan, December 11 would see BULLET CLUB’s year end on a dour note; before the Guerrillas of Destiny would lose the World Tag League final to EVIL and SANADA, Omega would be left in a puddle of blood center ring. After a tag bout earlier in the evening, another video message from Jericho would appear, this time as a distraction as the man himself levelled the US Champion with his own title belt; after further violence at a post event press conference, a no disqualification match would be the only way to settle things in the Tokyo Dome.
In keeping with a chaotic ruleset, a violent match quickly spilled outside, as Omega flung himself at Jericho and found only the announce desk. Jericho would have the better of a bloodied Omega, but the champion would refuse to lose, and after sending Jericho through a table the challenger had set up ringside, would not fall to a Codebreaker. Using a flung chair to avoid a Lionsault, the One Winged Angel secured victory for Kenny in what would stand for the next five years as the most watched Wrestle Kingdom.
Omega was in high spirits the next night then, but dissent was once again in the air. A glitch in BULLET CLUB’s Wrestle Kingdom was a loss for Cody to Kota Ibushi, and the American Nightmare wanted vengeance the next night at New Year’s Dash. A post match assault would be interrupted by Omega, who pulled Cody off his long time friend; as Cody left in rage, Omega sought unity on the mic.
‘We need unity, we need to be a team again,’ stated Omega, declaring an intention to recruit. Seeing something in an individual who had made a shocking appearance on the same day that Chris Jericho had emerged to challenge, he called out Switchblade Jay White, who had no allegiance other to himself, and had just challenged Hiroshi Tanahashi for the IWGP Intercontinental Championship.
Omega offered a BULLET CLUB Tshirt to White, who embraced the Cleaner- only to strike him with a Bladerunner. The Switchblade set himself up for a shot at the IWGP United States Championship at new Beginning, while tensions remained between the US Champion and Cody. For Jay White, the next day would see him abruptly aligned with CHAOS at the apparent approval of Gedo. White promised that he would be taking the IWGP United States title, and before too long, would be coming for new teammate Kazuchika Okada as well.
NJPW fans would soon learn through 2018 that Jay White makes good on his promises. Escaping a One Winged Angel attempt, White hit the Bladerunner and captured his first NJPW championship. Still stung by the New Year Dash rejection, Omega still knew when he was had, and wanted to present White with the title personally, not taking kindly to Hangman Page’s intervention to quickly challenge. As Cody joined a now crowded ring, an argument escalated into the Cross Rhodes on Omega, and Kota Ibushi rushing to Omega’s aid, completing a return to Kenny’s side after years apart.
Rifts continued to grow, as that March saw the reformed Golden Lovers collide with the Young Bucks in Long Beach. Omega, the Bucks, Cody and Page were all at loggerheads, while the likes of Bad Luck Fale, Tama Tonga and Tanga Loa expressed their own frustration at the original intentions of the Club being lost in soap opera dramatics. ‘BULLET CLUB is fine’ was the persistent mantra, but it appeared as the group’s fifth anniversary loomed that this couldn’t be further from the truth.