BULLET CLUB: Decade (Year Seven)

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 Six Year Eight–>

Having lost the IWGP Heavyweight and Junior Heavyweight titles at Madison Square Garden, it was not a happy sixth birthday for BULLET CLUB at Dontaku. Over two days, the group suffered harsh losses, with Taiji Ishimori unable to wrest the junior title back from Dragon Lee, and Jay White finding himself shuffled out of the IWGP Heavyweight Championship scene almost as suddenly as he had seized the gold back in February. At the end of the night, it would be Chris Jericho challenging Kazuchika Okada next for the IWGP heavyweight title at Dominion, while the Switchblade was in the middle of the night in a six man tag- but it wasn’t all bad news for BULLET CLUB.

The bright spot, so to speak of a two day anniversary celebration at Dontaku was the debut of El Phantasmo. Effortlessly athletic and breathtakingly arrogant, ELP carried a tremendous skillset and a terrible attitude into Best of the Super Jr., as well as forming an effective tag team with Taiji Ishimori. Though a BOSJ hot streak was stopped in deeply satisfying form by Rocky Romero, Phantasmo would be a key presence in the group until other forces decided his time was through. 

Still, Dominion, the site of Kenny Omega’s triumph in 2018 was an event to forget for BULLET CLUB in 2019. Jay White’s slump would continue through the early part of the G1 Climax, where he racked up three opening losses, but the Switchblade would stem the tide in Hiroshima with a win over Jeff Cobb, and he kept winning, eventually making the Budokan final. With Gedo’s meddling and underhanded tactics a factor in every bout, it was commonplace to see a stream of fans making a beeline for the exit with the immediate conclusion of every main event. White delighted in those exits, and prepared for a glittering final celebration with the Budokan all to himself that August. 

Part one of the plan went smoothly. On the morning of August 12, Tama Tonga tweeted out that he had overseen the induction of a ‘world class athlete’ into BULLET CLUB, and by the end of the night, the world knew just who that was. KENTA, having joined NJPW at Dominion, had struggled to gain traction with the New Japan fanbase through his debut G1, deciding that he would walk a different path rather than attempting to curry favour. With a stunning betrayal of Katsuyori Shibata, KENTA drank in the boos of the crowd before joining the entire group to back Jay White in the G1 final opposite Kota Ibushi. 

 Part two did not go to plan. As referee Red Shoes Unno turned members away from ringside, and Rocky Romero took out the trash by eliminating Gedo’s interference late in the match, Jay White fell to Ibushi, who won the G1 and earned his right to challenge Kazuchika Okada for the IWGP Heavyweight gold at Wrestle Kingdom. Yet his ambitions were higher. Echoing the sentiments of Tetsuya Naito, who was on his own rocky road toward Wrestle Kingdom 14, Ibushi planned to be both IWGP Intercontinental and Heavyweight Champions by the end of a double Dome weekend on January 5 2020.

That was the spot Jay White felt he deserved, and the spot he wanted more than anything to deny all else involved. In Kobe at Destruction, White defeated Tetsuya Naito, and when the ‘Double Gold Dash’ Became a reality, White’s place was assured as IWGP Intercontinental Champion. It would be White vs Naito in a rematch on January 4 for the IC gold while Kota Ibushi took on Kazuchika Okada for the IWGP Heavyweight title, and White would make plenty of the hurdles he’d had to leap over to reach this point while Naito had his place secured with nothing in collateral. 

As the story went, the man who entered with nothing left with everything, but before Wrestle Kingdom came to an end, there was a sting in the tail. KENTA had moved fast to make an impact in BULLET CLUB, claiming the NEVER Openweight Championship in London over Tomohiro Ishii. His reign as NEVER Champion would be marked not just by his violent in ring style, but a swagger out of the ring different to at any point in his career, and a penchant for comical backstage jabs at his opposition. Both Ishii and YOSHI-HASHI would look to shut the arrogant mouth of KENTA to no avail, but Hirooki Goto would do just that on January 5 2020… For a couple of hours. 

The end of the night would see KENTA as the most hated man in Japan if not the world. After Naito defeated Kazuchika Okada in the main event to make history as the very first dual IWGP Heavyweight and Intercontinental Champion, and had finally gotten his long sought after Tokyo Dome main event win to boot, he took to the mic for his famous LIJ roll call. Just as he warmed the vocal chords, KENTA sprinted to the ring and blasted the new champion, setting himself up to challenge the next month at New Beginning in Osaka. Osaka Jo Hall would sell out, in anticipation of Naito getting his revenge over the most hated intruder. 

Naito would be bloody but victorious, busted open after being shot into an exposed turnbuckle, but with a win earned via Destino. Despite the defeat, BULLET CLUB’s destiny seemed to be promising. Guerrillas of Destiny, defeated at Wrestle Kingdom by Juice Robinson and David Finlay, won their titles back earlier in the month of February in Atlanta. Jay White, clinching his own win over SANADA at New Beginning in Osaka, was a favourite in the impending New Japan Cup. Yet the brackets would be busted in spring 2020 not by a competitor but by a very different kind of opponent. 

The COVID pandemic would lead to nearly four months of inaction, and a seventh anniversary of the group that went uncelebrated. When fans finally came back to buildings in late June, travel restrictions meant that BULLET CLUB had to think outside the box to retain an impact on both Japanese and international fronts.