Bullet Club has been around for over five years now. Other factions like nWo have been pop culture icons but with short lives. Did you ever expect that BC would be this successful for this long?
Fale: No, not at all. But we were given a chance to start something, and embraced it, went with it and here we are. I think really it’s a credit to how smart we were in bringing in the right people at the right time, and changing with the times. Those guys (like nWo), it was a case of throwing everyone in together, it was super hot and explosive but it couldn’t last long.
You were one of the true OGs of Bullet Club. Everything began with you in Prince Devitt (now WWE’s Finn Balor)’s corner.
Fale: Yeah. Initially it was me and Ferg (Devitt) and the idea was for me to help make him legit as a heavyweight. When he turned (on Apollo 55 partner Ryusuke Taguchi), it just exploded and we knew we were onto something.
At the time I’d been in America, on my learning excursion. I was really trying to figure out who I was, and where I could fit in. I was King Fale, this savage killer kind of character and then I was called back as someone very different, kind of a bouncer.
After that transition to the Underboss, you definitely shifted in the fans’ eyes as someone that could be put in big matches with Okada, or Tanahashi, and credibly beat them at any time. You can’t ever be discounted.
Fale: Because of that position I was in during that first year back I had the opportunity to show I could handle myself. Now, whenever the opportunity presents itself, I’m always there.
Tama Tonga and Karl Anderson came into the group and the Bullet Club formed on May 3, 2013. Was that a natural fit?
Fale: Oh, completely natural. What people don’t know is that for three to four years before that, we were always together. We called ourselves the ‘Dojo boys’, because we were the only foreigners who were here. At times they’d bring in foreign guys to do big shows, Giant Bernard would do a tour here or there, but we were always there since 2010 when Tama came in, and Ferg and Anderson had been there before I got there. We were a group to ourselves every tour already. So since we were already working, living as a group together, it only made sense.
There was such intense, emotional heat around you four at the time. When Devitt won the Best of the Super Juniors that year against Alex Shelley, it felt like the crowd was going to get violent, almost.
Fale: Well, the Japanese fans take it all very seriously… I think it did feel dangerous, but that’s when we knew we had something. Feeling that emotion, feeling that hate, it was ‘woah, we’ve gotta keep this going’.
It changed everything. Before, nobody really took notice of us. But when we got this chance, we knew we had to take it, and we had to make people hate us. A lot of people don’t like being hated, but look, figure it out, man. You’re either cheered and remembered or you’re hated and remembered. We understood the situation.
Was there a chip on your shoulders?
Fale: Yes, there was. We always felt like we weren’t listened to. We were jobbers, really. We felt nobody really cared about what we thought or felt. When we finally got this chance, we were able to say ‘this is how it’s gonna go’. And for sure, they started listening after that (laughs).
Did any of the heat you got feel racially motivated?
Fale: No, the heat wasn’t racial. Foreigners always have a tough time in Japan. Doesn’t matter if you speak Japanese or if you have family members here, it’s always an upward battle… the heat that we got was purely wrestling. The passion and the drama that we had and the people had for pro wrestling.
You got a lot of hate during the G1 from those hardcore traditional fans.
Fale: After the first couple of nights I said to the boys ‘boys, we’re back in 2013’. It’s exactly how it felt. And I said to them ‘we’ve got to keep going, we’ve got to make the most of this’. That’s how our G1 turned out (laughs).
What was the reaction like within the Bullet Club when Devitt left in 2014?
Fale: Well, we knew for a while to be honest. And I think that was part of the impetus behind the whole idea of Bullet Club, that he would have gone sooner but this gave him added motivation to stay. So we knew from the outset that it was inevitable, it wasn’t a surprise.
Very often when the leader of a group leaves, the rest tend to disband. Were you preparing to go your separate ways at that point?
Fale: Well, we really liked the group as it was, so when Ferg left, we turned to Karl Anderson. We’d had a lot of people come in, but of the original boys, we always felt that Karl was someone who had our backs, that the office would listen to a little bit. So we weren’t worried.
When did AJ Styles come into play?
Fale: AJ was a few months after. There was a little bit of animosity at first, about him coming in and being the leader of what we had started, y’know. We were bitter but we accepted it. But the best thing that happened was when he came in, won the (IWGP) belt, and nobody knows this story, but we came back to the hotel and he got all of us in a huddle. And he said ‘I know I’ve come in as an outsider, but I’m here to try and make things work with everyone.’ He just addressed the elephant in the room.
From that night forward… Look, nobody decided there was a leader. That’s why the Bullet Club worked, because nobody pegged themselves as ‘I’m the leader, I’m the leader’. Because when you become like that, it becomes about the one guy and not the group. So to AJ’s credit he never called himself the leader. That way we were all on the same level. So if someone had a push, everybody supported them. Everybody would be there to say ‘this guy’s the best wrestler in the world’, and we could all rely on the same support.
That’s why is to us as the OGs, it all fell apart when Kenny (Omega) took the helm. (The Elite) took it somewhere else and it felt like we weren’t part of the narrative anymore. It was so different to what we had started. So that’s why during the G1 we started taking things back to where they were.
How do you feel about the Young Bucks? Lots of fans associate them with Kenny and Cody, but they’ve been around since near the beginning.
Fale: The Bucks were always good. Always good. I’ve always liked them because they rise up to the challenge that they’re faced with. When they first came in, the junior tag division really had no hype behind it, but them coming in helped us; they had a niche following on the American indie scene and from there, we helped them get bigger in Japan, and they helped us get bigger in America. For them to go from that level in 2013 to where they are now, that’s just amazing.
Take us back to January 5, 2016. In one day, we learned that AJ Styles, Doc Gallows, Karl Anderson and Shinsuke Nakamura were all leaving to WWE. What was that day like for you?
Fale: It was a crazy thing to happen. Loyalty, money, family, friends, it was all in the balance. We knew about it a couple of days earlier, and at that point of course the first thing you think is ‘what’s gonna happen now?’
Myself and Tama both had the same opportunity, had offers. But I was lucky I think to be able to see that my future was in New Japan, not over there. I knew that if anything happened to the Bullet Club that I still had a future here, and could do what it took to stay.
It was an emotional rollercoaster though. We had done so much in such a short period of time to make a real difference and for that to suddenly come crashing to a halt.. it was definitely scary.
Was it a scenario where the whole group came together and talked everything over first?
Fale: Well, the speculation had been going for five or six months so it was always in the back of the mind. It wasn’t until the night before Wrestle Kingdom that these offers were final and we all sat down, actually near to where we are right now in the Tokyo Dome hotel and talked over everything; what we could do over there, what would happen if we stayed here, everything. We all went our separate ways, and then the day of the Tokyo Dome show was when the final decisions were made.
There was a big change that night for Kenny Omega as well. At New Year’s Dash he pinned Shinsuke Nakamura and turned on AJ Styles. As he took over the lead of the Bullet Club, did he have that same conversation with you that AJ did? Did he bring you in that huddle?
Fale: No. Like I said, everything changed.
I don’t blame Kenny. He’s used to focusing on himself, and he took things in a direction that he believed was right. At the same time though, it went against what we had been building for years. It felt like what we had wasn’t there anymore. That brotherhood wasn’t there anymore.
In western pro wrestling, you hear a lot of talk about ‘grabbing the brass ring’ so to speak, about clawing over everyone to get to the top. There’s an aspect of that in Japan too, but there’s a bigger sense of community and pulling together for a greater good. When you talk about brotherhood, it’s interesting that Bullet Club is seen as a foreigner stable, but there’s a Japanese mindset there.
Fale: That’s exactly it. We were the Dojo Boys, we knew how the Japanese system worked. We knew exactly the sort of hard work it took to get to the top. I myself, I was the first foreigner to really go through the entire dojo Young Lion program. Lots of people have come in, gotten a taste of the dojo life. So, I always knew exactly how things go. When we started (Bullet Club), we weren’t just a bunch of gaijin. We were part of all this, and whatever happened, we still had the sense that we were protecting what this company has built.
It’s tradition. I’ve seen so many foreign guys come in and show such disrespect to the Japanese guys. They don’t understand that this company has stayed alive for so long because of that respect and regard for one another. There’s no point elevating yourself if there’s nobody up there with you- if you’re up here and on your own, what are you gonna do then?
I respect the hell out of Tanahashi, Makabe, Nagata. These guys don’t get enough credit. A lot of foreigners don’t understand. Some foreigners have come in to wrestle at a time when everything’s blowing up all over the place, but don’t know that these guys have worked so hard for years trying to keep the company afloat. If it wasn’t for Tanahashi or Nagata, we wouldn’t be where we are right now, and it’s so frustrating to see that lack of respect. It makes my blood boil. The Bullet Club way is always the New Japan way. You work together to get things done. We learned that from the Japanese way of doing things.
You might have your differences, but it sounds like that original Bullet Club philosophy is similar to, say Los Ingobernables. You’re anti-authoritarian perhaps, but you want to make the system better, not replace it with something in your vision.
Fale: The Bullet Club OGs, or just BC back then, we were, we are anti-authoritarian, but anti-authoritarian within the New Japan system. We might have people that hate us, and we might seek that out and run with it, but we aren’t about burning anything to the ground. We took an opportunity and ran with it. And because of that we’d see people take notice, or start imitating us, because we were onto something big, but we never turned back round to New Japan and told them to f*ck off. We might speak our mind, and make sure we’re listened to if we think we need to be treated better, but we’re with you guys in the end.
It seems the Bullet Club civil war will be continuing for a while. What’s the ideal end game for BC OG? Is it for the Bullet Club to carry on without The Elite in it? Do you want to come back together again?
Fale: I don’t think that we’re ever going to come back together. Our views of how to take the group forward are too different at this point. The end goal for me is to still be here in ten years. Whatever happens to the Club, it’s not something I really think about. The end goal is for us to work together and still be here in another five, ten years from now.