Like anything else on TV, when it comes to wrestling factions, content is king. No matter how much talent or how athletic, a wrestling faction that becomes boring can’t survive. To make a bad pun, it’s the evolution of the business. Factions strike at the right place and the right time. Their impact is such that audiences will line up in droves to either love or hate them. However, once that impact begins to fade, a faction that was riding high can come crashing down.
No faction is immune to change. Some will point to the Four Horseman as the one faction that has stood the test of time, but that’s not entirely true. Yes, the original and Windham-era Horseman are timeless, but dig deep into the various versions during the 90s and you’ll see a faction that should have called it a day much earlier.
Other factions barely make a blip on the radar. Most wrestling fans look at Edge & Christian as one of the greatest tag teams in history, but who remembers The Brood? Edge, Christian & Gangrel entering up through the floor with fire burning between them? Any takers? Didn’t think so. Even if you remember The Brood you can’t argue the lack of impact they had. How about Orton’s group The Legacy. Doesn’t ring a bell? Don’t worry you didn’t miss anything.
It’s hard to predict what will go over with a crowd. The original Corporation, involving Vince McMahon, Shane and their cronies was a milestone in the Attitude Era. Recently WWE tried that angle again with The Authority with much less exciting results. In Ring Of Honor, The House Of Truth has done some great work; including turning Jay Lethal into the champion he has long deserved to be. On the flipside, Social Outcasts and Mount Rushmore 2.0 haven’t exactly set the world on fire.
For me, the latest faction needing to call it a day is NJPW’s Bullet Club. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a huge Bullet Club fan and I truly believe the Prince Devitt through AJ Styles era of the faction will rival the Four Horseman as far as impact, importance and talent. These days the Bullet Club has gotten stale, their gimmick repetitive and the whole shtick tired. At one time, when the Bullet Club hit, it was chaos. Fans never knew what might happen when Devitt, Karl Anderson, Doc Gallows and the Young Bucks hit the ring. Whatever did go down, it was usually magical and always entertaining.
That magic has dried up over the last year or so. Now The Bullet Club is predictable. They come out, cheat as a group (because NJPW refs are idiotic to level that even kayfabe can’t excuse), never sell for anyone else and then win. If you watch NJPW enough, you can almost call exactly what’s going to happen and when. The excitement of the original Bullet Club has gone, leaving a very pale and faded reflection.
I can hear the Bullet Club faithful now. I can hear the screams for my head as they begin to run down the resume of each member. Calm down. I fully recognize some of the incredible talent still in The Bullet Club. Kenny Omega is one of the greatest in-ring performers around today. There is no greater tag team in the business currently than the Young Bucks. Those three remain the standard bearer for greatness in NJPW.
Where the Bullet Club suffers is two-fold. First, their replacement talent pool is seriously lacking. Losing Prince Devitt (now Finn Balor) to WWE as well as AJ Styles, Karl Anderson and Doc Gallows was a heavy blow. Those who remained in the Bullet Club were never interesting and still aren’t, and the filler talent is extremely thin. For example, long time member Bad Luck Fale has not exactly stepped up his game. In the older version, as a background bodyguard Fale was great, as a key player he brings nothing to the table.
It’s not all Fale’s fault. A lot of it is how he’s booked. You can’t try and sell a guy as a smash mouth strongman when he rarely wins without his faction members helping him. That’s just not how you sell an enforcer. Look at Arn Anderson, the enforcer for the Four Horseman. He helped other members cheat, but usually smash mouthed through his own matches without assistance. It sold him as an absolute bad ass. In Fale’s case, he lumbers out, executes his limited move set and then usually wins through assistance. It’s to the point that I skip past his matches.
Then there’s Takahashi. Has that dude ever really done anything outside of strutting to the ring with a hot girl? Hangman Adam Page? Seriously? His shtick is such an obvious attempt to squeeze any last bit of pop culture relevance out of Sons Of Anarchy, that it’s almost laughable. When Page struts out to the ring in NJPW holding his hangman’s noose it harkens back to bad 80s WWF. I’ll give both men their credit for a killer tag match at this year’s G1 Climax, but it doesn’t make the interesting.
Tag team “brothers” Tama Tonga & Tanga Roa are talented, but can’t get past their gimmick. The outfits smack too close to The Shield, and the face paint comes off less like war paint and more like bad cosplay. The cherry on top is that both men have fallen victim to the “open your eyes wide and make faces to seem craaaazy” vibe. All of that takes away from their in-ring ability and makes them more of a punch line than a veritable threat.
Perhaps the most damaged by inclusion in The Bullet Club is Adam Cole. Don’t get me wrong, I love me some Adam Cole. I have been a huge fan since the Future Shock days and I continue to think he’s one of the top guys in the industry. Cole almost never has a bad match and when he does, it’s usually bad booking not performance. Cole’s time as the ROH champion stands as one of the greatest runs in the history of that promotion.
Since he first lost the ROH title, Cole hasn’t been able to find solid footing. Most of that is due to poor booking. Regardless, his potential is being wasted. Watch Cole in PWG and tell me that he’s at his best in ROH. No way. Cole in PWG is a monster, a sure-footed leader and completely despicable heel. In ROH, he seems like a wimp, a weasel who runs from any challenge where the numbers game isn’t in his favor.
So why did Cole’s joining the Bullet Club hurt him? First, he wasn’t added as a leader. Cole didn’t step in and oust Kenny Omega, he didn’t walk into the Bullet Club and shake things up. Instead he’s just another soldier, which is beneath Cole. Second, coming from his run in The Kingdom and now the Bullet Club, it reads that Adam Cole can’t win on his own, that he is nothing unless he’s part of a faction. In the long run that does more to hurt Cole than help him.
Outside of the thin talent pool, Bullet Club is also suffering from bloat. Put simply, there are too many members. Pretty much every truly great wrestling faction had between five and six members. Four Hoursemen had, well, four. DX at their best had five. Hart foundation? Five. Evolution? Four. The Corporation had six hardcore members. Freedbirds had three. Sure the Ministry Of Darkness had nine members, but for every rule there is an exception. (they were also only around about nine months at full strength).
One of the most popular factions, the NWO, started strong with just three members. Hulk Hogan. Scott Hall. Kevin Nash. The faction stayed in power as it grew to include a few more wrestlers but, within a few years, the amount of people in the NWO made it hard to take seriously. There were so many members that it affected the booking. Why would anyone continue to wrestle in a promotion where nearly everyone was part of one faction? Not to mention watching the NWO use their numbers to constantly win took drama out of the matches. It became so predictable that the fans lost interest. A few years after they started, NWO was a joke. A stable filled with half-assed talent and old men. It went from a groundbreaking idea to a liability.
The Bullet Club is walking that same path. When it started in 2013 there was Prince Devitt and Karl Anderson as the masterminds, with Bad Luck Fale as the enforcer and Tama Tonga as the wild card. Four members. Soon after, they added Doc Gallows & The Youngbucks. Seven members. It was a stretch but the talent helped the stable remain interesting.
Jump ahead to 2016. Prince Devitt is gone. Replacement leader AJ Styles has come and gone. Karl Anderson & Doc Gallows are gone. Only Tama Tonga & Bad Luck Fale are left from the original group and then the Youngbucks. The addition of Kenny Omega was a solid move and if that had been the last addition, it all might have worked out.
That’s not what happened. Kenny Omega, The Youngbucks, Adam Cole, Bad Luck Fale, Cody Hall, Adam Page, Tama Tonga, Tanga Roa and Takahashi. These days, without their strongest talent even in the circle, Bullet Club is ten deep. At this point it’s just a parade of guys with Bullet Club shirts on instead of a definitive faction. Mix in the lack of direction for most of the members, a less than impressive talent pool, and what was once a tremendous faction is now little more than a march-machine.
If it was up to me, I would have Omega & the Youngbucks continue with their Elite gimmick and dissolve the Bullet Club entirely. I’d have Bad Luck Fale stay as an enforcer simply because that’s what he’s best at. I would also have them involved in a feud with Naito, Evil and that crew.
This separation would allow Tama & Tanga to expand into their own tag team identity instead of playing second fiddle to The Youngbucks. Cody Hall, when he returns from injury, can expand who he is as a singles wrestler, maybe using Takahashi as his manager.
I see the Bullet Club as one of the most important factions in the history of wrestling. That being said, the team has run their course. As time goes on, their impact has lessened and they are dangerously close to ending up as NWO part 2.