Back in 2002, the New World Order debuted in the WWE. Having purchased WCW’s video library and trademarks, the WWE decided it was time to take advantage of on one of the biggest and most successful angles, stables in wrestling history. As per the storyline, frustrated with having to share ownership of the WWE with Ric Flair, Vince McMahon brought in the New World Order as a “virus” to destroy the company he created.
Although they had their moments, the nWo’s run in the WWE was about as dismal as Steven Regal’s “Real Man’s Man” gimmick. With Kevin Nash injured early on, Scott Hall experiencing personal problems leading to him being fired and Hulk Hogan becoming a face again after WrestleMania 18, the faction limped on but never attained the heights that it did in WCW as the WWE didn’t push forward with the nWo in a focused, imaginative way. As is its spotty history, the WWE had an epic angle handed to it and as it does more often than not, it was bungled it beyond all recognition.
History is repeating itself again in 2016 with debatably the most popular and lucrative wrestling faction/brand since the New World Order. Unless you have been vacationing in parts unknown, you have heard of Bullet Club. Established in 2013 when Prince Devitt — known in the WWE as Finn Balor — betrayed his tag team partner Ryusuke Taguchi and joined forces with Karl “Machinegun” Anderson, “The Underboss” Bad Luck Fale and the unpredictable Tama Tonga.
The group would expand to include The Young Bucks and Doc Gallows. When Devitt left for the WWE and NXT, A.J. Styles took his place as the leader. Adopting the New World Order’s “too sweet” hand gesture, The Bullet Club has thumbed its nose at Japanese culture by only conducting their interviews in English, spitting all over Japanese wrestling traditions and customs, etc. Since its formation, The Bullet Club has recruited Yujiro Takahashi, its first Japanese member, Canadian Kenny Omega (Bullet Club’s current leader), Cody Hall (son of Scott Hall), Chase Owens, Tanga Roa (Tama Tonga’s brother), Adam Cole and Hangman Page. With the endorsement of New World Order original Kevin Nash, The Bullet Club has gone on to great heights and popularity dominating New Japan Pro Wrestling in its various incarnations. The brand has even seeped into Ring of Honor and Global Force Wrestling.
You would think it would be a no-brainer for the WWE to take advantage of the phenomenon in some way, especially with Balor, Styles, Anderson and Gallows all under the same banner. You could have them all teaming up and dominating their respective brands. You could have A.J. and Finn fight for control of the stable. You could have the WWE entering into a partnership with NJPW to use the brand in WWE. Predictably though the WWE has allowed yet another pro wrestling Golden Goose to fly the coop under its care.
The first mistake was changing The Bullet Club to simply The Club, making the group sound like a bunch of tweens meeting in a tree house after school. Luke Gallows would later explain the change was because of the WWE’s branding itself as “family entertainment.”
“The WWE is all about family friendly entertainment. My son and I watch the WWE Network at home all the time. Going with The Club was the way we needed to go to come here and be in this environment, where your kids are watching,” he told NOLA.com.
So, let me get this straight. Firstly, despite the fact that the WWE refers to themselves as “family entertainment” they routinely include off-colour jokes, sexual references and mature material in their product? For that and other things, I wouldn’t exactly call WWE’s current brand of entertainment “PG.”
Secondly, unlike Japanese children, American children are far more sensitive and would be uncomfortable with a heel faction calling themselves The Bullet Club? They are content with wrestlers suffering accidents and the WWE replaying those real-life injuries again and again, wrestlers throwing each other into steel posts, ringside barriers and through announce tables, hitting each other with steel chairs, bullying and blindsiding each other, trash-talking foes as they pummel them in the ring, making the aforementioned sexual references and comments, treating women as sexual objects … but a stable called The Bullet Club and their catch-phrases, hand gestures are too much to handle? I am not buying any of that. Actions speak louder than words.
Despite the awkward and cringe-worthy name change, The Club started out with some promise and intrigue with Balor and WWE on-air personalities promoting their debut. The WWE even began referencing NJPW and the Bullet Club’s accomplishments, which was curious in itself. Gallows and Anderson, one of the most dominant tag teams in NJPW, continued their bad ass heritage for the time being as they were reunited with A.J. Styles. Styles, Gallows and Anderson seemed to have buried the hatchet after The Bullet Club gave Styles a goodbye beating, and then crowning Canadian Kenny Omega as their new leader. All that nastiness was swept under the carpet as the trio eventually joined forces under The Club banner targeting John Cena, the Usos and running afoul of Roman Reigns.
Regrettably, that is all The Club has amounted to. When Finn Balor snubbed the faction he created during a backstage segment at SummerSlam, the writing was on the wall. Just like they did to the New World Order, the WWE hit the brakes, threw open the passenger door and kicked The Club to the side of the road. A.J. Styles, next to Kenny Omega, arguably the hottest property in wrestling today, was relegated to Smackdown while Anderson and Gallows were drafted to Raw thereby breaking up the stable.
Fans still had hope though believing that maybe by being split into two The Club would rule both brands. That wish never materialized. Styles effectively left The Club behind, never mentioning them in his promos and the WWE went on to make a mockery of Gallows and Anderson by turning them into some bizarre comedy act for weeks on end, even pairing them with the perpetually useless Dana Brooke. The WWE did drop the skits and returned Gallows and Anderson to their brutalizing ways only to job them out to The New Day at Clash of Champions and the following night on Raw, effectively burying one of the most successful tag teams in the last 10 years.
Angry and sympathetic fans took to Twitter to express their frustration.
Garr Madden (@BadAssGarr) wrote: “Gallows and Anderson should head back to Japan. WWE have killed them.”
“Oh and then there’s Gallows and Anderson paying the price for not being a WWE made product. Festus had more wins than them,” Tweeted Danny (@thedannygilbert).
“#GallowsAndAnderson have been neutered. The only thing that can save them is a move to #SDLive,” wrote Tam Honks (@ManiacCop3).
“I have a feeling Gallows and Anderson would be better off in Japan. WWE doesn’t give two s–ts about them,” Tweeted Matt (@lolwhyamihere).
Although it pains me to say so, Matt is probably right. The WWE have completely mismanaged Gallows and Anderson and The Bullet Club as a whole. Anyone who has followed NJPW can understand how the WWE has squandered the opportunity that has been presented to them employing four of The Bullet Club’s most prominent and influential members. And we aren’t talking about Horace Hogan, Fake Sting, Vincent or The Disciple here. Styles and Balor are two of the very best of their generation and Anderson, Gallows are well on their way to becoming the next Outsiders. Then again, this is the same company that had Ric Flair and Hulk Hogan under contract and couldn’t, wouldn’t put that dream match together. Wrestling fans had to wait for WCW to pick up the ball and carry it over the goal line years later.
As an entertainment company, the WWE likens itself to heavyweights like The Walt Disney Company. Not only will that never be the case but there is a big difference between Disney and the WWE. Disney has proven they can acquire signature properties such as Marvel Entertainment and the Star Wars franchise, characters that are recognized and revered world-wide, and do them justice. Disney doesn’t balk at or devalue the properties or the characters just because they were the original creations of other companies or other people. They recognize the value, the notoriety and build on that firm foundation. The WWE has a history of doing the complete opposite, often degrading stables, teams or talent, not using them to their full potential and not honouring their achievements or their storied histories.
The New World Order was not an original idea. Eric Bischoff was inspired by what was happening in New Japan Pro Wrestling which was “invaded” for a short time by Union of Wrestling Forces International. New Japan is known for cross-promotional angles, matches and after watching their Battle Formation show, Bischoff decided to run with a similar angle in WCW. Bischoff knew a good idea when he saw it and jumped on it changing the path of WCW and making wrestling history. It is a shame WWE cannot do the same with The Bullet Club. Unfortunately, after all the hype and all the anticipation, after having an angle handed to them on a silver platter, The Club is destined to be another infamous WWE misfire, another botched Invasion angle, another blundered WWE New World Order. It could very well be time for Bullet Club fans to throw in the towel and for certain talent, when the time comes, to eventually book those flights back to Japan where they will be treated with the respect they deserve.