In January 2016, at the annual Royal Rumble pay-per-view event, WWE finally gave fans a moment they’ve eagerly awaited for many years: the debut of "The Phenomenal” AJ Styles. It was a surreal moment because WWE has made it almost taboo to recognize that any pro wrestling outside their bubble exists, but there was absolutely no way to pass Styles off as an “up and coming” performer. The entire wrestling world knew AJ Styles, as he’s one of the most popular grapplers in the world. WWE acknowledged that by referring to him as a seasoned, world-traveled megastar.
A few months later, a couple of guys named Luke Gallows and Karl Anderson made a forceful WWE debut when they attacked Jimmy and Jey Uso on Raw and aligned themselves with AJ Styles. The group started calling themselves “The Club,” and the hardcore wrestling fans were celebrating the arrival of something great. The casual fans, however, may have felt left in the dark. If a fan doesn’t keep up with wrestling outside WWE, they probably have no idea that there was a pre-existing connection between Styles, Anderson and Gallows. But there is and it goes so much deeper than it may appear.
The truth is that The Club has its roots in Japan under the umbrella of perhaps the second biggest wrestling organization in the world, New Japan Pro Wrestling. Many of WWE’s newer wrestlers have worked extensively in Japan before coming to America to work for Vince McMahon and their pasts are forgotten on WWE television. The Club, however, is setting a new standard. Let’s delve into The Club’s past and examine some things you may not know about the stable that began as the “Bullet Club.”
15 Finn Balor Was The Original Leader
Finn Balor became an overnight sensation in NXT when he debuted in 2014. His "Demon" body paint makes him incredibly marketable, especially to children in the form of action figures and other merchandise. He’s got an interactive entrance that makes for stunning television and he rarely has a match that isn’t completely breathtaking. Finn Balor is easily one of WWE’s most valuable talents in years.
He wasn’t always known as Finn Balor, however. Before coming to NXT, he was a larger than life star in New Japan Pro Wrestling. He went by the name Prince Devitt and his fame skyrocketed in 2013 when he formed and became the leader of a new stable known as The Bullet Club following a wildly popular heel turn by Devitt on his former tag team partner Ryusuke Taguchi.
14 Finn Balor Named The Bullet Club
Not only did Finn Balor serve as the original head of The Bullet Club, he was also responsible for naming it. The original faction consisted of Balor (known as Prince Devitt), Karl Anderson, and two Tongan professional wrestlers known as Bad Luck Fale and Tama Tonga. Balor and Anderson had something in common which Balor decided to use as inspiration in naming their newfound alliance.
Finn has stated that he specifically didn’t want the name of the stable to consist of only three letters and he didn’t want the word “the” in the beginning. Using the fact that he, at the time, was known as the “Real Shooter” Prince Devitt and used a handgun hand gesture, as well as the fact that Karl Anderson was known as “The Machine Gun,” Balor landed on the name “Bullet Club.” Interesting to note is that, long before The Club debuted on Raw, Finn Balor had been wearing a t-shirt, available on the WWE Shop website, which reads, “Balor Club.”
13 Bullet Club Was Made Up of Foreigners
As noted, The Club got its start in New Japan Pro Wrestling as the Bullet Club. The stable took formation after Finn Balor turned on his partner Ryusuke Taguchi, turning heel in the process, and aligned himself with American wrestler Karl Anderson and Tongan wrestlers Tama Tonga and Bad Luck Fale. Originally, Balor was to only be associated with Bad Luck Fale, but plans were changed and the other members were added to the equation.
The villainous team would constantly interfere in one another’s matches, uncharacteristic of the Japanese style of pro wrestling. They were ruthless heels and were being compared to WCW’s New World Order from the infamous “Monday Night War” era. The group, known as a “gaijin” or “foreigner” stable, was intentionally made up entirely of competitors of foreign nationalities, a rule that would stand until 2014 when the Bullet Club welcomed its first Japanese member, Yujiro Takahashi.
12 Versions Still Exist In NJPW And ROH
Much has been made of WWE’s use of the term, “The Club,” for AJ Styles, Luke Gallows and Karl Anderson as opposed to using the “Bullet Club” moniker under which they became world famous. WWE’s always been known for skating around names in order to land on something they can secure a copyright on. It’s how Bullet Club’s former leader, Prince Devitt, became Finn Balor. The company seems to be easing up on that practice lately with new signees Shinsuke Nakamura, Bobby Roode and Austin Aries all holding on to the names that made them famous on the independent scene.
But it’s likely not about copyrights in the case of The Club. In fact, this is not a situation where WWE has exclusive rights and they seem to be participating in a movement happening on the independent scene, because the Bullet Club still exists, with versions in both New Japan Pro Wrestling and Ring of Honor. Not even five years ago, WWE would probably have attempted instantly to shut all that down.
11 The Young Bucks Are Members
WWE’s tag team division is the strongest and fullest it has been many years. With The New Day dominating as WWE Tag Team Champions for almost an entire year now and new challengers filing in like The Vaudevillains, Enzo Amore and Big Cass, and The Club itself, it’s an exciting time to be a fan of tag team wrestling. But there are still some teams among the indies that WWE hasn’t yet seen fit to sign to NXT deals and perhaps the most popular among them are Nick and Matt Jackson.
Known as The Young Bucks, Nick and Matt are real life brothers who have made names for themselves on the independent scene with their excessive use of the Superkick, which they refer to as the “Superkick Party.” Their matches have become the highlight of the shows they’re on in the eyes of many fans, which is why it’s so baffling that they haven’t secured a WWE contract as of 2016. The Jackson brothers have been wrestling for over ten years, becoming official members of the Bullet Club in 2013.
10 The Club Has Connections to Kevin Owens
Whether you refer to them as The Club or Bullet Club, the group has gone through a lot of changes. There has been a slew a new members since the original four, with many members eventually leaving (most of whom have wound up in WWE). But then there are those wrestlers who have become so notorious for feuding and occasionally teaming with the members of the Bullet Club that they are often spoken of in the same breath.
For instance, did you know The Club actually has close ties to Kevin Owens? When Owens was wrestling on the independent circuit as Kevin Steen, he often wrestled against The Young Bucks (with his partner El Generico, also known as Sami Zayn, no less) and even occasionally teamed with them. Owens and the Jackson brothers have become close friends over the years, with Owens almost being an honorary member of the Bullet Club.
9 Karl Anderson Was Once the Leader Of The Bullet Club
Currently, the vast majority of pro wrestling fans probably know The Club in its current state with Luke Gallows, Karl Anderson and their leader AJ Styles. As previously mentioned, upon the inception of the Bullet Club in 2013, the original leader of the group was Prince Devitt, now known as Finn Balor. But when Finn left New Japan Pro Wrestling to come to WWE’s NXT, the faction needed a new leader, at least until AJ Styles would arrive and eventually take over the role himself.
The leader in the time between Balor’s exit and Styles’ rise was none other than current member of The Club, Karl Anderson. It may be surprising to some, especially the more casual fans, considering Anderson isn’t portrayed in WWE as having a lot of power in the group. That may be WWE’s shortcomings at work, but nevertheless Anderson indeed served as leader of the Bullet Club for quite some time.
8 AJ Styles And Finn Balor Never Crossed Paths
As can be seen on WWE television currently, AJ Styles is the leader of The Club and there have been references on more than one occasion to the trio’s past in Japan’s NJPW. Hardcore wrestling fans already know this very well, along with the fact that Finn Balor used to lead the group as Prince Devitt before coming to NXT two years ago, something even the casual fans may have gotten wind of if they’ve followed Balor’s NXT career closely.
But did you know that Finn Balor and AJ Styles never crossed paths as members of the Bullet Club? In a changing of the guard at NJPW’s Invasion Attack 2014, Balor (as Prince Devitt) wrestled his final match with the company and ended his association with the Bullet Club, and then later that same night AJ Styles was revealed as the Bullet Club’s newest member. So even though Balor and Styles are the two most notorious leaders of The Club, they were never members at the same time.
7 Connection To The Anoa’i Dynasty
The Bullet Club was created three years ago and has included around fifteen members at one point or another. And, as you know, it would seem that one out of every three professional wrestlers has some sort of tie to the Samoan wrestling family known affectionately as the Anoa’i dynasty, so there was bound to be a connection within the Bullet Club.
That dynasty, considered the most expansive wrestling family in the word, includes some of the biggest names in the history of the wrestling industry. People like Rikishi, Yokozuna, Roman Reigns, Umaga and even Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson all belong to the famed lineage of grapplers. While the Bullet Club has never included an actual blood member of the Anoa’i family, one of the original members was Tama Tonga, the son of wrestling legend Haku, also known as Meng, who was very close with the family throughout his career.
6 Anderson And Gallows Have Been Tag Team Champions
We’ve seen Luke Gallows and Karl Anderson chase the WWE Tag Team Championship already in the brief time since their WWE debut. First feuding with former Champions Jimmy and Jey Uso, Anderson and Gallows quickly moved on to newer rivals in WWE Tag Team Champions The New Day, and though The Club has yet to win the gold, fans know it’s only a matter of time as they’ve quickly been established as one of the top teams in the company.
Anderson and Gallows have been teaming together as a part of the Bullet Club since 2013, the year of the faction’s inception, and while the WWE Universe eagerly awaits their reign at the top of the tag team division, they may be interested to know that these two men have actually already seen a lot of success in NJPW. Over the course of two years, Karl Anderson and Luke Gallows won the IWGP Tag Team Championship on three separate occasions, with their first reign lasting exactly one year.
5 Luke Gallows Was Festus And Imposter Kane
Luke Gallows joined New Japan Pro Wrestling in 2013, debuting as a member of the Bullet Club alongside his new tag team partner Karl Anderson. The team would go on to great success, but this was not the first rodeo for the big guy. Known as Doc Gallows in NJPW, he was coming off a varied wrestling career which included a role as D.O.C. in TNA’s Aces & Eights faction and, before that, wrestling in WWE as a part of CM Punk’s Straight Edge Society under the name he uses now, Luke Gallows.
But if we go back even further, Gallows’ past becomes even more colorful. In the late 2000s, he was one half of the tag team Jesse and Festus, playing the Festus part. If you know Jesse and Festus, you’ll remember Festus as the mentally challenged one who wouldn’t respond to any stimuli until the bell rang, which turned him into a monster until the end of the match when it rang again. Lastly, before Festus came along, Gallows got his first taste of fame when he donned a mask to portray Imposter Kane in one of the most notoriously bad storylines ever produced by WWE.
4 Bullet Club Has Hall Of Fame Connections
Bullet Club’s influence on the pro wrestling industry has been great. Not only have they broken into the fortress of WWE and changed the way that company acknowledges the independent wrestling scene, but they’re one of the longest running wrestling stables in recent memory. Even The Shield, perhaps the most famously known wrestling faction to come along in recent years, only survived around a year and a half before they were split up. The Club’s appeal stretches far and has attracted the attention of wrestling legends from around the world.
We’ve covered the Bullet Club’s link to the legendary Anoa’i wrestling family, but the faction also has close connections to a certain WWE Hall of Famer. One of the Bullet Club’s newest members in NJPW is the son of Scott Hall, who was inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame in 2014 as his Razor Ramon persona from the mid 1990s. Cody Hall, who suffered a setback in 2016 due to an injury, joined the Bullet Club in 2015 as a trainee.
3 “Too Sweet” Hand Gesture Pays Homage to nWo
The edgy mentality of the villainous Bullet Club is not the only thing that makes them so iconic. They’ve taken over the independent wrestling scene with their evolving roster of members, but one thing that identifies a wrestler as a member of the Bullet Club is a hand gesture you’re probably pretty familiar with. The “too sweet” hand gesture is used by members of the faction to signify their unity, but it originated long before The Club came into existence.
In fact, the Bullet Club’s Cody Hall’s father, Scott Hall, was a founding member of the New World Order in WCW, a stable that became famous using the aforementioned hand gesture. The Bullet Club adopted the gesture as a way to pay homage to the nWo, which the club has been likened to on many occasions. Kevin Nash, another founding member, has said publicly that he supports the hand signal’s usage.
2 AJ Styles Has Wrestled Everywhere
When AJ Styles debuted with WWE at the 2016 Royal Rumble, he had the entire wrestling world talking. Even the most casual of wrestling fans that only ever follow WWE knew of the name AJ Styles and that he was a hot commodity; the WWE Universe had been begging the wrestling giant to sign him for many years. Some of those fans might even be vaguely aware of his success in TNA over the past decade, but few know just how world traveled Styles really is.
AJ has actually wrestled in nearly all of the world’s biggest wrestling organizations and found great success almost everywhere he’s been. A young AJ Styles even competed in WCW just before Vince McMahon bought out the company. His extensive years in TNA are well documented as he essentially became the face of Impact Wrestling, but he has also seen Championship wins in Ring of Honor and the original home of the Bullet Club, NJPW, winning the IWGP Heavyweight Championship.
1 Kenny Omega Is The Current Leader Of The Bullet Club
Prince Devitt led the Bullet Club in its debut year in 2013, but the following year was signed to NXT and Karl Anderson took over the leadership role. After a time, AJ Styles took the lead until he, Karl Anderson and Luke Gallows were all brought to WWE. In need of a new leader, the Bullet Club turned to indie sensation Kenny Omega to assume the helm.
Kenny Omega became the leader of the Bullet Club in NJPW in 2016, but he’s been making waves on the independent wrestling scene for years. He has found some success in Ring of Honor and been closely associated with fellow Bullet Club members The Young Bucks, but in New Japan Pro Wrestling Omega has really flourished. Omega is a former IWGP Intercontinental Champion and one of the biggest international stars yet to be signed by WWE, although Omega has stated that WWE has shown interest in him several times.
Could Kenny Omega be the next Bullet Club star signed to NXT?