‘Wrestling is a Metaphor for Life” is a series of articles that looks at past rivalries in pro wrestling. Influenced by popular culture and the social behaviour of the times, these rivalries emphasise the stark contrast between the heroes and villains who are explained through various themes. Hulkamania vs. the Million Dollar Man dealt with values, and socio-economic status in the 1980s and DDP vs. nWo inspired fans to hold on to their principles in the face of peer pressure during the ‘90s.
In this instalment, I will discuss the unique conflict of New Japan Pro Wrestling’s Bullet Club Civil War between Bullet Club OG (originals) and Being the Elite. Although the roles of the heroes and villains aren’t definitive to a single perspective, I have determined my own good guys and bad guys based on who is right and wrong. Bullet Club was initially one group; founded in 2013 by Bad Luck Fale, Tama Tonga, Prince Devitt and Karl Anderson; Bullet Club was founded on brotherhood, culture and loyalty. Over the years, key members joined and departed the world-famous faction while Fale and Tama remained. The dynamics in Bullet Club changed as Kenny Omega and Cody Rhodes became part of the group. Omega and Rhodes brought with them a mindset that did not recognise the Japanese values that BC was built on as they fought over the group’s leadership, despite the fact that a leader was never discussed amongst the group. Bullet Club operated as a successful brotherhood. However, Omega would also create his own sub-group within Bullet Club which was called Being the Elite. This clique included fellow club members, Matt and Nick Jackson the brother tag team known as the Young Bucks. These changes eventually caused Fale and Tama to take action and send a reminder to the Elite that they were the OGs, the founding members of Bullet Club. I believe that the OGs are in the right, and the Elite are wrong.
Pro wrestling is thriving in 2019. Digital media has broken barriers with all forms of entertainment. For example, a television programmes audience was once bound by TV networks in different locations of the world buying the rights to broadcast the show in their area. The internet has since made every television show available to the world audience; maximizing exposure. A TV series is no longer confined to the traditional broadcast time slot. Rather, social media platforms have helped progress the storyline of the show and maintain visibility between its weekly screenings. In addition to mainstream content that is available online, there is also an awareness of arts and entertainment from non-western cultures that have become popular with western society. Content like the Maori Haka, the traditional Samoan tattoo, Korean Pop and Japanese’ Anime can be watched on YouTube, searched on Google and discussed on Facebook and Twitter. The appreciation of non-western cultures has also encouraged Disney to act responsibly when portraying other ethnic groups in their films. A recent case of this move was 2016’s Moana, where notable actors and musicians of Pacific heritage were sought after to be involved in the production of the movie.
In 2019, wrestlers are interacting online with their peers, fans and haters. It has become common for wrestlers to promote their brand and upcoming matches on their social media pages.
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I can remember over twenty years ago, reading the results of the New Japan J Crown tournament in the Pro Wrestling Illustrated magazine three months after the event had taken place. Today, you can watch a New Japan event as part of the world audience on your device, with the option of listening to the commentary spoken in English.
The OGs and the Elite finally came to blows one year ago on July 7 at the NJPW G1 Special in San Francisco event, following Kenny Omega’s IWGP Championship defence against Cody Rhodes. Omega, celebrating with the Young Bucks on the entrance ramp was also joined by Tama, his brother and tag team member, Tanga Loa and their father King Haku. What was thought to be a show of unity, turned into a vicious beating when the Tongans attacked Omega and the Bucks. The trio then dragged Omega back to the ring to continue the assault. As the beating continued, other BC members tried to either intervene or oppose the Tongans declaration of war but their efforts only turned them into casualties. “This is Bullet Club!” screamed Tanga Loa, glaring into the camera. “This is the foundation of Bullet Club!” referring to himself, Tama and Haku. “There is no leader. We are all equal!”
Tama followed up in an interview with the media, stating that by creating the Elite, Kenny Omega disrespected the Japanese culture that Bullet Club was founded on. Tama reiterated that Bullet Club did not have a leader.
Fale also took to the media, sharing in detail with New Japan Pro Wrestling the community values that he and his fellow Bullet Club originals had become accustomed to during their early years in Japan, training as Young Lions at the NJPW Dojo. The Rogue General explained that Bullet Club had changed when Omega took the group in a direction that excluded the founders and the Japanese tradition that they had instilled in the group. Fale emphasised that although Bullet Club was anti-authoritarian within the New Japan system, they were still loyal to the company. It was not their intention to destroy New Japan, but they strongly believed that they deserved to be treated fairly by the NJPW body.
The perspectives expressed by the three OGs are justified when looking at how family and community are central to both Japanese and Pacific cultures. It’s understandable that they would take exception to Omega’s golden circle. The Elite completely ignored the BC system and the essence of the Japanese culture. Since the attack on 7 July 2018, the OGs vowed that they would take Bullet Club back to its roots, and as a result of their reclamation, the OGs demonstrated that their cultural values were superior to the exclusivity of Elite. This type of exclusiveness is inspired by a set of beliefs from a western upbringing, and in many cases, those beliefs can be overtaken by narcissism and greed.
An illustration of the comparison between the OGs and the Elite can be noted back to the King of Pro Wrestling event in October 2018 when the opposing groups met in an eight-man tag team match. This contest featured Fale, Tama, Loa and Taiji Ishimori against Adam Page, Chase Owens and the Bucks. The OGs showed a superior presentation by demonstrating that they were united with their image and abilities. Their gears displayed colours which blended well, and each member possessed a different set of skills which contributed to the group’s success: Fale’s size and power, Tama and Loa’s tag team combinations and Ishimori’s speed and agility could not be matched.
The Elite possessed similar attributes, however, their performance paled in comparison to the OGs consistency in teamwork. The mismatch of colours made them look random, and it also translated to their inability to gel together. Matt Jackson’s back injury also played a role in hindering Elite’s chances. The English-speaking commentators empathised Matt’s condition as he was being isolated from his group and pummelled during the course of the match. His three teammates could only watch on and do nothing to aid the most vulnerable person in the group. Commentators also referred to Page and Owens as being “a bunch of good old Virginia boys” and complemented Page on being a fan of the ladies. Those were interesting comments. It just further isolated a faction that was already despondent. Ultimately, the Elite was no match for the OG’s ‘family unit’.
Bullet Club OG vs. Being The Elite was a tale based on an attempt to colonise a culture and its community. Kenny Omega, who held the biggest prize in Japan, the IWGP Heavyweight Title, spoke fluent Japanese and took the time to integrate himself into Japanese society. However, the ideology that he brought with him was being favoured by many of the local fans, though it contradicted their way of life. The founders of the Bullet Club were ignored, and decisions were made without consultation. The narrative always depicted the original Bullet Club as evil Gaijins (foreigners), yet they were trained by the NJPW Dojo system, and in return, they helped to sustain the values of the Japanese culture while Omega and his golden circle retreated back to the western society. Since taking Bullet Club back to its origins, the OGs success serves as a message to the locals that they should not lose sight of their own cultural values.