Indie wrestling stars the Young Bucks are ready for anything, even the WWE
There is a reason the Young Bucks refer to themselves as “The Elite.”
“We are the best tag team on the planet,” said the sideburned, dark haired Matt Jackson, who forms the Bucks with his younger brother Nick.
The brothers, whose real last name is Massie, joined forces with Kenny Omega this past January to form “The Elite” within the extremely popular Bullet Club faction in New Japan Pro Wrestling. The Bucks and Omega never asked New Japan’s bookers for permission to break off with their own subgroup. They instead did what they do best–stayed true to themselves.
“We came up with ‘The Elite’ name years ago on a bus as a joke,” said Nick. “We’d ask each other, ‘Who do you think are the most elite wrestlers in the world?’ Then we’d make a list, but every list was just us and our friends. We thought it was hilarious, and we decided, ‘What if we just called ourselves that?’”
The Bucks currently hold the New Japan’s NEVER Openweight 6-man tag team championship with Kenny Omega. Titles aside – and those belts had almost no significance until the Bucks and Omega buckled the straps together and gave the belts new life – the three combine their talent for an incredible combination of in-ring work and captivating promos.
“We’ve known Kenny for a decade,” said Matt Jackson. “The chemistry is there.”
Matt explained that the formation of the group, which took place the night after Wrestle Kingdom 10 in January, was something that came about spontaneously in the midst of a performance.
“‘The Elite’ is something we just did on our own,” said Matt. “The night we turned on AJ Styles at Korakuen Hall with the Bullet Club, we were all leaving the ring. Kenny asked us, ‘Should I go back in the ring and give AJ the Styles Clash? And you guys double superkick him?’
“The rest of the Bullet Club had left, so this was going to be a signal to the audience that we are the three guys. Kenny looked at Nick, and Nick said, ‘Ask Matt.’ So Kenny asked me, and I said, ‘Let’s go.’ Kenny slid in the right, we were right behind him, and he picked up AJ in the Styles Clash. We double-superkicked him, Kenny gave him the deal, and we all posed. That was the night ‘The Elite’ was born.”
The articulate Matt Jackson is the senior member of the tag team at 31 years old, and slightly more outspoken–but no less thoughtful–than younger brother Nick, who is 26. Both are genuinely passionate about wrestling, and the two represent rare examples of wrestlers who have reached notoriety and acclaim without the WWE.
“You don’t need to make it with WWE to be a successful wrestler,” explained Nick. “We’re trying to change that perception and prove otherwise. The last few years, we’ve done better financially than a lot of guys in the WWE. No one knows that, but it’s possible to make a living without them. It takes a lot of hustle, but it’s possible.”
The Bucks, who signed a one-year contract with Ring of Honor last October, are the most entertaining team on the planet. Yet the two young artists have never had the chance to paint the WWE canvas. They were brought in for tryouts in 2008 and 2011, but a combination of events–both organic and manufactured–worked against the two brothers from California. In fact, five years have passed since the last serious conversations with the WWE.
“Our last tryout with WWE was in 2011,” said Matt. “We did a practice match in front of the agents.”
The Bucks were told that if they impressed the powers-that-be, they would then get a call back.
“But we never got that,” said Matt. “And there is some truth to what happened beforehand. It was a busy day, and we didn’t get to shake Booker T’s hand.”
The incident between the Bucks and the WWE occurred over an alleged lack of respect to the elders of the company, similar to the circumstances clouding Shawn Michaels and Marty Jannetty’s 1987 debut with the World Wrestling Federation. Etiquette in pro wrestling states that newcomers shake everyone’s hand upon arrival into the dressing room, and the Bucks, admittedly, did not.
“The whole handshake thing blew up, but it was a big misunderstanding,” said Nick. There was heavy traffic, so we were running late by the time we got there. William Regal was in charge of the tryouts, and said, ‘You’ve got to get into the ring right now,’ so we couldn’t say hi to anyone because we went right to the ring.”
Forces continued to conspire–perhaps even by design in the controlled world of the WWE–against the Bucks when Nick had another incident with Booker T later that day.
“We had another mix up with Booker,” recalled Matt. “Nick was leaning against Booker’s coat, and Booker said, ‘Hey, you’re on my coat.’ He started yelling, grabbed his coat, and walked away. Booker started talking about it online, and it blew up.”
The Bucks developed a reputation as arrogant and brash. Although those descriptors are not accurate, the two decided to use the unsavory image to their advantage.
“This is wrestling, but no one knows how to blur the lines anymore,” said Matt. “Let people think we have an attitude.”
Fact and fiction are far apart here, as the Bucks have cleared the air with Booker T.
“We’ve met Booker since then and buried the hatchet,” said Nick. “But we used it to our advantage. We played into that for our characters–let people think we’re egotistical, let them think we’re the best in the world and that we know it.”
The Bucks are true tag team enthusiasts, having grown up enthralled with the art of tag team wrestling.
“We grew up watching great tag teams,” said Nick. “The Rockers, Demolition, the Hardy’s, Dudley’s, and Edge and Christian were just a few who inspired us. We saw that and thought, ‘Man, we could do that.’”
Growing up in Rancho Cucamonga, Calif., the two constantly wrestled with friends in the back yard.
“Our father is a general contractor, and he built the ring for Matt’s sixteenth birthday,” said Nick. “This is our dream, and it always has been. They knew that, and they wanted us to follow our dream.”
Matt laughed when he noted that he has been taking bumps for his whole life.
“Our father saw us wrestling in the back yard on dirt or on mattresses, and he wanted us to be safe so he built us a real ring,” said Matt. “Our parents didn’t want us to do it at first, and they’d actually punish us for wrestling. But they got together and our mom said, ‘If they don’t do it here, they’ll just do it at a friend’s house.’ So they wanted to put us in as safe an environment as possible.
“We joke now that the softest ring we used to fall on was the one our dad built us.”
Wrestling evolved into a family affair. The Bucks have a younger brother who used to be in the business, as well as agymanst for an older sister who has continually shared advice throughout the years about aerial maneuvers. Their mother is also extremely athletic and taught the importance of stretching and tricks on back tucks, which the two still use.
Of course, given the duo’s flashy, tasseled ring gear and similar work style, there are always connections to the Rockers. Marty Jannetty even served as an early influence.
When Matt opened his own wrestling company, High Risk Wrestling, in 2004, he booked Jannetty for a show.
“We brought Marty in to do a six-man tag as our partner, and we bought this gear with tassels so we could be just like the Rockers,” recalled Matt. “Then Marty showed up in his new basketball gimmick with a jersey and shorts. We were like, ‘Dude, we want to be the new Rockers tonight.’ We ended up giving him gear, and he loved doing all the old Rockers spots. He took such a liking to us that he took our numbers and we talked almost every day until the point where he gave us his blessing.”
Jannetty discussed the psychology of a match, and helped the Jackson’s understand the importance of tag teams in wrestling.
“Tag team matches are superior to singles matches,” explained Matt. “Singles matches bore me to tears. Tag match psychology is better, and there is nothing better than a hot tag. Good tag matches blow singles matches out of the water.”
The Bucks’ signature move is the superkick, which was inspired by Shawn Michaels.
“I thought the superkick was the sweetest move in wrestling,” said Matt. “You get a reaction each time you hit a superkick, and it’s one of those moves you can do to anyone. You can do it out of mid-air, you can do it out of a backflip, there are so many variations.”
The Bucks have worked with nearly every major star on the independents. Once, while wrestling Kevin Owens during a series of matches in Pro Wrestling Guerrilla, the current WWE Intercontinental champion pushed for a sequence where the Bucks would start superkicking him over and over again–which evolved into the beloved “Superkick Party.”
“We called it the ‘Superkick Execution’ at that point,” said Matt. “Then we were at a show in Florida, and one of the Bravado brothers said, ‘You guys do so many superkicks, it’s like a party. It’s like a superkick party.’ And we were like, ‘Woah. We can make a shirt out of this.’”
The Bucks also discussed the people in the world most deserving engraved invitations to a Superkick Party. The guest list includes Kanye West, presidential hopefuls Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, Jim Cornette, and none other than WWE Chairman Vince McMahon.
“Vince McMahon would have the best sell,” said Matt. “He could really bump for us.”
Nick went a different route, preferring both celebrities and politicians.
“Kanye West is definitely on my list of people to superkick, and it would go viral if we could superkick Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump,” said Nick. “Anything to get us more over.”
Both brothers agreed that Jim Cornette, who has criticized the Bucks’ drawing ability, would be seated at the head of the table.
“You could say we’re maturing, but we are the same guys who are saying ‘Suck it’ to a crowd with my four-year-old daughter,” said Matt. “We made up with Rob [Van Dam] right before he went back [to WWE] for his last run, and we buried the hatchet with Booker T. We get along with mostly everyone, so we could give all the superkicks to Cornette.”
The Bucks seemingly caught a major break after signing with TNA and receiving national television exposure in 2009. Kevin Nash even advocated for the Bucks to have a run as tag team champions.
“We actually fought Nash and Eric Young in a match with TNA,” said Nick. “And Nash wanted us to win.”
“It was a Friday-Saturday-Sunday house show loop,” continued Matt. “Kevin walked over to us and said, ‘You know boys, I’ve got an idea for tonight. I want to drop the belts to you guys, and we’ll get ‘em back on Sunday. I’ll pitch it to the office, and we can make it happen.’
“We were like, ‘No way!’ We’d only been with the company for three months. Then Nash came back all pissed, and said, ‘They won’t let me put the young guys over, and this is what’s wrong with the company. What does it matter? We’d get them back on Sunday.’ I’m telling you, Nash was pissed.”
The Bucks could not believe that the legendary Nash was willing to bump and sell for them.
“We went out and had a killer match,” said Nick. “It would have been a huge rub to get the titles, but Nash was great to us.”
TNA underused and ignored the Bucks–which is exactly what happened to current IWGP champion Kazuchika Okada, who grew close with Matt and Nick during his own miserable stint in TNA–and they took Okada’s advice to sign with New Japan Pro Wrestling.
“Japan gave us a platform that is bigger than almost anything in the States,” said Nick. “People thought of us as bigger because of it.”
The move to Japan signifies a turning point in the Bucks’ career. Japanese ring psychology also differs from the one in the U.S., which forced the Bucks to adapt.
“It takes time and experience to succeed in Japan,” explained Nick. “If we were in Japan five years ago, I don’t think we would be over as an act. We just didn’t understand it, and the experience came from wrestling everywhere. By the time we got to Japan, we had that experience.”
“We finally found ourselves,” added Matt. “We used to be guys that wrestled, and that was it.”
The Bucks were added to the villainous New Japan stable known as the Bullet Club. Although their look was a stark contrast to the group, who all wore scowls and dark ring attire, the flashy Bucks quickly evolved into the faction’s most unforgettable act.
“If we were to look like all of the other members, we would have been two more guys who looked the same as everyone else,” said Matt. “We were so different that people thought, ‘This is interesting.’”
AJ Styles, who led the Bullet Club after Finn Balor exited New Japan for NXT, couldn’t help but open up his personality when surrounded by the Bucks.
“I tell Matt that I’d never seen AJ’s personality go from here to there, out of nowhere, in a month,” said Nick. “I saw a clip of AJ dancing on Smackdown, and I thought, ‘That guy would have never done this ten years ago!’”
Scott Hall once complimented the Bullet Club as a wonderful tribute band playing all of the NWO’s hits. But he missed the area where the Bucks shine brighest–instead of playing the golden oldies of 1998, they are constantly creating their own style of pro wrestling hits.
“At first, the idea was to pay homage to our favorite wrestlers,” said Nick. “We were throwing up ‘Too sweet’ fifteen years ago in our back yard, and I’m pretty sure Karl Anderson and [Finn Balor] were, too. Then it spinned off into what it’s become now.”
“I remember how much fun I had watching the ‘Attitude Era,’ and I’m trying to bring some of that back out there now,” added Matt. “Once we got people’s attention, we wanted to show what we’ve created. A big part of pro wrestling is reinventing yourself, and Nick and I are always trying to stay fresh.”
One of the Bucks’ main finishers is a tombstone, but the pair wanted to add a twist to tune up the maneuver. That move is now called the Meltzer Driver, named after Hall of Fame wrestling journalist Dave Meltzer.
“If Meltzer’s at a show, then odds are we’ll be doing the Meltzer Driver,” said Matt. “But we’ve never got five stars from him, and that’s the rib–people think, ‘These guys are boys with Meltzer and that’s why they get such good ratings,’ but no, we’ve never even got a five star rating.”
The Bucks made such a strong impression on the Bullet Club that, even when the New Japan-inspired Balor Club debuts in WWE, people will still be asking for the Bucks and Omega.
“We bonded with those guys in Japan,” said Matt. “That chemistry comes across in the ring, and we built that trust in a foreign place, all day with each other on a bus, missing our families, eating food we didn’t like. That’s why it was so hard to saying bye to AJ, Chad [Karl Anderson], and [Doc] Gallows. These guys are like our brothers.”
“We saw them a few weeks ago at the Delta Lounge,” added Nick. “I said, ‘I don’t know when we’re going to see each other again, so give me a hug and good luck.’”
Both of the Bucks keep an eye on the WWE, and they have been extremely pleased with the booking of AJ Styles.
“Styles and Chris Jericho work so well together,” said Matt. “As soon as I saw them lock up in the Rumble, I immediately thought it was interesting. That’s a dream match.”
The Bucks have watched Styles closely, and they are partially viewing his booking as an indicator of how the WWE would portray them if they ever signed with McMahon.
“It all comes down to Vince McMahon and his vision,” said Nick. “It’s all about what he wants. It’s not what we want, or Dalton Castle wants, or Michael Elgin wants. On the level we’re at, it’s up to us. We have enough influence to say, ‘Hey, [ROH booker] Hunter [Johnston], can I do this with my character?’ And he’ll tell us to do it and make it work.”
“Or a lot of times,” clarified Matt, “we won’t even ask.”
“I feel like, in WWE, you can’t do that,” countered Nick. “You have to be what Vince pictures.”
The Bucks are confident that their style would work anywhere, but humble enough to know that the WWE’s preference for sports entertainment requires a lot more gamesmanship than just wrestling.
“Could we handle the WWE?” asked Matt. “We don’t know. It’s never been a real enough thing for me to even to know. Maybe one day will come and then I’ll know how I feel about it.
“But if they want to make money, then the WWE is missing out by not having us. We are a proven draw without the WWE machine behind us.”
After their contract with Ring of Honor, which runs until next January, the Bucks would be open to negotiating with the WWE.
“We’ve talked to basically every promotion in the world by this point,” said Nick. “I’d be cool with NXT some time.”
The Bucks played along with some fantasy booking, including imaginary contests between themselves and The Outsiders, the Mega Powers and even the New Day.
“If we were going up against Scott Hall and Kevin Nash in their prime, they’re going over every time,” said Nick.
Matt’s mind was spinning with ideas, too, adding, “We could have had some Rockers vs. Demolition styles matches with them.”
As for the Mega Powers, the supposedly egotistical Bucks again envisioned themselves doing the favors for Hulk Hogan and the “Macho Man” Randy Savage.
“Listen, Hogan’s not the doing the job,” deadpanned Matt. “Neither is Savage.”
The Bucks’ tone, however, changed when the names of Kofi Kingston, Big E, and Xavier Woods were mentioned. Matt could not resist poking and prodding the WWE tag team champions.
“It doesn’t matter if it’s a six-man with Kenny or a tag, we’re going over against New Day,” said Matt. “We’ve challenged them, and they’re more for it than people think.”
The Elite called out the New Day on Twitter, working from a position of power as the WWE prohibits its wrestlers from discussing other talents currently competing in other promotions.
“That’s the stuff we can do and they can’t,” said Nick. “That’s what makes it so cool, but we want them to respond.”
The Bucks have no issue discussing the WWE’s roster. Although Roman Reigns did not crack the Bucks’ most recent list of the elite workers in the business, they do believe he is going to win the WWE title at WrestleMania 32.
“Reigns has to go over,” said Matt. “Triple H knows what’s good for business. The babyface has to go over at WrestleMania, even with the boos.”
Nick agreed on the finish for WrestleMania.
“They’ve told the story for the last two years,” said Nick. “It will finally end that night.”
As for the actual elite list of wrestlers, the Bucks were not shy about revealing the best in the world.
“The best singles wrestler in the world is between Kenny Omega and AJ Styles,” said Matt. “And Sami Zayn is the best babyface in the world.”
Nick continued with his favorites.
“There is a real elite group of wrestlers in the world,” said Nick. “It’s Kevin Owens, [Hiroshi] Tanahashi, and Seth Rollins.”
“And Chris Jericho,” added Matt. “I watch him in awe, at 45 years old, and he moves better than I do. He’s a legend.”
The Bucks’ personalities and propensity for fun has also allowed them to thrive in the social media era of pro wrestling, continuing to be evolutionary and revolutionary on the internet.
“We don’t have Monday Night Raw to get us over every week in front of a huge audience, but we have Twitter,” said Nick. “A lot of people don’t know how to have a social media presence, but we put a lot of work into ours.”
In addition to the video calling out the New Day, the Bucks and Omega have pieced together a string of short clips that are consistently funny and always add in a new wrinkle of humor.
“The video where we are hiding under Kenny’s bed is from a day off in Tokyo,” said Matt. “We had nothing else to do, so we made some cool videos. We did ten hours of filming that day.”
There is strength in numbers, and Kenny Omega and the Bucks have weighed the idea of going to the WWE together.
“If we’re live on Raw, they can’t do anything to us in the ring,” argued Matt. “I’d be willing to take a risk, but you’re risking your job when you do that. If we ever do get the chance, I hope we’d be true to ourselves.”
Remaining true to themselves is one of the major road blocks between the Bucks and WWE.
“I feel like you have to do what they tell you to do,” said Nick. “The business has changed. There is only one company in the U.S. with that type of money. If this were during the ‘Monday Night Wars,’ then the Elite could show up and do whatever they wanted.
“It would be a challenge for us. If we had to listen to their direction, we’d want to get over with their direction.”
Their template, Matt explained, would be Daniel Bryan.
“Daniel Bryan succeeded,” Matt said, “but even that was a struggle until his last day.”
“And it would be even harder for a tag team,” continued Nick. “We’d kill it with the Uso’s, and we’ve killed it before with the Dudley’s, but sometimes it feels like tag teams don’t even exist anymore over there.”
Matt was forthcoming and honest about his fears the unknown terrain of the WWE.
“My concern is what would happen after we wrestled those teams,” said Matt. “People will say to us, ‘Please go to WWE! I want to see this match and that match.’ Once we run through all those matches, then what happens next? But you could say that about anywhere, and it would be a challenge. Are we going to feel up to that challenge? Is that the next thing in our career? I don’t know.”
Despite a squared circle full of question marks, the Bucks jump into the ring, enter each locker room, and travel each arduous trip with one lone certainty: even in the cut-throat, insensitive world of pro wrestling, these bucks will always have each other’s back
“What better way to do this than traveling with your brother?” asked Matt. “We’re really close, so we get to bring that companionship–as well having someone who will watch your back–everywhere we go.”
“We’re family men, so the goal is always to keep feeding our families,” concluded Nick. “Right now, we’re so happy doing what we’re doing with Ring of Honor and New Japan. We’re happy to be together, and we are really enjoying the present.”
Justin Barrasso can be reached at JBarrasso@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter @JustinBarrasso.