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Bullet Club’s Civil War Erupts
Bullet Club has returned to its rightful owners.
The first shot of Bullet Club’s civil war was fired this past Saturday, 20 years to the day after Hulk Hogan turned “Hollywood” in WCW and formed the nWo with Kevin Nash and Scott Hall. Tonga and his brother Tanga Loa proclaimed their own new world order at the Cow Palace when they made the decision to revamp Bullet Club’s personnel following Kenny Omega’s captivating main event victory over Cody Rhodes.
“If you’re looking for Bullet Club, it’s in Japan,” said Tama Tonga, who led an attack ousting IWGP heavyweight champion Kenny Omega, Cody Rhodes, and the Young Bucks from Bullet Club this past Saturday in the closing moments of New Japan’s “G1 Special in San Francisco” show. “But know this: WWE does have Bullet Club. We know who they are, you all know who they are, that’s Bullet Club. No matter where you go, if you’re loyal to us, you are in Bullet Club for life.”
The 35-year-old Tonga explained that he is returning Bullet Club to its roots.
“This has been a long time coming,” said Tonga. “Kenny Omega started a subgroup, ‘The Elite,’ within Bullet Club. No one is the head of Bullet Club, no one ever has been, and we had a self-proclaimed leader focusing on his own ‘Super Kliq’ or whatever else nerd ass name it’s called. This war was sparked the moment ‘The Elite’ was formed.”
Tonga promises that Bad Luck Fale, who was not at the New Japan show this past Saturday, approved of the decision.
“Fale is the one who made the call,” said Tonga. “You’ll all find that out soon.”
The menacing, 6’4” Fale is the longest-tenured member of Bullet Club, only trailing Finn Balor and Karl Anderson in terms of rank. Although Tonga is a founding member whose service dates back to Bullet Club’s origin on May 3, 2013, Balor created the group, Fale was his bodyguard, Karl Anderson joined after a pivotal match against New Japan “Ace” Hiroshi Tanahashi, and Tonga then came fourth.
“Rank is how Japan is run, and that’s how Bullet Club—true Bullet Club—is run. Not egotistical clowns running around, shouting ‘Look at me!’ True Bullet Club is discipline and order.”
Tonga explained that his violence on Saturday stemmed from Omega and the Bucks’ lack of respect toward himself, Fale, and Loa.
“The ones putting in the work day in and day out in Japan, we were cast away,” said Tonga. “We tried, over time, to give them the benefit of the doubt, but it kept getting worse. The ideals of Bullet Club working together, being a team, and watching each other’s backs was no longer what we stood for. We were a divided club. It was just too much to ignore.”
The foundation of the Bullet Club was built of the shoulders of legendary forefathers Finn Balor and AJ Styles. Tonga explained that both men supported his decision to exile the likes of Omega, the Young Bucks, and Rhodes.
“Balor and Styles taught us and showed us teamwork,” said Tonga. “Balor taught Fale and me so much in the New Japan dojo, and we have nothing but respect for him. AJ came into Bullet Club and was humble and a team player, someone who was here for the betterment of the team. That’s why they were placed, by the group, to the front.
“In terms of their in-ring styles, they have two very different styles but they are both amazing wrestlers. I have learned a lot from both.”
In the United States Civil War, the competing sides of the North and South fought over territorial integrity and slavery. Contrary to popular opinion, Tonga says that he and Loa are not the upstart South, they are the North and merely reclaiming what is already theirs.
“We are the North,” said Tonga. “The other ones, they represent an idea, but they’re trying to separate themselves in their own selfish way. So we are taking back the idea of Bullet Club and pushing it forward.
“Saturday night was a test. When Kenny took a bigger role, he took out AJ and we supported him. The Bucks ousted Balor and we didn’t say a word. Yujiro Takahashi and Chase Owens, Marty Scurll and Hangman Page, they would have been on our side had they helped, but they didn’t.
“I admire Cody for his courage. He doesn’t know this, but I watch him. I’ve watched everything he’s done since he left New York. I admire his strength and courage, the way he stood up to Kenny. He made that step before me, which I admired. So we gave him a chance to show he was with us, not against us, but he made his choice.”
On a night where history repeated itself in its own serendipitous way, Tonga took a shot at the crown and did not miss.
“My goal, my sole focus, is to straighten out Bullet Club,” said Tonga. “Take it back and push it forward. Wherever that takes me, that’s where I’ll go, whether that’s the G1 final or a match with Kenny. People still don’t know what Bullet Club is, but in due time, everyone will understand.”
Tonga also cleared up misconceptions regarding the current status of Bullet Club.
“I am not the leader of Bullet Club,” Tonga explained. “Fale, me, and Loa, we are the leaders of Bullet Club, and anyone that’s with us.
“We are not ‘Firing Squad,’ we are Bullet Club, the Bullet Club. ‘Firing Squad’ only arrives when there is bulls--- and betrayal.”
As for the legendary Haku, who is the father of Tonga and Loa and helped decimate the former Bullet Club members this past Saturday, Tonga noted that his father is only a phone call away.
“Blood is thicker than water,” said Tonga. “He’s called on when needed.”
Tonga was also asked if he would ever consider allowing Omega and the Bucks back into Bullet Club.
“Actions speak louder than words,” he said. “Let’s start with actions first.”
For those wondering if Bullet Club is fine, Tonga noted that it has never been better.
“Finally, after over two years, Bullet Club is now fine,” said Tonga. “After Saturday, Bullet Club is on its way to being the best we’ve ever been.”
Brock Lesnar Caught Between UFC and WWE
Brock Lesnar’s appearance this past Saturday night at UFC 226 only served to solidify that the current WWE Universal champion is more focused on a return to the Octagon than he is on stepping into the squared circle.
The issue is magnified because Lesnar is one of WWE’s two world champions. It is particularly jarring that the current champion on Raw has not wrestled on the flagship program since 2002.
The company had multiple opportunities to get the belt off Lesnar, with matches against Roman Reigns at WrestleMania 34 and then again at the Greatest Royal Rumble in April, but Vince McMahon was lured by the temptation of having his world champ double as a legitimate fighter who is one of the toughest men in the world.
Lesnar is unique because he is a star with mainstream appeal and legitimately moves the needle when he appears on WWE programming. Sports Illustrated can confirm that there are issues between Lesnar and WWE stemming from Lesnar’s UFC deal.
Lesnar is expected to compete in a UFC cage as soon as January. WWE could turn this into a more favorable situation by ensuring that Lesnar wears his WWE Universal championship on his way to the upcoming UFC fight against Daniel Cormier, but that is unlikely to occur.
In other news…
• John Cena is the face of WWE, and in an interview with Sports Illustrated, explained that he watched closely as Daniel Bryan finally made his in-ring return at WrestleMania 34.
In addition to a professional respect for each other, Cena and Bryan had the chance to grow closer during the filming of Total Bellas. Bryan is married to Brie Bella while Cena proposed to Nikki Bella in the ring at WrestleMania 33.
Cena was asked for his insight on the overall significance of Bryan’s return to the ring.
“Speaking from a co-worker’s standpoint, it’s great to have him back because he is very good at what he does,” said Cena. “Speaking from a company-standpoint, it is great to have him back because he is very good at what he does and audiences will show up to see him. Speaking from a personal standpoint on what I know about Bryan Danielson, I know that he is dedicated to wrestling and loves wrestling.
“He was so heartbroken when it was taken away from him before it was his decision to give it up. I can’t tell you how happy I am for him to go out there again and live his dream. He gives wrestling his all, and it’s great that he now has the outlet again where it can give something back to him.”
• This week’s Raw featured a thrilling main event between Seth Rollins and Drew McIntyre, which saw a fantastic finish that ended with McIntyre’s hand raised.
McIntyre is one of WWE’s beacons of light, with a tremendously bright future courtesy of his size, intelligence, in-ring work, and overall look. Even the stipulation—McIntyre needed to win in order to be ringside for the Extreme Rules “Iron Man” match this Sunday pitting Dolph Ziggler against Rollins—was well-designed and added meaning to the match on Raw.
Another part of Raw that stood out is the desperate need for Matt Hardy and Bray Wyatt to find new opponents for their Raw tag team titles.
Hardy and Wyatt cut an entertaining promo on Raw, and Wyatt connected Hardy’s contagious maniacal laughing to the contagious aspects of fear.
Hardy then led Bo Dallas to arguably his finest match during his WWE run, but the end result should be for Wyatt and Hardy to steamroll Dallas and Curtis Axel on Sunday at Extreme Rules. Hardy and Wyatt desperately need a team that can challenge them and contrast their style, but the best fit is the New Day, who are not on the Raw roster.
The highlight of SmackDown Live was the build to the Bludgeon Brothers’ SmackDown tag team title defense against the newly reformed Team Hell No of Daniel Bryan and Kane. The Miz’s opening Miz TV segment also allowed his feud with Bryan to build while still highlighting the upcoming tag title match on Sunday. SmackDown did a solid job of interconnecting multiple storylines, including the New Day and Sanity, as well as reintroduced the vastly talented Andrade Almas.
• Hiromu Takahashi and Dragon Lee delivered a classic this past Saturday in San Francisco for New Japan Pro Wrestling.
Takahashi won the match, retaining his IWGP junior heavyweight title. He also somehow finished the match after landing directly on his head in a way that very well could have broken his neck. While New Japan officials are still determining the extent of the neck injury, NJPW announced Wednesday that Takahashi was cleared to return to Japan.
Dragon Lee had fought three matches the prior evening for the King of Indies tournament just outside San Francisco, but it is unfair to blame fatigue as the reason for the injury.
Lee’s dragon driver that saw Takahashi get hurt was a high-risk move that clearly did not go as planned. Both men gave everything they had in the match, which was phenomenal, but that particular move was too much of a risk considering the key players at stake.
Losing one of its brightest stars in Takahashi would be a devastating blow to the company in both Japan and in terms of worldwide expansion. Creating a star is extremely difficult to do, but Takahashi was well on his way.
• Gino Rivera is the Arizona State Champion in Championship Wrestling from Arizona, and the nine-year veteran does not plan on relinquishing his title any time soon.
“I won that title back in October, and that was a huge moment for me,” said Rivera. “To have a company totally behind me, and for me to represent a whole company, means the world to me. I still look at the title and think, ‘Wow, this is mine.’ A lot of guys get awarded a title a few months into their careers, but I can say I worked my butt off to get where I am.”
The 30-year-old Rivera is a Hawaiian-born talent known as the “Puerto Rican Pitbull”, and he is thrilled to serve as the face of the upstart Championship Wrestling from Arizona promotion, which kicked off in 2016. The show’s 100th episode airs on FITE TV on October 13 and will feature Rivera defending his title against EJ Sparks. The promotion is also starting an alliance with the NWA.
“I’m so excited to have the NWA represented in our company,” said Rivera. “That company being here with us is a huge deal, and I’m excited to work with them in the future. I welcome their champion to come on my show and step in the ring with me to see who is the better man. I am the first, the last, and the only Arizona State Champion.”
• CBS Sports’ Brian Campbell recently spoke with wrestling legend “The Hitman” Bret Hart for the newest episode of his “In This Corner” podcast.
“We’re all fans at our core, and there are wrestlers who we love and respect as people, but we’re sometimes blinded by our fandom,” explained Campbell. “In the great Bret-versus-Shawn debate, I’m always on the Shawn side, but to find out I was getting 40 minutes with Bret, I wanted to give Bret the benefit to speak for himself. I really wanted to let him speak in his words in the categories where I don’t rank him well, which includes his post-wrestling image which is bitter and blame-heavy.”
Campbell’s sparring session with Hart was insightful and full of intricate detail, as “The Hitman” delivered honest, thoughtful answers to Campbell’s well-crafted questions.
“Bret is old school and one of the last remaining cowboys,” said Campbell. “If you ask him an honest question, you’re going to get an honest answer. In the end, I had a great deal of respect for his career.”
A part of the interview that was particularly fascinating was when Hart explained his motive for the infamous “Montreal Screwjob”, which was to standup for the other wrestlers in the WWE locker room.
“Bret stands for everything he speaks,” said Campbell. “I really respect that.”
The interview also touched on Campbell sharing with Hart there are a lot of wrestling fans that feel that he comes off jaded and bitter.
“It feels like Bret is determined to protect the truth,” said Campbell. “Now that may be his version of the truth, but he’s so determined to protect that truth that it doesn’t matter who he may offend. Bret said, ‘Vince says I earned the right to tell it like it is,’ and damn right I respect that.”
Campbell’s upcoming podcasts will detail New Japan’s upcoming G1 Climax, which is the vaunted 20-man tourney that begins on Saturday, July 14.
“I’m really excited to go deep on the NJPW G1 Climax tournament,” said Campbell. “Last year’s tournament was a turning point for my podcast. We jumped in deep and said, ‘This is a product that is as good or a lot of times better than WWE so we’re going to make it a part of our coverage plan,’ and we’re now to the point one year later where this is the lead of our coverage.
“I’m determined myself to go all in and watch every single G1 match, rate every single one, and I’ll be prepared each week to talk about it. I’m really excited to spend the summer covering that product, especially if WWE is going to continue to be vanilla as we build to SummerSlam.”
• Edoardo Ballerini returns to the screen with his newest film, 7 Splinters in Time, and fans of his work—which included roles on The Sopranos and Boardwalk Empire—will be interested to learn that the actor is a passionate wrestling fan.
“It’s hard not to be impressed by Ronda Rousey these days,” said Ballerini. “Besides what she does in the ring, she’s showing up in movies and doing a lot of charity work. That’s a great example. If you make it big, give something back. We could use more of that these days.”
Ballerini’s new film, which opens July 13 in Los Angeles and video on-demand everywhere, is a chance to highlight some of his acting depth and skill.
“7 Splinters in Time was a dream,” said Ballerini. “I played seven different parts, from a detective to a stoned bowler to a psychopathic killer. Something like that happens once in an actor’s lifetime. It’s a trippy film and visually stunning.”
Ballerini also had roles on two larger-than-life HBO series in The Sopranos, which is an iconic television show, and Boardwalk Empire, which also had a cult following.
“The Sopranos is still what people ask me about first,” said Ballerini, who played the role of Corky Caporale. “It’s a part of our culture now, like baseball and apple pie. I’m always surprised at how my character of Corky Caporale stuck in people’s memories, considering he only appeared on four or five episodes.
“That scene with Christopher shooting up in the car somehow became an instant classic, and I remember filming it like it was yesterday. A flash storm hit us and dropped half a foot of water in an hour. It was such a mess we had to wrap up quickly, so I only got one take. I kept telling myself, ‘Get this right. A lot of people are going to see this.’ Filming Boardwalk Empire was surreal. The sets were so big you felt like you were really walking around in the 1920’s.”
Ballerini normally has a rooted interest in the World Cup, but that passion has waned slightly with Italy not involved.
“My team is Italy, and we didn’t qualify, so this is a bad World Cup,” said Ballerini. “It is a national embarrassment. I’m in Italy right now and you can feel the collective disappointment. I watch the games with my son, and he asks me who’s playing and who I’m rooting for. I always say, ‘I just want to see a good game.’ Then he thinks for a second and says, ‘Me too.’”
• “Something to Wrestle with Bruce Prichard” and co-host Conrad Thompson returns this Friday at noon ET with a new podcast, with a look at the controversial WWE run of Muhammad Hassan.
Hassan worked a program with The Undertaker, and had a memorable WrestleMania 21 moment with Hulk Hogan, but it as though he was erased from the pages of WWE history.
“This guy was supposed to headline SummerSlam in 2005 for the world title,” said Thompson. “But WWE taped that unfortunate angle, where they mimicked the wire strangulations of masked men and it certainly looked like a terrorist attack. Unfortunately, real attacks did happen in London, but WWE could have just edited it out. Bruce maintains that they couldn’t have, but why not? They knew they had something controversial, and this ended one of the hottest characters on their show.”
UPN, which aired SmackDown, informed WWE that they never wanted the character to air ever again.
“He was banned,” said Thompson. “So they had The Undertaker powerbomb him through the stage and got an overhead shot of a pool of blood, implying that the character was killed off. That never happens.”
Wednesday also marks the premiere of the WWE Network “Something Else to Wrestle with Bruce Prichard” show, which will take a look at CM Punk’s time in WWE.
“Surprise, surprise, WWE did not run a promo for our show this week on CM Punk,” said Thompson. “We are going to get the wrap on CM Punk before he came into the company, what they had heard about him and his tremendous independent success, as well as who was for him and who was against him. At times, the people who were for him actually wound up hurting him, which we’re going to examine, because sometimes it’s not a good thing in WWE when someone continues to campaign for you.”
The show will also cover Punk’s dismissal from WWE, including Vince McMahon firing him on his wedding day, as well as Punk’s recent trial against WWE doctor Chris Amann.
“We’ll also touch on the character behind someone who would fire a guy on his wedding day, and whether that is in Vince McMahon’s character, as well as suing over a podcast, which I thought was kind of ridiculous and so did the courts. We’ll also discuss the possibility of his return after a less-than-awesome outing in the UFC. We’ll cover everything you’d hope we would on the WWE Network.”
Also, Thompson’s “83 Weeks with Eric Bischoff” podcast will focus its attention next week to the 1994 Bash at the Beach, headlined by a world title match pitting the champion Ric Flair against the challenger Hulk Hogan.
“WCW did not pull at any punches, going straight to the match we wanted at WrestleMania 8,” said Thompson. “It’s the greatest champion of all-time versus the biggest star in the history of the business. We’ll talk about how they recruited all the celebrities, from Muhammad Ali to Mr. T to Shaquille O’Neal, and we’ll discuss how Hulk Hogan was wearing the big gold belt at the end of the night. They were never the same again.”
Hogan was making his in-ring WCW debut, and Thompson wants Bischoff to discuss Hogan’s original WCW contract.
“What sort of demands did he make?” asked Thompson. “I know Ric Flair helped set up the meeting with Hogan, but who did he ask to bring in? Did he have a piece of the pay per view and merchandise, or ancillary perks like bringing in Honky Tonk Man, Jim Duggan, and the Nasty Boys? I want to examine a lot of those extra perks.”
Tweet of the Week
To echo “Mean” Gene’s sentiments, I hope Jim Ross quickly recovers from his fall at the New Japan show this past Saturday.