Tama Tonga’s hostile takeover of the wrestling world is only getting started.

By Justin Barrasso
September 12, 2018

SI.com’s Week in Wrestling is published every week and provides beneath the surface coverage of the business of pro wrestling.

Tama Tonga Scours the Globe for Bullet Club Members

Tama Tonga’s hostile takeover of the wrestling world is only getting started.

The Firing Squad member wreaked havoc all summer long throughout New Japan Pro Wrestling, delivering on his promise to IWGP heavyweight champion Kenny Omega that there would be further consequences after Tonga officially fractured the Omega-led Bullet Club in July at New Japan’s “G1 Special in San Francisco”.

Tonga believes in only one Bullet Club, which does not include Omega, the Bucks, or Cody Rhodes. Despite repeating there is no one leader, he represents the face of fear in New Japan—and the one to weed out though who he feels do not belong.

“There is only one Bullet Club, and we’re fighting for it,” said Tonga. “This ignited in San Fran, and we’re at war for Bullet Club. This is where we’re at, it’s the North vs. the South fighting for the United States.

“You have their side—the ROH side—against the Japan side of me, [Bad Luck] Fale, and [Tanga] Loa. Bullet Club was born in New Japan, but the Young Bucks ain’t signed in New Japan. Cody ain’t signed in New Japan. Adam Page and Marty Scurll ain’t signed with New Japan. From my understanding, a lot of them are becoming free agents at the end of this year. So, let’s see, who really is Bullet Club?”

Now Tonga’s sole focus is to expand Bullet Club—which, he explained, is the most exclusive group in all of professional wrestling.

“We are expanding and enlisting,” said Tonga. “Inside of Japan, outside, everywhere, this is real. I have been given the green light to recruit, and that is not a storyline. That is real. Inside New Japan, America, the U.K., anywhere in Europe, Africa, India. I’m looking for talent.”

A proud veteran of the United States Air Force, the 35-year-old is a fascinating story in wrestling. Over the past decade, he has continually improved his in-ring work, interviews, and presence to the point where he is now one of the most compelling figures in all of the business.

Tonga and his brother, Tanga Loa, look to add the IWGP tag titles to their collection—which also includes a current run with the NEVER Openweight 6-man titles with Loa and Taiji Ishimori—later this month at New Japan’s Long Beach, California, show that will air Oct. 5 on AXS TV.

In order to combat the likes of Omega, the Bucks, and Rhodes so he can claim full Bullet Club ownership, Tonga has decided to enlist some new lieutenants. His chief target? Former WWE cruiserweight champion Neville.

“I love always love a challenge,” said Tonga. “Kenny Omega did a promo during the G1 and said, ‘Tama, you think you can do better than me? You think you can push Bullet Club to new levels, higher ones than I did? Go ahead and prove it.’ Challenge accepted.

“I know Neville and I’ve followed his work. He’s a phenomenal worker and he’s been here in New Japan before, I watched him in the Super Juniors in 2012. I love his work.”

Courtesy of TV Asahi and NJPW

Tonga paid close attention to All In, a card where he was not featured. For the show that was an alternative to wrestling, Tonga offered an alternative point of view.

“All In, they did a great job—but for me, I was offered a role in it and I turned it down,” said Tonga. “I appreciate them reaching out, but I’m good.”

For now, the main goal for Tonga is to continue his pattern of chaos by rattling, disturbing, and discombobulating the entire wrestling world.

“You cross me, you’ll know,” said Tonga. “But if you’re with me? You’ll know.”

Hell in a Cell Is Roman Reigns’s Chance to Show He Can Headline as Champ

WWE’s Hell in a Cell pay per view takes place this Sunday, and the main story will be found in the main event as Roman Reigns defends his Universal title in the chain-linked caged cell against Braun Strowman.

The primary question is whether Reigns can deliver a compelling main event as champion. Part of that responsibility is ensuring that fans care enough about the match to watch in-person and on the WWE Network, as well as delivering a solid enough story that people want to come back for more.

Mick Foley is set to serve as the special guest referee in the match. Although he has little background in their current program, Foley’s recent run as Raw GM coincided with the rise of Strowman and his initial feud with Reigns. Plus, Foley’s excellent one-man show debuts on the Network following Hell in a Cell, so there is some synergy in the product placement for WWE. Mrs. Foley’s baby boy is currently in fantastic shape, and there are rumblings from contacts at WWE that the plan is for him to take at least one significant bump from Strowman.

Reigns is better than he is given credit for in the ring, and this Sunday against Strowman—far and away his most compelling opponent—serves as his opportunity to show he can carry a pay per view.

Raw is weekly and three hours long, which means there is far less action in the ring. Pay per views remain the gold standard of showing your value as a wrestling (none have illustrated this better over the past two years than AJ Styles), and Reigns can silence some critics with a superb outing on Sunday.

In other news…

• Jeff Hardy told me in 2016 that if he ever returned to WWE, he wanted The Undertaker in a Hell in a Cell match. This Sunday, half of that wish will come true on Sunday when Hardy’s return to the Hell in a Cell cage takes place in a match against Randy Orton.

Hardy obviously has nothing left to prove—he is a legend forever cemented in WWE lore. But people will forever associate Hardy with more death-defying moments in the cage, which will likely be on display this Sunday.

What is at stake for Hardy in the Orton match? Does he need to deliver an outrageous spot in the match to prove he is still WWE’s most fearless competitor? Will his competitive spirit (and adrenaline) take over to the point where he has to jump off the cage?

Hardy has come a long way since wearing a jester suit with his brother Matt at the 1995 King of the Ring pay per view. He is also a much different person from the one who jumped off tables, ladders, and chairs as he landed onto Edge, Christian, and the Dudleys—Hardy is now a husband and father of two girls.

But does he still possess the drive to take people’s breath away on Sunday?

Here’s hoping Hardy is able to accomplish his goal without breaking his body in half.

• “The King” Jerry Lawler estimated he has won 168 titles in professional wrestling. But he is still waiting for his first Super Bowl.

Lawler is a lifelong fan of the Cleveland Browns, one of only four teams to never appear in a Super Bowl. After a dismal 0-16 season in 2017, Lawler remains optimistic for this year’s team after the Browns and Pittsburgh Steelers fought to a 21–21 tie this past Sunday at FirstEnergy Stadium in Cleveland.

“I’m excited, but I get excited this time every year,” said Lawler. “You hope for a fresh beginning.”

Patience is key for NFL fans, and Lawler is hoping to watch the Browns develop their young nucleus of players and become a powerhouse in the AFC North.

“I was really excited when they chose Baker Mayfield with the number one pick, that’s who I was hoping for,” said Lawler. “Things look really promising. I don’t want to get too ahead of myself, but they may go from 0–16 all the way to challenging for a playoff spot. Even if they can win seven or eight games this season, that would be fantastic.”

• This Saturday, Ryan Waters will be lacing his boots for the very last time.

The wrestling veteran has wrestled across the local independents of New England for the past 17 years. He has also pursued his true passion of training the next generation of stars—which he has done with Ring of Honor’s Matt Taven, Vinny Marseglia, and TK O’Ryan. He will wrestle his last match this Saturday at his Top Rope Promotions’ show in Brockton, Massachusetts, which will include appearances from the Wolfpac’s Kevin Nash, Scott Hall, and Sean Waltman.

“From a very young age, the two things I always wanted to be were a teacher and a wrestler,” said Waters. “My mother just mentioned that to me recently. It wasn’t always the way I imagined, but here I am, a teacher and a wrestler, and I was able to follow my dreams.”

Waters, whose real name is Ryan Drew, found solace in the brotherhood of wrestling after his brother Jarrod, who was the person to introduce Waters to wrestling, was killed by a drunk driver in 2004. He also lost his oldest brother, Shawn, due to complications from pneumonia in 2011 a week before the first card he ever promoted, which featured Taven and two talents who are now known as WWE’s Mike Kanellis and NXT champion Tommaso Ciampa.

Training students is what gave him his drive, but the humble Waters believes his biggest role was in guiding his students in the right direction.

“I’m glad I was a contributing factor,” said Waters. “But I was the lucky one to work with my students. Guys like Taven, Vinny, and TK, those are three top-notch talents, and I’m glad I was part of the ride.”

With an aching neck and a desire to avoid surgery at all costs, Waters is ready to move on to the next chapter of his life.

“It’s a young man’s sport, and my contribution is not as needed,” said Waters. “It’s just the right time. But I will continue training—it’s less stressful on the body and something I’ve grown to love.”

Waters’s farewell match will be against former student—and rising star—Nico Silva in a “Tables, Ladders, and Chairs” match.

“The one thing I’m going to miss most is wrestling my students,” said Waters. “I loved giving them their first match and guiding them through. I had them rely on their natural ability and call it in the ring.

“Nico has so much potential, and he can make it some place. He’s the guy I wanted to have my last match with, he’s the one I trust to have my last with. I wouldn’t want it any other way.”

• “Something to Wrestle with Bruce Prichard” and co-host Conrad Thompson returns this Friday at noon ET with a look at the post 9/11 SmackDown on September 13, 2001 in Houston.

“We’ll talk about the mood that America was in at that very moment, how everyone in the country came together,” said Thompson. “It was one of the first times we really saw Vince out front as the face of the company positioning the entire organization as a patriotic company. Of course, a ‘Tribute to the Troops’ would soon follow.”

Vince McMahon is a proud American who also proudly votes Republican, but politics will not be discussed in this episode.

“No politics, but we certainly explore the ‘We gotta kick their ass!’ sentiment so many of the guys shared in their interviews,” said Thompson. “And people will be surprised to know the way travel was handled.”

Since the event took place only two days following the terrorist attacks on the United States, Thompson noted that there was dialogue between WWE and the White House before the event.

“We’ll talk about conversations with the White House,” said Thompson. “There was contact between President Bush’s office and Vince McMahon’s office.”

Tweet of the Week

Congratulations to Renee Young, who adds knowledge, perspective, and a unique point of view to the broadcast booth on Raw.

Justin Barrasso can be reached at JBarrasso@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter @JustinBarrasso.

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