SI.com’s Week in Wrestling is published every week and provides beneath the surface coverage of the business of pro wrestling.
New-look Bullet Club preparing hostile takeover of New York
The most powerful faction in pro wrestling remains Bullet Club.
Six years after its creation, the group is still dominating New Japan Pro Wrestling. And for those questioning whether the Bullet Club era ended—a question that intensified after the departures of Kenny Omega, Cody Rhodes, and the Young Bucks—Bullet Club OG Tama Tonga was quick to remind that Bullet Club does not retreat, but rather reloads.
“We always rebound bigger and badder than before,” said Tonga. “Jay White is our new guy, and we have now entered a new era, the ‘Cut Throat Era.’ When Devitt [Finn Balor] left, they said we were dead. When AJ, Luke Gallows, and Karl Anderson left, they said we were dead. When The Elite left, they said we were dead again—but we keep proving everyone wrong.”
Bullet Club is synonymous with gold in New Japan. Tonga and Tanga Loa are IWGP tag champions, Taiji Ishimori is the IWGP junior heavyweight champion, and “Switchblade” Jay White is the reigning and defending IWGP heavyweight champ.
New Japan is co-hosting a show with Ring of Honor on April 6, the night before WrestleMania 35, at the famed Madison Square Garden in New York City. This will mark the first opportunity for Bullet Club to work MSG, and Tonga noted that he cannot wait to carry the BC banner at the most historic venue in all of wrestling.
“This is monumental, this is a dream come true,” said Tonga. “I had two places in mind set as my goals when I started wrestling; one was Tokyo Dome and the other was Madison Square Garden.
“We’re hitting new ground with New Japan. We’re hitting uncharted ground, and I’m just super proud of how I started in New Japan and where we are today.”
Tonga became an original Bullet Club member in 2013, joining Prince Devitt [WWE’s Finn Balor], Karl Anderson, Luke Gallows, and New Japan staple Bad Luck Fale.
“Fale and I are the whole heart and soul of Bullet Club,” said Tonga. “We’re the glue keeping this all together, helping everybody understand what the hell Bullet Club is.”
The driving force of the Bullet Club movement is Tonga, unrelenting in his passion and hunger to elevate the group to even higher levels. Tonga is dynamic in the ring, able to brawl as well as work a more technical style.
There is a striking amount of similarities between Tonga’s work and Bret Hart’s early WWE run, as both were valued utility players for their respective companies. Hart was 35 when he captured his first world title, and the 36-year-old Tonga would shine if given the chance to represent New Japan.
“I can be that guy, if it calls for it,” said Tonga. “I’m here for New Japan, like I’ve always been. Whatever they need, they know who to call. I’m that guy.”
New Bullet Club leader “Switchblade” Jay White is the current IWGP heavyweight champ, and Tonga’s current focus is making sure the world knows that White is a force with which to be reckoned—as well as add more gold around his own waist.
Tonga and his brother, Tanga Loa, will put their IWGP tag team titles on the line against ROH tag team champions the Briscoe Brothers in a winner-take-all affair at Madison Square Garden in April.
“We’re IWGP tag team champions, but don’t worry, there is still room around our waists for the Ring of Honor tag titles,” said Tonga. “There’s always room. There is room for all the belts from every promotion.”
In addition to the NJPW/ROH show at MSG, WrestleMania weekend also features the Bullet Club Block Party with Jimmy’s Seafood hosted by Tonga and his Bullet Club brethren on Sunday, April 7 .
“We came up with the concept last summer, and since we’re having the show at Madison Square Garden, this is the perfect time to give something back to the fans who have been riding with us,” said Tonga. “Jimmy’s Seafood has been a big supporter of Bullet Club, and that’s why I’m always rocking their gear. We’ve seen what [Jimmy’s Seafood owner] John Minadakis has done with the NFL tailgating, and this is going to be perfect.
“We’re only a block away from WrestleMania, but this ain’t no invasion. We’re paying our respect, having some fun. This is all legit, we ain’t trying to cross no lines.”
This WrestleMania weekend, Bullet Club is coming to America, leaving its home base in Japan to extend its reach into another continent.
“This is the time to showcase our new squad and show why Jay White is our guy,” said Tonga. “America knew the guys from The Elite, but I want to leave an imprint of the new guys and remind everyone what Bullet Club is all about as we enter the age of the Cut Throat Era.”
Shawn Michaels kicks off WrestleMania Series podcast
Exciting news to share: I will be hosting a podcast series about WrestleMania’s biggest moments.
The WrestleMania Series is a five-part podcast series, each episode with a 30-minute time limit, designed to look into five moments that helped shape WrestleMania.
Our first episode, “Career vs. The Streak,” will have “The Heartbreak Kid” Shawn Michaels as the guest.
Michaels goes into detail about his legendary WrestleMania XXVI match against The Undertaker, including the revelation that there was an “out clause” in the storyline if Michaels decided he did not want to retire.
“I don’t know that I ever completely decided that it was going to be it [for my career] until after that match was over,” said Michaels. “We had always sort of discussed sort of an ‘out clause,’ so to speak, if I had the desire to do it again. But I can remember myself, and ‘Taker, and Michaels Hayes just sitting there after the match, like we had done the year before, just the three of us, sort of sitting there, alone, taking it in, and I said, ‘You know something, guys? I feel good with that.’”
Michaels also touched on potential WrestleMania comebacks, including another WrestleMania rematch with The Undertaker, and whether he feels differently about the match now after wrestling ’Taker in a tag at the Crown Jewel show in November.
The show debuted on Wednesday and is currently available to download.
More information regarding future guests, including next week’s, will be posted on my Twitter page, and I hope that the Week in Wrestling readers will enjoy the new podcast.
PCO and Brody King Ready to Show Why They Belong in Villain Enterprises
Ring of Honor unveiled a revamped roster to kick off 2019, including the debuts of PCO and Brody King.
The duo is a part of “The Villain” Marty Scurll’s newest faction, Villain Enterprises, and challenge for the tag team titles against the Briscoe Brothers at Ring of Honor’s 17th Anniversary pay-per-view on Friday, March 15.
The 51-year-old PCO was formerly with WWE as Jean-Pierre LaFitte, best known for stealing Bret Hart’s jacket in a 1995 feud. Incredibly, this is the same man who captivated the indie wrestling scene over the past year, displaying a style of wrestling with a complete and utter disregard for his own well-being.
“I’m going to take that to a new level in Ring of Honor,” said PCO. “I’m going to be even more on the edge. All the years of my life have been about wrestling. I’m here, night after night, to make sure fans cannot believe what they’re seeing when they see me live. Going to see PCO is an experience, and it will be that way in Ring of Honor.”
PCO is the modern-day Terry Funk, and he has a partner in the monstrous 6'5" Brody King that is ready to make a sizable footprint of his own in ROH.
“We deserve to be in this position, and we’re going to show everyone why we’re here in Ring of Honor,” said King. “The Briscoes are the best tag team in Ring of Honor, but we’re going to show at the pay-per-view why we belong in the same ring as them.”
King added that he is looking forward to teaming with PCO after wrestling him five times over the last past year.
“PCO hits like a truck, he’s not very light, and he loves to throw his body at people,” said King. “So it’s definitely better to be on the teaming end with him than the receiving end.”
PCO promised that his character will be in good hands in ROH and within the storylines of Villain Enterprises.
“ROH doesn’t want to change the character, they want to add to it and enhance it,” said PCO. “Villain Enterprises is the perfect fit for me because of our chemistry—I’ve known Marty since 2008 and I’ve worked against Brody a lot.”
ROH’s 17th Anniversary pay per view will showcase its newest stars while still keeping its spotlight on the established ones, like ROH world champ Jay Lethal and the Briscoes. But in the ring—as well as off-camera—there is a hungry group of newcomers ready to ignite their own fires.
“Marty is a pure villain and a pure wrestler who can do it all in the ring, and Brody moves so well at 6’5” and is very, very good in the ring,” said PCO. “Then add me, PCO, who is not human, with my crash moonsaults, and it is going to be spectacular.”
Samoa Joe Finally Tastes WWE Gold
Samoa Joe captured his first WWE title last night on SmackDown Live.
Joe won an incredible Fatal Four-Way against R-Truth, Rey Mysterio, and Andrade “Cien” Almas to win the United States championship, adding a new piece of gold to a remarkable resume that includes two reigns as NXT champ, as well as a run as both Ring of Honor and Impact world champion.
There are now potential singles matches against Rey Mysterio, Almas, R-Truth, and Big E for the U.S. title. Although Truth was put in triple threat and four-way matches, it would be better to see Joe in singles matches—especially this WrestleMania 35.
Joe is a rare breed in pro wrestling, an old-school powerhouse whose style would fit into the 1980s, the “Attitude Era”, or the early 2000s. Unlike Shinsuke Nakamura, who won the U.S. title after his main event run with WWE, as well as Jeff Hardy, whose run with the belt was similar to Nakamura’s, hopefully the title propels Joe back into the world title picture.
UFC Fighter Brian Ortega’s Message for Pro Wrestlers Entering the Octagon
UFC featherweight Brian Ortega has paid close attention as the stars of WWE have made their way into the Octagon.
Bobby Lashley and Jack Swagger both tasted success in Bellator, while Brock Lesnar delivered a stretch of domination in the UFC. Ortega also watched as CM Punk lost his first two UFC fights, but offered a different message than most of his peers in response to the Punk fights.
“I respect him for his willingness to leave what he was doing and come into our world,” said Ortega, who is 14-1 after suffering the first loss of his career in December due to doctor stoppage in his fight against Max Holloway for the UFC Featherweight Championship. “He stepped into the lion’s den, and for that, I give him credit. He left WWE, started training, and entered our world. That takes a lot of courage and a lot of heart, so you have to give him a lot of credit.”
Ortega is serving as the face of Modelo, the official beer of UFC, while he continues negotiations for his next fight.
“I’m honored that Modelo has chosen me,” said Ortega. “It’s a humbling experience, especially with all of the talent that they have. I’ve worked hard my whole career to have success, and you need to work even harder to have more success than the average human. Modelo embrace and embody that fighting spirit, and that’s how I left the streets of LA to become someone.”
A refusal to quit and an indomitable fighting spirit help define Ortega, who is eager to get back in the cage after suffering his first loss.
“It hurt and it sucked to lose, but I don’t take nothing back,” said the 28-year-old Ortega. “The doctor did what he had to do when he stopped the fight. He realized my hand was broken and my other hand had swelled up, so I would have stopped the fight if I were the doctor. But the fighter in me would rather fight until the lights go out. That’s what the entire world saw that night. I took everything Holloway threw at me and kept answering back.”
UFC star Conor McGregor is constantly linked to the WWE for his smooth trash-talking and litany of insults to his opponents, but that is not Ortega’s style.
“I am the type of fighter who doesn’t need to speak because my body does enough speaking for me,” said Ortega. “I want to be the champ and prove I am the best fighter in the world. I want to fight the best there are, and I want to show I can go with every single one of them.”
Conrad Thompson on the Future of “Somthing to Wrestle”
Conrad Thompson returns this Friday to “Something to Wrestle with Bruce Prichard”—and the show will continue to run for the foreseeable future.
“We’re going to finish all of our live show commitments, with the last one we’ve agreed to do taking place at Starrcast II over Memorial Day weekend in Las Vegas,” said Thompson. “After that, we’ll wind down some of the live shows because Bruce’s travel schedule is going to be hectic enough, but for now, the podcast keeps going, same Bat Time, same Bat Channel.”
Thompson and Prichard will detail the incredible run of “Stone Cold” Steve Austin from 1997 through the end of 2000, exploring the rise to prominence of one of WWE’s biggest stars of all-time.
“And that wasn’t the original plan,” said Thompson. “WWE started 1997 with an original idea, and it wasn’t Steve Austin. The plan was to lead to a Shawn Michaels-Bret Hart rematch at WrestleMania 13, and the plan was to stick with those two guys. Bret was the top guy, then the switch was made to Shawn, but business wasn’t where the company had hoped.”
Austin factored into the WrestleMania 13 plans, but nowhere near the main event, which was Undertaker-Sid.
“But that connection between Austin and the audience was undeniable,” said Thompson. “And it became clear by the end of ‘97 that he was going to be ‘The Guy’ for WWE. But Austin wasn’t a musclebound monster, or a red-and-yellow animated personality, he was black boots, black tights, and a mean streak that connected in a way Vince McMahon never expected.
“1998 was a record year for the company, and that momentum led to more momentum. It wasn’t the original plan, but WWE rode the wave to the biggest financial success they ever experienced.”
Tweet of the Week
At least the thought was kind. RIP to King Kong Bundy, one of the greatest heels of the ‘80s.
Justin Barrasso can be reached at JBarrasso@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter @JustinBarrasso.