Bullet Club Civil War: Looking Back to Look Forward

The intense power struggle between The Elite and Bullet Club OGs finally erupted on July 7th 2018, in the world famous Cow Palace, setting in motion the now infamous Bullet Club Civil War. In a memorable blindsided beatdown, the OGs shed their Bullet Club t-shirts to reveal a new ‘Firing Squad’ emblem. They believed The Elite had faded the distinct iconography of Bullet Club, bringing the group away from the anti-establishment sentiments which birthed it, and the “one for all, all for one” mantra, at its core.

In the months that followed, fierce battles were fought between the two sides: most notably Young Bucks vs G.O.D. However, the leaders of the two splinter groups, Kenny Omega and Tama Tonga, never locked horns in a singles encounter during the Civil War feud.

Firing Squad Coup

Credit: NJPW

The beatdown angle, with likeness to that of a coup, came at the conclusion of the G1 Special in San Francisco, after Kenny Omega successfully defended his IWGP Heavyweight Championship in a violent, cathartic affair against Cody. 

The attack was spearheaded by Tama Tonga, Tanga Loa, and their famed father Haku. They were merciless in their attack on The Elite, whilst Hangman Adam Page and Marty Scurll offered momentary hope of a rebuttal, the newly christened Firing Squad ensured it didn’t last long.

The Tongan trio were ruthlessly violent; even targeting Yujiro Takahashi and Chase Owens in their seizing of Bullet Club. Tama Tonga shouted “you did this” right into the bewildered face of Kenny Omega, as he made his thoughts crystal clear.

Cody stalked down to the ring after the brunt of the beatdown had unravelled, teasing that he would help the Firing Squad, before aligning himself directly with The Elite (and being crushed by the OGs accordingly).

Months of seed-planting foreshadowed the collapse of Bullet Club unity; the Guerrillas of Destiny and Bad Luck Fale delivering tense backstage promos in the aid of sparking the eventual Civil War. Their continuously expressed hatred of what The Elite had done to the Bullet Club image came to a head, as the Firing Squad wreaked havoc on their faction mates turned bitter enemies.

Fighting Spirit Unleashed: Young Bucks (c) vs G.O.D (September 30th 2018)

Credit: NJPW

Pre-match, Kevin Kelly stressed the storyline threads which made this match so important to the ongoing Civil War. With the stakes being which vision Bullet Club would follow, The Elite’s superstar “populism” or the OGs desire for a return to the faction’s roots equaled a fierce and unbridled rebellion.

The Los Angeles patrons were already at fever pitch as the bell signaled the start of this IWGP Tag Team Championship defence. It was a tightly contested tag team match, with the distinct focus being Matt Jackson’s continuously injured back; an issue which plagued him throughout 2018.

The table, set up at ringside, crushed Matt Jackson’s back even further, when Tanga Loa pushed him off the top rope and through the centre of it. A clear symbol of their fiery rivalry.

This match was a shining light of Bullet Club’s Civil War, demonstrating the struggle for control between The Elite and OGs. The contrast of styles delivered a powerful representation of what the war boiled down to. As the Young Bucks opted for their trademark flashy, high-flying, eye-catching offence, the Tongans opposed that with a brutal, gritty, harsh fighting style. 

This polarising optic of what Bullet Club had become showed exactly why a Civil War was needed. Unity is key to any faction’s success. But it was clear to see the stark contrast between what the Young Bucks, and wider Elite, aimed for compared to the impulses of the BC OGs; meaning that in the end the faction couldn’t remain one whole group.

Looking Forward

Credit: NJPW

If the Bullet Club is to break down into a second Civil War during 2021, then there are a few lessons to be learnt from 2018. The war fizzled out into a seemingly silent separation, not capitalising on the interest (especially in the US) for a climactic conclusion to the feud. When Jay White surged into Bullet Club leadership at King of Pro Wrestling (October 8th 2018) the Civil War was forgotten, as The Elite and OGs became distant without real resolution.

Bullet Club had moved on.

I would have loved to have seen a conclusive match between the groups – whether it took the form of a singles match or a “losing team must disband” tag team match, for example. This is something NJPW could learn from if they are to send Bullet Club in a similar direction once more. These consequential, feud ending matches would have underlined the rivalry’s importance, delivering an elevation of the talent involved who needed such. 

Jay White’s return in Korakuen Hall (on a very standard NJPW Road to show) was more shocking in its timing than its substance. I suspected a longer time off for Jay White, furthering the speculation surrounding possible directions for him, and the wider Bullet Club, but the few weeks he was away certainly did the trick.

Credit: AEW

Tensions are almost continuously brewing in, and around, the faction – with a visible contrast between Jay White’s “Real Bullet Club” in Japan and the USA’s “Elite”. With KENTA’s thrilling appearance on AEW Dynamite, the talk of rivalry between NJPW’s and AEW’s Bullet Clubs may actually have something behind them – no smoke without a fire, and all that.

A second Civil War is not entirely out of the question. As Tama Tonga continues to fan the flames on Twitter, Jay White mentions it in his backstage comments and AEW’s Elite constantly pander the fans with the idea: it’s definitely possible.

The “Forbidden Door” is as close to opening as it ever has been, perhaps it is already ajar, but whether it will actually open fully is up for debate. AEW seem incredibly keen to pursue a NJPW crossover, and with New Japan beginning to entertain the idea, it isn’t impossible, as it once seemed.

The storyline has immense potential for thrusting Bullet Club back to the very pinnacle of the entire wrestling world, and it would be an undeniable publicity and cash-maker for both companies. A Bullet Club Civil War is closer than ever, will tensions explode to cause an inter-promotional war? Only time will tell.