The year is 2015. The event is the CHIKARA King of Trios Tournament. Bullet Club has had something of a turbulent year, each member winning and subsequently dropping title belts after short reigns, but they’re still one of the most formidable threats in New Japan Pro Wrestling. Now, over the course of the next three days, they intend to prove exactly why that is.
AJ Styles is the group’s Heavyweight singles star and the closest thing they have to a leader, although at this point they act more like a roving pack of hooligans than anything requiring so much structure as leadership. To help him represent Bullet Club overseas, AJ could pick no better partners than the Young Bucks; an irascible pair of little goblins with years of successful trio runs alongside the likes of Adam Cole, Kevin Steen, and Kenny Omega under their belts. Chikara wont know what hit them.
AJ wont know what hit him either four months from now when the Bucks turn on him and Kenny Omega takes his revenge. But that’s a story for a later date.
Dawn of the First Day
(Or… Dusk of the First Night? What time did they hold these shows? Whatever, my jokes are funny and you should laugh at them.)
Bullet Club’s first opponents are the Battle Hive – made up of Fire Ant, Pharaoh Ant, and Worker Ant – a well-rounded team that can match the Bucks’ athleticism and AJ’s power and force, with Worker Ant beating them all in the sheer brute strength department. It’s a fast-paced match, with both teams taking advantage of Chikara’s lucha-style tag rules. Bullet Club has the upper hand when the Bucks can set the pace, but Worker Ant is very handy for bringing their momentum to a screeching halt. Both teams work excellently in tandem, always seeming to know where each other is in the ring and how to capitalize on their opponent’s weakness so that no team has the upper hand for long and the action builds to a crescendo. AJ takes out Pharaoh Ant with a Brainbuster, and Fire Ant helps his fellow soldier with a running knee to AJ’s face. The Bucks retaliate by laying him out with a Double Superkick and then the powerhouse that is Worker Ant takes out both Bucks with a Double Clothesline. The crowd roars, Worker Ant stomps menacingly around the ring, but he spends a moment too long posturing because there’s AJ on the side of the ring setting up for the Phenomenal Forearm, and-
It’s a move AJ has performed flawlessly a thousand times and will do so a thousand times more, but Chikara’s top rope clearly does not know or care. In a blatant show of disrespect it allows AJ’s foot to slip and sends him stumbling into a hasty jumping enziguri to take out Worker Ant. “Stupid Lucha Ropes!” AJ snarls as said ropes watch with smug silence as any momentum Bullet Club might have built wavers. But no Lucha Rope, no matter how cheeky, can keep this trio down for long. They take back control and, after hitting their frankly ridiculous tandem finishing move, win the day.
Afterwards, the Bucks reassure AJ. They know exactly what happened, and AJ isn’t to blame. They double superkick the offending rope for daring to handle the Phenomenal One so carelessly before exiting to rest and prepare for the next round of the tournament. The top rope, suitably chastised, solemnly swears to never so thoroughly disrespect AJ Styles ever again…
Dawn of the Second Day
…Or does it?
Whatever, this is wrestling; things go wrong all the time and AJ is a professional. He’s going to hit all of his moves with flawless precision, beat the tar out of these guys with his buddies, and no one will ever think of one teensy little botched springboard ever again.
In contrast to the cohesive unit that made up Battle Hive, Battleborn is an untested trio made up of Kevin Condron, Lucas Calhoun, and Missile Assault Man. After a successful first round, it shows they have their work cut out for them in facing the tournament favorites, and they know it. While Bullet Club is busy posing for the cameras and playing up the crowd, Battleborn attacks them from behind.
It doesn’t amount to much, however. The Bucks and AJ take handily take back control and make it clear that they’re not taking their current opponents terribly seriously. They menace an impressively – and foolishly – brave Kevin Condron who takes exception to the presence of all three Bullet Club members in the ring at once, but they give up their early advantage by pausing for a prematurely celebratory Too Sweet, giving Battleborn the opening they need to isolate Matt Jackson.
The cracks in Battleborn’s unit cohesion immediately begin to show, however, with Kevin Condron – again; very brave, very stupid – taking Missile Assault Man to task for enthusiastically stomping Matt to paste in their corner of the ring. Still, for a good chunk of time it’s Battleborn who are running things, taking Matt apart piece by piece while his Bullet Club compatriots can do nothing but watch.
Matt Jackson is tougher than they bargained for though. With some last minute maneuvering and a well-timed superkick from Nick Jackson, Bullet Club manages to turn things around. Matt is able to fight free and tag in AJ, giving him some time to recover and AJ the opportunity to pay back what Battleborn dished out, with interest. AJ runs wild, single handedly taking on two of their opponents at once with an overwhelming flurry of moves. Lucas Calhoun manages to pop AJ over the ropes and onto the apron to give him some breathing room and stumbles, hunched over and dazed, to the center of the ring. The distance doesn’t make him as safe as he might think, though; AJ grips the top rope in both hands, pulls back in preparation for his signature Phenominal Forearm and-
AJ looks at the rope. The rope looks back at AJ, daring him, asking him if he’s willing to risk further humiliation. The crowd chants their encouragement and AJ wavers, struggling visibly with indecision. The moment drags on, tense with anticipation, before finally AJ thinks better of it and simply steps through the ropes to go after his target, giving Calhoun the chance to momentarily turn things around.
That’s not the end for Bullet Club though, even as the match itself breaks down into a series of chaotic events that include a troll
in the dungeons on the apron and no less than three handguns (you had to be there). In the end, Bullet Club’s flawless teamwork wins the day, with a double Indytaker leading to a double pin and a decisive victory for the Bucks and AJ.
The top rope watches silently on the sidelines. Waiting.
Dawn of the Third Day
Here it is, the final and most grueling day of the King of Trios tournament. The winning team will have to fight not just one but two matches to earn their victory, and Bullet Club intend to be victorious. And no, AJ is not concerned about whatever the top rope is doing, absolutely not. He just doesn’t like Lucha ropes! That’s not the same thing as being scared, not at all, and honestly how dare you even suggest as much.
Bullet Club aren’t the only international stars in King of Trios. Their opponents for the Semifinals, Team Fight Club PRO, are a new UK team who have also captured the hearts and minds of the crowd. They toss a chant back and forth, equally loud for both teams as the match gets underway.
Things start off relatively calmly with a respectable bit of chain wrestling, with Nick Jackson representing Bullet Club’s side. Nick gets his opponent in a wristlock early on and Matt starts a “please don’t tap” chant because he’s the worst.
“I thought we only did the highspots Nick, c’mon!” Matt calls out sarcastically.
From there, the match gets much less respectable. It’s full of sly digs and one-upsmanship, with a light sprinkle of underhanded tactics for good measure. It’s a vicious back and forth, with the Fight Club boys giving as good as they get. One of them manages to take both Bucks out at once, leaving AJ on the apron to carry it for their team.
AJ slides his hands against the top tope. The top tope hangs there silently, just waiting to see if AJ has the guts to actually do it this time. AJ looks to the crowd and the crowd cheers its support. They have faith in AJ, for no top rope can keep him down for long! Buoyed by the vocal encouragement, AJ pulls back in preparation for the springboard…
..And slams face first into the apron, courtesy of a timely grip on his ankle by a member of Fight Club PRO.
The match continues. Fight Club taunts Bullet Club, Too Sweeting each other in the middle of the ring and cribbing off the Bucks’ finishing move, but it backfires almost immediately. AJ and the Bucks are able to get back in sync and from there it’s academic; a double superkick, a piledriver and a Meltzer Driver, and it’s all over.
Well, the match is over at least. Bullet Club move on to the finals to be held later in the night, but AJ and the top rope? Well, it seems they have some unfinished business.
Dawn of the – Wait, this is the same day, crap. Uhh, do we have another cringy millennial video game reference? No? Whatever, screw it: It’s the Finals, Baby!
Bullet Club’s next opponents, the last hurdle between them and King of Trios glory, is Team AAA (pron. “triple a”) consisting of Drago, Aero Star, and Rey Fenix. A little over four years from now, Rey Fenix and his brother will tear the house down on pay-per-view in a ladder match against the Young Bucks in the company of their own making. Six months later, marking a full five years from this match, Fenix and Nick Jackson will have an absolute barn burner of a singles bout on United States national television, cementing their position as two of the very best highfliers in the business and earning them international acclaim.
But all of that is years in the future. Now, at this little indie in Pennsylvania, the audience is acutely aware of the star power displayed in front of them. Some of the best of the best in Bullet Club and Lucha Underground are squaring off in this ring; not yet at their peak but glowing red hot for all who care to look. The people in the crowd may not know the future as we do, but they know they’re about to watch something special. A chant of “All these guys! All these guys!” starts up before the match even begins and yeah. Yeah. All these guys.
Unfortunately, Bullet Club gets off to an extremely rough start. The Young Bucks, for all their early Lucha influences, are thrown off by being matched or even surpassed in speed by seasoned luchadores. After a cheeky little eyepoke and some posturing by Matt, Drago almost immediately overwhelms him and sends him rolling to the relative safety of the outside of the ring. Nick leaps to his brother’s defense, only to get tangled in the ring ropes and fall flat on his face. Matt attempts to throw himself back into the fray only to stumble over a dazed Nick and AJ, keen to come and help his teammates, goes instinctively for the springboard and is summarily dumped onto the mat by the devious and opportunistic top rope.
Bullet Club all stumble out of the ring to regroup after that frankly embarrassing showing. “What’s going on, guys?” asks a member of the audience as the Bucks and AJ attempt to process what just happened.
“I HATE LUCHA ROPES!” AJ shouts in a fit of humiliation and rage.
The Bucks soothe him as best they can. “It’s a prank, it’s a prank,” Matt reassures him as he takes stock of what awaits them in the ring. If the top rope could laugh (which it can’t, because it is literally just a rope), it would definitely be laughing at AJ right now.
Unfortunately they don’t fare much better once they reenter the ring. Fenix is a staggeringly impressive opponent even now and he runs wild on Bullet Club, matching them move for move and sending them rolling right back out of the ring. That’s more than enough for the Bucks and AJ; they’re the ones who came here to bully other teams, they’re not looking to be bullied! Sent back to the outside, Bullet Club collectively decides to cut their losses and makes their way to the backstage entrance.
Team AAA take the bait, too honorable to accept a victory by count out or forfeit, and follow Bullet Club straight into a triple superkick. A little underhanded? Maybe so, but it’s enough to give Bullet Club a bit of an advantage as they bring things back to the ring. Not enough of one to enjoy the kind of dominance they had in the previous rounds of the tournament though. Even though the Bucks and AJ do their best to give as good as they get, they’re still visibly on the back foot, struggling to counter the sheer intensity of what Team AAA are throwing their way. Battered and exhausted, instinct takes over enough so that Bullet Club can land one of their tandem moves, enough so that AJ ends up perfectly positioned for that fated Phenomenal Forearm.
AJ pauses for the briefest moment. He and the top rope stare down. More than any of the teams Bullet Club has faced in this tournament, more than the team in the ring with them at this very moment, the top rope has been his nemeses. Undermining him, chipping away at his self confidence, taunting him with its sleek surface and springy tensity. Can he risk it? Will he give their opponents that one small opening they need to triumph if he fails? Does he give up, and allow the top rope to hold this win over him forever more? AJ doesn’t have time to really think through all of these scenarios. If he did, maybe the AJ Styles vs. Lucha Ropes feud would have ended differently. But the pace of the match is too fast and he barely has a moment to think, just long enough for the crowd to see what is happening and start to voice its support.
AJ pulls back on the top rope.
He jumps up.
And he executes a perfect springboard, nailing Aero Star with a flawless Phenomenal Forearm to the roar of the crowd. People leap to their feet, overcome by the magnitude of AJ’s victory as the top rope lies quiescent in its place around the ring, defeated. It is, unfortunately, the last victory Bullet Club experience that night, but it’s a sweet one. Team AAA may carry the day with the King of Trios accolades but AJ comes away with a deeper, more personal accomplishment. Through his perseverance and adaptability he was able to overcome scheming Lucha Ropes and captivate the imagination and the encouragement of everyone who watched his journey and came along for the ride. Though the tournament loss may have stung, it’s this one personal moment of victory that will loom largest in memory.