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Will the Bullet Club go to WWE?

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Last week, I penned a column about the remarkable year of New Japan Pro Wrestling in 2015 after the stellar Wrestle Kingdom 10 event at the Tokyo Dome in front of an estimated 60,000 fans. Just a few days later, the WWE announced that their streaming network launched in Japan and some very surprising rumors followed.

A few of the key players of the New Japan roster, including AJ Styles, Shinsuke Nakamura, Karl Anderson, and Doc Gallows were said to have given their notice to management to prepare to sign with the WWE. The story was more or less “confirmed” when WWE.com posted about it and if it’s on the official website, the deal is probably already sealed so what does this translate to for the WWE landscape?

First of all, the WWE network launched in Japan this week and it’s no coincidence that these talent acquisitions were made around the same time, as getting four of the top stars of NJPW will help boost subscriptions for the digital platform in Japan. Aside from the obvious value of getting a piece of the Japanese fan base, the new arrivals can also add depth to the NXT brand, where it’s a safe bet that some of the talent will work during their WWE run. Finn Balor will probably be brought up to Raw at some point in the near future, especially with the roster currently being so depleted from injuries and when he departs from NXT, AJ could step up as the center piece of the product to keep the brand stable.

Speaking of AJ Styles, I was extremely surprised that his name was mentioned during all the speculation because it just didn’t seem like his style would fit within the WWE environment, but I was shocked when Samoa Joe was signed, and he’s done well so who knows what’s in store for AJ? That being said, AJ Styles is one of the most talented athletes that has stepped into the squared circle and despite being a veteran now, it should be remembered that he used a revolutionary move set early in his career before it was common place on the independent scene. Bottom line, Styles is talented enough to work anywhere in the world and while the NXT emphasis on in ring action would probably suit him well, his skills would be on par with any level of the WWE. However, at 38, you have to wonder how long Styles will continue to wrestle, especially considering the aerial moves he used during most of his career, but if he works in WWE for at least five years before retiring, there’s certainly the opportunity a successful run.

Karl Anderson and Doc Gallows are a solid veteran team that add depth to any roster, and are seasoned enough to adapt to any product. Doc Gallows is very familiar with the WWE atmosphere and got his initial job with the company as “impostor Kane” and while it wasn’t exactly a gimmick to build a career off of, it allowed the young Gallows to work with a veteran for his original WWE exposure, which was a valuable learning experience if nothing else. His next role as Fetus wasn’t going to be a main event character either, but again, the experience helped when he eventually found himself as a performer. As was the case for much of CM Punk’s WWE run as a whole, the Straight Edge Society probably wasn’t utilized as well as it could have been, but Gallows’ role there, as well as his time in TNA allowed him to enhance and polish his character towards the presentation that was successful in New Japan.

A 15 year pro, Karl Anderson was trained at Les Thacther’s HWA, which has produced several notable stars. Anderson wrestled extensively on the independent scene in the United States until he started working for New Japan, where he was a featured tag team star for nearly eight years and was formerly a team with current WWE coach, Matt Bloom. Karl Anderson also has good mic skills and did most of the mic work for the Bullet Club so his promo ability is another asset he brings to the table.

Shinsuke Nakamura is a charismatic striker and one of New Japan’s most popular stars. This is another surprising signing for a few reasons. Bushiroad, the parent company of NJPW, owns a very profitable trading card business and would seemingly have the money to sign Nakamura to a major deal to keep him on the roster, but for whatever reason, he seems to be going to the WWE. Another reason being Nakamura will have to be relocated from Japan to the United States and speaks limited English so there could be some what of a culture shock for the Japanese superstar. However, there’s the potential for a major upside to his venture to the WWE, more specifically that he’s a main stream star on the NJPW roster in Japan, but he could be a global star in the WWE. Some might assume that Nakamura will be limited to the mid card because of his lack of English, but there’s no doubt that he has the potential to be a main event star in the WWE.

If Nakamura is going to achieve the most from his time in the WWE, I would suggest that the booking to follow the same pattern that they’ve used for Samoa Joe, don’t tamper with a gimmick that works and let the talent get over on the bigger stage the same way they had previously. Granted, this is just my two cents, but the reason unique talents get over is because they have certain intangibles that shouldn’t be diluted just for a WWE trademark. Samoa Joe as Samoa Joe is the best formula for success and he didn’t get some goofy name just so the WWE could own the rights to it. That’s actually one of the benefits of the WWE at the top of the industry, if a competitor uses their original name that they’ve used in other promotions in the WWE and then works elsewhere, it doesn’t really effect the WWE ratings. In fact, the story on WWE.com about the signings used the performers’ original names so they might be an indication that their characters won’t be tainted in the WWE environment. In my opinion, the WWE should let Nakamura be himself and he will probably get over WWE audience because he has all the ability to be a top star anywhere in the world.

Obviously, there’s a chance that his popularity doesn’t translate, but if given a chance, it’s extremely possible that Nakamura could be the first Japanese WWE champion. (Yes, I know Inoki has an unrecognized reign as WWF champion, but that was basically just a publicity stunt to boost audiences for the tour at the time) As far as promos go, Paul Heyman and Zeb Colter have both proven that managers can still effectively do the mic work to get a program over with the crowd so give the Japanese star a manager to talk for him.

How successful the imports from New Japan will be within the WWE remains to be seen, but there’s a major upside to the entire acquisition and while the company itself is building toward the future, it certainly helps to add this talent group to the roster for a variety of roles. Could there possible be a spin off of the Bullet Club as “the Balor Club” in the WWE? Could the fans finally see AJ Styles booked for some WWE dream matches? Either way, the entire situation is intriguing and provides a spark for the WWE heading towards the Royal Rumble.

-Jim LaMotta

@jimlamotta

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