Reflecting on A Decade: A Look Back at Pro Wrestling in the 2010s

A new year has begun and along with it comes a new decade, but don’t say goodbye to the 2010s just yet as we here at the Place To Be Nation want to take a look back at the decade that just passed us by before we get too far into the 2020s. In this article I will be talking about everything that happened in the world of wrestling throughout the 2010s, this includes both the good and the bad, the happy and the sad, the moments that made us go holy shit and the ones that just made us go WTF, so sit back and relax and get ready for what could end up being quite a lengthy article.

The First Monday of the Decade
It didn’t take long for the decade to deliver a memorable moment as on the first Monday of 2010 we saw not one, but two wrestling shows battling for supremacy as for the first time since March 2001 WWE Raw faced competition from another wrestling company as TNA tried their hands at starting up another Monday Night War. In late 2009, TNA brought in Hulk Hogan and Eric Bischoff to see if they could turn the company around and make it a viable competitor to the WWE and one of the very first moves made by Hogan and Bischoff was to immediately move Impact to Monday nights. The January 4 show was a test run to see how well it would do against the juggernaut that was WWE Raw and if it did well enough they would be given that Monday time slot every week. Despite the January 4 show not beating Raw in the ratings they were still able to win over the Spike TV executives and were given that weekly Monday slot (which started in March), however, the company was far from ready to make such a monumental move so quickly and the creative decisions made by Hogan, Bischoff, & Vince Russo (who was writing in TNA at the time) weren’t going to get them there anytime soon. Hogan and Bischoff chose not to take full advantage of the talented roster TNA had at that time and instead brought in a lot of Hogan’s buddies from the past including The Nasty Boys, Ric Flair, Kevin Nash, Scott Hall, & Sean Waltman among others, but what they didn’t realize was that by 2010 wrestling fans were tired of seeing stars of the past and were more interested in TNA’s current roster. There were other decisions made by Hogan and Bischoff such as getting rid of the six-sided ring, having Abyss obsessed over Hogan’s Hall of Fame ring, trying to restart the NWO, and having AJ Styles be nothing more than a Ric Flair cosplayer that was just a slap in the face of what made TNA unique and made the fans fall in love with the promotion. Needless to say, the ratings were nowhere near high enough to compete with Raw and by May the decision was made by the network to move back to Thursdays. 

TNA Wrestling wasn’t the only one making history on January 4th, 2010 as over in WWE we got the long-awaited and highly anticipated return of Bret Hart to the WWE after a 12 year absence, and if that wasn’t special enough on its own we got Bret making amends with Shawn Michaels who for the longest time he held a grudge against due to Shawn Michaels’s role in the Montreal Screwjob. While “The Hitman” was a shell of his former self due to past health problems such as having several strokes it was still heartwarming to see him finally come back to the WWE. Bret would engage in a feud with Vince McMahon that would last until WrestleMania XXVI when the two, unfortunately, had one of the worst WrestleMania matches of all time. After WrestleMania, Bret would continue to pop up throughout 2010 and would even be involved in a few more matches until he finally faded out of the spotlight with the exception of one-off appearances sprinkled in throughout the next nine years, including a second Hall of Fame induction in 2019 as part of the Hart Foundation. 

The Biggest Returns and One Big Debut of the Decade

The Rock
Bret Hart wouldn’t be the only big name that would return to wrestling in this decade as the following year the WWE wanted to have someone host WrestleMania XXVII and that man would not only be one of the biggest stars in WWE history but is also currently one of the biggest stars in Hollywood as we finally got the return of The Rock after a 7-year absence. The Rock would host WrestleMania, but more importantly, he would cost John Cena the WWE Championship in the main event of that show and this would lead to a match being made the following night on RAW for the following year’s WrestleMania XXVIII between these two WWE megastars which was titled “Once In A Lifetime”, this was a huge moment as never before in WWE has a match been publicly announced a year in advance. The Rock and Cena would trade jabs at each other throughout the year and would even team up at Survivor Series against the team of The Miz & R-Truth. The match itself delivered as The Rock put on a great showing despite being away from the ring for seven years and even was able to pick up the win, this wouldn’t be all we would see of The Rock in this decade, as he would return at Royal Rumble 2013 where he would end the 434-day title reign of CM Punk only to lose it to John Cena at WrestleMania XXIX.  

Brock Lesnar
The next big return would come the night after WrestleMania XXVIII when Brock Lesnar returned after a successful run in the UFC where he was the UFC Heavyweight Champion. Lesnar would bring a whole new feel to the show as anytime he was in the ring he brought a sense of realism and legitimacy that nobody else on the roster could provide. Lesnar’s run would be a mixed bag as most of his matches have been great but there is a handful that had a ton of hype and interest behind them but once the bell rang the match was highly disappointing. Lesnar would realign with Paul Heyman who had managed him during his first stint in the WWE back in 2002. Heyman would serve as the mouthpiece and hype man for Lesnar. Lesnar would have several high profile matches throughout 2012 & 2013 with John Cena, Triple H, & CM Punk. At WrestleMania XXX Lesnar would shock the world and make history at the same time when he became the 1 in 21-1 as he ended the WrestleMania winning streak of The Undertaker, as memorable as the moment was the match itself left a lot to be desired due to the fact that Undertaker suffered a concussion early on in the match and as expected the match never recovered after this. Lesnar and Undertaker would redeem themselves in the summer of 2015 when they had a two match series that included a Hell in a Cell match that exceeded all expectations given Undertaker’s physical condition at that time.

After conquering the streak Lesnar would then set his sites on the WWE World Heavyweight Championship as he would defeat John Cena at SummerSlam in what is likely the most high profile squash match of all time and in that match Lesnar repeatedly hit Cena with German suplexes and coined his new catchphrase of “Suplex City” and from that moment on Lesnar would heavily rely on German suplexes during his matches to the point where it affected the quality of his matches. Over the next five years, Lesnar would reign as the World Champion on Raw, however, thanks to his very lucrative contract that allows him to work a very limited amount of dates per year Raw would be void of a World Champion for the majority of the time over those five years. Lesnar would feud with Roman Reigns on and off from 2015-2018 in a feud that felt like it would never end, and for some strange reason Reigns never beat Lesnar in any of these matches despite the fact that WWE wanted Reigns to become their next big star. Lesnar is definitely a very polarizing figure in the WWE but whether you love him or hate him, the fact is that he draws interest and without him WWE’s drawing power on their bigger shows would be significantly less than it already is. 

The next person I will be talking about actually made his long-awaited debut in the WWE rather than a return. At the end of Survivor Series 2014, after Triple H had Pedigreed Dolph Ziggler (who was representing Team Cena) and rolled Seth Rollins on top of him, we hear the ruffling of feathers and the sound of a crow which mean that for the first time in his 29 year career the man known as Sting would finally make his debut on a WWE show. Sting would attack Triple H and roll Ziggler on top of Rollins to give Team Cena the win, which meant the Authority was gone…well for a few months at least. This would lead to a feud between Triple H and Sting which would culminate in a match at WrestleMania 31. The match between Sting and Triple H at WrestleMania 31 was nothing but an overbooked mess that served no other purpose than for Vince and Triple H to give one last kick in the nuts to the legacy of WCW. The match was fine at first as the two veterans were having a good match that kept the fans attention, however, once Sting started getting the best of Triple H we saw DX come out and eventually when the numbers get to be too much Sting gets help from the NWO (Hogan, Hall, & Nash). The match ends with Triple H landing a sledgehammer shot on Sting as he went for the Stinger Splash. 

So let’s review they took a match between two guys who actually could still go in the ring despite their age and threw in a bunch of smoke a mirrors and then on top of that the smoke and mirrors they used made no sense as the NWO would never help out Sting as he was their top rival back in WCW. It would have been so easy to find three WCW guys to run in and help Sting and then at least that part of the match would’ve made sense, but you can chalk that up to Vince not knowing or caring about anything about the history of WCW and nobody around him caring to fact check it and I’m sure Triple H didn’t care either as it got his Kliq buddies Hall and Nash on the show. If the whole NWO debacle wasn’t bad enough the fact that they had Sting immediately get to his feet after being hit by a sledgehammer just so he could shake hands with Triple H just so they could have the image of a WCW guy looking inferior to a WWE guy on their biggest show. If they were going to treat Sting this was why not just go ahead and do the Sting vs Undertaker match, then at least fans could’ve got that dream match they always wanted to see. This would not be the last we saw of Sting as he would return in late August to set up a match against WWE World Champion Seth Rollins for the Clash of Champions PPV in September, during the match Rollins would hit Sting with a buckle bomb that would end up causing Sting to have a serious neck injury that would lead to him having to retire and thus cutting his WWE career short which means we will never get to see the Sting vs Undertaker dream match. Sting would go on to be inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame as part of its 2016 class. 

The final person we are going to talk about is Goldberg would make his return in late 2016 as part of a deal with 2K Sports which is the company over WWE’s video game franchise. After months of Goldberg and Brock Lesnar exchanging words online and at media events hyping up the video game we finally got the official return of Goldberg in a WWE ring on October 17. Goldberg would accept the challenge that Lesnar’s advocate Paul Heyman laid out the week before and said that Lesnar would be next and would be last. He would also make it perfectly clear that he is doing this so that his son can see him wrestle and this would lead to him bringing his son into the ring and having some very awkward moments which included his son taking his shirt off. The match between the two behemoths would take place at Survivor Series. Goldberg would make short work of Lesnar as he would beat “The Beast” in a shocking 1:26. The night after Survivor Series Goldberg would declare his entry into the 2017 Royal Rumble as he wanted to see if he could have one last run as a champion. Goldberg would end up eliminating Lesnar in the Royal Rumble only to be eliminated himself by The Undertaker a few moments later. 

Goldberg would end up winning the Universal Championship at Fastlane 2017 from Kevin Owens after Owens was distracted by Chris Jericho who he had turned on a couple of weeks prior. At WrestleMania, we would have the final showdown between Goldberg and Brock Lesnar and this time the Universal Championship is on the line. The match would go on to be one of if not the best sub-five-minute matches of all time as it was pretty much like a WWE video game where both guys are repeatedly hitting their finishers. After seven German suplexes and an F5 Lesnar would end up beating Goldberg and winning the Universal Title in what would be Goldberg’s first clean loss in his entire career. The night after WrestleMania 33 Goldberg would bid the fans farewell while also leaving the door open for a potential match later on down the road. Goldberg would be the headline inductee into the 2018 class of the WWE Hall of Fame. 

Goldberg would return once again in 2019 where he would be working for blood money as he would face The Undertaker at Super Showdown in Saudi Arabia. This dream match would end up becoming a nightmare (which is a common theme on these Suadi Arabia shows) as before he came to the ring Goldberg stupidly headbutted his door to get hyped up for the match and in doing so gave himself a concussion and this would result in Goldberg locking on an awful looking leg bar, Goldberg getting busted open after hitting the ring post, and then Goldberg almost kills Undertaker as he drops him right on his head when he goes for the Jackhammer, and to close out the match Goldberg causes both he and Taker to fall when he goes for a Tombstone. This match was so bad that both men had to have matches in the following months to repair their reputation and show they weren’t the drizzling shits like the match in Saudi showed them to be. Goldberg’s last match of the decade would be when he faced Dolph Ziggler at SummerSlam in a quick Goldberg style squash match where he came out the victor. 

The Rise and Fall of Straight Edge in the 2010s
The 2010s were the decade where many of the independent wrestling stars of the mid-2000s got their time to shine in the WWE. The one person who is most deserving of the praise for paving the way for all the indy stars to get a shot in the WWE would be CM Punk and although he had already been in the WWE for four years prior to the beginning of the 2010s it wasn’t until 2011 when he really rose to prominence and became the talk of the wrestling world. On June 27, 2011 Punk cut a promo which would become known as “The Pipe Bomb” where he rips into Vince McMahon and how the WWE is run, he also mentions that the WWE will be just as bad after Vince dies since Triple H and Stephanie McMahon will be running things and they are no better. Punk then goes on to say that when he wins the title he will be taking it with him as his contract will be running out that same night. 

This would lead to one of the most anticipated matches in WWE history as CM Punk would take on John Cena at Money in the Bank in front of a raucous crowd in Punk’s hometown of Chicago IL. After a fantastic match Punk would win the title and held up his promise as he took the title with him, this would lead to him showing up at different places with the title and everything was going great as fans were loving the story being told, however, this would soon change. 

On the episode of Raw where WWE would crown a new champion, we saw the return of CM Punk which came only one week after Money in the Bank (this was disappointing as they really could’ve stretched out the story of Punk being gone) that would lead to a rematch at SummerSlam to crown the undisputed WWE Champion. Punk would win the title at SummerSlam, but after the match, Kevin Nash would come out and attack Punk which would lead to Alberto Del Rio cashing in his Money in the Bank briefcase and winning the title at the end of SummerSlam. All of that hype and attention that Punk had garnered over the past two months was for nothing as it all leads to Nash returning and feuding with Triple H and a mundane title reign for Alberto Del Rio. 

The WWE would put the title back on Punk in November as a bit of a consolation prize for screwing up the whole “Summer of Punk” angle, however, despite Punk being the champion he was never the main focus for the WWE as John Cena still held that spot. The highlight for Punk’s title run would be his feud with Daniel Bryan in the summer of 2012 including a great match at Over the Limit. The feud between Punk and Bryan would also involve AJ Lee in what was one of the WWE’s most entertaining love triangles as all three had great chemistry with each other. Punk would hole the title until Royal Rumble 2013 when he lost it to The Rock. Punk’s title reign would become the 6th longest WWE Title reign of all time as it would last for 434 days. 

The loss to The Rock would be the beginning of Punk’s frustrations with the company that would eventually lead to him walk out of the company in January 2014. Punk would explain the reasons as to why he left in an interview done by his former best friend Colt Cabana on his Art of Wrestling podcast. Punk said that the main reason he left was due to health issues and WWE’s lack of care of those issues as he had a potentially life-threatening lump on his back that the WWE doctors ignored, he also suffered from broken ribs, bad knees, and multiple concussions. Despite Punk walking out, he wasn’t officially fired from the company until June and of all days they chose his wedding day to deliver this news. Other reasons that Punk chose to leave stem from him not getting the main event match at WrestleMania and on top of that he got paid less than the other wrestlers in the top three matches at WrestleMania XXIX. Punk would state that he would never work with WWE again and had lost his passion for wrestling. 

After leaving WWE, Punk would dabble in acting and comic book writing, but the most memorable thing from his post WWE career would be his short tenure in the UFC where he lost both of his fights in devastating fashion. Despite saying he would never come back to WWE he has put a foot in the door to a potential return as he has joined a WWE centered panel show called WWE Backstage on Fox Sports 1 where he has a role of a special contributor and analyst. While Punk’s contract is with Fox and not with WWE, the fact that he is on a WWE centered show means that a potential return to a WWE ring isn’t completely out of the question, like it had been the past five years. 

The Inspirational Story of the GOAT
There have been many fan favorites in pro wrestling history, but very very few of them can connect with the fans like Daniel Bryan did in the 2010s. Bryan made his WWE debut in 2010 as part of the old TV show version of NXT where the rookies all had pros and each week someone would be eliminated and while Bryan didn’t win he was the clear fan favorite of the first season. Bryan’s pro during NXT was The Miz who was envious that his rookie was a better wrestler than he was, this would turn into a long-running feud that would be on and off throughout the decade. Bryan would make his Raw debut as apart of the Nexus stable that was comprised of the entire cast of the first season of NXT. As part of the debut, the Nexus would completely destroy the ringside area as well as everyone around it and during this Bryan would choke out ring announcer Justin Roberts with his tie, this action would lead to Bryan getting fired due to the choke being deemed too violent. Bryan would return a couple of months later as the mystery man to join Team WWE against The Nexus as SummerSlam. 

Bryan would float around the mid card throughout the rest of 2010 and into 2011 and even won the United States title along the way. Bryan would win the 2011 SmackDown Money in the Bank briefcase which he would end up cashing in on The Big Show at TLC 2011 to win the World Heavyweight Championship despite saying earlier in the year that he was going to cash it in at WrestleMania XXVIII. The title win would turn Bryan into an arrogant heel who constantly found sneaky ways to retain his title against opponents much bigger than him like The Big Show and Mark Henry. During this run as World Heavyweight Champion Bryan would introduce the Yes Chant which would instantly get over with the fans and become a pivotal part of Bryan’s career. Bryan would lose the title to Sheamus at WrestleMania XXVIII in 8 seconds which didn’t sit well with the fans as by this time they had fallen in love with Bryan and to see him get this kind of treatment at WrestleMania felt very wrong, however, in retrospect it may have been the best thing to happen for Bryan as this was the real start of the Daniel Bryan underdog story that would culminate two years later. 

In the fall of 2012, Bryan would form an unlikely team with Kane (at the time the two were feuding against each other and CM Punk in a love quadrangle over AJ Lee) after the two were ordered to go to anger management by AJ Lee who was the Raw General Manager at the time. The skits with Bryan and Kane in anger management were absolutely hilarious and was some of the best comedy that WWE had done in years. Not only were they great at playing off each other in these skits but they also had Dr. Shelby who was over the anger management meetings and was a great comedic addition to the story. Bryan and Kane would become known as Team Hell No and would be one of the most over acts WWE had. One of the most over moments involving Team Hell No didn’t even come during a match it came when they kept teasing they were going to hug it out like they had been taught by Dr. Shelby, but when one went in to hug the other would back away they would continue doing this for a few minutes and held the attention of the crowd the entire time, once they finally did hug they received a huge pop. The fact that just a simple hug got that kind of reaction just shows how over they were. Team Hell No would officially turn Bryan back to being a babyface, but in reality, he was still a babyface in the heart of the fans even when he was considered a heel. Team Hell No would team together until around mid-2013 when the Daniel Bryan underdog story really starts escalating.

At SummerSlam 2013 Bryan would face off against John Cena and after one hell of a match Bryan would end up winning the WWE Championship, however, after the match Triple H who was the special referee turned on Bryan which lead to Randy Orton cashing in his Money in the Bank briefcase and winning the title. Over the next few months, Bryan would either keep getting screwed out of winning the title or he would win it and then the decision would be reversed the next night on Raw. By the end of the year Bryan didn’t just have a fanbase behind him he had a movement as you couldn’t find a wrestling fan that wasn’t pissed off about how he was being treated. There was no better example of this than on December 9, 2013 episode of Raw where they were having a big WWE & World Heavyweight Championship ceremony as the titles were going to be unified at TLC 2013 and you had a who’s who of former WWE & World Champions (Cena, Punk, Show, Hart, Henry, Michaels, Christian, Mysterio, etc) and the only one the fans were chanting for was Bryan and it wasn’t just a quick chant that faded after a minute it was quite lengthy and was holding up the show as you couldn’t hear whoever was talking. 

The frustration from the fans came to a head at the Royal Rumble as after giving Bray Wyatt the best singles match of his career, the fans were salivating for Bryan to enter the Royal Rumble match and win it, however, he wasn’t apart of the match and this led to poor Rey Mysterio being booed as the number 30 entrant as everyone wanted it to be Bryan. WWE decided that despite all the fans clearly being behind Bryan that the returning Batista was the best way to go and he was set to face Randy Orton at WrestleMania, but despite Batista returning after a four-year absence the fans didn’t give two shits about seeing that match. By this point, the fans were taking over shows with their chants for Bryan and eventually it finally worked and Bryan was worked into the main event angle, despite those in WWE saying they had him factored in that spot from the start which has been proven to be a load of BS when in 2020 Punk posted on Twitter a run sheet of what the matches were for WrestleMania XXX with 6 weeks until the show and it shows Bryan was scheduled to face Sheamus, this would be the third year (2011, 2012, & 2014) where Bryan was to wrestle Sheamus and I’m not sure why WWE was so obsessed with doing that match. It was eventually laid out where Bryan had to face Triple H in a match at WrestleMania and the winner of that would be added to the Orton vs Batista match, Bryan would win both matches with fantastic performances in both and would become the WWE World Heavyweight Champion, which produced one of the loudest pops in WWE history and the sight of everyone in the Mercedes Benz Superdome doing the YES! Chant was something that gave you goosebumps and teary eyes to know that both Bryan and the fans hard work had paid off and he was finally living his dream.

The moment of Bryan winning the title at WrestleMania was great, but unfortunately, that title reign would be cut short when a month after WrestleMania Bryan had to leave to have neck surgery and after some back and forth on whether he would be ready in time to defend the title he eventually had to relinquish it in June. Bryan still had not regained full strength in his arm months after the surgery and despite doctors wanting to do surgery once again and many saying he would never wrestle again Bryan underwent some Muscle Activation Techniques which regained the strength in the arm and in November 2014 we saw the return of the GOAT and by January he was back in the ring. Bryan would immediately become the fan-favorite once again and this time he was in the Royal Rumble, but was eliminated quite early in the match and once again fans didn’t give two shits about the winner which would be Roman Reigns and the heat this year was even worse than the year prior. Bryan would go on to become Intercontinental Champion after winning a ladder match at WrestleMania, which was ludacris that he was in a mid-card match after everything that happened last year and how him being over hadn’t changed at all, but by this point, WWE had moved on to trying to make Roman Reigns the next top star. Bryan wouldn’t get to enjoy his run as Intercontinental Champion for long as just like the previous year he would once again be sidelined with an injury. After a lot of rumors and some he said she said throughout the rest of 2015 Bryan would sadly announce his retirement in February 2016. The official reason for his retirement was that he had a lesion on the temporoparietal region of his brain which was caused by having many concussions, however, despite hearing this news, Bryan wasn’t ready to call it quits for good. 

Bryan would go on a journey to find a way to get back into the ring as he went to many of the top medical professionals in the country and surprisingly he kept passing all these tests, but WWE’s doctor Joseph Maroon refused to clear him. Bryan would eventually ask for his release from WWE as he was going to try and seek work with another company such as ROH, New Japan, CMLL, etc but Vince refused to release Bryan. Bryan would do some work with WWE over the next couple of years as a commentator for the Cruiserweight Classic as well as being SmackDown General Manager, but while all this was happening Bryan hadn’t stopped his pursuit to get cleared as he still wanted to be in the ring doing what he loved. Bryan’s hard work, determination, and overall hard headedness finally paid off as after many evaluations Bryan would be cleared by independent neurosurgeons, neurologists, concussion experts, and most importantly WWE’s own Dr. Maroon and on March 20, it was announced that Bryan was cleared for in-ring action much to the delight of wrestling fans everywhere. Since his return in 2018 Bryan hasn’t slowed down at all. Bryan was finally able to get an extended run as WWE Champion as an eco-friendly obsessed heel character which he knocked out of the park. It’s hard to think of someone in wrestling that has had a more roller coaster ten year period than Bryan has had, but through the highs and the lows he always gave everything he had in him to entertain the fans and his passion for the wrestling business never deterred and that is why he is the GOAT. 

The resurgence of the Lion and the magic Bullet that helped bring it back to life
Going into the decade New Japan Pro Wrestling wasn’t anywhere close to being the dominant promotion in Japan like they had been in years prior or would become by the end of this decade as there wasn’t really any interest in the product and Hiroshi Tanahashi was pretty much the sole draw for the company and those around him weren’t setting the world on fire, even Shinsuke Nakamura who was the champion going into 2010 was far from being the Shinsuke Nakamura that we are familiar with today. It wouldn’t be until 2012 before the promotion finally started to climb back up the ladder of success, this escalation would begin when Kazuchika Okada made his return from excursion and right away started a decade long feud against Hiroshi Tanahashi. Okada and Tanahashi would trade the IWGP Championship back and forth and also headlined Wrestle Kingdom three times. In 2013 Gedo would become the head booker of NJPW and thanks to his booking NJPW would once again rise to become the dominant promotion that wrestlers wanted to work for in order to prove they were the very best and fans would go out of their way to watch as NJPW were once again putting out must-see matches. 

Another major factor that helped put NJPW back in the spotlight was The Bullet Club, in fact, if Okada vs Tanahashi was the spark that lit the fire that helped NJPW shine so bright in the 2010s then Bullet Club was like pouring gasoline on that fire because there was no wrestling show you could go to whether it was in Japan or America where there wasn’t someone in the crowd wearing a Bullet Club shirt that’s how popular they would become. Not only did Bullet Club help New Japan, but in the long run the popularity of the stable and the members in it would end up changing the wrestling landscape in America in quite a monumental way. 

The Bullet Club was formed in the spring of 2013 when Prince Devitt (Finn Balor) turned on his long time partner Ryusuke Taguchi and other NJPW babyfaces, he was helped in this attack by King Fale who would later be renamed Bad Luck Fale. A few weeks later the duo would be joined by both Karl Anderson and Tama Tonga in an attack on NJPW’s ace Hiroshi Tanahashi. These four men would be the founding members of Bullet Club which were an all gaijin (foreigner) stable that planned to wreak havoc on all the NJPW mainstays, the group would be compared to the NWO as they didn’t shy away from cheating in their matches or running in during matches causing disqualifications which were highly frowned upon by NJPW. 

In October 2013 the Bullet Club would gain two very important members that would go on to be a pivotal part of the long term success of the faction, those two men would be The Young Bucks. At almost one year to the day of the formation of the Bullet Club, there would be a major shakeup as The Young Bucks would turn on Devitt during his blow-off match against Ryusuke Taguchi and the very next day Devitt would leave the promotion as he was on his way to WWE. With Devitt’s departure that left the Bullet Club without a leader, but this wouldn’t last long as AJ Styles (who debuted on the same show where Devitt was kicked out) became the new leader. Unlike Devitt, Styles was able to capture the IWGP Championship when he defeated Kazuchika Okada in May at the Wrestling Dontaku show when Yujiro Takahashi turned on Okada and joined the Bullet Club making him the faction’s sole non-gaijin member. 

The Bullet Club was at the top of their game around this time and by the end of June, they would hold all four of the heavyweight titles, however, by October they would lose them all. In November they would gain their next big acquisition when Kenny Omega joined the Bullet Club and dominated the junior heavyweight division. Throughout 2015 the faction would continue to reign over the promotion and any time they would lose a title they would win it right back, this would include Styles becoming a 2x IWGP Champion when he beat Hiroshi Tanahashi in February at New Beginning in Osaka only to lose it once again just five months later to Kazuchika Okada at Dominion.

At Wrestle Kingdom X Styles would be unsuccessful in trying to win the IWGP Intercontinental Championship from Shinsuke Nakamura in a highly praised and critically acclaimed match. After the show it was announced that Styles would be leaving NJPW and just like Devitt before him he was headed to the WWE, Gallows and Anderson would be joining AJ eventually but they stuck around for a few more months. The night after Wrestle Kingdom Styles was kicked out of the club and Kenny Omega would step up as the new leader of The Bullet Club, this would also mark the end of Omega’s time in the Junior Heavyweight division as he was ready to go after the top prize in the promotion, but first, he would start with going after Nakamura’s Intercontinental Title. While Kenny Omega and the Young Bucks were in the Bullet Club they would create their own group within the Bullet Club called The Elite, the reason for this was to set themselves apart from the rest of the Bullet Club who they felt were nothing but a parody of older factions like the NWO and DX and also Omega felt that after Styles, Anderson, & Gallows left, the faction wasn’t the same anymore. Throughout 2016 the Bullet Club would add quite a few more members to its ranks including Adam Cole, Adam “Hangman” Page, & Cody. In August the Bullet Club would make history once again when Kenny Omega became the first gaijin to ever win the G1 Climax tournament which would lead to him facing Kazuchika Okada in the main event of Wrestle Kingdom XI in January 2017 which would end up being the first in a series of matches that were so good that Dave Meltzer had to break his five-star scale that he uses to rate matches as he gave their matches six stars and above. In May Adam Cole was kicked out of the group and replaced with Marty Scurll. 

There would be a civil war within the Bullet Club with Cody and Kenny Omega competing to be the leader of the faction while the rest of the faction was left to choose a side, however, the Bucks were stuck in the middle as they were best friends with both Cody and Omega. The night after Wrestle Kingdom at the New Years Dash show Omega would run to save Kota Ibushi from a beating from the Bullet Club as he and Ibushi had ties back to when they both worked for the DDT promotion. Over the next few months, the Bullet Club members would face each other in matches while the Guerillas of Destiny and Bad Luck Fale decided to stay out of all the drama and keep to themselves. Cody and Omega would face each other in April at the ROH event Supercard of Honor XII which Cody won due to the Bucks accidentally costing Omega the match. Omega would finally defeat Kazuchika Okada to win the IWGP Championship in a ⅔ falls match at Dominion in June, after the match, the Young Bucks would solidify their allegiance with Omega and those three along with Ibushi would form a group called The Golden Elite. 

Omega would retain his title in a match against Cody at the G1 Special a month later. After the match The Guerillas of Destiny & Haku turned on The Elite and then would turn on other members of the Bullet Club when they came to the rescue, finally Cody came down and the Tongans gave him an open shot but instead Cody went after the Tongans which led to him getting laid out as well and with that the feud between Omega and Cody came to an end. The Tongans would declare themselves the real Bullet Club and over the next few months, Taiji Ishimori would join the club as would Gedo & Jado which was a total shock at they turned on their Chaos leader Kazuchika Okada after Gedo had been Okada’s, right-hand man. By the end of 2018 Cody, Omega, The Young Bucks, Marty Scurll, & Hangman Page removed themselves from the Bullet Club and were solely going by the brand name of The Elite. 

The Elite would part ways from New Japan Pro Wrestling after Wrestle Kingdom 13 as they had much bigger things they needed to put their full attention into. With both Omega and Cody gone from the company, the Bullet Club would need a new leader. In December 2018 Tama Tonga would reveal that Jay White was the new leader of the Bullet Club and after a win over Okada at Wrestle Kingdom he would go on to win the IWGP Championship from Hiroshi Tanahashi at the New Beginning in Osaka show.

While the Bullet Club continues to be a force in New Japan it seems like the hype and the popularity of the stable has died down quite a bit since the departures of The Elite members. One reason for the decline in popularity of the Bullet Club could be the fact that the stable had hit its peak and was starting to overstay their welcome, another reason could be due to the increase in popularity of Tetsuya Naito’s group Los Ingobernables de Japon, the third reason could just be the fact that the fans don’t invest in Jay White as the leader of the group like they did Devitt, Styles, & Omega. 

I don’t think it’s out of the question to say that the Bullet Club belongs on the list of top wrestling factions of all time with the likes of the Four Horsemen, the NWO, the Dangerous Alliance, & DX. The popularity of the Bullet Club was without a doubt a huge factor when it came to NJPW finally getting back on their feet as they were the perfect gaijin foils for the NJPW mainstays to feud against as they were the complete opposite of everything NJPW stood for as they didn’t shy away from cheating to pick up a win, yet at the same time they could tear down the house and put on fantastic matches with the likes of Okada, Tanahashi, Naito, etc when they needed to and that was how they finally started gaining the respect of the NJPW fans and gained immense popularity. If it were not for the Bullet Club (or The Elite to be more specific) the New Japan expansion into America probably wouldn’t have gone as smoothly as it certainly helped to have names that the American fans who didn’t watch New Japan were familiar with. 

While they are often compared to the NWO I think it’s safe to say that the Bullet Club has done more for the entire wrestling business than the NWO ever did as many former members of the Bullet Club have gone on to do even bigger things with the most notable being the guys in The Elite starting their own promotion, but I will talk more about that in Part 2. It’s also highly unlikely that guys like AJ Styles, Finn Balor, & Adam Cole would’ve been featured as highly as they have been in WWE had they not reached the level of popularity they did in the Bullet Club, in fact, WWE doesn’t shy away from mentioning their time in Japan and have even tried to capitalize on the Bullet Club fandom by putting AJ with Karl Anderson & Luke Gallows and calling them The Club (later changed to The OC) as well as renaming marketing Balor’s fanbase as “The Balor Club”, but neither attempt at capitalizing on these men’s past successes have caught on or have been as fruitful as they had hoped because everyone sees it as forced and nobody will ever be able to recreate the lightning in the bottle that was the Bullet Club when the stable was in its prime. 

This concludes Part 1 of my look back at the 2010s but be on the lookout for Part 2 where I will be covering more of the biggest news stories in the world of wrestling. 

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