After three months of speculation, Karl Anderson and Luke Gallows, the Bullet Club, finally arrived in WWE, though in a slightly unexpected way.
Anderson and Gallows were two of the four wrestlers WWE poached from New Japan back in January, along with AJ Styles and Shinsuke Nakamura. The two were the last to be signed and report to the performance center, and as the weeks passed, speculation flowed as to how they would debut. Finn Balor kept referring to their past, fanning the flames with tweets about the Balor Club. AJ Styles also didn't shy away from the two. It seemed for sure they would reunite with one of their former leaders. Instead, on Monday night the two made their WWE debuts. The two debuted on their own, popping out from the crowd after the Usos won a match to advance in the tag team tournament. They laid waste to the Usos, hitting the two with one of their trademark moves from Japan, before retreating back through the crowd.
For those unfamiliar with the two, you may remember Gallows as part of the Straight Edge Society when he was previously in WWE, or even as Festus. He moved to TNA where he took the name DOC, and was a major part of the Aces and Eights storyline. He then eventually went to Japan, where he partnered with Anderson and became part of Bullet Club with then-leader Prince Devitt (Finn Balor). Anderson, prior to joining forces with Gallows, had made a name for himself in Japan, teaming with Giant Bernard (Matt Bloom, aka Albert/Tensai). Bullet Club eventually became arguably the most important group in wrestling, or at the very least the most important not in WWE. For the past few years, it's been impossible to go to a wrestling show without seeing a Bullet Club shirt, and the shirt was the closest thing wrestling had to a fashion statement since the nWo shirts.
While their debuts were a big deal, the bigger deal is how the debut was treated. Karl Anderson kept his name. Doc Gallows reverted to his WWE name, Luke, but his prior WWE appearances weren't mentioned. Instead, Michael Cole harped on their Japanese past. He mentioned their successes in the Japanese tag division. He identified their move, the Magic Killer, by the same name they used in Japan. They didn't create a new identity for them, something unthinkable just six months ago. Instead, WWE let them be themselves.
For years, WWE refused to allow wrestlers' pasts to be relevant during their time in WWE. Sure, there might be references here and there to the past, to the years they spent in high school gyms wrestling, but never specific examples. Over the past year, this has changed. Wrestlers, starting with Samoa Joe, keep their names now. Guys are allowed to keep their characters and trademarks. Sure, there are little changes here and there, but it was hard to differentiate Shinsuke Nakamura's NXT debut from the guy who wowed the crowds at the Tokyo Dome.
We don't know what will happen with Anderson and Gallows. They could end up as one of the top tag teams in the company, they could end up joining with Styles or Balor. They could even flop and be trying to get back to Japan in a year. But what they represent, and how they debuted, is incredibly important to WWE.
The Rest of RAW:
- The Shane McMahon story continues to be rather baffling. He once again was in control of RAW, this time because the board of directors felt there was a social media outcry for it. I've pretty much given up on him being in control making any sense. Instead I wonder why they're keeping Triple H and Stephanie off TV. Even if everyone else in the company is OK with Shane running things, those are two people who have very big reasons to object to his presence on RAW. Eventually this must come to a head, but if we're supposed to believe that the exciting matches we've been seeing on RAW are because of Shane, then will fans accept things if Shane doesn't keep control?
- There were plenty of exciting matches on RAW, both with stipulations attached. The first revolved around the IC title. Kevin Owens came out and demanded his rematch. Shane refused to give it to him. I assume this will be something that the Authority points to as a reason to remove Shane, as Kevin Owens threatens to sue since the rematch is supposed to be "contractually obligated". Anyways, Shane refused because he felt that Owens had to prove himself, and brought out Cesaro, who came out with a new James Bond background to his minitron to go with the suit. Cesaro ended up beating Owens in a fantastic match, and took his IC title shot.
- The other match of the night revolved around the world title, and AJ Styles' title shot. Shane felt that Sami Zayn had been screwed over by the attack from Kevin Owens last week. He gave Sami a shot at AJ, and said that if Sami won, that Sami would be inserted into the title match at Payback in a triple-threat match. The two tore the house down. It was the first singles match ever between the two (they had competed in multi-man matches previously in their career) and you could tell they knew how important it was. Styles ended up winning, but it was a great way to showcase both.
- Even though both of those matches were great, neither were the main event. Instead, it was a match featuring Sheamus and Alberto Del Rio taking on the odd pairing of Roman Reigns and Bray Wyatt. The League of Nations had confronted Reigns earlier in the night, and the Wyatt Family had come out to make the save. It does seem like the Wyatt Family are making a full face turn, as Bray has brought back his "I'm here" entrance, and he's playing the crowd more. It's amazing how perfectly his in-ring mannerisms work for a face. I don't know if the whole gimmick will play perfectly as a face, but it was a good first step. I would try to keep Reigns and Wyatt apart, as that still felt awkward considering we were still hearing "Anyone but you Roman" just three months ago, but the two didn't ignore the tension, and used that to keep the match interesting.
- As mentioned before, there is a tag tournament to determine the #1 contenders. Two big storylines came out of it. The first was the aforementioned Bullet Club beatdown. You have to wonder if they'll get involved somehow in the tournament. The second is the continued back and forth between Enzo and Cass and the Dudleys. It seems like a lock that the two will meet in the semifinals, after the Dudleys beat the Lucha Dragons. I could see a situation where Enzo and Cass win the semis, and then the Dudleys interfere in the finals, costing Enzo and Cass their spot and continuing their feud.
- Dr. Phil was a special guest, and he ended up getting involved in Charlotte's storyline. He confronted Charlotte and Ric backstage, and told Charlotte that Ric was holding her back. Charlotte later had a match with Natalya. Natalya had the match won, but just as Charlotte was about to tap out to the Sharpshooter, Ric dragged the ref out, causing a DQ. It saved the title for Charlotte, but it's certainly going to be the beginning of the cracks between the two, as Natalya did pick up the win.
- Apollo Crews beat Adam Rose in a squash. They need to let him talk, and soon, because even with as talented he is in the ring, nobody knows his personality right now, other than the fact that he smiles a lot.
- Jericho had a Highlight Reel segment that was used to talk himself up, but Dean Ambrose came out, saying that the Highlight Reel would now become the Ambrose Asylum, by order of Shane McMahon. I have no problem with these two feuding for a couple months until one (probably Dean) can move up into the main event picture later in the spring.
Thoughts? Questions? Leave them in the comment section, email me or find me on Twitter: @TheAOster. You can also find my podcast, Jobbing Out, at https://soundcloud.com/jobbingout