A.J. Styles, Shinsuke Nakamura and Bullet Club: WWE Goes for Broke

After a rumored raid of New Japan's top talent, the wrestling landscape could be shifting – and not a moment too soon

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AJ Styles, Shinsuke Nakamura
A.J. Styles and Shinsuke Nakamura in New Japan Pro-Wrestling.

At Monday night's Wrestle Kingdom 10, A.J. Styles and Shinsuke Nakamura faced each other for the first time. Little did we know that just hours after their match – which ended with a show of respect between the two mainstays – the possibility arose that we'd soon see them competing in an even bigger arena: Vince McMahon's WWE.

Yet that appears to be the case, following a report from Major League Wrestling Radio host and former WWE writer Court Bauer that said Styles, Nakamura and other Bullet Club members (widely considered to be Doc Gallows and Karl "Machine Gun" Anderson) had given their notice to New Japan. The rumors picked up steam, and seemed to be confirmed at New Japan's Tuesday event, New Year Dash, when the Bullet Club – led by member Kenny Omega – turned on former leader Styles and left him lying on the mat.

Eventually, Styles rose to his feet, and seemed to give his New Japan curtain call, bowing to the crowd as they chanted his name.

There's still no official word on just where Styles, his Bullet Club compatriots or Nakamura may be headed, but their departures are a big blow for New Japan Pro-Wrestling. The Bullet Club has been one of the hottest stables in the business for a while now, and while it could continue on with Omega, the Young Bucks, Bad Luck Fale, Tama Tonga and Cody Hall – one could argue it will have lost some its luster. Meanwhile, Nakamura has been at or near the top of the card for years in New Japan, and any time a promotion loses a wrestler who can legitimately lay the claim to the title of "Best in the World," it's a hard piece to replace. He'll have to drop the IWGP Intercontinental title – a belt he has elevated to a place where it's almost as prestigious as the IWGP Heavyweight title – before he departs, but who can carry the title once he does?

To be fair, it's not a guarantee any of these guys will immediately debut in WWE; while logic would have them spending time in NXT (where Bullet Club founder Finn Bálor currently reigns as champion), Dave Meltzer has reported that their contracts may be for main roster spots, immediately pushing them to the main roster – possibly as soon as the Royal Rumble on January 24.

So you should probably get to know them before they walk down a WWE ramp.

Styles' name will likely jump out to American audiences, as he was one of the cornerstones of TNA for most of their existence. Most remember him for his X Division battles with Samoa Joe and Christopher Daniels, though he did it all in TNA. "The Phenomenal One" was a multiple-time TNA World Champion, Tag Champion and X Division Champion, and was considered to be the wrestler who defined TNA – until his contract ran out in 2013, and he left after being asked to take a pay cut.

The question about Styles was always whether he could truly be "the man," or if he was merely a big fish in a small pond. But after he left TNA, he gave us the answer, making his way to New Japan, where he replaced Prince Devitt (who was going to WWE to become Bálor) as leader of Bullet Club. The faction took off after that, becoming one of the biggest groups in professional wrestling. He quickly became the first American IWGP Champion since Brock Lesnar, and has won the belt multiple times. Over the past two years, he has put on fantastic matches in New Japan and Ring of Honor (he was widely considered to be wrestler of the year in 2015), and became a huge box office draw for New Japan. The only place he hasn't been is WWE, and with his newfound momentum, he could be a huge addition to NXT, or make a quick transition to the WWE main roster and provide a spark to its injury-depleted ranks.

Nakamura is part Michael Jackson, part Freddie Mercury and all awesome – a showman inside the ring and out. The 35 year old made his debut for New Japan in 2002, and quickly earned a reputation for putting on solid matches, but it wasn't until he went overboard – and embraced the "King of Strong Style" moniker – that he became one of the brightest stars on the international scene. Nakamura has a presence about him that very few wrestlers have. His mannerisms and facial expressions tell more of a story than most people can get across with a 20-minute monologue. The questions surrounding him involve his age and the mileage he's put on his body over his 13-year career, but at a time when WWE wants more international superstars, especially in Japan with the rollout of the WWE Network, there may be nobody better to bring in than Nakamura. The language barrier has always been a struggle for Japanese talent in WWE, but Nakamura is one of the few wrestlers who doesn't need to talk to get his character across.

Doc Gallows and Karl Anderson are known to some, though possibly in other forms. Gallows was previously in WWE as Festus, and then as Luke Gallows, part of CM Punk's Straight Edge Society. He also was part of TNA as D.O.C. in the Aces & Eights stable. However, like many athletic heavyweights, he found a niche in New Japan, teaming with Anderson, who had already been in New Japan for several years. The two became three-time IWGP Tag Champions as members of Bullet Club, and are considered to be one of the best big-man tag teams in the world. They'd be a welcome addition to the tag division in WWE or NXT.

And while nothing is confirmed, there are certainly a lot of new possibilities for the flagging WWE. If Styles, Gallows and Anderson end up in NXT, would WWE reform the Bullet Club there? It seems likely, given the fact they're already pushing the "Bálor Club." Nakamura could head to NXT, or he could be rushed to the main roster, letting the recovering Hideo Itami stay and shake off the rust. Wherever they end up, fans will understandably be concerned about how these wrestlers are booked – after all, Styles and Nakamura were putting on classic after classic in New Japan. However, the promise of dream bouts like Styles vs. Kevin Owens, Nakamura vs. Samoa Joe, or, hey, maybe even a rematch of January 4, 2006 in Nakamura/Brock Lesnar are enough to give us all hope. Now it's time to turn the biggest stars loose on the biggest stage of them all.

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