The "King of the Indies" title has been bestowed on many wrestlers over the years. CM Punk, Daniel Bryan and Kevin Owens have all laid claim to the distinction before making the leap to WWE. Right now, the honor probably belongs to two men – brothers Matt and Nick Jackson – better known to smart fans everywhere as the Young Bucks.
Working as a tag team, the Bucks have been wrestling together for over a decade, and they've been just about everywhere – except for the WWE. They spent several years in TNA (where you might remember them as Generation Me), Ring of Honor and have wrestled all over the country for various independent promotions. In 2013, they joined New Japan Pro Wrestling, where they became a major part of the Bullet Club, the hottest faction in the biz. With their brash antics – and familiar hand gestures – the Bullet Club has drawn comparisons to the nWo, and it has infiltrated every aspect of wrestling short of the WWE (though even Vince McMahon has taken notice, as evidenced by a recent trademark filing and a Finn Bálor T-Shirt).
If you go to any wrestling show in the world, chances are you'll see someone wearing a Bullet Club shirt, and the group plays up the comparisons with older stables whenever possible, using the "Too Sweet" hand sign that Scott Hall and Kevin Nash made famous, and shouting "Suck it!" to their critics. In short, Matt and Nick Jackson have built a mini-empire...but what's next? Recently, I had a chance to ask the Young Bucks that question (and plenty others) at the legendary "ECW Arena" in Philadelphia before the first night of War of the Worlds, a series of four shows that featured the top wrestlers from Ring of Honor and New Japan Pro Wrestling.
We're here in the ECW Arena. Does it still feel weird that you're representing New Japan in a show like this?
Matt: It's funny, I'm like, "Nick, what are we? Are we ROH? Are we New Japan?" But I guess we are New Japan because we hold the IWGP Junior titles, so we're representing them. It is interesting that there's all these Japanese guys, and then there's two gaijin, as they call us out there, we're representing the company. It's cool to think about.
Nick: This and Madison Square Garden are probably the two biggest wrestling buildings here in the U.S. It's where we've had some of the coolest moments in our history. I remember at one point, about seven years ago, we were going from L.A. to Philly every weekend. In Los Angeles, fans hated us. This place has never hated us, which is weird.
Getting over with Philly crowds is an accomplishment. What's it like to get that kind of reception from that kind of wrestling fan?
Matt: It's very flattering, cause you couldn't really get that from any other job. If I'm bagging groceries I'm never going to get a reaction like, "Dude, that's so awesome, I'm going to chant your name now." It's really a unique thing.
Nick: And again, I think that's something that really caught on here. Even when we weren't on the cards here, people would be chanting our names. People would tweet us saying, "Hey, fans are chanting Young Bucks." We were like, "What, why? We were 4000 miles away." It's pretty cool, and pretty flattering. It gives you that extra motivation. I don't like performing if the crowd's dead.
Do you remember when those reactions started? I remember seeing you guys back in 2012, shortly after your TNA run, and while you got a nice pop, it's nothing like it is now.
Nick: It was probably a year after we quit TNA. At that point, Matt and I, we pretty much just said, "Screw it, let's do as much as we can – let's do what we think is cool." We pretty much brought what we watched during our childhood into our act now, and somehow it worked. I think from that point on, that's when it caught on.
Matt: We were at a point, I want to call it "wrestling rock-bottom." I was ready to quit. We had been in one of the biggest companies and they didn't know what to do with us. It was really disheartening. Finally we decided that if we were going to do this, we were going to do it right. Your character is supposed to be like yourself, only with the volume turned up. So we just decided to be ourselves. Not these two guys named Max and Jeremy, that's what they called us then. That wasn't us. That was just two dudes out there. So we decided to just be ourselves. You know, there are so many rules in wrestling. We just said, "Let's break them all, let's break through the mold, let's do something different. Everybody does the same thing, because they're scared of getting heat. Let's just have fun. If we get heat, we're going to get heat. Let's go out in a burning blaze."
For the past year, you guys have always been mentioned at or near the top of the "King of the Indies" discussion. How much pride do you get from that, or do you consider it a backhanded compliment?
Matt: It's huge. That's what we do, we're independent wrestlers. If anyone is ever going to rank us at the top of, well, anything, it makes us feel proud. We're the kings of being independent. We represent that. We don't need a contract, we're on our own thing. You can make money without Vince [McMahon]. You can make money without going there and selling your soul. You can be yourself. You can make a good living.
Nick: I think that's the most rewarding thing about it: we don't have to be on Monday Night Raw for people to know us. We don't need a machine to push us, like the majority of guys. We take pride in the indies, because obviously this is where we work, so for anyone to say that we are the kings of it, that's cool. That means we're the kings of what we're doing right now.
Despite that, is there a part of you that wishes you didn't have to be working for three or four different promotions in a week?
Matt: We've been talking about that, because we're getting burned out. There's only so much you can do with this style. We live on the West Coast, so when we're doing shows, it's usually West-to-East and then back. Or we're going to Japan or wherever.
Nick: I'll be honest, I am burned out. We're being patient. We're waiting for whatever will bless us and our families the most.
Matt: We're waiting for the right offer. When we do settle down, it's going to be for the right dollar amount. We're thinking of our families, so it'll be what's best for our families, 'cause we'll be able to maximize our time at home while still being wrestlers.
I know the dirt sheets have been saying that there's a bidding war for you guys. How much truth is there to that?
Matt: It's 100-percent true. Everyone has been hitting us up. We're in a very good position. We're blessed. In the old days, you could say, "Well Vince, WCW has been offering us this, what do you offer us?" We don't need another company. We can say, "We do better than that on the indies, and can you beat us?" It's not like we have Ted Turner's money, but we know what we can do on our own, and if you can't beat that, then sorry, we can't play ball. It makes negotiations really nice for us. We're in the driver's seat.
How were you able to get yourselves into that position?
Matt: Every show we're at, we're campaigning for ourselves. We might as well be shaking hands, kissing babies and giving people Young Bucks stickers and buttons. We're like that small punk-rock band that's going town-to-town. I think people like that. We really built this brand by going town-to-town, showing people that we're the Young Bucks and this is what we do. That's part of how we've gotten to where we are.
Nick: We try to be as genuine as possible. Every person that buys a T-shirt or something, it goes directly to our families. That's a big deal for us, because 20 dollars is a lot of money nowadays. If someone comes to buy our T-shirt and pay their respects to us, then we're going to try to pay our respects to them by thanking them for coming out and supporting us.
Matt: We watched the best guys in the world do it. We watched Colt Cabana do it, we watched El Generico do it. We watched Kevin Steen [now Kevin Owens]. Those guys are like the forefathers of the merch table. I want to say that Colt really started it all. Nick and I would sit there at our tables and not sell a thing. We'd watch Colt just raking in the dough, and we were trying to figure out what he does. To us, this is the business part of it. We're going to work on the wrestling-side of course, but this is just as important. We just watched what Colt did. We watched El Generico wave people in and smile and interact. It's important to engage the customer. You are the guy trying to sell your stuff, these are your customers, treat them like that. Some wrestlers, they're on their phones, and they act like they're too good, or above this…they aren't branded. They're just guys that wrestle. You need an identity. Our identity is that we're the guys who do the Superkick Party. It took us ten years to figure that out.
At the end of 2013, you joined New Japan Pro Wrestling. Was that always a goal of yours?
Nick: It felt natural. Matt and I had talked about it months before they even contacted us. We both knew that was the next step. It was weird. We knew New Japan would be calling soon. And I'd say a month later, Okada was messaging us on Facebook asking if we wanted to come to Japan. And I said, "Of course we do!" He said "All right, Tiger Hattori, the boss, is going to call you guys." He actually Voxed Matt saying, "Hey man, want to come to Japan?"
Matt: I thought it was just a random guy, cause everyone has their Tiger Hattori impression, I said, "This isn't Tiger Hattori booking me on Voxer." Sure enough, it was. It was weird, because I had seen the Bullet Club video, the first one they ever put up. They were at a bar, having fun, beating up the cameraman. I thought they were great. I felt like I wanted to be a part of that. And then when they told us that we were coming to New Japan, and also that we would be Bullet Club, it was just like, "Of course we are!"
The addition of the Young Bucks started a fairly significant transition for the Bullet Club. Was there ever a point where you were concerned that it would fall apart?
Matt: The first day that they gave us the skull shirt, I remember I said to Nick that it was a cool shirt, but thinking nothing of it. We cut it up, and wore it to the ring. I put it online and immediately my phone blows up with people saying they needed one of those shirts. The more we put up group shots, the more people said they gotta have that shirt. As soon as the shirt got released, it sold out like that. Every time there was a show with New Japan, it sold out. They couldn't order enough. At one point we were on tour, there were two weeks left, I asked for a medium, and they literally had no shirts left. That's when we knew that this was going to be a big deal.
Nick: We knew it was hot in Japan, and then we got home and we saw the craze at every indie show we went to. Everyone was wearing the shirt. We went to England about a month ago, and everyone was wearing it there too.
What do you think is the secret to the Bullet Club's popularity?
Matt: It's the same attitude that we have. The not-caring, doing-whatever-you-want attitude. They don't give us a limit. Maybe a couple times they've told us to bring it down a little bit, but for the most part, they've said to do what we want. We go out there, we party, we have fun and I think everyone is having fun with us.
Nick: It's like the nWo. Who didn't like the nWo? Everyone did. The childhood that I grew up with was the nWo, and I think the majority of hard-core wrestling fans at this point were from my generation. They grew up watching the nWo, and now the Bullet Club is like the nWo, so they like them. And all the guys – Scott Hall, Kevin Nash, all the guys – gave us their blessing to do exactly what they did: throw up the "Too Sweet" sign.
Well, not everybody is happy with the "Too Sweet" thing. What was your reaction when WWE suddenly filed a trademark on the hand sign, and then put out the new Kliq shirts out with the "Too Sweet" gesture on it?
Matt: No, not everybody's happy, that's true. Hey, if you see something hot, and you're not involved with it, it's totally natural to try to get some of that. I get it. We all chuckled when we saw the shirts, we all talked about it on the Bullet Club group chats we have on our phones. "Oh, how flattering," while we took screenshots. We don't care, it's all fun and if they're going to try to pocket some money on it, good for them.
Since I know you follow Twitter and Reddit pretty closely, have you started to see any sort of backlash against the popularity of the Bullet Club?
Matt: Absolutely. We're mindful of that. For a while there, me and Nick were full-blown Young Buck/Bullet Club guys. No, we're focusing more on ourselves. Naturally, something is cool at first because it's underground and nobody knows about it. And now it's like we got signed to a giant label, and people are like, "Oh, they used to be cool." That's going to happen.
Nick: The Bullet Club brand is over with fans, so now we can focus on our brand again. Let's get it even more set. But we have no control over who joins.
Matt: You mentioned that people are starting to grumble a little. It's like when you hear a great song, and then you keep hearing it and hearing it and hearing it. The thing is, what people don't realize is that the more you keep hearing it, the more money the artist is making. So you gotta think about it from our position. The bigger it gets, it's good for us. The hard-core fans who liked it from the beginning may shy away from it, but sorry guys. It's becoming bigger every day.
You guys were just announced for Global Force Wrestling, along with Karl Anderson and Doc Gallows. Does that mean there's going to be another Bullet Club invasion?
Matt: I don't know, I hope so. Anytime we're wrestling with our friends, we're having a party out there. It's more fun, it makes my job easier.
Nick: We're not sure though, we haven't heard much about it. We're only doing a few shows, because we were given 30 dates, but we were already booked for like 28 of them. So we're only doing about 2 or 3 for them for now. So we don't know exactly what we're going to be doing with them, but we know that with [Jeff] Jarrett's name on it, it's going to be something big. He created TNA, so you have to give him credit.
Recently, Jim Ross said he had heard GFW was thinking of doing a 12-13 episode season for television, rather than go year-round. Lucha Underground is also doing that format. Could you see the wrestling industry starting to go in that direction?
Nick: I think it would be better for the wrestlers. Then there would be some breaks. There would be a point where your body could rest. We're athletes, so why is it that basketball players and football players have an offseason and we don't? One day, I hope we all get an offseason. I hope it starts with WWE, because it won't get popular with anyone unless WWE does it. So if they do it, I think everyone will do it. It would be so much better for everyone's bodies.
Speaking of WWE, we've been dancing around it a bit. You say at some point you'll settle down, and sign with a single company. Would WWE be that company?
Matt: I mean, who's to say? Right now, no. For one thing, I have a young family. I just couldn't uproot my family for less money than I make right now. If we had an offer to go straight to TV or something, well that's just a whole different thing. Of course, we'd love to entertain that idea. That's the place to be. It would be fun to do it. Right now though? I don't know. Of course, in five years, every person we know is going to be running the place. So they may just say, "Hey Bucks, you interested in coming on TV on Monday?" Who knows? Never say never.
Nick: I just couldn't move my family to Florida at this point. If something changes, then maybe you'll see us there. I own a home in California. Right now, mentally, I need to stay where I'm at. My wife told me three years ago that we're never moving to Florida. I was like, "OK, well that rules out WWE then." But in five years? Who knows, maybe we'll need it.
Speaking of WWE, do you think that NXT has changed the indie scene at all, especially with them seemingly poaching so many of the top talents?
Nick: I don't think it's changed much of the indie scene. That's a hard question to answer. NXT is essentially WWE's independent company. I think they're smart, because the indies are red-hot right now. We've been wrestling 11 or 12 years now, and now every show we go to there's almost 1,000 people there. That wasn't happening five years ago. WWE obviously sees where the money is.
Matt: I think it's more that indie wrestling is changing NXT. They're seeing what works out here, and what's hot out here and they're wanting some of that. They're really gearing their product towards these types of fans. I think they saw that people were making money on the indies, and who doesn't want more money? Of course Vince does. He's going to want to get a piece of that.
You just mentioned it, but what's it been like for you watching so many of the guys you've come up with flourish in WWE?
Matt: It's great. These are the guys who still have the passion, they still truly love wrestling. We knew they were going to go far. How could they not? When you're that talented and you love wrestling that much, you have the confidence that those guys did. Of course they were going to make it.
Nick: It's nuts. It's all our friends. It's so weird, so strange. And Kevin will be next, Kevin Steen [Owens].
You recently put out a shirt that lists your accomplishments in wrestling. So what's left for the Young Bucks to do?
Matt: Keep making money and support our families doing it. Not get hurt, keep having fun. As soon as you stop having fun, then why are you doing it? The other thing that's important is to have the respect of your peers. You want everybody to always go, "Oh you have the Bucks tonight? You're going to have a good one." The guaranteed good match. It's always important for us to not only have the respect of the fans, but the guys as well. At the end of the day, that's what's important to us.