wrestling / Columns

Ask 411 Wrestling: What’s With All Of NJPW’s Factions?

July 29, 2019 | Posted by Ryan Byers
NJPW Firing Squad Bullet Club OG

Welcome guys, gals, and gender non-binary pals, to Ask 411 Wrestling. I am your party host, Ryan Byers, and I am here to answer some of your burning inquiries about professional wrestling.

If you have one of those queries searing a hole in your brain, feel free to send it along to me at [email protected]. Don’t be shy about shooting those over – the more, the merrier.

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Night Wolf the Wise is a good, solid hand:

There’s something that I’ve always been curious about as a wrestling fan. When they hire wrestlers, what factors go into deciding if that wrestler becomes a jobber or not?

That depends on what era of wrestling you’re talking about and what you mean by the term “jobber.” If you’re talking about the 1970s and 1980s when pro wrestling on TV consisted primarily of squash matches, the guys who did the jobs in those matches were usually brought in specifically for that purpose and were not necessarily employees of the wrestling promotion in which they were used. They were selected because they were available, and because, even though some of them were fairly talented wrestlers, they lacked some of the factors that would be necessary for them to be taken seriously as stars in that area, such as the appropriate look or sufficient charisma.

If you’re talking about the modern era, in which it is very rare for a wrestler to appear on television when he is not under contract to a promotion and in which the true “jobbers” of the earlier period are basically nonexistent, then no wrestler is really hired with the notion that he’s going to be a job guy. Nobody in WWE hired a Curtis Axel or a Bo Dallas, for example, and said at the time, “These guys will be perfect to be consistently lose in the opening match of Main Event five years from now!”

It’s just a situation in which a wrestler is brought through the developmental system, and, for whatever reason, they don’t break through to any higher station but are kept around anyway, because somebody has to be there in order to round out the bottom of the cards.

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Why did the WWF bring in Billy Jack Haynes and not use him much?

There are a couple of reasons for this. First, the WWF hired Haynes in 1986, which was when they were heavy into their national expansion. They were essentially hiring anybody that they could, particularly when they thought that the hiring could negatively impact one of the regional promotions that they were trying to put out of business. Immediately prior to his WWF run, Haynes had been a fairly big name in Don Owen’s Portland promotion, and this was likely an effort to deal a blow to them.

The second reason that Haynes probably wasn’t used too much before getting canned by the Fed in early 1988 is because he was and is really unstable. If you’ve listened to any of his interviews from recent years and even going back to when he was an active competitor, he’s never come off as somebody who was particularly easy to get along with.

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Ever since I heard Chris Jericho talking about being listed as “No Team” on a NJPW card on his podcast, I’ve been keen to find out more about the factions in NJPW.

When, how and why did factions become so prevalent in NJPW? Were factions always part of how the company has been booked?

As people who follow them on Twitter no doubt recall, New Japan was founded in 1972, but factions really didn’t start to crop up until 1983, when Riki Choshu turned heel, with the storyline reason being that he was upset over not being included in the tournament to crown the first-ever IWPG Heavyweight Champion. The name of the group was Ishin Gundan, and Choshu was joined by wrestlers like former WWF Tag Team Champion Masa Saito and Animal Hamaguchi. However, the group didn’t last in NJPW for too long, as there turned out to be legitimate heat between them and New Japan, which caused the faction to walk out en masse in 1984, eventually forming their own promotion before “invading” NJPW’s rival, All Japan Pro Wrestling.

About a decade later, New Japan tried to form a dominant heel faction again, with Heisei Ishigun forming in 1993, led by Shiro Koshinaka and Kuniaki Kobayashi. This faction lasted until early 1999, and, as part of their run, they also made appearances in Genichiro Tenryu’s “Wrestle and Romance” promotion, better known as WAR.

Really, this is what started a trend of there always being at least one dominant faction in New Japan doing battle with the company’s “home unit,” a.k.a. those guys who are not part of a stable (more on that later). In 1996, nWo Japan was formed and coexisted alongside Heisei Ishigun, beginning a series of several factions that were all lead by NJPW legend Masahiro Chono. Chono suffered a neck injury in 1999, leaving the nWo in the hands of Keiji Muto. When Chono returned, he battled against the nWo with his new faction TEAM 2000, with T2000 eventually prevailing and the nWo disbanding in early 2000.

From there, New Japan was invaded by the MMA-influenced Makai Club in 2002, with Chono returning to the NJPW home unit to fend them off. The Makai Club was primarily centered on Antonio Inoki protégé Tadao Yasuda, but Yasuda’s physical condition began to deteriorate, and the group fizzled without him. With Yasuda and the Makai Club gone, it was time for Masahiro Chono to form his latest revamp of the nWo/T2000 concept, because why not? This group was called New Japan Black, and the roster was actually a fusion of former T2000 members and former Makai Club members. New Japan Black lasted until the autumn of 2005, though a Chono would not be deterred and came back in 2006, forming a new stable simply called BLACK alongside his co-leader, a young upstart by the name of Shinsuke Nakamura. After several months, Chono and Nakamura split, with Chono joining a stable of veteran wrestlers called LEGEND and Nakamura continuing an alliance with most of the BLACK wrestlers but rebranding themselves as RISE.

Nakamura left RISE in spring 2009, as he turned on the group in order to found a new stable called CHAOS. CHAOS actually still exists, bringing us in to the modern era, which relates more to a later question that Dylan has asked, so more on that in a minute.

Outside of the dominant, usually heel, faction that started with Ishin Gundan and continued through CHOAS, there were also other, smaller factions in New Japan over the years. Notable examples of this included Riki Choshu’s New Wolves in the early 1980s, Tatsumi Fujinami’s Dragon Bombers in the early 1990s, Keiji Muto’s “Bad Ass Translate Trading” (BATT) in the early 2000s, Jushin Liger’s “Control Terrorism Unit” (CTU) in the mid-2000s, and Yuji Nagata’s “Blue Justice Army” in the late 2000s/early 2010s.

Do most Japanese wrestling companies have such a strong emphasis on factions?

Most Japanese wrestling promotions these days do have at least three factions kicking around, though they don’t have quite as many as New Japan. Probably the most faction-heavy promotion in the country is Dragon Gate, in which almost every single wrestler on the roster is in a faction, with the exception of their brand new rookies and a couple of legends/comedy characters.

Is Jericho’s assertion that he’s just about the only one not in a faction accurate?

Ehhh . . . yes and no. To a certain degree, it depends on what you want to call a faction. By my count, you’ve got about fifty-six wrestlers currently on the NJPW roster. Of those, thirty-eight are unquestionably in factions.

When you look at the promotion’s roster page, the remaining twenty-weight wrestlers are all listed as being part of the NJPW “home unit.” If you want to count that as a faction, then, yes, everybody is in a faction. (Except for Jericho, who isn’t really a regular part of the roster.) However, if you just consider the home unit to be a default grouping of wrestlers who don’t fit anyplace else, which is probably the fairer assessment in my opinion, then there are actually a lot of guys who don’t belong to factions outside of Y2J.

There is one more factor that complicates this answer, though. Until earlier this year, there was an additional faction in NJPW called Taguchi Japan, which typically had four core members but also had an odd “open door policy” in which both outsiders and regular members of the NJPW roster might be referred to as part of the stable for just a couple of shows, when they were teaming with wrestlers who were part of the stable. If Jericho made his comments at the time that Taguchi Japan was still a going concern, then it could look a lot more like everybody in NJPW was in a faction.

There seems to only be a small number of factions at the minute. What is the regularity of new factions starting or existing factions disbanding?

I’d disagree that there is a small number of factions. There are currently five, or six if you count the home unit. That’s actually quite a few compared to your average wrestling promotion.

Currently, most of the factions are pretty longstanding. The Bullet Club was formed in 2013, Chaos was formed in 2009, Los Ingobernales de Japon wre formed in 2015, Suzuki-gun was formed in either 2010 or 2011 depending on what you want to count, and GBH was formed in 2006. So, if you do the math, that’s a new faction forming every two to four years, and, typically when a new faction forms, it’s replacing at least one existing faction.

Lastly, are you able to please give us a quick rundown of the history and membership of each current faction in NJPW?

Sure. As mentioned above, there are five true factions at present, and they are:

Great Bash Heel (GBH): Even though there are currently only two active members, GBH is usually classified as a faction instead of as a tag team. Those members are Togi Makabe and Tomoaki Honma. The group was originally much larger and started out in 2006 with Hiroyoshi Tenzan as their leader. Tenzan envisioned GBH as a particularly violent heel group, with the GBH also standing for “grievous bodily harm.” In 2007, Tenzan decided to take some time off to recoup from injuries, and that left Makabe as the de facto leader of the group, with GBH eventually turning on Tenzan and kicking him out after he made his return. Ironically enough, Makabe too would eventually be betrayed, as all of the members of the stable except for Honma left him after he lost a match to Shinsuke Nakamura in 2009, opting instead to be a part of Nakamura’s stable Chaos. Honma and Makabe were the sole GBH remembers from 2009 through 2012, when Honma was cut by New Japan for personal reasons. However, he was re-signed after only a year, and the two were reunited. They have continued to be the only members of GBH since 2013.

Chaos: As stated above, Chaos was formed in 2009, when Shinsuke Nakamura convinced virtually all of the members of GBH to turn on Togi Makabe to join him. Nakamura was the leader of the faction from its inception until he left NJPW in 2016, at which point he was replaced in that role by Kazuchika Okada. Of course, by that point Okada was already a multiple-time IWGP Champion and probably an even bigger star than Nakamura, though the two had been able to coexist. Over the years, Chaos has primarily been a heel stable (though they have feuded with other heel factions) and has had thirty-two different full-time members by my count, with eleven more wrestlers having been associated with the unit on a part-time or temporary basis.

Currently, Chaos’s membership consists of Okada, Hirooki Goto, Will Osprey, Tomohiro Ishii, Toru Yano, Yoshi-Hashi, and Roppongi 3K.

Suzuki-gun: Suzuki-gun’s early history is actually pretty similar to GBH’s. They started off in 2010 as Kojima-gun, under the leadership of Satoshi Kojima, but after about a year most of the members turned on Kojima and kicked him out of the group, deciding instead to pledge their loyalty to new leader Minoru Suzuki. Suzuki-gun had a heel versus heel faction feud with Chaos from 2013 through 2015, after which they shook up the professional wrestling world by jumping from NJPW to Pro Wrestling NOAH. (That’s right, the whole stable jumped together. NJPW and NOAH had a working relationship at the time.) The group feuded with NOAH’s top babyfaces throughout 2015 and 2016, including a period where they held every championship in the company. Suzuki and his crew returned to New Japan on the 2017 Tokyo Dome show and have been a fixture there ever since.

The lineup for Suzuki-gun these days consists of Suzuki, Lance Archer, Zack Sabre Jr., TAKA Michinoku, Taichi, El Desperado, Yoshinobu Kanemaru, and DOUKI. Davey Boy Smith Jr. was also a long-time member until it was announced that he would be leaving New Japan altogether just last month.

Bullet Club: Originally, the Bullet Club was a stable of exclusively foreign wrestlers, founded when Prince Devitt (a.k.a. Finn Balor) turned heel and started to wrestle more in the heavyweight division after having primarily been a junior. The group essentially exists as an homage, sometimes bordering on a parody, of older American-style stables like the nWo. Over the years, the leadership of the Bullet Club has changed several times, with a new foreign wrestler taking over as head of the group when his predecessor goes to work elsewhere. After Devitt signed with WWE, he was replaced by AJ Styles in 2014. After Styles also signed with WWE, he was replaced by Kenny Omega in 2016. After Omega departed NJPW at the beginning of this year, he was replaced by Jay White. The group remains quite popular, and there is no indication that they’ll be going anywhere anytime soon, despite their recent loss of Omega and the Young Bucks, who allowed the stable to cross over quite a bit into the United States.

The current Bullet Club members are White, Bad Luck Fale, the Guerrillas of Destiny, Hikuleo, Taiji Ishimori, Yujiro Takahashi, Chase Owens, Gino Gambino, El Phantasmo, Gedo, and Jado.

Los Ingobernales de Japon: Los Ingobernales (sometimes abbreviated LIJ) is actually a spinoff of a stable that was originally formed in Mexico’s CMLL promotion by La Mascara, Rush, and La Sombra (now Andrade Almas). In 2015, rising NJPW star Tetsuya Naito was sent to Mexico as part of a working relationship between New Japan and CMLL, and, while there, he joined the Mexican version of Los Ingobernales. Upon his return, he continued to identify as a member of the group and started adding Japanese members. LIJ has actually had one of the most consistent lineups of any faction in New Japan, as they’ve added members over time but no core member of the group has ever left. They’ve also managed to stay fairly on-theme in that several of their members have trained in lucha libre and/or have been full-time competitors in Mexico for a portion of their careers.

Los Ingobernales currently consists of Naito, EVIL, BUSHI, SANADA, Hiromu Takahashi, and Shingo Takagi, tough Takahashi has been out of action since July 2018 with a neck injury.

That will do it for this week’s installment of the column. We’ll return in seven days, and, as always, you can contribute your questions by emailing [email protected].