WATERBURY, CT -- The Young Bucks, pro wrestling's hottest and most divisive tag team act, are used to being labeled as just about anything by their vocal group of detractors. "Spot monkeys." "Business killers." "Gymnasts." "DX wannabes." But really, all of those criticisms are fine if you ask Matt and Nick Jackson, the inseparable brothers who continue to work to change the wrestling business for the better.
From traveling the world with Ring of Honor, New Japan Pro Wrestling and a variety of international promotions, to all of their merchandise deals, to blurring the lines with their YouTube show "Being the Elite." Heck, they're the driving creative force behind one of the most compelling stories in wrestling and one of the most talked-about matches going into WrestleMania weekend in New Orleans -- Cody vs. Kenny Omega at Supercard of Honor.
Matt and Nick Jackson don't have much in the way of time to worry about what their naysayers are putting out into the world. You can call them anything as far as they're concerned -- just don't call them complacent.
"I love when they doubt us," said Matt Jackson in an interview with ESPN after a recent appearance for Northeast Wrestling. "'Bullet Club jumped the shark. Bullet Club's done this.' OK, well we're gonna make it even more interesting."
"'Jump the shark?'" Nick Jackson chimed in, 15 minutes after he, Matt and Marty Scurll signed autographs for three straight hours for hundreds of fans donning Young Bucks and Bullet Club apparel. "'Well, why did you buy a new Bullet Club shirt?'"
The Bullet Club has continued to evolve since it debuted in New Japan Pro Wrestling in 2013. Of the founding members -- Prince Devitt (now WWE's Finn Balor), Karl Anderson, Bad Luck Fale and Tama Tonga -- only Fale and Tonga remain in the group. Whenever a key member has left, NJPW has replaced that figure with someone the company views as the next big star.
Balor gave way to AJ Styles, and when Styles followed along the same path and went to the WWE, it was Omega who stepped up as the group's next breakout star. Adam Cole's departure to WWE opened the door for Scurll's Bullet Club debut, and everyone who's spent significant time in the group has ultimately benefited. Through all of the incarnations of the Bullet Club over the past five years, the Young Bucks, who joined early in Bullet Club's development, have served as one of the few constants.
While Balor, Styles, Omega and even Cody, most recently, have been considered the on-screen leaders of the Bullet Club, behind closed doors it's the Young Bucks who have driven the innovation and growth that have made the group as popular as it's ever been.
Matt and Nick Jackson are obsessed with the wrestling business. The two have "literally gone days without sleeping" during their endless travel around the world, and even when they're traveling, they spend a lot of that time coming up with merchandise concepts for Pro Wrestling Tees and Hot Topic, and crafting new storylines for "Being the Elite."
Their latest brainchild has planted the seeds for Cody vs. Omega at Supercard of Honor, with leadership of the Bullet Club seemingly hanging in the balance.
"We booked that match almost a year ago," Nick said.
"Kenny vs. Cody was literally mine and Nick's idea," added Matt.
Kenny vs. Cody is the culmination of an unlikely series of events that made this dream match possible, and gave it stakes. Ultimately, the story for the highly anticipated matchup started before either member had even joined the Bullet Club.
The Bucks have long been waiting for the perfect opportunity to pull the trigger on a Bullet Club leader vs. Bullet Club leader clash. Finn Balor left for WWE before he could face Styles. The same happened with Styles after Omega and the Young Bucks led an overthrow of leadership. The first real attempt at pitting Bullet Club alpha males against each other involved a potential Cole vs. Omega match last year.
"God, Cody's the perfect foil for Kenny," Matt remarked. "I love Adam and he's awesome, but I feel like Cody's character -- the way he plays the villain and the bad guy is such a great contrast to the way Kenny is a good guy -- so the two are just so perfect when they're on screen together." Matt Jackson
Cole slowly tried to turn the Bucks against Omega and even "poisoned" Nick as part of a "Being the Elite" storyline. But fate and timing once again intervened, as Omega failed to get his green card approved in time (which was blamed on Cole in "Being the Elite" lore, though the issue was legitimate) and Cole ultimately signed with WWE. The payoff to Cole vs. Omega came in Manhattan, as the Young Bucks turned on Cole while Omega introduced Scurll as the newest member of the Bullet Club.
It was climactic, but it still wasn't the "Battle of the Bullet Club" that the Bucks had pushed so hard to make happen. Instead, they shifted their focus on crafting a new match with even more potential.
"It was supposed to be Kenny and Adam Cole, to be honest. That was the first original BC split that we pictured. But Adam left to WWE, so we're like, 'Man, we need to do it, but who could we do it with?'" Nick said.
"God, Cody's the perfect foil for Kenny," Matt remarked. "I love Adam and he's awesome, but I feel like Cody's character -- the way he plays the villain and the bad guy is such a great contrast to the way Kenny is a good guy -- so the two are just so perfect when they're onscreen together. When Cody's doing his manipulation ..."
"It's perfect for it," Nick finished.
Cody's character has undergone a metamorphosis as he's become the leader of the Bullet Club's stateside efforts in Ring of Honor. He knows how to bait fans into hating him, even with Bullet Club's popularity behind him, by boasting his literal "Ring of Honor," his plush fur jackets and overly expensive cigars. Add that to his Hollywood actor façade, complete with his now bleach-blonde hair, and his wife, Brandi, serving as both a valet and antagonist, even the snarkiest of fans don't have a shot of bringing Cody down to earth.
And If Cody is pro wrestling's ultimate villain -- a character who cares only about the material aspects of the business -- Omega is the sport's purest form of babyface. Omega's passion lies in the athletic feat of wrestling. He puts on "Match of the Year" candidate after Match of the Year candidate, and does so in front of a Japanese audience that he understands as well as any non-Japanese-born performer in the world. Though he made a concerted effort to show an edge and evil tendencies over the past few years, his partnership with Kota Ibushi removes any doubt about where Omega's loyalties lie.
Omega and Cody are two completely different wrestlers with two completely different perspectives on how to tell stories; that combination has made Omega and Cody the most natural of adversaries.
"They have so much passion for wrestling," Matt said. "Cody is a guy who's never off. He's always on. He's always thinking about wrestling. Kenny's the same. He's very passionate about the business. They think of everything outside of just wrestling matches. They think of building characters so they're real. Like real-life things you can reach out, touch and grab. It's not just, 'Here's a match.' It's, 'Here's a person.' And Kenny will build that person from the ground up, and so will Cody. People are so attached to these characters because they're real. Because there are elements of what Kenny is in real life in there and same with Cody. Cody's just the perfect bad guy and Kenny's the perfect good guy. I think that's why it works so well."
- ROH Wrestling (@ringofhonor) March 10, 2018
Scurll, who had been keeping to himself as he waited for the Bucks to wrap up our chat so they could start their commute to Manhattan for the following night's ROH show, looked over to the Bucks, and while making a trigger-pulling hand gesture, added, "It's a shoot. 'Cause it's real."
"That is true," Nick agreed. "They're legitimate alpha males."
Although the major moments behind the Omega-Cody feud have taken place on ROH and NJPW programming, the nuanced moments of storytelling behind those moments on "Being the Elite" has allowed fans to invest in each and every one of the characters involved.
New Japan World subscribers were abuzz when Cody attacked Omega at The New Beginning in Sapporo in January after Omega lost the IWGP United States title to Jay White, with Ibushi inserting himself into the equation to save his longtime tag team partner. "Being the Elite" viewers got to see the aftermath inside the locker room immediately afterward.
The attack created a divide within the Bullet Club that set the tone for future "Being the Elite" episodes. The behind-the-scenes, in-depth look into the conflict that the show provides can't be matched on NJPW or ROH TV. As Matt puts it, Being the Elite is the Bullet Club's "version of Monday Night Raw." However, fans' emotional attachment to the rift within the Bullet Club is more akin to the soap opera elements of pro wrestling than the in-ring-focused products of ROH and NJPW.
"I get tweets every day saying, 'I'm heartbroken, I'm crying, what's going on?'" Scurll said. "Obviously, I have gray hair from it," he deadpanned as he pointed to his tightly kept gray locks.
ROH booker Hunter Johnston, aka Delirious, has used "Being the Elite" as a vehicle to facilitate his own storylines: When the fans buy in, everyone wins. Kenny vs. Cody at Supercard of Honor on April 7 was actually announced on an episode of the show, rather than on ROH TV or pay-per-view. The melodramatic elements of the show have even overlapped onto ROH TV, including the moment that's arguably been the high point of the feud so far.
During ROH's 16th anniversary show, after Cody defeated Matt Taven, Omega got revenge on Cody by wearing the ridiculous "Bury the Bear" costume that Cody himself introduced. He removed the bear head after the match, hit a running knee and then in some twisted move of revenge, Brandi grabbed Omega and kissed him.
Fans love six-star matches, to be sure, but by building out a deep, rich backstory that leads to a big series of matches, everyone involved is widening the net of who will get drawn in and follow this story to its end.
"[The Cole angle] was fun, but I think this has been the biggest payoff for me so far and it hasn't even paid off yet," Matt said. "We have stuff for six months booked."
Before Kenny vs. Cody's "Battle of the Bullet Club" at Supercard of Honor, the Young Bucks have woven a dream match 10 years in the making into the ongoing Bullet Club saga. The Young Bucks vs. the Golden Lovers, pitting the Jacksons against Omega and Ibushi, will headline Sunday's NJPW Strong Style Evolved show in Long Beach, California. Because what fun would it be if they didn't get the chance to be involved, too.
"That's one of the only tag matches that hasn't happened with us," Nick said.
"I've wanted this match for like 10 years now," Matt said. "I remember in 2009 we did the Chikara King of Trios and I remember meeting Ibushi and I'm like, 'Man, I'd really like to do a match with him and maybe Kenny.' So at the same time we're jumping right in, but I'm like, 'Man, finally.'"
This match in particular didn't come easy. The Young Bucks had been badgering NJPW head booker Gedo for over two years about moving up to the heavyweight tag team division. Gedo finally caved in after some convincing from Rocky Romero in addition to War Machine leaving for WWE. The Bucks announced their move to the heavyweight division in February at Honor Rising as they stood face-to-face with the Golden Lovers. Shortly after, the Young Bucks vs. the Golden Lovers was announced as the main event of Strong Style Evolved on March 25.
"We helped to make the match happen, us and Kenny. We've always just selfishly wanted to do the match," Matt said. "Before all this stuff happened, we're like, 'How are we ever gonna wrestle you? It won't make any sense. Well, I guess we're going to have to do an entire angle just so we can have this match.' Literally that's a reason for why we're doing what we're doing right now with this story, so we could have these matches. Like, 'Man, we've always wanted to wrestle each other; it's really difficult, though, because we're all a group. Well, let's do something different. Let's do a multilayered, soap-opera storyline that is sort of like a HBO series. In doing so, you get a dream match out of it.'"
The Young Bucks didn't wait a decade for this match to pull punches. The two expect their match with the Golden Lovers to set an impossibly high bar for Omega vs. Cody and everything else on the Supercard of Honor show, which includes Scurll vs. Dalton Castle for the ROH title, which comes just 13 days later.
"This is going to be really dangerous," Matt said.
"I was about to say I'm kind of happy this match is happening now as opposed to three or five years ago because I feel like if you did it three to five years ago someone might've been killed," interrupted Scurll. "Whereas, now you guys are so much smarter. I know you guys are gonna go out there and kill yourselves and you can still do that -- you'll probably still do that now, but tell more of a story with it."
"I think we can do so much because everyone's so heartbroken and passionate and emotional about what's going on," Matt added. "'No, 'The Elite' can't fight. You guys are best friends. We can get a lot of out just standing there for a while. But once things get cooking, I can probably guarantee you that this is going to be one of the craziest matches in wrestling history."
"Jeez," uttered Nick.
"Kenny and Ibushi are like, 'Why the hell did Matt say that?'" Scurll laughed.
"But you know it's true," said Nick, in a much less facetious tone. "Four of the most athletic wrestlers right now that are currently wrestling. It's gonna be fun no matter what."