The news broke online on Monday that, in an unexpected talent raid of the New Japan Pro-Wrestling promotion, WWE has signed four major stars from the promotion as independent wrestling legend AJ Styles, reigning NJPW Intercontinental Champion Shinsuke Nakamura, and former IWGP Tag Team Champions Doc Gallows & Karl Anderson. All four competitors have reportedly given their notice to NJPW and they will be wrapping up their commitments to other promotions before making their way to the WWE Performance Center.
A seasoned competitor for nearly 20 years, AJ Styles has competed all over the world in TNA, New Japan Pro-Wrestling, Ring of Honor, and AAA, but only competed twice for WWE, appearing on the former WWF Metal show in January 2002 where he lost to The Hurricane and competing in a dark match prior to a SmackDown taping in a loss to Rico. Styles was offered a WWE developmental deal after these two matches, but turned down the offer. Under the ring name “Air Styles”, Styles would also have a brief stint in WCW in the dying days of the company in early 2001 where he and Air Paris took part in a tournament to crown the first ever WCW Cruiserweight Tag Team Champions, but were eliminated in the first round of the tournament.
After four years in NWA Wildside, AJ Styles independent career would really take off when he joined TNA. While also competing for Ring of Honor for the first four years of his TNA career, Styles would become one of TNA’s most seasoned wrestlers, appearing on TNA’s first ever pay-per-view in 2002 and remaining on the roster for 12 years before departing in 2014. During his time in TNA, Styles was a three-time NWA World Heavyweight Champion, a two-time TNA World Heavyweight Champion, six-time TNA X-Division Champion, four-time NWA World Tag Team Champion, and two-time TNA World Tag Team Champion. After his departure from TNA, Styles would return to the independent circuit, competing for ROH and NJPW, where he would join the most infamous wrestling stable on the independent scene, Bullet Club, which has made appearances in ROH and NJPW and formerly featured reigning NXT Champion Finn Balor.
Shinsuke Nakamura is a New Japan Pro-Wrestling mainstay, having spent his entire sixteen-year wrestling career in the promotion, having debuted in 2002. Having been a roommate of WWE Superstar Daniel Bryan early in both of their careers, Nakamura would go on to be one of the biggest stars in the history of NJPW, facing and teaming with the likes of Brock Lesnar, Masahiro Chono, Shelton Benjamin, Low Ki (Kaval in WWE), Yuji Nagata, Kevin Steen (Kevin Owens in WWE), & Giant Bernard (current NXT Head Trainer Matt Bloom). Nakamura is a three-time IWGP Heavyweight Champion, one-time IWGP Tag Team Champion, and five-time and reigning IWGP Intercontinental Champion.
Competing since 2000, Karl Anderson has established himself as a premier tag team competitor, winning tag team gold in NWA and NJPW, as well as competing in Ring of Honor and Pro Wrestling Guerrilla. Anderson has faced such competitors as Colt Cabana, Chris Hero, The Young Bucks, Team 3D (The Dudley Boyz), Yuji Nagata, Prince Devitt (Finn Balor), Masato Tanaka, & The Briscoes throughout his career and is a member of the infamous Bullet Club. In addition to winning the NWA World Tag Team Titles with Joey Ryan, Anderson is a four-time IWGP Tag Team Champion, once winning the tag titles with current NXT Head Trainer Matt Bloom (known as Giant Bernard in NJPW) and holding the tag titles three times with Doc Gallows (known as Luke Gallows during his time in WWE).
Unlike the other three NJPW stars, WWE fans are already familiar with the man now known as Doc Gallows. After competing as Deacon Deville and The Freakin’ Deacon in WWE’s then developmental territory Deep South Wrestling, Drew Hankinson would make his WWE debut as Imposter Kane, debuting in 2006, sporting the old mask and attire of Kane. Imposter Kane and Kane would engage in a brief feud that featured a pay-per-view match between the two at that year’s Vengeance event. The next night, the angle was abruptly ended between the two as Kane unmasked his doppleganger and threw him out of the building. Hankinson would return to Deep South Wrestling as The Freakin’ Deacon, where he would remain until he was brought back to the main roster, re-debuting as Festus in 2007. Teaming with his tag team partner and handler Jesse, Festus has the unique gimmick of being a big man who was docile and unresponsive, but the ringing of the bell would transform Festus into a vicious, dominant competitor and, when the bell would ring again, Festus would return to his calm state.
The Festus gimmick would last until 2009 before Festus would disappear from television and, after a three-month hiatus, Hankinson would return on SmackDown under the ring name, “Luke Gallows”, sporting a new look, joining CM Punk’s Straightedge Society stable. The explanation for the look and gimmick change was that Luke Gallows was the man’s true identity and Gallows’ time as Festus was due to an addiction to alcohol, but CM Punk would show Festus the straightedge lifestyle, allowing Festus to regain control of his life. Gallows’ association with The Straightedge Society would continue until September 2010 when he was attacked by CM Punk. This would signify a face turn for Luke Gallows that would last a couple of months before Gallows was released from his WWE contract in November.
Following his release from WWE, Drew Hankinson would wrestle for several different independent promotions before landing in TNA in 2011, debuting as a masked member of the Aces & Eights stable. Following his unmasking in November, Hankinson was given the ring name “D.O.C.”, which stood for “Director of Chaos”. In this role, D.O.C. would serve as an enforcer of sorts for the group and would remain a member of Aces & Eights until his contract expired in July 2013. Under the ring name “Doc Gallows”, Hankinson would then make his way to NJPW, where he would join Karl Anderson as a member of the Bullet Club and, together, Gallows & Anderson would earn a shot at the IWGP Tag Team Titles by winning the 2013 World Tag League tournament, ultimately winning the tag titles. While still working for New Japan, Gallows & Anderson would compete for the upstart Global Force Wrestling promotion starting in 2015. Though he never won a championship during his time in WWE, Gallows is a three-time IWGP Tag Team Champion with his most recent reign ending this past Monday (the same day he was signed by WWE).
WWE.com addressed the signings of AJ Styles, Shinsuke Nakamura, Karl Anderson, & Doc Gallows today, referring the signings as rumors while also suggesting that the Bullet Club would be ‘invading’ WWE in the near future. The website would point out some tweets from former Bullet Club member Finn Balor that suggested the arrival of the group.
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