By Farhan Daw @FarhanDaw
The adoptive son of the legendary Haku and one of the founding members of the Bullet Club, Tama Tonga has taken long strides since making his debut for NJPW in 2010 and has gone on to become one of the promotion’s top tag-team wrestlers.
Easily distinguished by his sinister face paint and curly flowing locks, ‘The Bad Boy’ is well accredited for being one or NJPW’s best defensive wrestlers. His sharp reflexes, snake-like agility and counter-attacking prowess make Tonga a precarious opponent to overcome. After six years wrestling predominantly in multi-tag matches and in NJPW’s undercard, 2016 proved to be the breakout year for The Bad Boy. Despite a short reign of only three days with the Never Openweight Six-Man Tag-Team belts, this was Tonga’s first title win in NJPW and it touted his sights on further championship glory.
Since the departures of Fellow Bullet Club members Karl Anderson and Doc Gallows, Tonga with the support of his brother Tanga Loa stepped up to become the Club’s main Heavyweight Tag-Team. The Guerrillas of Destiny (G.O.D) have since captured the IWGP Heavyweight Tag-Team Championships on three occasions, with Tonga scoring the win each time. While undoubtedly finding success in NJPW’s Tag-Team division, he has also further distinguished his reputation as a singles wrestler,
defeating two former IWGP World Champions Hiroshi Tanahashi and Togi Makabe in 2016’s G1 Climax and New Japan Cup. Tournament competitions are used to springboard new stars and securing wins against top tier wrestlers is seen as a significant step in Japan. This year he continued that trend by pinning two ex World Champions Satoshi Kojima and ROH World Champion Michael Elgin in the G1 competition, finishing with eight points.
The Tongan also enjoyed an impressive performance against IWGP U.S Champion Kenny Omega, directly confronting The Cleaner and addressing the internal issues of the Bullet Club in the process. This further suggests Tonga is now considered one of the chief voices behind the Bullet Club whereas in the past he was utilised amidst the lower ranks of the BC and barely stood out as one of the leaders of the group he helped co-find.
Over the past year Tonga has been exerting more personality alongside his dark playfulness with a very potent touch of cool. Accompanied with his rigid hammer strikes and head-butts he is somewhat of a throwback in terms of wrestling style but has modern elements that formulate a very distinctive character, not just in NJPW but across the wrestling landscape.
Tonga is one of NJPW’s longest serving gaijin’s and currently only he and Bad Luck Fale remain as Bullet Club’s original members. Having found his feet and asserting himself as a key player in New Japan’s tag team division, what is next for The Bad Boy? What is he looking to accomplish? The foreseeable future suggests a long-term governed reign with the IWGP Tag-Team Championships, however a singles run could perhaps be the next thing on his agenda? For now one thing is certain, Tonga remains committed to the success and evolution of Bullet Club.