"Too sweet" indeed.
At last year's WWE TLC: Tables, Ladders and Chairs, Bray Wyatt was too ill to compete against Finn Balor. Instead, AJ Styles was slotted in his place. The Phenomenal One took a 14-hour flight from South America to Minneapolis, where he faced the Demon in the best match of the pay-per-view. Promoted properly, it could have main-evented WrestleMania. As it was, with little hype and little build, it was a more than impressive showing by both performers.
But the most memorable moment came after the match. The two men stood face-to-face in the center of the ring (above), and they made a strange hand gesture to one another--an apparent signifier of respect--before departing.
For longtime wrestling fans, the "Too Sweet" gesture is loaded with meaning. It was used both backstage (by the Kliq) and in the ring (by the NWO) as a secret handshake of sorts. More recently, however, it's been the calling card of the Bullet Club, a wrestling stable with bad boy glamour. The group started in New Japan Pro Wrestling, and its first leader was Finn Balor, then wrestling under the name Prince Devitt. The second head of the Bullet Club was AJ Styles, who also fought in NJPW before joining WWE.
WWE chairman Vince McMahon is notoriously adverse to using gimmicks from outside the company; he likes to have ownership over all WWE characters. For a while, even though Bullet Club members were part of WWE's roster, it seemed fans would have to content themselves with little winks here and there. Balor, for example, wears "Balor Club" gear, a clear homage to his original stable.
But the Too Sweet gestures at TLC--from one former Bullet Club leader to another--were a much more direct allusion. According to Styles, McMahon had not approved the gesture beforehand, and it set the internet ablaze. Was this a fib? Was this a shoot? Was WWE planning something big?
On last week's Raw, January 1, WWE finally delivered on what its fans wanted. Balor, Karl Anderson, and Luke Gallows, all former Bullet Club members, reunited in the ring for a match against Elias, Bo Dallas, and Curtis Axel. This was followed by several official WWE social media posts that featured the Too Sweet gesture prominently.
This isn't like WrestleMania 33, where even though Matt Hardy made his Broken Universe #DELETE gesture, the WWE cameras panned away. This time, the company is leaning into another promotion's original gimmick, which is extremely unprecedented. It couldn't have come at a better time.
First, Finn Balor was quickly losing momentum as a WWE contender. He was the first universal champion, but after that one-day reign, cut short by injury, his career hit a stall. I wrote an editorial lamenting his fall from grace last month, and I offered the following recommendation: Finn Balor should wear his "demon" makeup in the ring all the time, because he is neither physically big enough nor psychologically intimidating enough without it.
WWE didn't go that route, but it may have taken an even better one. It made the non-demon Finn Balor believable, because now, there are two massive guys flanking him at all times. They can cheat, bully, and attack opponents backstage to give their leader an unfair advantage. There's no way Balor could have taken on Brock Lesnar by himself and emerged victorious--Balor is small enough to be considered a cruiserweight. But with Gallows and Anderson there? Absolutely. Anything is possible. Balor is no longer handcuffed to a gimmick that, truth be told, was bigger than he could ever be (and that, in fact, threatened to swallow him at times).
And meanwhile, The Club, Gallows and Anderson, have nothing better to do. At one point, when they were AJ Styles' backup on Smackdown, they were more busy. But these days on Raw, they're having gimmick food fights at the holiday-themed shows, and they're losing to every other tag team on the roster. The two of them are good workers but average talkers. At best, they can pull off the occasional one-liner or two. And fortuitously, that's all their new role requires of them.
Katharine Hepburn reportedly said of dance couple Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, "He gives her class. She gives him sex appeal." Finn Balor and The Club have a similar symbiotic relationship. Balor gives them charisma. And they give Balor physicality. They complement and cover each other's flaws. Hopefully, the WWE writers will allow the latest faction of the Bullet/Balor Club to get over, even if they have to swallow their pride to allow it.