The Golden Lovers, Bullet Club & A Story Told With Hair
Within professional wrestling, aesthetics and body language are considered fundamental storytelling devices, and changes to appearance can play a big part in telling a narrative. While some are overt, such as Finn Balor’s body paint making a grand show of his transformation into demon form, or ‘The Many Faces of Foley’ embracing a whole spectrum of characteristics, from ultra-violence to ultra-kindness. Today, let's talk about hair.
The way we style our hair is a form of self-expression, giving us an idea of the personalities and attitudes of different people. No matter how well or poorly it's executed, this concept applies to the real world and the fictitious, as well as wherever the hell pro-wrestling falls in between the two.
In 2009, when I was just a mere boy, Kenny Omega and Kota Ibushi came together with a bond formed with mutual admiration and pure love that would only get stronger over time. They became known as the ‘Golden Lovers’.
From their home promotion of Dramatic Dream Team (DDT), the Golden Lovers took their talents to a bigger stage, New Japan Pro Wrestling (NJPW), where they won the IWGP Jr. Heavyweight Tag Team Championship. Throughout the years and countless battles, the pair received worldwide praise, with many going as far as to call them the best team in the world. Meanwhile, their love continued to deepen.
Kenny Omega. Let’s take a look at his hair during this time. To put it simply; he’s a cutie. The mop on his head is a brilliant blonde, its vibrancy a reflection of his lively in-ring style, as well as his character’s outlook; filled with joy as he rides high on the tag team scene with Kota by his side. It’s a natural, untampered hue, enhancing the authenticity of Omega. His heart is full of love, for wrestling, for the fans, and for Kota.
But then things change.
In 2014, the Golden Lovers wrestle their last match together. Kota Ibushi joins the heavyweight division, while Kenny remains a junior now signed exclusively with New Japan as of October of that year. Kenny’s first appearance under contract comes at Power Struggle, where he is revealed to be the newest member of NJPW’s most notorious stable; Bullet Club. He is now ‘The Cleaner’, embracing the Bullet Club ethos - cheating to win, using underhanded tactics and a total disregard for Japanese customs and tradition.
During his time with the Bullet Club, he crosses paths with his former partner while in the corner of AJ Styles as Ibushi challenges for the IWGP Heavyweight Championship. Though there’s no physicality between the two, their eyes meet as Kota looks to finish from the top rope; an extended pause that ultimately costs him the match, and the championship. In his own words, ‘the Kenny Omega of the past is dead’.
Those once bright locks have become corrupted; his golden boyish charm washed away with gunmetal grey. His allegiance to Bullet Club reigns supreme, the faction influencing his personality and his appearance. Tufts of blonde make a fleeting show, but the darkness overpowers it, and any emergence of his real self is soon dyed out of existence. The last remnant of his connection to Kota has been buried. Or at least, that’s what he wants us to think.
Ibushi takes a hiatus from New Japan in late 2015, recovering from injuries before resigning from the company and wrestling independently across the world. Whilst he’s gone, Kenny’s career goes from strength to strength. He takes the mantle of Bullet Club’s leader, wins all manner of championships, becomes the first foreign winner of the prestigious G1 Climax tournament, breaks the star system with clashes against Kazuchika Okada, and cements himself as one of the top wrestlers in the world. Everything is going well for Kenny, until the 2017 G1 Climax participants are announced. The 20th slot is filled by the returning Kota Ibushi.
Kenny makes his desires known; he wants Ibushi in the finals, eager to prove himself against his former partner. Alas, this doesn’t come to fruition, with Omega advancing to the later stages, only to be beaten by Tetsuya Naito in the grand final. A brief moment between them is captured backstage, but Kenny pushes Kota away.
Fast forward a few months and we arrive at WrestleKingdom 12. Kenny is busy defending his IWGP United States Championship as Ibushi faces off against Cody, a fellow Bullet Club member. Ibushi is victorious, but Cody can’t let it go. The next night at New Year Dash, Cody attacks Ibushi - but before he can use a steel chair, Omega runs to Ibushi’s rescue. Existing turbulence within Bullet Club only builds from there, and a month later at The New Beginning, Kenny loses his title. Things come to a head as Cody leads an assault on Kenny, but once again they are interrupted, this time run off by Ibushi, and the former team come face-to-face.
The two embrace in the middle of the ring as confetti falls from above like rain, celebrating their love. Fans across the world fans rejoice at the sight of their reunion. The Golden Lovers are together again.
Kenny’s hair returns to the beautiful blonde from the pair’s glory days. The tainted grey is banished, the purity of the true Kenny Omega shines through. No longer is he letting the Bullet Club influence his appearance, his decisions or his way of life. It appears the old Kenny Omega is very much alive.
But Kenny's locks aren't the only character in this story about hair. We don’t have to look any further than across the ring to the Golden Lovers’ opponents in their first match back at Honor Rising; Cody and Marty Scurll.
Cody is one arrogant son of a bitch, and the main thing fuelling his sense of self-grandeur comes from his family name. He makes no secret of his bloodline, son of the famed Dusty Rhodes, a point he is keen to share most explicitly by playing off his father’s moniker, naming himself ‘The American Nightmare’. Cody acts as if he is entitled to greatness, as if he is undisputedly the top performer in the business. Though his promos alone are enough to drive his point home, he accentuates this by using (you guessed it) his hair.
Debuting his new look at the most recent WrestleKingdom, Cody now sports a head of bleach-blonde hair in emulation of those who have come before him. Dusty Rhodes, Ric Flair, even all the way back to Gorgeous George; icons from the golden era of professional wrestling. However, there is a key difference between the do of Cody and that of these legends. Though I’m sure Flair and Dusty must have had ways to make their hair pop, they’re natural blondes, whereas Cody is not. Cody bleaching his hair is his way of ensuring that people see him like they do his father and other blond legends. It's his attempt at indoctrination - forcing viewers to associate himself with the greatest talents of all time. His unnatural appearance drives this point home. He takes every possible step to fast-track his acquisition of fame and admiration, looking to skip what made these men idols in the first place.
His partner in this match is a man conflicted. Torn between his attachment to Kenny and his allegiance to the Bullet Club, Marty Scurll finds himself in a position he’d rather not be in. The climate is that of disarray, with the ranks of the stable fracturing as members try to decide whether they will stand by Kenny or take on Cody as their new leader.
white is considered to be the colour of death in Japan, and this applies perfectly to Marty’s predicament.
This inner turmoil Marty faces is expressed through his hair, dying his top knot white. As Don Callis called on commentary, white is considered to be the colour of death in Japan, and this applies perfectly to Marty’s predicament. At this trying time, the Bullet Club is in a dangerous state, and if things continue as they are, they could be facing extinction - torn apart from the inside. Alternatively, Marty could be expressing the death of something else. Throughout the match, he questions Kenny, asking why he would side with Ibushi after everything they’ve done together, why he would abandon his friends. As the bout progresses, we see Scurll becoming more willing to fight Omega, using more and more of his vicious repertoire. The death symbolised could be that of Marty and Kenny’s friendship, the relationship built since Marty joined the faction in May 2017. It’s open to interpretation, but by dousing his own hair with the mark of death, we can know for sure this is a passing that is going to stick with Marty.
So there we have it. A long story maybe not told entirely through the medium of hair but one that’s certainly given depth to it. It’s another little detail that helps to develop the stories that play out in the ring, and its entirely driven by the performers themselves. They’ve taken it upon themselves to add these layers that might go unnoticed, purely to amplify their characters and enhance the tales being told for us, the audience. I hope you enjoyed this journey and analysis of dyes and fashions, and I encourage you to look out for any little changes or mannerisms your favourite wrestlers make, because it all go towards boosting both their experience as well as yours.