In January 2016 the landscape in wrestling shifted as AJ Styles, Karl Anderson, Luke Gallows, and Shinsuke Nakamura departed NJPW and headed to WWE.
Styles, Anderson, and Gallows were part of Bullet Club, which had become one of the hottest acts in all of wrestling. Tama Tonga was also part of the group, and because he was on a tour-to-tour deal with NJPW, he looked to be WWE-bound with his Bullet Club running mates.
"At the end of 2015, this is the time we start hearing about contracts, nobody approached nobody. We're the hottest thing in wrestling and nobody approached us to lock us down. They didn't think we could go anywhere, that was the problem. That was the word from one of the higher-ups to me. Me and [Karl Anderson] were drinking with [the higher-up] and I was like, 'Why haven't you signed us?' He goes, 'You always talking money' 'Yeah, cause we're always busting our ass for you guys. What if we get up and leave?' 'Where you gonna go?' I said, 'Okay, watch us,'" Tama recalled on Tama's Island.
Though Tama didn't name the higher-up he was speaking with, his imitation was a giveaway as to who it was. Tama went on to say that it looked like TNA had secured deals with AJ, Gallows, and Anderson, but WWE swooped in. When those three and Nakamura told NJPW they would be leaving, Tama said NJPW officials were scrambling.
As for Tama, he was nearly right there with them in WWE until a sneaky play by Bad Luck Fale.
"Once they were confirmed gone, we did Wrestle Kingdom and after Wrestle Kingdom, I was contacted and I went and had a meeting with Triple H," he recalled. "I gave a verbal agreement and said, 'Give me one more tour, I need to tell New Japan that I'm leaving.' I came in, told [NJPW] it would be my last tour and they were stunned. I was stunned I hadn't got a contract after six years. They tried to negotiate and I was like, 'No negotiation, I already gave [a verbal agreement].' That night, me, Karl, Gallows, and Fale went drinking to celebrate. Next day, we go to work, Fale had a meeting with the higher-ups and they asked, 'What can we do?' He said, 'I think if you bring in his brother [Tanga Loa], he'll stay.' That's how it happened."
Loa was signed by NJPW in March 2016 after stints with WWE and TNA.
When asked by co-host Ross Berman how Anderson, Gallows, and AJ reacted to him not coming to WWE, Tama responded by saying, "They were surprised, especially Karl. WWE is the goal, right? I turned that down and saw something different. I knew if I went to WWE, I would have to start at the bottom, which I was willing to do because that was my door in and I trusted my abilities and competitiveness to take me to the top, but my brother, I saw something we had started, but we got separated. Here was a chance for us to unite and do what we came in together to do. Plus, my loyalty to my family. Fale knew."
Tama went on to say that he knew spots would be opening up with Nakamura, Styles, Gallows, and Anderson leaving and that even though NJPW had never signed him to a full-time deal, he had always loved working with the company.
Tama remains one of the pillars of Bullet Club in NJPW.
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