One of the most powerful aspects of pro wrestling is its ability to tell stories in a medium that is both physically intense and theatrical.
Robbie Eagles’ debut in NJPW with the Bullet Club, his conflicts with the team, and his eventual defection to Chaos at Southern Showdown in 2019 is a classic story of good vs evil, with added elements of Eagles’ inner conflict between being loyal to his team and doing what’s right. His story also lines up with Joseph Campbell’s template of a hero’s journey, an outline that encapsulates nearly all heroic stories from ancient epics, to Marvel movies. The way that stories in pro wrestling can match up so perfectly with templates used to describe epics like the Odyssey or Beowulf is evidence of wrestling’s ability to tell timeless stories. Robbie Eagles’ storyline is only one example, but it’s a personal favorite of mine and is therefore the focus of this article.
So, here’s a trip down memory lane, matched up with the 12 steps of a hero’s journey.
The Ordinary World: Before joining Bullet Club, Robbie was a babyface on the Australian Indie circuit, as well as in his appearances in promotions abroad like PWG. His central priority in wrestling was bringing attention to the Australian wrestling scene and showing the world how talented the Indie stars of Australia truly are. Despite being a junior heavyweight, Robbie would accept challenges from opponents of any size or nationality. He became known as the “gatekeeper” of Australian pro wrestling, as he was the guy that wrestlers went up against to show their strength against the Australian scene.
Call to Adventure: In August of 2018, Robbie Eagles faced Will Ospreay at PWA’s Call to Arms. Robbie defeated Ospreay by submission, making their singles record 1-1 after Ospreay defeated Robbie for his championship title at the same event the previous year. Ospreay laid against the ropes, exhausted, and ripped the Japanese flag from his tights to give it to Robbie. Nearly a year later, Ospreay described that moment:
“It was an open invite to join Chaos, [to] join me… because I believe in Robbie Eagles, Australia believes in Robbie Eagles, and I know in time the world will see, the world will believe in Robbie Eagles.”
Refusal of the call: Despite NJPW being a dream destination for Eagles his whole life, Robbie decided to refuse his Ospreay’s invitation. Leading up to his IWGP title shot against Ospreay, Robbie explained his reasoning behind declining Ospreay’s offer:
“He said it was an invite to Chaos, and yes I understood that that was an opportunity. But I had to look after myself. For once, Robbie Eagles had to be a bit selfish. I didn’t just jump at the first opportunity. And once I heard from the Bullet Club, that they wanted me to join their ranks, I knew that was the right decision.”
Meeting the mentor: Robbie did go to New Japan in 2018, but not in the way that Ospreay had hoped. Taiji Ishimori of Bullet Club handpicked Robbie as a tag partner for the 2018 Junior Tag League.
Crossing the threshold: In Robbie’s case, “meeting the mentor” and “crossing the threshold” heavily overlap; meeting Ishimori, the closest thing to a mentor Robbie had in NJPW, is also what ushered him to cross the threshold from facedom to heeldom. For the sake of keeping things neat, we’ll define “meeting the mentor” as Bullet Club offering Robbie a spot on the team, and “crossing the threshold” as the moment Robbie entered a New Japan ring as Taiji Ishimori’s partner in the 2018 Jr Tag League.
Tests, Allies and Enemies: During the Jr Tag League, Robbie presented himself as an underdog with something to prove. Not only was he a newcomer in Japan, but as the newest member of Bullet Club, Robbie felt it crucial to prove his worth. Ishimori was more than supportive of him, and would often brag to the journalists during their interviews about how great Robbie was for him.
“You saw that, right? This is Robbie Eagles. He’s great, huh? Everyone, from here on out… don’t take your eyes off of us.” Ishimori proclaimed, before stepping to the side and gesturing for Robbie to speak:
“All the Bullet Club was missing was a tactician, and that’s what I bring to the game. That’s what I bring to the ring. And it doesn’t matter that I came all the way from Australia. I was handpicked by Taiji Ishimori and the rest of the BCOGs, and I’m going to prove my value, and the way I’m going to do that is by the Bone Soldier and the Sniper of the Skies winning the entire Super Junior Tag League.”
Robbie always equated his sense of self-worth with how useful he was to Ishimori and the Bullet Club. This led him to be fiercely loyal to Bullet Club, though it would set him up for serious self-doubts later on. In the end, Ishimori and Robbie finished the Jr Tag League with 3 wins and 4 losses, which is perhaps part of the reason Bullet Club felt it necessary to recruit a third junior heavyweight to their ranks for the Best of Super Juniors the following spring.
Approach: The presence of El Phantasmo during the 2019 Best of Super Juniors is undoubtedly what pushed all of Robbie’s self-doubt to the forefront of his mind. Not only did Phantasmo’s immediate success make Robbie doubt his worth to Bullet Club, but Phantasmo himself actively stifled Robbie’s own success. A very clear example of tension between the two came during Robbie Eagles match against Will Ospreay in the BOSJ. Robbie was determined to win the match on his own, and avenge his PWA championship title loss to Ospreay in 2017. He was on his way to doing so, when Phantasmo interfered, took out the ref, and dealt a chair shot to Ospreay before laying him down for Robbie to pin. Their post-match interview showed a real increase in tensions between Robbie and Phantasmo:
“I didn’t need that, I didn’t need you out there!” Robbie yelled.
“It doesn’t matter though, you still got those two points. We got those two points, for the club.”
“I would’ve gotten them regardless. I wasn’t out there for your match, I’ve never been out there for your matches before.”
“You didn’t need to be out there for mine, it’s fine. We got this done, together.”
“You’re saying it’s together you’re saying it’s for the club. That was for you. You did that for you. It wasn’t for anyone else but El Phantasmo.”
“No! I did it for the Bullet Club.”
“You did that for yourself!” Robbie said as he walked away.
With Phantasmo’s presence in Bullet Club, Robbie had a rival as much as he had a teammate. He could no longer assert himself as the second half of the Bullet Club’s junior tag team. His own goals were being actively sabotaged, all in the name of the club.
Ordeal, death and rebirth: There’s a specific moment where you can pinpoint Robbie’s disappointment in not just Phantasmo, but Bullet Club as a whole. It comes in a post-match promo after Robbie, Ishimori, and Phantasmo took on Ryusuke Taguchi, Yoh, and Sho in a six-man tag match. El Phantasmo points to himself and Ishimori. “See this? This is a tag team that is going to bring more gold back to the Bullet Club,” Phantasmo declared, while Robbie literally and figuratively stood in his shadow.
Robbie gave Phantasmo a pat on the shoulder, and answered the claim with a curt, “I see how it is,” before walking off.
Though it was not a moment filled with high dramatics, the moment El Phantasmo and Ishimori formed Bullet Club’s new primary jr tag team was pivotal for Robbie’s career; now that Ishimori had found a new partner, Robbie essentially lost his purpose in Bullet Club.
Seizing the sword: Will Ospreay went on to slay the dragon of Shingo Takagi in the BOSJ finals, and reclaimed the IWGP Jr Heavyweight title from Dragon Lee. While Ospreay was finding great success, Robbie only grew more desperate to prove himself. There was a subtle shift in his demeanor, however; Robbie was no longer devoting himself fully to Bullet Club. Instead of proving himself worthy to be in their ranks, Robbie wanted to prove to himself that he was as tough as anyone in the jr division. With his victory over Ospreay in the BOSJ, even if it was illegitimate, Robbie earned himself a title shot. Ospreay knew Robbie wasn’t satisfied with his BOSJ victory over the Englishman, and was eager to meet Robbie in a fair fight.
Down, but not out, Robbie sought to regain his sense of purpose by accepting Ospreay’s challenge for the IWGP Jr Heavyweight title. The match was set for 2019’s Southern Showdown in Australia. Finally, Robbie had a shot to avenge his loss to Ospreay on his home soil.
The road back: Despite not being the main event, Robbie Eagles vs Will Ospreay was the most anticipated match on the 2019 Southern Showdown card. It was, after all, the first IWGP title match to take place on Australian soil. The match was on the first night of the two night event. Robbie was accompanied to the ring by El Phantasmo, who quickly went on to realize that Robbie was no longer going to be the passive teammate he used to be in Bullet Club. Multiple times, Phantasmo tried to interfere, but was met with kicks and topés from Robbie himself, who wanted to maintain the integrity of his title match more than he wanted to win it.
Ospreay was victorious, much to Phantasmo’s— and the audience’s— disappointment. After the match, Ospreay held his hand out to Robbie for a handshake. Phantasmo immediately jumped in between them, and ushered Robbie into the corner, trying to talk him out of it. Robbie, fed up after weeks of Phantasmo’s antics and bullying, fired a wild right elbow into Phantasmo’s jaw. He then solemnly shook Ospreay’s hand.
Resurrection: Robbie’s loyalty to Bullet Club was on extremely shaky ground heading into night 2 of Southern Showdown. Still, he was booked for a six-man tag match in the main event of the night with Jay White and Bad Luck Fale against Kazuchika Okada, Hiroshi Tanahashi, and Will Ospreay. The match ended in a victory for Chaos, which was unsurprising, considering how out of it Robbie was the whole time.
After the match, Bullet Club ambushed their opponents, tossing Okada and Tanahashi out of the ring and leaving Ospreay in the center of it. Jay turned to Robbie, gave him a chair, and ordered him to hit Ospreay with it. Robbie hesitated. He looked at Jay, then down at Ospreay, and held the chair up over his head before he dropped it to the mat. The audience exploded into cheers at Robbie’s decision. Jay, though, wasn’t satisfied. He picked up the chair and told Robbie, “you can watch, then,” and brought the chair up over his head, eyes fixated on the barely conscious Ospreay. Before he could bring the chair down, Robbie superkicked him in the jaw, officially ending his career with Bullet Club.
Tanahashi and Okada returned to help fight Bullet Club off. The show ended with Robbie’s hands held up in victory by Okada and Ospreay, his new teammates in Chaos.
Return: Robbie got off to a shaky start in Chaos. He lost in the first round of the Super J Cup to Phantasmo, but his spirit since leaving Bullet Club was unshakable. At Royal Quest, Ospreay and Robbie, now the Birds of Prey, took on the then-current jr tag team champions, Phantasmo and Ishimori. The non-title match was an absolute showstopper that ended in a victory for the Birds of Prey. In their post-match interview, Robbie proclaimed:
This is now Robbie Eagles in Chaos. This is Robbie Eagles outside of Bullet Club, and I swear to God, this is Robbie Eagles at his true potential.
He then pointed to his tag partner before continuing:
This man brought it out of me, every contest we had against each other, and now, as a unit, as a team, with his guidance, with Chaos behind me, with the fans behind me, I know I can achieve greatness in New Japan.
Of course, Robbie’s story in NJPW is far from over. Only time will tell what the future has in store for Robbie Eagles, though he is worth keeping a close eye on. It’s extremely likely that upon his return to Japan, whenever that may be, Robbie will be in line for another IWGP jr title shot, and perhaps a run in the World Tag League with his fellow Bird of Prey.
Again, Robbie’s story is just one example of wrestling storylines that could fit into this template; each of those storylines is further proof that pro wrestling is another outlet for mankind’s most timeless hobby of storytelling.