It is Forbidden Door Week which should, by all means, be one of the biggest weeks in AEW’s history. While the potential for synergy between AEW and NJPW was obvious from day one, different obstacles have kept the companies from going on a full-range partnership.
There was at first resistance from NJPW to change their partnerships in the US, either due to unsureness of AEW’s success and sustainability or due to the worsening of the relationships with the talent that left NJPW to become executives in AEW, but as time went on both sides seemed to become closer and more willing to work together, but the pandemic prevented larger-scale cooperation and, in particular, what the fans have claimed the most: a jointed super show with the best talent from each company working together.
Now that we are here, the excitement for the show seems to be a bit lukewarm, whether because some expectations were too high, the build was lackluster, or simply the companies were not able to present what this show demanded. Let’s take a look at all of this.
A note, I haven’t followed or watched almost any NJPW product since 2019, but I am familiar with their roster. In that, I actually feel I am fairly close to a lot of the AEW fanbase.
The first thing to note is that in a show like this there are different interests to serve, both companies want to protect their top talent which can get in the way of some of the fan’s dream matches. There are ways to work around this, for example, a NJPW talent that is to lose at Forbidden Door may get their win back at a NJPW show in Japan. But even this requires negotiation and alignment in schedules and booking.
I will always remember the disappointment felt by fans when Hiroshi Tanahashi vs Mike Bennett was announced for the first ROH/NJPW co-joint show. The main event of that show was a 3-way for the IWGP Heavyweight Title, with AJ Styles defending against Kazuchika Okada and Michael Elgin (obviously there to take the pin). But what ended up happening was these shows were very often overdelivering due to the presence of NJPW’s wrestlers being enough to bring in eyes into the show and then the talent being super motivated to make the matches as great as possible.
This may also be the case for the AEW/NJPW relationship, as the show will certainly have attention and will most probably overdeliver. There are some key differences between this show though.
On one hand, the presence of NJPW wrestlers in the US cannot be considered a novelty by itself. Hiroshi Tanahashi has had 21 matches in the US since 2019, and that is with big pandemic restrictions in the past years. Obviously, many of these matches end up being house show-like multiperson tags, but this is a sign that AEW and NJPW can’t just get away with defensive matchmaking and have to actually present some compelling matchups. At the same time, some of NJPW’s bigger names have yet to be confirmed for the show, namely Tetsuya Naito, Shingo Takagi, and Kazuchika Okada.
As things stand, this is the card of the show as we enter Forbidden Door week:
Interim AEW World Title Match | Hiroshi Tanahashi vs. Jon Moxley
IWGP United States Heavyweight Title Match | Will Ospreay (c) vs. Orange Cassidy
AEW Women’s World Title Match | Thunder Rosa (c) vs. Toni Storm
ROH World Tag Team Title / IWGP Tag Team Title Match | FTR (Cash Wheeler & Dax Harwood) (c) vs. United Empire (Great-O-Khan & Jeff Cobb) (c) vs. Roppongi Vice (Rocky Romero & Trent Beretta)
Six-Man Tag Team Match | Eddie Kingston, Shota Umino & Wheeler Yuta vs. The Jericho Appreciation Society (Chris Jericho & Sammy Guevara) & Minoru Suzuki
Plus a match presumably involving Jay White, Adam Cole, and Hangman Adam Page, and possibly Bryan Danielson vs Zack Sabre Jr.
Additionally, some key AEW talent has no match as of now, but I expect at least The Young Bucks to be added, either defending their tag titles or in a multi-person tag involving Red Dragon, NJPW Bullet Club members, probably facing a team including Darby Allin and Sting. I would personally also like to see Keith Lee and Swerve Strickland on the show.
This week is key to getting people excited for the show and rebuilding some goodwill. Jon Moxley vs Hiroshi Tanahashi is a proper main event, but not enough to make it feel like a super show. Bryan Danielson vs Zack Sabre Jr. is a great fanservice match and its confirmation will help the show a lot but we seem to be waiting for Bryan to get a medical clearance. If he is unable to do the show, many replacements are possible, but it’s hard to find one that would bring as much interest. I personally would love to see Wardlow vs Zack Sabre Jr. because Zack works very well with the story of being able to escape and tangle bigger opponents, but this would never be a big marquee match.
In fact, part of the lukewarm reaction to the show seems to be that we’re getting worse matchups than what was teased and/or planned. As of now, not only do we not have Hangman vs Okada but we have no confirmation that Okada will be at the show. Both the Three-Way between Hangman, Cole, and White or a possible White/Cole vs Okada/Hangman tag match are inferior solutions. Bullet Club drama is certainly a tired story and the rivalry between Cole and Hangman seems to be forced back to screen to accommodate whatever match is going to happen.
Another case is the revelation that Ospreay vs Andrade was a planned match that was prevented due to Andrade’s association with AAA, the rival of NJPW’s Mexican partner CMLL. The choice of Orange Cassidy to face Ospreay makes for a match-up that is not being loved by everyone. While Orange should be able to work a great match with Ospreay, his character seems to be a bit stale at this point. He has proved that he can wrestle and win matches, so there is not much for him to do and he is not at a place where the crowd really wants to see him out work and/or humiliate Ospreay.
He is also not someone AEW wants to push or focus on. Swerve has been suggested as an alternative, which would be more interesting. Keith Lee would also be an interesting choice. Jungle Boy would be good but his storyline injury does not recommend it. Many people could have great matches and possible breakout moments against Ospreay, but they haven’t been positioned for it.
So the question is, are AEW and NJPW gonna hit us with some big announcements and matchups this week to build the PPV big, or is this what they are presenting in hopes that the concept will be enough to get people’s attention and the action will overdeliver? I personally think we will have at least one banger announcement that has been kept for the week of the show but we will have to wait and see. Thus far we have 5 Japanese talents on the show, which includes Shota Umino and The Great O’Khan. Obviously not all NJPW roster is Japanese, but the Japanese top stars are in a way the best representatives of the NJPW style, and adding Los Ingobernables de Japón and Okada could help the hype for the show a lot.
Some Quick Takes On The Other Matches For AEW X NJPW: Forbidden Door
– Not enough is being made about both the ROH and IWGP Tag Titles being on the line in the three-way tag team match. The most obvious would be to have FTR winning the IWGP tag belts as well which would be big news. The match itself should be better than people are expecting.
– On the 4 way for the All Atlantic Title, I am also on the team that a new belt was not necessary and, in fact, the discussion about the belt itself seems to be taking away from how good the 4 way is looking. Hindsight is 20/20 but I feel that not announcing this as a belt but simply as a tournament could have avoided this. The winner could then announce that he is willing to put the trophy on the line against challengers from all around the world. This would be particularly fitting of Pac, who I (and many others) think is winning.
– Despite Toni Storm being a former talent and champion in Stardom, her vs Thunder Rosa does not really fit the theme of the show and while I think it is important that the match is in, I wonder how much the crowd will be into it.