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AEWxNJPW Forbidden Door Roundtable

Tony Khan's latest big announcement didn't disappoint with a AEW and NJPW supershow announced for June 26 at the United Center and with tickets due to go on sale, we have have accumulated the best minds at Pro Wrestling Musings ( and me) to answer the big questions about the June spectacular.

Q1- Let's play matchmaker. Give me 3 realistic matches for the Forbidden Door card. When I say realistic, Kenny Omega might not be ready for June 27 so Omega vs Okada probably isn't happening?

[Tim] Not having watched a full NJPW show I can’t say that I’m well versed in their roster. That said, many of the workers have reputations that have preceded them so I’m still excited for potential matchups. The only requirement that I have to justify buying the PPV is to have PAC on the card, so first up I would want to see PAC vs. Shingo Takagi. Now we have to have Okada featured as he’s the biggest NJPW star of the last decade. Okada vs. Andrade could be an instant 5-star classic and provide a high profile match-up that Andrade hasn’t had so far in AEW. Lastly, even though he had a quick cup of coffee already in AEW, Jeff Cobb is a personal favourite of mine so I’d like to see Cobb vs. Powerhouse Hobbs just for the beefiness of that matchup.

[Dan] Not knowing what deal has been struck between the two promotions, it’s fairly tricky to know what is ‘realistic’ for this show, but I’m verging on the side of optimism that they’ll want to give us some big matches. Firstly for me I’d love to see CM Punk v Tetsuya Naito. I’m not even sure why this feels right, but I just think their unique in-ring personalities would absolutely light up the card. Naito’s swagger would be a perfect counter to this ultra-serious ‘wrestler’s wrestler’ that Punk is currently portraying, and inside the ropes I think their styles would mesh wonderfully. Plus, with the show being in Chicago, Naito could properly heel it up for the first time in a while.

Secondly I’d go for Bryan Danielson against Will Ospreay. There are matches I’d prefer to see for Danielson (Okada and ZSJ to name just two) but I’m not sure whether we’ll get either of those on this show. Ospreay however has already worked a wonderful clash of styles match with Jon Moxley this year, and I think this could be another one to grace Forbidden Door. Also, I’d really really love to see Ospreay put in the Cattle Mutilation.

Finally, there is the potential for an absolutely epic heel v face dynamic if you put MJF up against Hiroshi Tanahashi. In terms of good guys, Tana is the purest one that NJPW have on their books, and MJF continues to be the embodiment of evil in AEW. In addition the age gap gives MJF huge scope to attack The Ace, and even if there isn’t time for pre-match story-building, these two would get the crowd on their feet within seconds of the bell ringing.

[Peter] Considering the show is in Chicago, CM Punk has to be on the show and the perfect opponent has to be KENTA in a battle of the GTS. Politically, it’s easy to book KENTA to lose and hypothetically speaking, should Punk lose his world title match at Double or Nothing, it’s a perfect way to get Punk back on the route to getting a second title shot.

Any show called the Forbidden Door needs the inventor of the phrase Hiroshi Tanahashi on it and despite Tana going down the match order on the card in the pandemic era of NJPW, he is a legend in the eyes of fans in America. So, let's put Hiroshi Tanahashi in a top match and his perfect opponent has to be someone like Darby Allin. As we saw at All Out in his match against CM Punk, Darby is the type that doesn’t come across badly when he loses. With the risk of going off-piste, I’m 100% sure Darby is getting his win back against CM Punk down the line just like he did against Cody Rhodes. The way Tony books his younger stars, they end up learning from their losses and coming back better after setbacks so Darby can lose and maybe in a future Forbidden Door show get his win back against Tanahashi.

Now let’s be honest, Forbidden Door is for the wrestling nerds like me who love AEW and NJPW and as a wrestling nerd who subscribes to the Wrestling Observer, a match between Bryan Danielson and Zack Sabre. Jr, who between them have won the Bryan Danielson Award for Best Technical Wrestler every year since 2005 would be heaven for me.

You know what, I’m in charge of this roundtable so I can break my own rules so I’m including a fourth match. One thing AEW and NJPW have in common is factions. Both companies see wrestlers aligned with various groups, so let’s take advantage of this with a three way trios tag team match. Chaos (Trent Barretta, Rocky Romero and Tomohiro Ishii vs Bullet Club/Elite (Young Bucks and El Phantasmo) vs LIJ/AFO (Tetsuya Naito, Sanada and Andrade El Idolo, who was a member of LIJ when in NJPW).

(Sam) I get the feeling there will be a surprising amount of multi-man matches, six-man tags for instance as it’s a predominant feature of NJPW and allows some dream matches to be hinted at without shooting their load early. The first I think could be a Six-Man Tag Team Match featuring the Blackpool Combat Club, the trio of Bryan Danielson, Jon Moxley and Wheeler Yuta, taking on a trio of badasses who have the technical and aggressive natures required to match them. My thought would be Minoru Suzuki, Tomohiro Ishii, and Zack Sabre Jr, with a main focus on ZSJR going face to face with Danielson in a technical tease. I could see Yuta being the one to take the fall, to continue his journey at becoming a legitimate main eventer, while Danielson will want revenge against ZSJR.

Next, I reckon there will be a possible singles match between two unlikely individuals, which is Hiroshi Tanahashi and MJF. The reason why is because you have the quintessential hero and the most despicable heel, however more than that, it’s an opportunity to show the faith in MJF, as I feel this is a match he could legitimately win in a manner that still makes Tanahashi look strong. The loss will symbolise a realisation in Tanahashi that he is not the Ace he used to be, and it could push him to have a final tour of proving himself still the best, including massive matches against Moxley, Danielson, Page, etc.

Finally, I don’t think you will see champions versus champions. Instead, you might see some of the main champions defend their titles against major challenges, maybe Okada defending against Adam Cole for instance, but the big one I would love to see…is Adam Page defending his AEW World Title against Jay White. The cleancut hero and the underhanded villain, but White is possibly the biggest challenge possible as he’s a former IWGP World Champion who regularly appears in AEW, so a title switch is not impossible.

[Joe] Hangman Adam Page vs Will Ospreay: With Hangman turning 31 this summer and Ospreay turning 29 this week, this a chance to catch these all-time in-ring greats in their athletic primes, the current world champ vs the former world champ, opposed in defined babyface and heel roles, who have very opposite personas, speak the same language and can build to the match with promos that don’t have to be pre-taped if schedules would allow for Ospreay to make some Dynamites.

Darby Allin TEAMING with Hiromu Takahashi: I’ve seen people fantasy book them facing each other, but I’d have much more FUN as a fan watching these two cruiserweight daredevils torpedo a mixed AEWxNJPW team of heels. Some Sting and Daryl interaction could make for some great GIFs.

Ishii vs Miro: The Big E special of the night. Big meaty men slappin’ meat. Once again, Babyface vs heel as well to keep it clean for my rooting interests. Wrestling is more fun for me when I have a clear side to support and a clear side to oppose.

Honorable Mentions presented without comment to save time: Bryan Danielson vs Kazuchika Okada, Jeff Cobb vs Samoa Joe, Young Bucks vs Aussie Open, Shingo vs Yuta, Kingston vs White, and Orange Cassidy vs Naito in a match that never really starts and never really ends (Who Cares Less?).

Q2- Forbidden Door will be a fifth PPV in the AEW calendar and with the event happening a month after Double or Nothing, do you fear that this is the start of a trend regarding oversaturation of AEW PPVs or is adding more best for business for All Elite Wrestling?

[Tim] Forbidden Door is going to feature several exhibition matches with minimal storylines behind them so I feel that this isn’t going to dilute the AEW brand noticeably. I really like that AEW PPVs are quarterly as this provides ample time to build feuds and get that hype machine pumping. The one thing that could be diluted is the Chicago area fan base as Forbidden Door will be followed by All Out which traditionally has had its home in Chicago. My suggestion would be to relocate All Out for this year, preferably St. Louis (who missed out on Full Gear 2021) or Seattle (for purely selfish reasons).

[Dan] As Tim says, I suspect there won’t be a huge amount of ‘build’ to this event, with the names being put against each other used to sell the show on their own. So in that sense it probably won’t feel like the existing AEW PPVs. I certainly hope it isn’t trending towards AEW having much more than 4 PPVs per year. Those shows currently feel very special when they come around, and more ‘big’ shows will only dilute that. AEW do a fairly good job currently of building up their ‘themed’ Dynamite shows as a big deal within which shorter term stories can be conducted and completed, and I would much prefer they continue that approach.

[Peter] I was a big proponent of 6 PPVs a year for AEW around the end of 2019/beginning of 2020. November/December 2019 was not good creatively for AEW with the hangover of Full Gear and Revolution being a couple of months away. Tony Khan has remedied that with themed Dynamites such as New Year's Smash and Fyter Fest but as will be mentioned in Question 4, I don’t think Forbidden Door is going to be a one-off. I think we will see 5 PPV’s a year going forward and while TK is the nerd wrestling fan that has his own wrestling company, he is also a businessman and if it makes sense to go to six PPV’s, he’ll do it starting 2023/2024.

(Sam) No chance. AEW has made a decision to go with four PPVs a year, when it would have made sense to start off with monthly PPVs for quick major events to earn money. Instead, they stuck to four major PPVs to make them feel like real major events, and in the meantime, worked to make weekly shows feel like a big deal, i.e. St Patrick’s Day Slam, Blood & Guts, New Year’s Smash, etc. Now we’ve seen a gradual increase with Battle of the Belts, which are only one hour shows and nowhere near the grandeur of the supercards, intentionally, because they are like mini-PPVs. Forbidden Door is more akin to the World Cup every four years whereas the others are the cup runs, this is a unique experience specifically to award fans. This may be a one-off, it may become a recurring event, but for the moment, this is more than a supercard, it’s a thank you to the fans.

[Joe] No I am not worried about the number of PPVs at this point, but the spacing could use work. Forbidden Door would work much better for AEW in July, but I’m guessing that the G1 does not allow for that in this instance. I do agree, even as a Chicagoan, that All Out should take a 1-year-hiatus somewhere else, potentially giving NYC their first AEW PPV in Arthur Ashe.

[Gareth] Not oversaturation, no. I think AEW could easily go to six PPVs and it would actually be beneficial, so long as the shows have a unique feeling. If Forbidden Door were to become an annual thing, it’s something totally different from your usually scheduled AEW programming.

With Grand Slam also there, AEW could have two big attraction events alongside their traditional PPVs, which I think is a great calendar for them!

Q3- Let's talk about the elephant in the room. With no women's division in NJPW, a crossover match between the two companies can't happen but a women's match or two does need to happen. So how would you get a women's match onto the card?

*NOTE* This question was included before the news that Stardom would not be featuring at Forbidden Door because of scheduling conflicts.

[Tim] Stardom is technically a sister company to NJPW (both being owned by Bushiroad card company) so it’s a no-brainer to me that some Stardom talent will make an appearance. I know less about Stardom than I do NJPW so I don’t know who would be a good fit but anyone vs. Thunder Rosa would be great.

[Dan] This one is absolutely packed full of complexities the likes of me and my small brain can’t hope to pick through, but whatever happens I don’t think AEW can afford to put on a show that doesn’t feature any women. Taken in the context of the largely justified criticism of their women’s division, it would be an absolute PR own-goal to ignore the women at Forbidden Door.

I understand the issue with Stardom is that they currently have a PPV of their own scheduled for that date, so I’m not sure how many of their roster would actually be available for the AEW equivalent. But it only takes a couple of people to come across and with some big names in Stardom potentially not being in major stories come June, there will hopefully be scope for something to happen. Mayu Iwatani seems like the most obvious candidate as she starts to take a step back from the main title scene in Stardom, and a match between Mayu and Thunder Rosa would likely be absolutely superb.

Of course there is also the existing TJPW relationship so if the politics of that can be negotiated (they are owned by a competitor to Bushiroad who own NJPW and Stardom), we know that AEW crowds would love to see Maki Itoh return.

[Peter] As Dan said, AEW cannot afford to not have a women’s match at Forbidden Door. It just would not be good optics for AEW. So, what do AEW do? Stardom, the top Joshi promotion and the second biggest promotion in Japan according to many metrics is owned by Bushiroad but with a scheduling conflict, an appearance by Stardom seems unlikely now.

But NGL I don’t want to see an AEW vs Stardom women’s yet. Hot-take time, the quality difference between Stardom and the women of AEW is quite large at the moment so maybe by the time Forbidden Door 2 happens, that gap might be narrowed and we can have a Stardom vs AEW women’s match or maybe just a couple of exhibition trios match involving the talent of Stardom in their own 6-women and the AEW women in their own trios match.

As for June, maybe Hikaru Shida, a returning Riho and Yuka Sakazaki can face Serena Deeb and two others in a trios match with Thunder Rosa facing a talent from TJPW if politics allow it.

(Sam) Hmm, fair point. If Stardom can’t be involved, I think there will be maybe two or three major matches, similar to the inaugural 2019 edition of Double Or Nothing, where you have a major six-woman tag match, and two matches for the AEW Women’s and TBS Championship. However, the main difference will be a huge influx of Joshi talent, such as Emi Sakura, Hikaru Shida, Riho, Yuka Sakazaki, Ryo Mizunami, Maki Itoh, Aja Kong, to keep to the spirit of the show.

Q4- Hopefully Forbidden Door is the start of a beautiful relationship between AEW and NJPW. The question I ask is what things would you want to see out of the “special relationship” between the two companies?

[Tim] Ultimately I hope this paves the way towards AEW talent working a show in Japan. I love the Tokyo Dome. Even more so I love Korakuen Hall and the prestige that it carries as a venue. I would enjoy seeing multiple AEW talent wrestle in the same venues that housed the greats like Misawa, Kobashi, and Giant Baba. For someone like Eddie Kingston who idolised Misawa I imagine this would be an amazing career accomplishment.

[Dan] There is so much potential for this relationship which I think is why people are so excited. On the simple side of things, we can hopefully continue to see NJPW talent turning up on Dynamite and Rampage for short periods as we’ve seen with Jay White, Tomohiro Ishii and Minoru Suzuki recently. There’s also scope for NJPW wrestlers to enter the Owen Hart tournament, but perhaps more importantly it offers the potential of AEW wrestlers entering this year’s NJPW G1 Climax. It’s fair to say that interest in NJPW from ‘the West’ has waned over the pandemic, and this could give the tournament a much-needed shot in the arm.

On a wider-scale, we now have a situation where there are links of various sorts between AEW, NJPW, NOAH, DDT, Impact, Ring of Honor, Stardom and TJPW (and I’m sure I’ve forgotten a few others). It really does feel like a proper shift in how wrestling works after so long of one company trying to monopolise the entire industry. Hopefully Forbidden Door is another step in creating an incredible international platform for wrestling.

[Peter] As hinted earlier, I’m very very sure that Forbidden Door will be a yearly show and I don’t think it’ll be a once a year show either.

Pre-pandemic, NJPW and CMLL would hold a joint series of shows held in Japan called Fantastica Mania as part of their working relationship. But despite CM Punk’s tweet referencing CMLL and Bryan Danielson openly talking about having working CMLL in Arena Mexico on his bucket list, the truth is the best quote to describe CMLL is to quote Jay Sherman. “It Stinks”. Dave Meltzer called them the Worst Promotion of 2021. They are a distant second to AAA in Mexico right now. It would make no sense for NJPW to have CMLL over when the company is ice cold right now. So why not have AEW take over from CMLL and do a series with NJPW in Japan. AEW could do a Dynamite in Sumo Hall during the week they are in Japan. It feels like a logical step for both companies to take.

(Sam) This year, NJPW for the first time ever had three nights of Wrestle Kingdom. I like to believe this was a practice run for next year, where the third night of WK is AEW vs NJPW, building upon matches from the Forbidden Door. I want to see NJPW representatives appear in Casino Ladder Matches, the Owen Hart Tournaments, have AEW talents appear in the G1 Climax and New Japan Cup. My dream would be something similar to the Crockett Cup, but here it’s a sixteen team tournament where you have one AEW rep and one NJPW rep tag together. Imagine the sort of teams, Ospreay and Fenix, Hangman and Tanahashi, PAC and Ishii, etc, and have it the winning team, both members can challenge for either the AEW or IWGP Championship…

[Joe] I want to see NJPW wrestlers in the AEW video game, AEW wrestlers in the G1, talent trades to keep things fresh, and I want both companies to work with OTT Wrestling in Ireland in addition to Rev Pro as their European base middle ground. I think a Dynamite in Japan also sounds great, but I would wait until fans can make noise again.


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