The Best of AEW x NJPW Forbidden Door
For all the talk of the big names absent from AEW x NJPW’s supershow Forbidden Door: including AEW World Champion CM Punk, Bryan Danielson, LIJ’s Tetsuya Naito and Hiromu Takahashi, and most notably, Kenny Omega; one thing that wasn’t absent was a top-tier professional wrestling show. It was a spectacle of high quality matches, great pacing, and both promotions’ ability to pivot around to produce a show this good despite an unfortunate plague of illness and injuries. In this list, we celebrate the 5 best things that the much-anticipated Forbidden Door PPV got right.
Despite a sizeable Buy-In contributing a hefty hour to an already stacked main card (we’ll get to the praises, I promise), the sequencing of matches throughout the night helped create a steady, easy pace to follow.
In New Japan Pro Wrestling, as with most Japanese promotions, cards typically begin with Young Lions or rookies, and matches with less stakes to them, then gradually moving up to bigger matches with titles on the line. AEW in particular benefitted greatly from this set-up, mostly going from banger multiman openers, to steadily introducing titles like the new All-Atlantic Championship in Match 3, and the World Tag Team Championship in the star-studded trios match that followed.
The middle saw several strong one-on-one matches (including a big surprise debut), broken up with a giant four-way for the IWGP World Heavyweight Championship, a little deviation before the heart and soul of the entire show, Jon Moxley vs Hiroshi Tanahashi for the interim AEW World title.
(4) Claudio Castagnoli’s surprise debut
The whole build to the Zack Sabre Jr match had people buzzing until the very end, with the terrible injury plague running around. ZSJ’s open challenge to Bryan Danielson had been acknowledged by commentators on Rampage, but the following week on Dynamite, Danielson revealed that he would unfortunately not be cleared in time for Forbidden Door.
Instead, he promised a replacement (and new addition to Blackpool Combat Club) that wouldn’t let us down. No cryptic teasing, nothing more. It did what it needed to do, which was to allow the internet to run down the list of free agents with a connection to Danielson and William Regal. And out came Claudio Castagnoli, the most complete wrestling machine, to put on a great technical match against the king of technical wrestling.
Let things play out organically. Let pro wrestling breathe.
(3) Singles matches
Forbidden Door’s singles matches were absolutely on fire. Thunder Rosa versus Toni Storm for the Women’s World title was the best defense of Rosa’s reign, and one of the best women’s matches all year. For a supposed lethargic guy, Orange Cassidy seems to be the king of one-on-one matches with 1-2 weeks of build, from the iconic Pac match at Revolution 2020, to this show-stealer against Will Ospreay match in 2022. Zack Sabre Jr v Claudio Castagnoli was one of the biggest question marks heading into the PPV, but the technical spectacle that the we ended up getting was never in question (quick shoutout to that top rope octopus hold, my God).
Finally, Jon Moxley has been on a tear this year, especially in singles matches against the likes of Wheeler Yuta and Daniel Garcia (and to those who have been following him outside AEW, against the likes of Biff Busick and “Speedball” Mike Bailey). Moxley brought that signature Jon Moxley blood-fight to the Ace of NJPW, Hiroshi Tanahashi. Tana’s second rope bombs and big High Fly Flows to the inside and outside were on point, and Moxley answered with his brand of dirty technical wrestling, to give us a match that exceeded expectations and a great way to close out the show.
(2) The team of Excalibur, Kevin Kelly, and Taz
Excalibur, Kevin Kelly, and Taz was an A+ commentary team, and the best commentary team AEW has ever produced. Having 2 great play-by-play guys on the same team doesn’t read like it would do well, but when those 2 are the most excellent commentators in the game today, and have the charm to accentuate the fun of unbridled professional wrestling, then those norms tend to not matter.
AEW fans often talk about the chemistry of Excalibur and Taz on Dark as a lighthearted duo, but it is imperative that we talk about Ex’s chemistry with Kevin Kelly, as well, the banter between those two akin to old friends trying to fill the other in on their favorite brand of wrestling in the most wholesome way possible. Kelly’s role was primarily to provide backgrounds and insights into the NJPW talent, but hearing him call AEW action, you’d think he’s been with the company for years.
Add in the best color commentator today, Taz, who can go from offering insight on submission wrestling and moves that lead to more understated injuries, to chuckling at anyone getting hit “in the yam bags” whenever he decides to go on Dark mode (which is a lot), and you have a team that makes already fun, promising wrestling that much more fun to watch. Give them their flowers; these men deserve it.
(1) Multiman tag matches
Is it too soon to call Chris Jericho/Sammy Guevara/Minoru Suzuki versus Eddie Kingston/Wheeler Yuta/Shota Umino the best PPV opener in AEW history? (I’ll say it anyway.) Kingston and the Blackpool Combat Club’s protégés took the fight to the super unlikely partnership between Suzuki and Jericho (much more Suzuki and Guevara), who proved to be excellent antagonizers and bullies to the fighting underdogs.
The second most-hyped match of the event (behind the main event) nearly died a quick death, with Dax Harwood being taken to the back early in the match with a shoulder injury scare. All the work the remaining teams, United Empire, Roppongi Vice, and a lone Cash Wheeler to represent FTR, had done might as well had been for nought once Harwood came storming back, taped-up shoulders and all, to the roar of the crowd. As impressive as the UE giants were, and as effortless as Roppongi Vice make wrestling look, there was no stopping FTR on this night, who won the IWGP Tag Team belts in one of the biggest moments of the night.
For one night only, World Tag Team Champions Young Bucks teamed with El Phantasmo as Bullet Club, to take on, as per Kevin Kelly, Los Stingobernables de Japon (Shingo Takagi, Sting, Darby Allin), in one of the most fun matches of the entire night. The Shingo/Sting LIJ salute was a wholesome little visual few people probably thought wrestling would produce. ELP’s back rake antics and attacking of Sting’s nipples were unironically a highlight of the match. Young Bucks just being in Bullet Club at all was sorely missed. This match was high-octane fun when the chains came off, and was definitely Sting’s best match in AEW thus far.
Multi-person matches are a consistent highlight of AEW programming, and Forbidden Door was when they were showcased best. Time will tell when these matches knock down doors to the PPV main event scene. Here’s to hoping.