The final card for AEWxNJPW Forbidden Door has been a significant disappointment to many. As the past month wore on more and more fans expressed frustration with the television build to the event and the absence of dream matches we were expecting became more and more conspicuous. When Tony Khan brought New Japan President Takami Obari out on Dynamite to announce that they would finally be holding the historic interpromotional Supershow many of us have been dreaming about for years, this was very much the implied plan for the event: Supershow, historic, dream matches, etc.
At the time some did caution that politics would play such a role that fans should hold their horses and not get their hopes up for singles dream matches and the like. But what we already know of the original plan for this card betrays the fact that Tony Khan did in fact have the same ambitious expectations for this show that we did. The original main event was to be a legitimate dream match of generational stars in AEW Champion CM Punk’s first title defense, against Hiroshi Tanahashi. The two most celebrated technical wrestlers on the planet were set to lock up in the planned Bryan Danielson vs. Zack Sabre Jr. meeting which was heavily teased on both promotions’ programming. There is every reason to believe if things had gone according to plan that this wouldn’t be the end of the advantages the original card had over the one we’ll ultimately get; it’s fair to assume, for instance, that Jon Moxley would have been booked for something else exciting in its own right.
I imagined the CM Punk vs. Hiroshi Tanahashi and Bryan Danielson vs. Zack Sabre Jr. matches were entirely doable politically and therefore might be on the show. I crossed my fingers and bought tickets to Forbidden Door before a single match was announced. I couldn’t have been more excited to travel out of state for a wrestling show for the first time in my life, and for my part, I would have been satisfied if that was all the show had to offer as far as “dream matches” go. Those two matches between four of my favorite wrestlers may have been the two I’d pick above any other potential matchups.
With a couple of legitimate dream matches established, filling out a Supercard deserving of that distinction would only require a series of matchups pitting high-level wrestlers against each other. Starpower could be a secondary concern as long as we have the sense that we are seeing the highest level of competition in the world of wrestling. This is where the final card for Forbidden Door really falls short.
Adjustments were made to compensate for the unfortunate injuries that have cursed this show, and the Moxley vs. Tanahashi main event, while not on the level of Punk/Tanahashi for marquee value, does fit the bill of a strong main event between legitimate stars and wrestlers deserving of this grand stage. But it’s difficult to argue that this card isn’t sorely lacking in matches that feel like credible competition between top-level workers in their respective spots. The arguable exceptions are the IWGP World Heavyweight Title Match and the ROH/IWGP Tag Team Title match, and the seriousness of those contests feels pretty badly watered down by an excess of contestants. These matches have the potential to be pretty great in their own novel ways, and I’m sure they will be fun.
The All Atlantic Title match would have fit in with that group before Tomohiro Ishii’s injury, but replacing him with Clark Connors seems downright absurd. Regardless of his ability, to say Connors isn’t competitive in the world of NJPW on the level that his three AEW opponents are within their promotion is an understatement and it’s truly baffling knowing that Hirooki Goto is wrestling in a pointless tag squash match on The Buy In when he could have just been slotted in for Ishii. The obvious justification for choosing Connors over someone like Goto for this spot is based in the booking logic of the All Atlantic Title tournament, but adhering so slavishly to this logic that fans are asked to accept as the replacement for Tomohiro goddamn Ishii a guy who did not stand out either in performance or in his point total in last months Best of the Super Juniors tournament is borderline insulting. Nonetheless, I’m sure this four-way match will be fun in its own way.
Booking two four-way matches on this show is itself quite a choice. I’m not a fan of multi-man matches in general, but even with that aside, the fact that Forbidden Door boasts only the second and third men’s four-way matches in the history of AEW television is revealing. This isn’t the way AEW or NJPW like to book, let alone book title matches. So what gives? Politics and paranoia about wrestlers doing jobs and just trying to cram as many guys onto the card as possible may be explanations but they’re not satisfying as rationale. The decision was made to book novel matches rather than competitive ones with stakes that felt compelling for both promotions.
The eight-man tag match between The Elite/BULLET CLUB and Dudes with Attitudes contains within it like a dozen options to make credible competitive matches which each would have been more exciting and satisfying than the match that ultimately was booked. The Bucks vs. Shingo & Hiromu, Darby vs. Hiromu, Shingo & Hiromu vs. Darby & Sting, Darby vs. El Phantasmo; or even, honestly, Darby, Shingo & Hiromu with Sting in their corner vs. The Bucks & El Phantasmo. Let’s get crazy: Shingo vs. Sting. No disrespect intended but why is Hikuleo being given this spot rather than Taiji Ishimori, or Karl Anderson, or Juice Robinson, or KENTA, or even Bad Luck Fale? Fale isn’t necessarily better than Hikuleo but at least he doesn’t feel like a player off of BULLET CLUB’s bench, chosen because nobody else wanted to make the flight. I’m excited to see Shingo for the first time live in person, and I’m sure this eight-man tag will be fun and novel.
Perhaps the most instructive match on the card for examining the distinction between what is and what could have been is the IWGP US Title match. Andrade suggested that the original plan was for him to be the one to challenge Will Ospreay. That is precisely the kind of matchup this event should have sought to promote. Two of the most exceptional athletes in wrestling today, going out there to steal the show in a workrate classic. Whether it was truly politics that got in the way of that awesome idea coming to fruition or it was simply not the plan, what we’re getting instead is not in the same category of match.
A lot of people have continued to hype Ospreay vs. Orange Cassidy as a likely great match and possible show-stealer, and while I expect them to have a killer match, that isn’t really the point. The reason this isn’t the match many fans imagined for Ospreay at this event is that it’s not a serious competitive matchup. Everyone who cares to be honest about it these days acknowledges that Cassidy can go, but he is also a comedy character who is not typically booked as a serious top-level title contender in AEW, and that is a good thing. He’s utilized well in his position. I’m not even sure I want to suspend my disbelief far enough to believe he could beat Ospreay. Shoehorning him into a Serious Title Match with a Serious Super Worker is a strange move on a card that is visibly hurting for serious competitive wrestling despite two rosters full of the absolute best workers on the planet at the bookers’ disposal. This is not a Supershow matchup, it’s a novelty show matchup, and that’s the problem. I’m sure this match will be a lot of fun, in its own novel way, and I hope they go out there and kill it.
Without hammering this point too many more times, it’s clear looking up and down the card that this analysis holds. The attraction of the trios match is not the competitive stakes but the novelty of seeing Jericho and Suzuki team up. I’m sure it’s going to be a lot of fun.
Hopefully, Zack Sabre Jr. vs. The Blackpool Combat Club’s mystery man will fit the bill of serious competition between high-level workers in comparable spots, but we don’t know, because Tony Khan opted for the Big Surprise Debut Pop rather than giving us a solid wrestling match to be excited for.
A great deal of criticism has been hurled at the failures and missteps of the television build to this event and a lot of it isn’t worth rehashing at this point. The show appears to be set to do PPV business relatively consistent with other recent AEW PPVs and that is good news for those of us who want to see them take another crack at this and make a serious Supercard on the next go. But the one decision that I can’t square and which I hope is strongly reconsidered for any such event going forward concerns the non-program between Hangman Adam Page and Kazuchika Okada.
Two weeks in a row on AEW Dynamite Hangman Page stood in the middle of the ring and challenged Kazuchika Okada to a singles match. It should not have come as a surprise to anyone in either company that this sounded like a great idea to most fans, and throwing it out there just to take it away would not be a cool move. In both cases, Adam Cole interrupted Page’s challenge. Far from generating excitement for a multi-man match featuring all three men, the main result of this decision was to create a wild online backlash against Adam Cole for inserting himself into an extremely exciting singles matchup.
If the plan was not to run Okada vs. Page, the match should never have been teased. Do not get my hopes up and then deliver a disappointing consolation prize and expect me to be satisfied. If Okada vs. Page was in the works, then why the cold feet? I have no sympathy for the idea that Page could not have suffered a loss in this scenario. This does not reflect the reality of modern wrestling fans, especially not the AEW audience who value so highly in-ring performance. Page losing to a guy who is, judging by the reaction to his Dynamite debut, recognized as a legend in his own time in what should have been a classic confrontation would actually have been good for Page. It would have been another entry on the list of achievements that marks 2022 as the year the Hangman became one of the best wrestlers in the world, and the loss would have been motivating for his character, as every loss he’s suffered in AEW has been. The audience has been firmly behind Page for long enough and through enough failure and heartache to trust that they’d respond positively to an understandable booking concession.
There is a lack of imagination, a lack of confidence, and a lack of either trust in, or respect for the AEW fanbase that permeates the final card for this supposed Supershow. Where tough decisions had to be made, or deals had to be negotiated, it appears there were instead punts and copouts. Fun diversions were booked in the place of sincere attempts to create something grand and bold and visionary.
I’m still excited to be attending this show and I expect to have a really fun time, but I can’t help but think I could have been present for an historically great show, and I simply don’t believe this card has that potential anymore. I hope the next one, should it come to pass, reaches those heights.