Typically, a post-show column that labels “winners of (insert show title)” also contains a section that includes “losers” of the event in question. However, with a show as good as Forbidden Door, can we really say there were many losers? As much as I would like to write about losers like the people who got upset that Tony Khan gave Claudio Castagnoli a hug; I’m not going to stretch that far for the sake of balance.
AEWxNJPW Forbidden Door was an incredible show from top-to-bottom, and thus I wanted to highlight the people and things that benefitted the most from the show:
It really pays to have Jon Moxley and Chris Jericho looking out for you. As Umino made his way to the ring as part of the opening match on Sunday, NJPW commentator Kevin Kelly hyped up Umino as a super prospect, the next great NJPW wrestler and the heir apparent to Hiroshi Tanahashi and Kazuchika Okada. The praise came off as somewhat off-putting. Really? This guy is getting this kind of hype?
After showing promise as a young lion (and mild popularity to Western audiences thanks to a humorous relationship as Moxley’s Young Lion understudy) Umino disappeared on excursion to the United Kingdom; where he has had a forgettable run on the shriveling UK indies. Reportedly, at one point his physique had gotten so poor that when Umino was flown to the US for a show, NJPW officials decided to pull him from appearing live.
However, his connection with Moxley (and a chance interaction with Jericho during a match at Wrestle Kingdom) set up a natural reason for him to appear in a six-man tag, working with Moxley’s friends against Jericho, Sammy Guevara and Minoru Suzuki. As soon as the bell rang, and the match became built around Umino looking to get revenge on Jericho for humiliating him at Wrestle Kingdom, Kelly’s comments before the match didn’t feel like hyperbole. Umino looked like a future star, and the crowd came unglued when he finally put Jericho in the Walls of Jericho to get his revenge.
Following the match, I don’t see how Umino can go back to the UK. He will now be over as a midcard babyface in AEW, and Jericho throwing a fireball in his face in a post-match angle would suggest there are plans for him in the US. He has a chance to become a star in the US well before he is even asked to be one in Japan, and that opportunity should not be passed up.
Similar to Umino, Connors is a recently-graduated Young Lion who is still looking to establish his identity in the company. Connors has been on a roll of late, working Best of the Super Juniors and getting a singles match against Tomohiro Ishii to decide who would qualify for the All-Atlantic Championship match at Forbidden Door.
With Ishii getting scratched from the show, Connors was pressed into duty as his replacement, which are some mighty big boots to fill. In the match Connors felt like a break-out star; getting the crowd behind him and sliding into some convincing near-falls. Connors getting the ball and running with it puts him at a new level and helps establish him both in NJPW and in the US. He feels miles ahead of his LA Dojo contemporaries Alex Coughlin (squashed by Billy Gunn on the preshow) and Karl Fredericks (suspiciously not on the show).
With the show being a joint-promotion show there were a lot of questions about what the commentary would be. Would there be both AEW and NJPW announcers at the desk? Would all the regular announcers be on the show?
What ended up happening was probably the best commentary team that AEW has produced. Excalibur, Taz and Kevin Kelly were the main commentators with Jim Ross, Tony Schiavone and Caprice Coleman coming in during certain matches. The core three were a fabulous team; Excalibur was the main play-by-play man, with Kelly filling in the gaps as a details guy, and Taz as the former wrestler who geeked out at certain TAZ things like Shingo Takagi popping his hips on throws.
Kelly, as the NJPW representative, was a revelation on the team. Normally, Excalibur is the details guy, who throws out factoids and histories of wrestlers in one giant breath in between calling moves. With Kelly stepping into that role, Excalibur could take a step back and Kelly was able to better communicate those extra details in a friendly manner.
When Schiavone came out; the group laughed their way through the six-man tag match and marking out for Sting. Coleman has been great in his cameos on Dynamite thanks to his boundless enthusiasm for the product. Even Jim Ross, who came onto the broadcast half-way through the show, was better than usual (probably because he was in the bullpen for half the show as opposed to being on the air for five hours).
I was born in 1994; I’m young and never watched Sting in WCW as it was happening. My experience watching Sting live comes from his time in TNA, where he was overpushed as a top singles star, and his burn-the-videotape run in WWE. I never liked Sting, and never understood what made him special.
His AEW run has totally changed my opinion; he’s presented so well, as a legend who is never asked to do anything he can’t do, and isn’t pushed or relied upon to be a top star. Each match he has had has been incredibly fun and exciting, and gotten over with the fans.
His match at Forbidden Door started where he jumped off the entrance ramp, and just took off from there as the crowd ate up every second of it. The Young Bucks and El Phantasmo worked extremely hard to make him look like superman, and the audience was standing for every single spot. He’s a valuable commodity for AEW and his in-ring ability has been a revelation as he is way more competent than anyone could have expected.
Tony Khan really went over-the-top in his promotion of Zack Sabre Jr.’s mystery opponent in the media sessions leading up to the show. Given his promotion, he had to have someone the fans would see as a big star to live up to the hype. Claudio was the rumored name, and there was some debate as to whether he was truly a big enough name to live up to the hype.
When he came out, he got the biggest pop of the night and came across like a gigantic, incredible star. Claudio had a back-and-forth run in WWE; when he was pushed moderately well, he got over and had great matches. When he was buried, he was often forgotten by the fans. The fans in attendance on Sunday saw him as a major star, and he went out and had a great match with Zack Sabre Jr., picking up a decisive win and setting him up as a member of Blackpool Combat Club.
The thing about Claudio is that he has always gotten over when pushed seriously. Unlike in WWE, who famously had him stop doing the giant swing spot because it was getting over with the audience and he was supposed to be a heel, Claudio will be enabled to do his actual best as a performer, which we know is one of the most complete wrestlers of his generation.
AEWxNJPW Forbidden Door 2
Heading into the show, I was not particularly confident in a second supershow between the two promotions. In a media call before the show, Tony Khan sounded frustrated by working with NJPW and not being able to get talent on AEW television sooner. NJPW seemed lackadaisical in its approach to promoting the show, and the build for the show had a ton of issues.
The business behind the show may end up being underwhelming. The lack of hype and the loss of some key names might have hurt the PPV number, and the television viewership for AEW in the weeks leading up to the show was disappointing. The tickets for the show on the secondary market crashed, so despite a sell-out and a million-dollar gate, the tickets for a second show might not have the same kind of demand.
However, Forbidden Door being such a phenomenal show helps build anticipation for a sequel. Even if the business metrics end up being disappointing, there is plenty of reason for optimism that a second show would be more successful. Not only is AEW able to have more star power on a future show, including CM Punk, Kenny Omega, Bryan Danielson and Tetsuya Naito, but AEW fans who were unfamiliar with NJPW talent before the show will have a better understanding of who these men are and what their presence on a show means.
On the latest episode of the Gentlemen’s Wrestling Podcast, Jesse Collings (@Jesse Collings) and Jason Ounpraseuth (@JasonOun95) talk about Vince McMahon stepping down for the time being as WWE CEO and his role on the Board of Directors. The guys talk about the Wall Street Journal article about the Board of Directors investigation into Vince’s relationship with an employee, the impact the story has had, Stephanie McMahon being brought in as interim CEO, a WWE future without Vince McMahon and more.