Here’s the scary thing about “Forbidden Door”: AEW and New Japan Pro-Wrestling put on one of the best pure wrestling shows of the year and it could have been much better.
Injuries left a number of both companies’ top stars — Kenny Omega, Bryan Danielson, CM Punk, Tomohiro Ishii, Hiromu Takahashi and Tetsuya Naito — unavailable to perform in their first-ever joint show in Chicago on Sunday. (AEW also announced Grand Slam’s return to Arthur Ashe Stadium on Sept. 21.)
The tremendous depth of talent they did have certainly made up for it in the ring, though the show hit some bumps late and felt like it lacked a compelling story or moment it will be remembered for. Still, it gave fans something to look forward to if it comes back as planned next year — maybe in New York next time? — hopefully with better health and storylines greater than just title matches. It also helps that AEW president Tony Khan announced the show generated more than $1.1 million in ticket sales and 100,000 in pay-per-view buys. So consider the show’s debut a success.
Here are five takeaways from “Forbidden Door”:
Aced the Test
Jon Moxley seemingly got everything he deserved. After spending his entire first title reign performing in front of zero fans, he became the first man to get a second go with the belt as he defeated Hiroshi Tanahashi — the competitor he’s been chasing for years — in a very good main event. The physical clash blended Moxley’s brawling style with Tanahashi’s more traditional one very well. It ended with a blood-covered Moxley hitting an emphatic Death Rider DDT to beat New Japan’s ace and become interim AEW world champion. Tanahashi did actually get the Chicago crowd behind him chanting “Let’s go Ace” after the numerous near falls late. But the outcome sets up the possibility of a clash between Moxley and CM Punk whenever Punk returns from injury to unify the titles.
The post match brawl between the two sides set to take square off at Blood Guts on Wednesday felt like it took away from Moxley’s victorious moment — even if we got a full swing from a debuting Claudio Castagnoli. I knew why it had to happen, but we just saw something similar to end Dynamite going into “Forbidden Door” and didn’t need it again. It made the shows last impression feel more like a go-home show than a pay-per-view.
Bullet Club is Fine?
The New Japan wing certainly is, but its relations with its former members in the Undisputed Elite may not be. The Young Bucks and El Phantasmo lost their match to Sting, Darby Allin and Shingo Takagi. (As an aside, it is so much fun watching Sting right now, whether it’s his entrance giving a nod to his time in the rafters, him jumping off the top of the entrance tunnel or getting a fist-bump from Takagi after doing his backdrop-flop.)
The tensions between the Bullet Club-rooted groups grew even more when Jay White pinned Adam Cole to win the four-way match that also included “Hangman” Adam Page and Kazuchika Okada to retain his IWGP world heavyweight championship. White, whom Cole also turned on during the match, walked right by an angry Young Bucks and Kyle O’Reilly on the ramp. Cole, who was already wrestling a shoulder injury, was reportedly hurt during the match, leading to a bit of a wonky finish. White just grabbed Cole from the corner, rolled him over and pinned him. Cole didn’t seem to be the same after a dropkick and a follow up move by Okada. It will be interesting to see if the storyline anger has a ripple effect between the Elite and Bullet Club moving forward.
Swinging Back Into Action
The mystery replacement for Bryan Danielson was exactly who fans hoped. It was Claudio Castagnoli, formerly Cesaro, who would take on and defeat Zack Sabre Jr. in a super technical match. The King of Swing got a huge pop from the Chicago crowd — and plenty of tweets from WWE talent, including Becky Lynch — in his first appearance since letting his WWE contract run out in February. He showed off his signature strength, carrying Sabre Jr. up the ring steps and then bumping him over the top rope.
What’s more interesting is what happens next as Castagnoli is the newest member of the Blackpool Combat Club in a dream pairing with Moxley, Danielson and William Regal. Khan said during the post-show media scrum that he originally talked to Castagnoli about debuting at Ring of Honor’s upcoming “Death Before Dishonor” show. So there is a chance he does some stuff with ROH. Either the All-Atlantic or TNT championships feel like they should be around his waist at some point.
Also, Eddie Kingston has a long-documented, on-screen hatred for Castagnoli but the two will have to coexist during “Blood and Guts” on Wednesday. The Jericho Appreciation Society will have the man advantage after Chris Jericho, Sammy Guevara and Minoru Suzuki defeated Kingston, Wheeler Yuta and Shota Umino in an excellent opener.
Sorry Young Bucks and Usos, but FTR is the best tag team in the world right now and up there with some of the best ever with the current run they are on. Cash Wheeler and Dax Harwood have won seven different tag team championships from the top wrestling companies in the world. They now hold the AAA, ROH and IWGP heavyweight titles after defeating the teams of Jeff Cobb-Great-O-Khan and Rocky Romero-Trent Beretta on Sunday. Each team was given moments where you thought they would win before FTR hit the Big Rig to bring home the New Japan belts.
The reaction a taped-up Harwood got after coming back into the match after a potential storyline injury just further hammered home how big of a 180 FTR has done from heels to babyfaces just by the sheer quality of their work. It feels like a potential winner-take-all match with Matt and Nick Jackson – the AEW world champions – would be possible at “All Out.”
We knew Orange Cassidy vs. Will Ospreay for the IWGP United States championship had show-stealing potential and it delivered on all it of it. Ospreay had his way with and mocked Cassidy early to build heat and it only made the gorgeous strings of combos and counter wrestling that followed that much more meaningful. They followed that with numerous false finishes with Cassidy kicking out of a Hidden Blade and Ospreay not getting pinned after a Stundog Millionaire. The match only reminded people of Cassidy’s endless potential as a babyface. It all ended with the surprise return of the legendary Katsuyori Shibata, who has wrestled sparingly recently due to injury, to save Cassidy from an attack by Ospreay and United Empire.
PAC over Miro, Malaki Black and Clark Connors (All-Atlantic Championship)
Becoming the first-ever All-Atlantic champion and beating Miro and Malaki Black to do so, felt like the individual moment we have been waiting for PAC in AEW. He even was able to survive Miro’s Game Over hold. Except for the very early stages of the company, PAC has been occupied with a lot of faction feuds and multi-man matches. It will certainly be refreshing to get him in singles action more. For Black at least, it means a singles run for him will have wait with the focus still on the House of Black.
Thunder Rosa over Toni Storm to retain the AEW women’s championship
This was Rosa’s best title defense and probably Storm’s best match in AEW so far. This was physical and just high-impact move after high-impact move. Nothing wasted here as they also took this outside the ring. Rosa used mentor Dustin Rhodes’ Final Reckoning for the finish as AEW continues to play into the bond between the two.
Swerve Strickland and Keith Lee over Suzuki-gun (Buy In preshow)
Ricky Starks and Will Hobbs laid down a challenge to the winners after the match
Gunn Club and Max Caster over Yuya Uemura, Alex Coughlin, The DKC, and Kevin Knight (Buy In preshow)
Danhausen appeared on the video screen and debuted a new “Ass Boys” song for The Gunn Club.
Bishamon over QT Marshall and Aaron Solo (Buy In preshow)
Lance Archer over Nick Commoroto (Buy In preshow)
Biggest Winners: Jon Moxley, FTR
Biggest Loser: Malaki Black
Match of the Night: Orange Cassidy vs. Will Ospreay