When AEW/NJPW Forbidden Door was announced for four weeks after AEW Double or Nothing, completely throwing off AEW’s quarterly pay-per-view schedule, it made a certain kind of sense. After all, if there was any show that you would do that for, it would be the first AEW vs. NJPW super show. And with how NJPW does their booking, a lot of the matches couldn’t be announced until two weeks out from the PPV, after their Dominion super show had taken place and it was clear who would hold what titles on June 26.
It wasn’t the most engaging way to set up a major show, but it was understandable, and some of the fan base had been through it three years ago with G1 Supercard, the combined ROH/NJPW show at Madison Square Garden.
Then shit got weird.
Even setting aside that injuries derailed the plans for two of the biggest matches on the show, CM Punk vs. Hiroshi Tanahashi and Bryan Danielson vs. Zack Sabre Jr., Forbidden Door doesn’t have the feel of a major NJPW show.
It was particularly bleak before this past Wednesday’s edition of Dynamite. Before, aside from Shota Umino, the Japanese talent on the show were those who had worked U.S. independent dates and/or recent NJPW Strong tapings: Hiroshi Tanahashi, Tomohiro Ishii (before he got hurt), Minoru Suzuki, and Great-O-Khan. The biggest stars among the native Japanese wrestlers who are here much more sporadically, like Kazuchika Okada and the key members of Los Ingobernables de Japon (Tetsuya Naito, Shingo Takagi, and Hiromu Takahashi) were nowhere to be found.
That last part has been rectified. Okada appeared on Dynamite as a surprise on Wednesday (to set up his involvement in a four-way match for Jay White’s IWGP World Heavyweight Championship), while Takahashi and Takagi were inserted into an eight man tag where they team with Sting and Darby Allin as Sting’s new “Dudes with Attitudes.” (That moniker is an obvious callback to Sting’s anti-Four Horsemen stable in WCW in 1990, which also included Lex Luger, the Steiner Brothers, El Gigante, Paul Orndorff, and the Junkyard Dog.)
Takahashi was later scratched from the show due to a fever, but these additions helped. They also also illustrated the big problem with the show: that so much of the card feels like one big compromise without a ton of thought put into it.
The Act of Compromise
Okada finally got added to the card on the go-home show, and he’s in the co-main event … but the match is a four-way, something that’s fairly new to NJPW and was just used as a way to get the U.S. Title off of Tanahashi without him eating a pin. Shingo and Hiromu got added during the announcement of the full card … in an exceedingly random, mostly left-field eight man tag that’s now a six man.
There’s still value in the show, and it should still be very good at a minimum, but if this was what we were getting, why was there a rush to squeeze it into such an awkward spot in the AEW and NJPW schedules? Especially when, reportedly, there’s going to be a Ring of Honor pay-per-view from AEW a month after that, with the annual All Out show coming another six weeks after that.
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Doing quarterly pay-per-views has been a huge part of what makes AEW what it is. The booking isn’t perfect, but the major storylines generally get time to breathe, and there isn’t any real need to rush storylines. (That isn’t to say they never get rushed, it’s just not a requirement.)
And yet what was theoretically one of the most anticipated wrestling shows — conceptually speaking, at least — got squeezed into the middle of AEW’s most crowded PPV schedule to date. (As well as happening right in the middle of the gap between Dominion and the start of NJPW’s G1 Climax tournament.) Even if the lineup had higher stakes up and down the card than the diluted-feeling card we’re getting this Sunday, it’s on the spot in the calendar where it’s going to stand out the least.
G1 Supercard Potentially Outshines Forbidden Door
Forbidden Door feels even more out of phase when you look at the last time NJPW did something like this with an American promotion: G1 Supercard at Madison Square Garden three years ago.
That show was also hamstrung by a late announcement of the card for the same reasons as Forbidden Door (waiting for the dust to settle on NJPW’s title matches), but NJPW’s contributions were explicitly at the level of one of their major shows in Japan. Okada vs. White, Naito vs. Kota Ibushi, and Tanahashi vs. Zack Sabre Jr. all had weight and stakes to them, as did the interpromotional matches, all three of which were for titles and two of which were for both ROH and NJPW titles. Sure, the ROH-specific parts of the show lagged far behind the NJPW and ROH vs. NJPW portions, but the bulk of the show delivered on top of feeling like a huge deal.
Forbidden Door, though, doesn’t feel like a huge deal. As more of an explicitly “interpromotional” show than G1 Supercard was, it doesn’t necessarily need the straight-up major NJPW show level of matches that the MSG card had, so it’s not strictly a matter of the card not having any Japanese vs. Japanese (or Japanese vs. non-Japanese NJPW full timer) matches.
But in terms of weight and stakes, there’s still a world of difference, even if you just compare the interpromotional title matches. Moxley vs. Tanahashi is a foregone conclusion, albeit one buoyed by being a legitimate dream match. White vs. Okada vs. Page vs. Cole, though unlikely to feature a title change, is hampered by the stipulations, particularly after the last NJPW four-way having just seen a title change without the champion being pinned. FTR vs. Jeff Cobb and Great-O-Khan vs. Roppongi Vice may have two sets of titles on the line, but one of them is what’s effectively AEW’s secondary tag titles … and Roppongi Vice feel shoehorned in to take the fall.
At G1 Supercard, there was genuine intrigue as to who would win all three of the interpromotional title matches (Will Ospreay vs. Jeff Cobb for the NEVER Openweight and ROH TV Titles, Taiji Ishimori vs. Dragon Lee vs. Bandido for the IWGP Junior Heavyweight Title, and Guerrilas of Destiny vs. Villain Enterprises vs. LIJ vs. The Briscoes for the IWGP Heavyweight and ROH Tag Team Titles). None of those matches were particularly easy to call, and all delivered in the ring. Again: despite its reputation, the bulk of G1 Supercard was an excellent show that lived up to the hype.
About that reputation, though: G1 Supercard is largely remembered as a disaster because of how badly the ROH-only matches came off. It’s unlikely that anything on Forbidden Door will leave the stink that the worst parts of G1 Supercard did, but it also seems less likely to have as many highs as the MSG show. Forbidden Door will almost surely end up being a better-remembered show, but there’s a real chance it may come in behind G1 Supercard as far as overall quality goes. And that just feels weird.