We’re going to switch things up here since honestly I just don’t know enough about New Japan to grade match quality or star power. If your first thought is ‘How does that differ from your usual reviews?’, well then you got some nerve buddy. Also, you might be right.
We’ll discuss the build and also how ‘open’ the Forbidden Door is for each contest:
• Kick in the door wavin’ the 4-4
• Wide Open
• Creaking Open
• Padlocked Shut
Since that’s the whole point of the show right? We’re supposed to be shown things we never thought we’d see.
And these matches are in descending order of my personal interest.
Bryan Danielson vs Kazuchika Okada
Door rating: Kick in the door wavin’ the 4-4
This match is everything this show’s supposed to be.
Big stars and top-class wrestlers facing off in matches that might otherwise never have happened.
AEW probably throw the ‘Dream Match’ tag around too often. In fact, they don’t really do ‘less is more’ full-stop. But in this case we have a grade-one, bonafide, 5* Dream Match.
Two of the best in the world; two of the best of all-time.
And it ‘went home’ Wednesday with a nice little angle. Okada arriving to a superstar response and firing a warning shot by blasting Danielson’s teammate with a Rainmaker after the Dragon barely avoided one himself.
The only quibble is that this is such a big match that it should’ve been allowed a proper fifteen minutes all to itself. With Danielson explaining exactly why he wants it, what he’s trying to prove, who Okada is and why he’s special. Keeping the crowd waiting for the inevitable coin drop to build the drama.
Instead, the Dragon barely held the microphone, piggybacking off another segment to squeak a few words out before rushing to the angle.
Though even these minor complaints only prove the larger point. This match could’ve been set-up by Danielson crashing through a prop-wall with a sparkly helmet on, and fans would still be anticipating it like hungry dogs given steak.
In fact, if either of these top two matches aren’t on end-of-year lists, something’s gone badly wrong. With the slight caveat that Danielson, Omega and Ospreay are all apparently banged up.
When it comes to who’s winning – the Yes! man is notoriously unselfish and giving New Japan’s biggest star the win should buy AEW capital to spend elsewhere. And even build up a return overseas. Perhaps even sparking a series to rival Omega/Okada.
WINNER: Kazuchika Okada
Kenny Omega vs Will Ospreay (IWGP US Title)
Door rating: Kick in the door wavin’ the 4-4
On the subject of all-time rivalries and dream matches…
One could pretty much copy and paste the above and stick it right here. The only differences being:
• It’s not a first-time meeting
• The build on AEW tv was almost nonexistent
Regarding the former, that’s not necessarily a bad thing when the first was so critically acclaimed. On the latter, while it didn’t have a show-long build or mic time, they basically showed Ospreay being desperate to win. Willing to do anything. Whether striking from behind or aligning with Don Callis.
He wants his win back. He’s serious.
And based on the crowd response to the run-down last night, Omega’s going to be rather popular. Making for a nice atmosphere.
When it comes to a winner, this one’s tougher to predict. There’s the 2+2=5 argument: Kenny won on Ospreay’s turf so Ospreay wins on Kenny’s.
But that might be discounting All In. Where the Brit winning in front of his compatriots would be a bigger moment.
Politics being what they are, each company winning one of the ‘big two’ seems the most likely outcome. And New Japan do like to tell ‘X has never beaten Y’ stories.
WINNER: Kenny Omega
Le Suzuki Gods vs Sting, Darby Allin & Tetsuya Naito
Door rating: Wide Open
This has probably had the best build (in AEW at least) of any match on the show.
There are multiple Jericho-centric stories going on: he and Sammy bickering, he and Sting threatening a first-time singles match. And the tease of which New Japan star Sting and Darby were bringing in to extract revenge on the Ocho.
Which was nicely done, simultaneously giving viewers a reason to tune in to Collision and avoiding being smushed into an already stuffed suitcase of a Dynamite.
And Naito got a hell of a pop in Toronto, boding well for the match itself.
While the Suzuki/Jericho dynamic has been tremendous fun.
In terms of a winner, Sting doesn’t often lose. And his team emerging victorious can happen in a number of ways based on the story. Whether Jericho screws Sammy, Sammy screws Jericho or Suzuki gets tired of the BS and lays out his teammate himself.
Either way this should be a very exciting tag. Le Suzuki Gods participated in a belter of an opener at last year’s show. And both sides have a nice mix of brawling, work rate, high-spots, and vets who’ll barely have to lift a finger to spark the crowd.
Outside of Yakuza 6 I’m a Naito novice, making this even more intriguing for yours truly.
WINNER: Sting, Darby Allin & Tetsuya Naito
MJF vs Hiroshi Tanahashi (AEW Title)
Door rating: Open
This is certainly a match most wouldn’t have predicted, though the same can’t be said about the finish. Only two years in this is already a pattern – Tanahashi ‘can lose’.
Personally I’d rather they scrapped world title matches unless there’s actually a possibility of the challenger winning. Fans aren’t really tuning-in to this particular show for title changes.
And Tanahashi is probably at the stage where he’d benefit from being in a six-man to save his aching knees.
In terms of story, given MJF’s stance on New Japan it would’ve been nice if the challenger had very clearly targeted him and defended their company by threatening to take away his title.
And the twist of Adam Cole goading MJF into accepting this would’ve meant more if not already announced. Especially since this show was basically sold the moment they spoke the top two matches into existence.
Though Max’s work in this vein has been good, including last night’s declaration that he’s going on first since he neither wants to be in Canada or around any New Japan ‘stars’ any longer than absolutely necessary.
When it comes to in-ring, Max is on a streak of very good matches as champion. And while Tanahashi’s knees are obviously battered, he’s still renowned for his ability to tell a story between the ropes.
In their primes, this would’ve been the ultimate tale of flamboyant, Capital B Babyface vs despicable heel.
And could be a sleeper if both find magic. But based on last night, is more likely going to have to rely on the crowd and psychology. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.
Different strokes and all that.
Young Bucks, Hangman Page, Eddie Kingston & Tomohiro Ishii
Jon Moxley, Claudio Castagnoli, Wheeler Yuta, Konosuke Takeshita & Shota Umino
Door rating: Creaking Open
This is basically an AEW match. Mox mentioned Umino in passing in a promo segment covering a ton of ground. Eddie Kingston announced Tomohiro Ishii with the enthusiasm of a four-year-old forced to thank Grandma for his birthday socks.
Poor Ishii making his entrance with the crowd frothing for Okada. Another reason to have left that to breathe on its own.
Between the ropes it should be very good, we saw six of these dudes tear it up just a couple weeks back. And the new additions can all ‘go’. Indeed, one of the best things about this will be seeing Takeshita in a proper match with proper stakes at a pay-per-view.
Especially if he’s booed out of the building.
While Ishii’s renowned for the consistency of his matches. And Umino’s regarded as a good performer who’s thus far missing ‘it’.
Regarding the finish, there are a few questions to consider:
• Will Kingston be ‘heated up’ ahead of a possible ROH title rematch and participation in the G1?
• Will this be the moment AEW really get behind Takeshita, making him the decisive factor in back-to-back pay-per-views?
• How do we get from here to Blood & Guts? And how is that match made different after so many Elite/BCC battles?
If Takeshita/Callis do indeed help the heels win here, it only adds fire to Kenny Omega’s quest for vengeance. Since, with Danielson battered and bruised, it seems likely he’ll miss out on the caged insanity and Callis’ new boy can take his place.
It’s also entirely possible that Callis begins recruiting his threatened ‘family’ and they join the BCC in taking on the Elite in B&G, complete with a fifth they totally trust, Kota Ibushi.
Either way, it makes sense for the heels to win to keep the fire burning.
WINNER: Jon Moxley, Claudio Castagnoli, Wheeler Yuta, Konosuke Takeshita & Shota Umino
SANADA vs Jack Perry (IWGP Title)
Door rating: Creaking Open
Take what was said in the Max/Tana section and double it, treble it, add some zeros. Since that at least features two strong names who are inarguably main eventers.
While SANADA is a classic case of using the belt to make the man.
And Perry’s so mired in the mid-card he didn’t even make the cut for Dynamite.
Meaning this one is more a vehicle to get SANADA a win on a big show. And simultaneously continue the story of Perry having promised to win a title this year, the months coming faster, and now even his former partner’s struck gold.
The pressure’s mounting.
Should be good between the ropes at least.
CM Punk vs Satoshi Kojima (1st Round Owen Hart Cup)
Door rating: Creaking Open
AEW might have made a mistake here.
Even a series of them.
Beginning with the fact this was just thrown out there amongst a bunch of other announcements. It’s Punk’s first singles match in ten months. Ostensibly their biggest star. And it feels like an afterthought. Certainly nothing close to special.
And there’s a ton of pressure on Chicago Phil to deliver. Against a fifty-two-year-old with a lot of miles on his body. Only added to by the heavy booing he received on Collision. The crowd in Toronto will be waiting knives drawn if this isn’t good. At the very least, Kojima will be the clear fan favorite.
Which, while it might unleash an atmosphere similar to last night’s main event, isn’t going to do Punk much good if he’s booed out of the building when he’s the only thing close to a top babyface on the new Saturday show.
This has neither the cache’ of a clash with Kenta. Or the guaranteed quality of a match with a younger Japanese talent. And doesn’t really need to be here.
WINNER: CM Punk
Adam Cole vs Filthy Tom Lawlor
Door rating: Creaking Open
To ‘thank’ Cole for goading him into his clash with Tanahashi, MJF had Lawlor attack Cole on Rampage. In keeping with his preference for hiring shooters or nutjobs to go against his future opponents.
And Tom’s fun and very creative – he has a crowd participation clap in Japan known as ‘the Filthy Clap’. Which certainly in the UK is a fun double entendre, the clap being slang for a sexual disease.
But this is not what anyone would’ve been anticipating when it was announced these companies would have a joint show. Neither is the outcome in doubt: this is purely to get Cole a win on pay-per-view ahead of the inevitable rematch with Max.
Which isn’t the worst reason in the world for a match. But isn’t the best either. Amid a mounting number of obvious finishes.
WINNER: Adam Cole
Orange Cassidy vs Katsuyori Shibata vs Zack Sabre Jr vs Daniel Garcia (International Title)
Door rating: Open
This seems like an attempt to squash wrestlers onto the show. After an overly long, slightly disappointing tag Wednesday, we’ve now seen all these guys interact. While Sabre and Shibata are two of the New Japan talents we’ve seen most on AEW tv.
If ever a title was going to transfer companies, it’d be the International. It’s in the name. And Cassidy’s situation is now verging on ‘Who the hell is he going to lose to?’ After dispatching multiple guys fans saw as legitimate threats.
And he could absolutely lose here. Or at least lose the belt. Sabre perhaps picking up the win, setting up a mano a mano rematch at All In.
To paraphrase CM Punk paraphrasing Sting, the only thing for sure about this match… is Garcia’s taking the fall. Otherwise Cassidy/Sabre straight-up, champ vs champ, would’ve made a lot more sense and been more intriguing.
WINNER: Orange Cassidy
Toni Storm vs Willow Nightingale (AEW Women’s Title)
Door rating: Padlocked Shut
Which isn’t to say the match isn’t appealing, it just isn’t ‘Forbidden’.
And after Toni’s excellent promo work Wednesday, this was set up nicely as people’s wrestler vs snob. Nightingale’s easily one of the most popular women in the division, hopefully ensuring more crowd backing than the average women’s match.
And in-ring could be excellent if it hopefully, mercifully, please…? Eschews the usual Outcast garbage making everyone look dumb but the heels. And this women’s division needs a quality match. Boy does it.
Storm’s been made to look so weak as champion, squeaking by every scrub she faces with an army of interference. That a win over a popular foe in front of a big crowd could provide a much-needed boost.
Which isn’t to say she wins clean – she can hook the tights, remove a buckle pad or whatever, but the ‘heat’ can’t be with the referee or the promotion afterward.
Unfortunately, all of the above was undercut last night by Saraya’s return and the Outcasts surrounding the ring. Partly because the fans couldn’t have cared less that she was back. The Outcasts are not remotely over because their act is so groan-inducingly repetitive.
But also because them surrounding the ring all but confirms there’ll be shenanigans in the match tonight. In fact, I had this quite near the top before all that.
Lastly, Jamie Hayter wasn’t injured as much as ‘banged up’. So could return in a post-match angle continuing the Outcasts/Originals feud into the summer.
WINNER: Toni Storm
“This year’s Forbidden Door will be the best event either company has ever participated in.”
Said Tony Khan a few weeks back. And you’ll be shocked to hear this but Tony might’ve gotten a little carried away in one of his public proclamations. ‘Best ever’ is not an easy line to cross.
But best of the year? Yeah absolutely.
And if things weren’t already exciting enough, there’s the fabulous New Japan ring announcer to take things over the top:
‘Haaangmaaan Adaaam Pa-geeeeeeeee!’
PS It’ll be interesting to see if Jay White appears after promising never to wrestle for New Japan ever again, anywhere. Which is why so many presumed he was off to WWE. Especially after a star-making performance on Collision.