Top 10: Matches for the Forbidden Door by Jerry Whitworth
With the recent announcement of an All Elite Wrestling/New Japan Pro Wrestling supershow called Forbidden Door coming to Chicago this June, fan speculation has run rampant about what a proposed card could entail. Journalist Dave Meltzer suspects the show would likely feature champion vs champion which means a card couldn’t materialize until within a couple of weeks before the event. Others suggested the stars of both promotions might not even crossover, simply facing opponents from their respective organizations. In a perfect world however we will see the best performers from each side go head-to-head. Lets take a look at what that may entail.
We should probably start with the elephant in the room: New Japan has historically been an all-male promotion with a handful of exceptions (Joanie Laurer/Chyna, Maria Kanellis, and Amber O’Neal being notable). Which means while AEW has top stars such as Ruby Soho, Thunder Rosa, Riho, Hikaru Shida, Toni Storm, Kris Statlander, Tay Conti, Jade Cargill, and Nyla Rose, none of them could seemingly make it onto the card without a female counterpart from the other company. Where there could be wiggle room, however, is that gaming company Bushiroad owns both NJPW and Stardom, Japan’s top promotion for female wrestling. In fact, in recent years, Stardom has had cross promotions with NJPW. Further, Riho competed in Stardom while under contract to AEW during the pandemic when she couldn’t return to the United States. The only real wrinkle in this circumstance is that Stardom has an event the same day so its top stars maybe unavailable. Still, one match that would be huge and could work around the situation is Britt Baker vs. KAIRI. The former AEW world champion and arguably most prominent female competitor in the promotion, Baker is a perfect pick to make it onto the card. As for KAIRI, she is formerly WWE’s Kairi Sane who sadly suffered an injury soon after returning to Stardom. Timeline-wise, KAIRI should be back from injury in time for Forbidden Door, is the most well known Stardom competitor in America, and likely wouldn’t be tied up in a storyline for Stardom so she can afford to miss the event that day. KAIRI, one of Stardom’s legendary trio Threedom (with Io Shirai and Mayu Iwatani), carries a kind of star power that easily places here in the company of the men on this list and Baker matches that level of popularity within her company making this bout a no-brainer.
Young, good looking, super athletic, fast, high flying, hard working, and a certified heat magnet, these words could easily describe both Sammy Guevara and Will Ospreay. Often referred to as the sports’ future, Guevara and Ospreay in the last few years have demonstrated they are stars today who have captured top belts in their promotions. It’s wild to imagine these men haven’t had a singles match with each other yet with 2018 being the closest they’ve come to this with a four way contest in Wrestling In The USA at WrestleCon (which also included Swerve Strickland). Considering the amount of attention Ospreay gained from around the world with his matches against Ricochet in NJPW, a bout with Guevara could easily meet or exceed such a contest.
One has to imagine had Cody Rhodes remained in AEW, a match that people would have wanted to see was a rematch with Kota Ibushi from Wrestle Kingdom 12. Not only was the match great but the story behind it involving Kota’s protection from the Bullet Club due to his relationship with Kenny Omega and Rhodes wanting to exorcise a perceived weakness from Omega (or to hurt Omega to further his own position within the Club) was fantastic. With Rhodes gone, however, perhaps an even better story is in the works with the introduction of Adam Cole back into the Elite. Removed by Omega in the lead up to his run in WWE, Cole was brought back into the fold where the pair have butted heads in their limited time together before Omega left due to injury. In the time since, Cole reforged an alliance with Bullet Club through Jay White, a man who attacked Omega and only joined the Club after the Elite was cut out of the group. Without a doubt, the stage is set for Omega and Cole to face each other but in the interim, Cole facing Omega’s best friend (and perhaps more) would make an excellent appetizer. But even beyond that, Cole and Ibushi are two of the youngest yet most accomplished wrestlers in history so even if there wasn’t a pre-established history here, this match easily has dream proportions in and of itself.
If Dave Meltzer was talking about champ vs. champ, here’s the story there done and done. But to scratch a little bit deeper, Adam Page came into AEW claiming he would be the company’s first champion and who carried a perception of being the promotion’s golden boy. However, the Hangman fell short and went on a journey that took him years to finally capture the greatest prize. Kazuchika Okada bears a similar story as being someone NJPW thought to be its future but was so mishandled in his American excursion with TNA, NJPW cut ties with the American company for years. Okada returned to Japan, however, fulfilled the prophecy becoming the greatest champion in their history. Page vs. Okada is the battle of the companies’ golden boys with the asterisk that the former has only just reached the top while the latter has stood atop the mountain so often and so long that no other may surpass him.
AEW has perhaps the greatest tag team division in the history of professional wrestling. FTR, reDRagon, Hardys, Santana/Ortiz, Lucha Bros, Jurassic Express, Best Friends, Dark Order (Uno/Stu, Silver/Reynolds), 2point0, Private Party, Top Flight, Acclaimed, but one team stands atop the rest: the Young Bucks. Arguably the greatest tag team of all time but at the very least the best in the last twenty years, the Bucks are virtually undisputed having largely built what is today AEW on their backs. On the NJPW end of things, tag teams have largely fallen to the wayside as many pairs today are thrown together with faction members. The last real full time tag team in the company is the Guerrillas of Destiny, formerly of Bullet Club. Carrying the skeleton of the division on their backs, GoD is ideal to face the Bucks for this reason alone. However, the story built into this bout is almost destined. Prior to the formation of AEW, the Elite was removed from Bullet Club by GoD and the resolution of this conflict largely went unresolved because AEW came about. Tama Tonga of GoD, however, has beat the dream ever since that the Elite ran away. But with Adam Cole reconnecting with Bullet Club, Jay White removed GoD from the group as an offering to the Bucks. This has only gone to add more fuel to the fire of an inevitable confrontation between GoD and the Bucks that has been years in the making.
Much like the destined battle between the Young Bucks and GoD, there’s a clear path for a fight between Kenny Omega and Jay White. Prior to GoD kicking the Elite out of Bullet Club, Omega tried to recruit White for the group but was instead attacked, White revealing he hated the Cleaner for how he treated the youth as a young boy. But just after removing the Elite, White joined the Club with Omega now being out. When Cole rejoined the Elite, he reforged ties with the Club through White while Omega was away due to injury. As Omega is set to return any day now and an inevitable conflict between he and Cole is down the road, White would make a delicious step toward that battle while paying off a long term story. Of course, both men are some of the best wrestlers on Earth (Omega arguably the best) so even without this story, the match will be spectacular.
There are perhaps two major developments in the world of pro wrestling that set the stage for AEW. One was the ascension of the Elite in New Japan and Ring of Honor. The other was Chris Jericho coming to New Japan. Initially facing Kenny Omega, Jericho went on to combat other top stars like Tetsuya Naito, Kazuchika Okada, and Hiroshi Tanahashi. While there are a few more dream matches that could include Jericho (Shibata, Ibushi, Ospreay, Takagi, etc), the window for one such battle is shrinking and that’s with Minoru Suzuki. Nearly the same age (Suzuki slightly older), both performers are closer to the end of their careers than the beginning while still being top competitors. Jericho has already expressed interest to face Suzuki and Forbidden Door is perfect a time as any to have them fight.
When Jon Moxley showed up in AEW, he simultaneously competed for NJPW. In his time in the latter, he’s battled the likes of Jeff Cobb, Tomohiro Ishii, Shingo Takagi, Tetsuya Naito, Jay White, Hirooki Goto, Minoru Suzuki, KENTA, and Will Ospreay with Hiroshi Tanahashi down the line. With only a handful of dream matches left (Okada, Ibushi, etc), one that has to stand above the rest is Katsuyori Shibata. One of the new Three Musketeers with Tanahashi and Shinsuke Nakamura, Shibata helped reverse a downturn in New Japan that arguably saved the company from shutting down. Leaving to compete in MMA, Shibata returned years later as his fellow Musketeers became the biggest stars in wrestling outside of WWE. However in 2017, Shibata was forced to retire from in-ring competition due to injury only to miraculously return last year to face Zack Sabre Jr. on the final night of the G1 Climax. Since then, he’s only fought one additional time at Wrestle Kingdom. As Shibata is being sorted out regarding his standing in today’s NJPW, one of the biggest opponents he could face on the planet would have to be Moxley. Having made his way through most of the company’s big stars, Moxley would help elevate Shibata’s standing while offering a bout that could steal the show on the card.
Arguably the biggest deciding factor in Bryan Danielson joining AEW is his ability to also work with NJPW. Problem is, the global pandemic has thus far scuttled his plans. Forbidden Door maybe his first opportunity to began a series of oversea excursions so the sky’s the limit who could be first. Because of this, there are at least a dozen wrestlers fans want to see Danielson face out of the gate. Perhaps the one that makes the most sense for his first dance, however, is Zack Sabre Jr. During Danielson’s run before WWE, he won the Wrestling Observer Best Technical Wrestler award nine years in a row making him synonymous with it to the degree that they eventually named the award after him. When Danielson went to WWE and was forced to conform to their brand of wrestling, Sabre took up his torch and won the Danielson award for the seven years of its namesake’s run in WWE. However, with Danielson’s year in AEW, he broke Sabre’s streak to regain the award named after him. Danielson vs Sabre has to happen and Forbidden Door is a perfect place for it.
It’s a work, brother. That’s a famous description of wrestling where the outcomes are pre-determined and more often than not the competitors are friendly when the cameras are off. CM Punk, however, over the course of his career has been no stranger to making enemies as many of his best friends coming up in the industry don’t even speak with him today. One man he allegedly made an enemy of despite never having met him is KENTA. A famous Japanese wrestler that eventually found his way to WWE as Hideo Itami, KENTA created the “go to sleep” maneuver as his finishing technique. However, Punk adopted the move as his finisher apparently without KENTA’s permission and KENTA has made no secret over the last nearly two decades he’s not happy with this. The career of the two wrestlers have seen them miss each other time and again but Forbidden Door offers the opportunity for a fight fans have wanted to see for a very long time because it may (or may not) have some real life emotion going into it. Unless it’s all a work.
Honorable mentions: Andrade El Idolo vs Tetsuya Naito, MJF vs Hiroshi Tanahashi, House of Black vs House of Torture, Ruby Soho vs Mayu Iwatani, Jungle Boy vs KUSHIDA, Keith Lee vs Jeff Cobb, Darby Allin vs Hiromu Takahashi, Swerve Strickland vs Shingo Takagi, Samoa Joe vs Hirooki Goto, Hook vs Shooter Umino, and Pac vs SANADA.