As we’ve said a few times now, AEW always has a way out.
Their Forbidden Door PPV last night, a joint effort with Japan’s biggest wrestling company NJPW, was seen by some as cursed before the lights went down and the pyro went up last night. AEW had lost arguably its three biggest stars — CM Punk, Bryan Danielson, and Kenny Omega — to injury at various points before the show. AEW had to contend with NJPW’s wonky booking, as they were seemingly setting up a Hangman Page-Kazuchika Okada match for the NJPW championship, and then watched NJPW take that title off Okada and put it on Jay White just two weeks before the show. The “curse” extended to both sides of the Pacific, as both Tomohiro Ishii and Hiromu Takahashi had to pull out of matches mere days or hours before the show. All of it gave the show a thrown-together feeling, as any show involving two companies and the clash of their shared and individual interests would, but perhaps to an excessive level.
But, as AEW has taught everyone since their inception, there really isn’t a problem in wrestling that can’t be solved by just producing a series of great matches and great shows. Perhaps it’s a testament to the depth of AEW’s roster now that you can cut off the head of the main event scene through Omega, Punk, and Danielson, and they can still easily come up with enough performers to match up with NJPW’s and have banger after banger. You could make an argument that Forbidden Door was the best quality PPV that AEW has put up, from beginning to end.
The problem for someone in attendance, as I was, is when do you go piss?
As I arrived for even the preshow, I knew that it would be a challenge and that sacrifices would have to be made. Thankfully, the preshow had obvious openings. Keith Lee and Swerve Strickland vs. El Desperado and Yoshinobu Kanemaru was not to be missed, but the match that followed it — The Acclaimed and the Gunn Club vs. a host of young lions from NJPW’s LA Dojo — really only had the intro as must-see viewing. Max Caster’s lyrics are always worth catching, whatever side of the line he dances on, and I’m not even going to try to explain how gratifying it is to hear Anthony Bowens scream for Billy Gunn to, “SCISSOR ME DADDY ASS!” Just go with me. So right after that was the first bathroom trip of the evening, in total comfort.
From there though, it was a rough negotiation. Obviously, one doesn’t want to get stuck in the john for the show’s opening. And the first match was Chris Jericho, so you have to be around to sing “Judas” or you haven’t really attended an AEW show. He was partnering with Minoru Suzuki, Japan’s leading murder grandpa, who somehow was allowed to roam the streets of Chicago unwatched for days and by some miracle the city is still standing. They were facing the adopted children of Jon Moxley and Bryan Danielson, Wheeler Yuta and Shota Umino, who were chaperoned by Mox’s chosen step-dad in Eddie Kingston. There is perhaps no more unique connection between wrestler and fan as Kingston to the AEW crowd, as he looks, talks, and wrestles like he just hopped over the security barrier and no one bothered to stop him. Which he basically is. The performances from those five guys, plus whatever it is Sammy Guevara does, produced a great opener — a foundation the show somehow steadily worked up from throughout the night. Thankfully, getting in a piss-trip before kickoff didn’t make this match a tense watch.
That was followed by the three-way tag match between FTR, Roppongi 3K, and Jeff Cobb and The Great O’Khan, which meant there was no break here either. FTR have been a lock to put on something ridiculous for months now, in whatever form, and this was no different as they claimed yet another title. So we’re about half an hour to forty minutes into the show without being able to move for fear of missing something.
It’s at this point that you start to debate whether or not you can just miss an intro or two but catch most of or all of a match and whether that’s worth it. You definitely start doing some equations. But the third match was the four-way for the All-Atlantic title, and Malakai Black’s entrance is half the fun of his whole presence. You have to see if he’s actually going to conjure the devil to appear. On the flip side, you have to see if Miro conjures the actual Lord himself to finally complete his fight with him that he’s been having for a year now. So stuck in the seat, watching great wrestling, but starting to sense an inner conflict in the kidney/bladder area.
The equation spit out an answer that the time to strike was during Pac’s title celebration after the four-way, in yet another humper of a match, it hopefully taking long enough to get back before the next match. Sadly, I was not the only one who worked out this match, and the five-minute wait or so caused me to miss Shingo Takagi’s entrance, and Shingo is just about my favorite wrestler on the NJPW roster. As I said, sacrifices would have to be made.
Luckily, I did get back to the seats just in time to see 63-year-old Sting leap from on top of the entrance way for a dive that he definitely should not be doing but no one can keep him from. The thing about Sting matches is the real joy is not only in seeing him still being able to hold his own (mostly) but the sheer giddiness of those who get to be in a ring with him. Clearly the Young Bucks and El Phantasmo never dreamed of getting to do a match with someone they grew up watching, and were only too happy to work so hard to make him look as good as they could. And the match ended with Shingo hitting a Last Of The Dragon, one of the best and most authoritative finishers going today. Getting to see that live, and the relief of not wondering if a couple different organs might explode in a fury of bodily fluids, was probably worth the trade of missing his entrance.
The women’s match for the AEW Women’s title followed between Thunder Rosa and Toni Storm, which left no gap because both are expert performers in the ring and Rosa’s gear during her entrance is always a treat. Both halves of that match delivered and then some, but having taken the break some 20 minutes before kept me safe for this.
But then the show hit its closing kick, and I knew that I would have to face oblivion at least once. Orange Cassidy and Will Ospreay followed, and though OceanSpray caused the bile within me to rise quickly (and I was already dealing with another bodily fluid being riotous), O.C. is a fave and Ospreay rarely fails to deliver in the ring, And this was no exception. Part of Ospreay’s in-ring problem to people like me is just how serious he takes himself with no wink, and having Cassidy’s complete opposite, calling him and really wrestling on its bullshit style for 15 minutes made for wonderful viewing. This was followed by a post-match brawl, which I thought might have been an opening, except you had a feeling that there would be a surprise to come in and make the save. So it played with Katsuyori Shibata shockingly appearing, and ending with him wearing Cassidy’s sunglasses. Never would have forgiven myself.
It only got better, but also more tense. Zack Sabre Jr. vs a mystery opponent was next, and though it was highly suspected to be the former Cesaro, now again Claudio Castagnoli, no fan could miss the moment. And you could honestly make a whole reel of former WWE wrestlers who were underused and underappreciated there and their reaction to their very first AEW entrance. Castagnoli, Ruby Soho, Athena — you can see in their face how blown away they are to be so passionately welcomed by a part of an industry that they couldn’t help but wonder if it had forgotten about them.
The show closed with the four-way for the IWGP Heavyweight championship, and even though the pressure was rising from within, I still had to come to terms with being in the same room (though a very large one) as Kazuchika Okada. He was like, right there. Rising out of my seat to do multiple Rainmaker poses didn’t help the bladder much, but like I said, sacrifices had to be made and challenges met. And of course, the main event had to be soaked (interesting choice of verbs) in, as Hiroshi Tanahashi, a Motorhead-loving glory-alien descended upon us to face Moxley.
There was no break, and I walked to the bathroom at the end of the show bent on something like a 45-degree angle. But I got there. 12 matches, four and a half hours total, with three trips to the toilet, two of them flanking the show. This is what AEW does to you. They stick you to your seat and force you to not move even though grievous bodily harm may ensue. And you’re willing to make that trade, such is the quality.
Just hope Tony Khan will pay for my kidney transplant in three years.