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AEW x NJPW Forbidden Door 2023 recap & reactions: The best wrestler of all-time

The AEW and NJPW joint venture Forbidden Door (Jun. 25, 2023) emanated from Scotiabank Arena in Toronto, Ontario. The PPV featured Bryan Danielson versus Kazuchika Okada in a dream match, Kenny Omega versus Will Ospreay tearing the house down, Sting in action, several title fight, and much more.

Get caught up on all the Forbidden Door details with the excellent play-by-play from Claire Elizabeth.

Let’s run down the card from top to bottom.

Bryan Danielson defeated Kazuchika Okada. The main event was the type of dream match that Forbidden Door was designed for. Two of the best wrestlers of all-time duked it out to settle the debate.

The big fight feel was in the air. Danielson made it even bigger by rocking his classic theme song, “The Final Countdown.”

Danielson controlled the early action by attacking the shoulder as a preemptive defensive measure to prevent the Rainmaker ripcord lariat. Okada turned the tide with a piledriver on the ramp. Okada rolled Danielson into the ring to land a flying elbow drop. Danielson was in serious trouble convulsing on the mat. The referee called for a break so the ringside doctor could investigate. Okada brushed them aside to go for the Rainmaker. Danielson ducked then countered with the Busaiku Knee. Danielson was playing everyone for the fool. He wasn’t hurt bad at all.

The match continued for a bit, then Okada cracked the Rainmaker flush. Danielson dramatically kicked out at 2.

Okada went for another Rainmaker. Danielson ducked and scored a takedown. He worked for the LeBell Lock. As Okada reached for the ropes, Danielson snatched the free arm to modify his submission. Okada inched toward the ropes with his foot, so Danielson unleashed vicious meat hooks to the head.

The American Dragon readjusted the submission with extra torque to manipulate pain on an omoplata short armscissor. Okada surprisingly tapped out in defeat.

Damn. Danielson did it. He backed up his bravado to earn a tremendous win. It’s certainly the most important victory of his AEW career to date. This was a chess match of strategy. As Danielson said, tactics don’t mean anything without strategy. He proved that point by working Okada’s shoulder often, and that paid dividends in the end. The winning submission was pretty sweet. It came about unexpectedly and didn’t get much of a live reaction. That was likely because it was hard to tell the joint manipulation from afar.

Also, I’m glad Danielson made a mockery of referee stoppages mid-match. That spot in AEW is one of my biggest peeves going today in wrestling. If a fighter is damaged to that extent, then the match should be waved off. It provides an unfair advantage of recovery time to the wrestler in pain.

Sting, Darby Allin, & Tetsuya Naito defeated Chris Jericho, Sammy Guevara, & Minoru Suzuki. It’s Sting! The match teased Stinger versus Jericho, and it broke out into a hockey fight. Sting slapped on the Scorpion Death Lock to Jericho, but Sammy flew in for a cutter to break the submission. Sammy seemed to be on the same page with Jericho as their team did Le Suzuki Gods pose. I love that so much.

Later, Sammy wasn’t as pleased with Jericho. The JAS leader placed Sting on a table outside and ordered Sammy to do some high flying. Sammy didn’t want to win that way, but he eventually acquiesced for a 630 senton through the wood. Sting wasn’t down for long. He helped Naito pin Suzuki in the end. Suzuki had a sleeper. Sting entered with chops to set his pal free. Naito hit an atomic drop, and Sting added a lariat. Naito scored a roll-up for victory. Tranquilo.

Afterward, Jericho hit Naito with a baseball bat. Sting snatched the weapon and blasted Jericho in the ribs.

Sting can’t be beat. His winning streak continues in AEW. This match wasn’t as wild as some of Sting’s previous show-stealers, but it was fun nonetheless. The Sammy drama was touched on, however, it didn’t play a role in the finish. Sammy needs to explain his change of heart on Dynamite. He never would have balked at that table spot before in the act of competition. I’m pretty sure he did crazy stuff in his brief babyface run.

IWGP US Heavyweight Championship: Will Ospreay won the title from Kenny Omega. What a match! Go watch this one, if you haven’t already. It takes a while to get to the epic parts, but the epic parts are truly epic. The match began as an athletic competition, then it turned bloody with heads ramming into set pieces. The next stage was a war of attrition. Stamina was fading, and it came down to the will to win.

Omega gained a clear edge with two V-Triggers to Ospreay in the ropes. Don Callis covered Ospreay from the outside to protect him. Omega smiled and blasted a third V-Trigger. Callis tried to pull Ospreay to safety, but Omega grabbed ahold for a tug of war. Referee Paul Turner intervened trying to break Callis’ grip. The Invisible Hand slyly reached into his pocket to pass a screwdriver to Ospreay. Omega lifted for the One Winged Angel, Ospreay stabbed with the screwdiver, then Ospreay hit the Hidden Blade elbow strike and followed with the Storm Breaker corkscrew neckbreaker. Ospreay and Callis were about to screw their way to victory. 1, 2, Omega got his foot on the ropes. Holy shit! They had me hook, line, and sinker on that moment.

Callis whispered advice in Ospreay’s ear. He executed the One Winged Angel. Omega kicked out at 1. The fans went crazy. Furious fisticuffs erupted back and forth. Ospreay surprised Omega with the Tiger Driver ‘91. Omega shockingly kicked out again. Ospreay kept on the pressure with the Hidden Blade and another Storm Breaker. Omega did not kick out on that pin. Ospreay is the new champion.

Great match. The drama was intense climaxing toward an epic finish. This is the kind of match that put Omega on top of the charts as the best in the world. Ospreay was awesome as well, but Omega was the emotional lure creating memories. His heroic spirit is the stuff of legends. Even though Callis helped cheat, the match carried on long enough afterward for Ospreay to stand on his own feet as champion.

AEW Women’s World Championship: Toni Storm retained against Willow Nightingale. The Outcasts were in full force until they were ejected by referee Stephon Smith when caught green-handed trying to cheat with the can of spray paint. Storm still had a trick up here sleeve. When Willow was rocking, Storm pulled the ref in front to black her path. That distraction allowed Storm an angle to gouge Willow’s eyes and hit her piledriver finisher.

This was a fun good versus bad story. Willow was stronger and controlled the pace when the fighting was fair, enough so that an upset win would have been believable. Storm did the dirty work to take home gold. That helps cement her dastardly base for the crowd to erupt when she finally loses the championship.

Hangman Page, Young Bucks, Eddie Kingston, & Tomohiro Ishii defeated Jon Moxley, Claudio Castagnoli, Wheeler Yuta, Konosuke Takeshita, & Shota Umino. The finish came down to Hangman, Yuta, and Ishii. Yuta ducked the buckshot lariat and countered the cowboy for a release overhead German suplex. Ishii steamrolled into the ring to blast Yuta with lariats. The Stone Pitbull executed a delayed vertical brainbuster for victory. Ishii earning the win was very unexpected. If you asked me to predict the winning pin, he would have been ninth on the list above Umino. I like that call though. Ishii is a badass, and success always helps status as an attraction.

The 10-man tag was bonkers overall. The action can be digested in two ways. The first way is cool moves. There were a bunch to choose from. I’ll just rattle off a few moments that tickled my fancy. Takeshita surprised the arena when he knocked Ishii out cold with an elbow strike early in the match.

Hangman Page had a dandy of a house cleaning moment culminating with a shooting star press onto Yuta hanging off the apron as he was held in the air by the Bucks.

I can’t forget Claudio’s giant swing. That move is always a pleaser.

The second way is story drama. The match unfolded in two directions. The Elite teamed up on wicked Takeshita as payback for Callis’ treachery. Eddie Kingston was in his feelings about having to fight Jon Moxley. Mox wasn’t gung ho about it, but he did what had to be done. Early in the match, Kingston and Moxley faced off. Mox threw the first punch. An exchange of chops erupted until they were both on wobbly legs. Later, the Bucks had Moxley in their sights for a superkick party. Kingston shoved Mox out of the way to take the hit.

When the match hit the portion of moves all around, Moxley took out Kingston with a cutter. There was no hesitation behind it. After the win, Kingston was upset with the Elite about having to fight his friend. Kingston took no accountability for his own decision and blamed them. Tony Schiavone rightly pointed out on commentary that Kingston shouldn’t have taken the fight if he felt conflicted.

Between the moves and the story details, this match kicked ass. It finally feels like the Elite versus the Blackpool Combat Club is sunsetting, and AEW is spinning them off into different directions. Good news is that these fresh beginnings feel electric. Callis is a heat magnet, and that carries over to Takeshita. The opposing babyface reaction for the Elite makes that a great juxtaposition. Kingston’s noble act of saving Moxley was a smart way to present him as the babyface of the two. It is setting Kingston up for sympathetic heartbreak when Moxley does something disgraceful to him, and you know that’s coming in due time.

IWGP World Heavyweight Championship: Sanada retained against Jungle Boy. The champ was seconded by Douki. Hook was ringside to support Jungle Boy. JB had success on submissions putting Sanada in the dragon sleeper and the Snare Trap. The champ stayed calm to reach the ropes for a break. Sanada was a cut above Jungle Boy with a variety of creative moves, such as an inverted facelock swing. Wheee! Sanada flattened Jungle Boy with a Shining Wizard down the stretch and finished with a moonsault.

Business picked up after the match. Hook consoled Jungle Boy and aided him up the ramp. JB dropped to a knee, so Hook tried to help him up. Heel turn! Jungle Boy blasted Hook with a cheap shot lariat on stage. The former hero mocked the crowd’s boos and their reaction to his theme song. Taz was irate on commentary. Jungle Boy tossed the FTW title at Hook and walked away.

Whoa. They got me on the timing of that heel swerve. Everything seemed calm and onward to the next match, then boom! This feels out of left field for Jungle Boy’s character so soon after his feuds with Christian and MJF, but the bread crumbs have been there all along. MJF was blunt about it in his Four Pillars promos. The most glaring example is both of them winning championships while cheating their asses off. It’s like Jungle Boy has seen the evidence that crime does pay, while being a do-gooder has gotten him nowhere.

The match itself was pretty slick in execution. Sanada earned my desire to see him compete in AEW again. It’s funny thinking he finished with a moonsault. It feels weird when NJPW wrestlers win on ‘average’ moves. I wasn’t expecting that to be the finish, since the move is worthless as a closer in American wrestling.

AEW International Championship: Orange Cassidy retained against Katsuyori Shibata, Zack Sabre Jr., and Daniel Garcia. This was a genuine four-way with a constant stream of activity in all directions. On the closing sequence, Garcia crushed a piledriver on Sabre, Shibata exploded for a penalty kick to Garcia, Cassidy shoved Shibata out of the ring, then Cassidy secured a crucifix pin on Garcia to steal the win.

Everyone had a chance to shine with offense. The showdown between Cassidy and Shibata was particularly exciting.

The finish flowed well for excitement. Even though Garcia taking the losing pin was predictable, his stock still went up in my book. Garcia managed to look good in a ring full of champions.

Owen Hart tournament men’s quarterfinal: CM Punk defeated Satoshi Kojima. Punk entered to loud boos. He embraced the heat to instigate the crowd all match long with taunts, such as shouting, “Lariat!” on each rapid-fire lariat he delivered. Punk didn’t wrestle in a heel style though. He played it clean and showed respect to his opponent after the match.

The action was tit for tat. When Kojima landed a flying elbow drop, Punk answered with a flying elbow drop of his own. When Kojima popped his pecs, Punk did the same. The story came down to the GTS and lariat finishers. Kojima was able to escape a GTS, and Punk ducked a lariat. On the finish, Punk ducked the lariat again, countered with a head kick, and finished with the GTS. Punk advances to the semifinals to face the winner of Samoa Joe versus Roderick Strong.

This was an okay match. It held my attention with the attraction of legends, but it never reached third gear. The GTS didn’t look good. The impact seemed like it was more to the midsection than a knockout shot.

AEW World Championship: MJF retained against Hiroshi Tanahashi. MJF demanded to open the PPV, so he could leave Canada as soon as possible. MJF was his own worst enemy in this match damaging his own knees on his choice of offense, such as a shoulderbreaker over the knee. When MJF winced, Tanahashi targeted that weakness. The Ace of NJPW had momentum for a High Fly Flow flying splash, but MJF got his knees up to block. MJF had enough of the pain, so he retrieved his title belt to use as a foreign object. When referee Bryce Remsburg confiscated the weapon, Tanahashi scored a roll-up. 1, 2, 3, 4, 5... The ref’s back was turned, so has was late to count. MJF kicked out at 2. As Tanahashi was arguing with Remsburg, MJF shoved him into the ref. That allowed MJF to hit a Dynamite Diamond Ring punch to win.

This was an amusing match, but there was nothing special about it. They played to the crowd with air guitar, taunts, cowardly stalling to set up heel tricks, and the bogus roll-up. The cheating finish was paint by numbers MJF style. I don’t see a reason to protect Tanahashi on that finish, but I suppose the idea is to heap hate on MJF.

The free Zero Hour pre-show had four bouts.

Hiromu Takahashi, Shingo Takagi, & Bushi defeated TJP, Jeff Cobb, & Kyle Fletcher. NJPW showcase between Los Ingobernables de Japon and United Empire. Flying attacks from Takahashi and Bushi took out Cobb and Fletcher on the outside. Takagi finished TJP on a pumphandle driver.

Standard AEW trios match with a quick pace and flurries of moves. Nobody stood out above and beyond in my eye, especially considering what I know the individual members of United Empire are capable of.

El Phantasmo defeated Stu Grayson. Vincent and Dutch of the Righteous accompanied Grayson. Phantasmo relied on finesse for springboard moves and nipple twisters. Grayson was more intense in his approach. Phantasmo kicked out of a 450 splash to come back with a fancy springboard DDT. Phantasmo pinned Grayson on a double hammerlock slam.

Solid win and flashy moves by Phantasmo. I’d like to see him challenge Orange Cassidy for the AEW International Championship. I’m looking forward to the chess match of shin kicks and nipple pinches. Seriously though, they would probably have a pretty sweet match.

Owen Hart women’s tournament quarterfinal: Athena defeated Billie Starkz. The youngster was not an easy out, but she was clearly overwhelmed by Athena’s aggression. Starkz rallied, then Athena baited her into crashing a flying senton onto the apron. Athena picked up the pieces for a modified Codebreaker to win. The Fallen Goddess advances to face Willow Nightingale in the semifinals.

Even though I suspected potential for an upset due to Starkz’ popularity, Athena firmly handled business, as the ROH women’s champion should have. She used veteran tricks to her advantage. For Starkz fans, this wasn’t the type of match that shows she’ll be fast-tracked anytime soon. She never had a moment close to victory.

Swerve Strickland, Brian Cages, Bishop Kaun, & Toa Liona defeated Trent Beretta, Chuck Taylor, Rocky Romero, & El Desperado. Hot tag to Desperado cleaning house for a group hug. The Embassy smashed Chaos when occupied with their friendship embrace. This match had a strong false finish when Cage accidentally clobbered Swerve then Best Friends planted the mogul with a flying butt stomp Strong Zero. Kaun made the save to break the pin. The contest progressed with Cage saving Swerve from Romero’s Sliced Bread. Cage caught Azucar in the air and delivered an F5. Swerve seized the moment for a flying double stomp to win.

Embassy earning the win was a good call. The ROH trios champs shouldn’t be losing to mid-carders. They deserve to rack up wins in order to make the titles feel worthy of existence.

Notes: Excalibur, Taz, and Kevin Kelly were on commentary. Justin Roberts handled introductions in English, and Takuro Shibata was ring announcer in Japanese. Red Shoes refereed the IWGP Heavyweight Championship bout.

Adam Cole versus Tom Lawlor was canceled due to Cole suffering an illness.

Stud of the Show: Bryan Danielson

Danielson cemented his argument for best wrestler of all-time.

Match of the Night: Kenny Omega vs. Will Ospreay

That is definitely in the running for AEW’s match of the year.

Grade: B+

The peak matches were a treasure to watch. I’d put three in that category. The rest of the show was high on wrestling and mediocre on drama. It was enough to satisfy the novelty of Forbidden Door, but the higher level of greatness was often missing. I think part of the problem was the minimal story build in general, so there was a lack of emotional investment to take me over the edge in excitement.

Share your thoughts about Forbidden Door. How do you rate it? Who stole the show?

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