It’s been a long time, if ever, that a PPV has had as much anticipation as the second iteration of AEW and NJPW’s joint PPV Forbidden Door. Dream matches were scattered throughout this card and even the last minute additions to the undercard looked like they could be dark horses for match of the night. In short, Forbidden Door 2023 was already being spoken about as the show of the year before the first bell had even rang.
With this in mind, the show was maybe under unfair expectations. Putting together an all-time card is one thing, but actually delivering a show of such high quality is another matter. Timing, structure and unexpected injuries can all potentially de-rail a card of this magnitude so the pressure was still on. Let’s see if they delivered.
Just a quick note before we get into the main card, there will be no match-by-match review for the Zero Hour portion of the show as this review will likely go too long already. In short the pre-show was very strong across all the matches and did its job of building to the main show perfectly.
AEW World Title: MJF (c) vs. Hiroshi Tanahashi
As part of the champions request this past Saturday on Collision, this world title match was to go on first so that MJF could get out the building as quickly as possible. The champ even hilariously scheduled a tweet for 10 minutes into his match assuming he’d have got the job done at that point given that he sees the legendary Tanahashi as nothing but a nobody from a “Japanese indie fed”.
Needless to say MJF did not put away Tanahashi in ten minutes, instead he was wonderfully selling a knee injury that would make the champ appear to be in serious danger given Tanahashi’s reputation for having some of the deadliest dragon screws in the game. Not to be outdone, Tanahashi was also selling an injury and gaining sympathy as he often does better than anybody else. He was even doing a mini story where he couldn’t quite climb the AEW top ropes as well as he does back in New Japan, therefore making his High Fly Flow offense less effective. This story was wonderfully told subtly over both Collision and Forbidden Door and gave Tanahashi the feeling of a sports team away from home.
The match was going great but the finish which saw MJF once again use his diamond ring behind the refs back felt a bit too played out and definitely didn’t reach the heights of some of his other screwy finishes.
CM Punk vs. Satoshi Kojima
Love him or hate him, the visceral reaction CM Punk received from the Toronto crowd fed into this Quarter final match beautifully and gave the entire thing an electric feel that’s hard to replicate.
CM Punk leaning into being a heel was nothing short of life affirming and an exciting sneak peek of what’s likely to come in the near future. Whether it’s mocking Kojima with his long-time partner Tenzan’s chops, doing Hogan leg drops, obnoxiously shouting “LARIAAAAT” as he did in his youth, or just simply using his incredible facial expressions, you can’t deny that Punk being back is only a good thing, at least as far as the on-screen side of AEW goes anyway.
Punk arguably gave Kojima his best match in years in front of a white hot crowd. The respect Punk then showed at the end meant he kept in character, even if he did tease leaving stage left at the end.. Great stuff overall.
International Title: Orange Cassidy vs. Katsuyori Shibata vs. Daniel Garcia vs. ZSJ
There were so many great elements that added to this wonderful 4-way match. Fans are still riding the high of Shibata actually being back, Cassidy is easily one of the best parts of AEW television right now as well as being the best defending champion in all of wrestling, while Garcia continues to be surrounded by the best technical wrestlers in the world, one of which being ZSJ, while still trying to convince everybody that he’s a ‘sports entertainer’. All of these threads came together wonderfully to give fans a brilliant match.
There were unfortunately a few tropes that are often found in 4-ways, but for the most part this was an over delivery, even when you consider the talent involved. ZSJ and Shibata trying to kill each other while swatting away Garcia like an annoying child was excellent, as was the finish as Cassidy gets more and more desperate the longer this title run goes.
IWGP Heavyweight Title: SANADA vs. Jungle Boy Jack Perry
It’s fair to say that the post-match angle will be remembered much more than the match itself. The match was the first time on this show where a match really didn’t live up to expectations. Now nobody really thought these two would steal the show, but I think an over-delivery around the 4 star mark was far from out of the question.
Instead we got a forgettable gentlemen’s three that made Jack Perry look like he could barely compete with SANADA. The long awaited heel turn afterwards was executed pretty well but was made memorable thanks to Taz on commentary who had just witnessed Perry take his kid’s head off. Taz going silent, taking off his glasses and eventually leaving the commentary booth made all of this feel more real. It’s just a shame the actual match was a bit dull.
BCC, Takeshita & Shota Umino vs. The Elite, Eddie Kingston & Tomohiro Ishii
The tone was set early here when Jon Moxley and the rest of his team walked out to his awesome NJPW theme music. Add to that the amount of different storylines running through the match and this 10-man tag felt huge before anybody had even locked up. We had the Mox/Kingston relationship breaking down, Claudio and Kingston’s epic rivalry (yeah Eddie just hates everybody), Takeshita’s recent turn, Mox’s history with Shota, and the main Elite/BCC fued that’s been headlining Dynamite for the past few months all playing into this. Somehow everybody involved were able to give time to each of these angles while also putting on a classic.
Every different combination of opponents felt special, even outside of the obvious bitter rivals. Hangman Page vs. Shota Umino for example wasn’t a match I knew I wanted to see until seeing them pair off here. Ishii vs. Takeshita?! Yes please! One of the best moments, however, came when Moxley and Kingston finally lost it and began going back and forth in the middle of the ring. Meanwhile everybody else is getting their spots in with the Bucks and Hangman Page making dives to the outside all while Mox and Eddie keeping trying to kill each other.
In true AEW fashion a lot of this match was used to get Takeshita over as a killer. He was the MVP here with the commentary even putting over how much he dominated. The ending came as a surprise as well when none other than Ishii, probably the man least involved in the overall story, dropped Yuta with a brainbuster for the pin. Ishii is class though so no complaints here! Overall it didn’t surpass the Anarchy in the Arena match between these two sides but it was still tons of fun, lived up to expectations, and keeps this going as one of the hottest stories in AEW.
AEW Women’s Title: Toni Storm (c) vs. Willow Nightingale
Once again I can’t help but feel the women’s division has been treated as an afterthought on an AEW show for what feels like the hundredth time. It’s worth noting that this wouldn’t have been the original plan as Mercedes Mone or a different talent from Stardom was supposedly meant to be Storm’s opponent before it all fell apart. Nightingale is a more than a good enough replacement, but compared to everything else on the card it felt like a regular Dynamite match rather than a special attraction.
Even so, these two gave it their all and put on a more than solid match that was entertaining despite its awful placement and lack of intrigue. Running the angle of yet more Outcasts interference is what made this really feel like AEW didn’t care much for it. The wrestlers did well but AEW needs to be better when it comes to booking this division.
IWGP US Title: Kenny Omega (c) vs. Will Ospreay
Oh..my…lord. Sometimes you see a match where you know that words will just never do it justice, this is one of those matches! Much like the 10-man, the tone was set early when Ospreay brought back his much-beloved Elevated theme followed by Omega also coming out to Devil’s Sky. We were told from the off that this wasn’t AEW Kenny vs. United Empire leader Ospreay, this was The Cleaner vs. The Arial Assassin.
You’ll probably hear the debate over the coming days over which match was better between this one and their MOTY candidate from Wrestle Kingdom in January. In truth, it’s actually difficult to compare the two as this one was worked in a complete different style. The first match was mostly pure wrestling, simply two of the best trying to outclass each other. The second one was nothing short of an all out war, even if it did pay homage to the original with certain spots here and there.
There was lots of blood, it felt like both men were trying to kill the other, and neither were willing to accept defeat. I did fear the worst when Don Callis returned to ringside despite being ejected earlier, but it just meant that Omega’s kick outs felt more shocking after it appeared he had been screwed (quite literally at one point) again and again. Omega kicking out of his own One Winged Angel at a count of 1 was the highlight which sent the crowd and the entire match into another stratosphere entirely.
Ospreay getting the win without it being too directly involved with Callis was a smart move as it doesn’t feel too cheap, it also sets up perfectly for the rubber match, hopefully at Wembley. It was the match of the night without question. Possibly the match of the year with only itself to compete with, and some may even say a contender for greatest of all time.
Sting, Darby Allin & Tetsuya Naito vs. Chris Jericho, Sammy Guevara & Minoru Suzuki
It’s easy to see why this was placed between the two main events. Sting party matches, as they’ve become known as, have become a clever way of giving the crowd a break while also keeping them excited for what’s coming next. These matches are never epic, but they’re usually a lot of fun.
Outside of a few cool moments, this version of the party match just didn’t hit as well as it usually does. Seeing all three members of Jericho’s team do the sex gods pose was comedy gold, and Sammy driving a 64-year-old Sting through a table with a 630 to the outside was unforgettable. Everything else though was sloppy and even a bit dangerous. A botched springboard cutter from Sammy to Sting, where Sammy looked to have lost a tooth and Sting was knocked loopy, slowed everything down.
Even the addition of Naito didn’t do much for this match, he even decided to keep his t-shirt on which is a surefire sign that he’s likely going into autopilot which ended up being the case. It wasn’t a bad match at all but expectations were definitely higher than what we got.
Bryan Danielson vs. Kazuchika Okada
When fans talk about dream matches, this is exactly what they mean. A coming together of two athletes who many believed would be impossible at one point in time. Well here we are, two of the greatest pro wrestlers to ever grace the squared circle were set to go to war. To make matters even more exciting, we even got treated to Danielson finally coming out to Final Countdown! A song notoriously expensive to get even for Tony Khan.
With everything perfectly in place, this surely couldn’t fail. Well sadly, it kind of did. Not for one second am I saying this was a bad match, it wasn’t! In fact, it was great. But with the expectation levels being that of what we got for Omega v Ospreay, this main event just never lived up to it.
There were a number of reasons for this. Firstly it was revealed in the media scrum later than Danielson suffered a fractured arm at some point in the match. The crowd had also been very loud all night and as much as they tried to get up for this, they just struggled to keep up the energy. Finally the finish itself, although very shocking, felt quite flat in comparison to what we usually see at the end of Okada matches.
Of course it’s huge news to hear Okada has tapped out, it hasn’t happened for over 8 years after all. But it came at the cost of not having a good closing stretch that featured lots of near falls. They were undoubtedly brave for taken a less trodden path, but it sadly resulted in just a very good to great match that was supposed to be iconic.
Forbidden Door is a weird one to review. The show as a whole was brilliant and will undoubtedly be up there when talking best shows of the year. But as I said in the opening, the expectations were that this show would be an unquestioned 10/10 and have the gold medal handed to it way before the year is up. So does the show recieving a 9 mean it’s a failure? It begs the question whether such high expectations are actually good for wrestling shows, especially when you look at last year’s Forbidden Door that had quite low expectations but ended up being a lot of people’s favourite PPV of 2022.
At the end of the day, Forbidden Door 2023 was fantastic. It had multiple matches at 4 stars or higher with one of them potentially being the match of the year. It’s just a shame that a couple of matches didn’t quite live up to what were maybe unfair expectations.
Before we finish up, I just want to quickly mention that we will indeed be reviewing AEW Fight Forever so make sure to check that out once the game is released this Thursday! Until then, check out this awesome video showing off the entire playable roster: