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By William Quant

Forbidden Door 2023 is a crossover event complete with an MCU Dr. Strange portal aesthetic! On Sunday June 25th, All Elite Wrestling and New Japan Pro Wrestling, the two biggest wrestling promotions in the world not named WWE, will collide in the second-ever Forbidden Door pay-per-view. The event will emanate from Toronto, Ontario, Canada, making it the first AEW PPV to be held outside of the US and NJPW’s first Canadian PPV. It’s a worthy candidate too, as the card is absolutely stacked. And I’m more than certain none of the sentences prior to this one mean anything at all to anyone outside of wrestling and possibly barely anything at all even if you are a huge fan of wrestling.

Forbidden Door 2023 isn’t WWE or Wrestlemania. This isn’t a grandeur event rooted in history that is considered a mecca for all fans of the medium; a gateway to the genre at its peak of relevance to pop culture at large. No, this is a show rooted in some of the most niche, geekiest, deep-cut concepts in all of mainstream wrestling. And with all due respect to AEW, they haven’t done the greatest job in explaining just who all these Japan-based grapplers that will be throwing hands with their top talent exactly are and why we should be excited for any of it.

But can I do a better job of it? I don’t have that much faith in my ability, but I can certainly try and drop a load of exposition on you as to why all these matches are happening, the stories behind them, the players involved, and most importantly, the entire context behind the idea of the “forbidden door” to begin with. 

So what the heck is a “forbidden door” anyway?

To put it simply, the phrase “forbidden door” is a term that is a catch-all for referencing other wrestling companies. It’s been rumbling around wrestling nerd vocabularies for several years, but AEW and their stars introduced it in the mainstream by not explicitly name dropping places like NJPW or WWE and just saying some people they’d like to face are unable to “open or cross the forbidden door.”  

Why does that door exist to begin with? Part of it is historically just strictly business. The WWE has exclusivity in their contracts, meaning any performer signed with them cannot perform for any other promotion for the duration of their agreement. Places like New Japan and CMLL, one of Mexico’s biggest promotions, are also incredibly protective of their stars and keep them on a short leash in regards to performing elsewhere, especially out of the country. Since WWE had been the biggest name in the game, virtually unopposed for almost two decades, some of the biggest names in the industry had never locked horns until their contracts ran out– and the WWE would do evil empire things to make sure didn’t happen sometimes, and hoard talent.

The other part is due to the robust history between Japanese promotions sending their guys over to the States and how they were treated and received. Spoilers: terribly. When you had bookers like Vince Russo harboring feelings he would later openly state, saying that he’d never push foreign talent because “If I’m watching wrestling here in America, I don’t give a shit about a Japanese guy” and tons of Japanese wrestlers being given some variation of the “evil foreigner” gimmick in the bigger American promotions, it doesn’t instill confidence. Special shout-out goes to Impact Wrestling, then called Total Nonstop Action Wrestling, for having Kazuchika Okada – who would go on to become the single biggest draw in Japan and is likely going to main event this very show – play a knock-off version of Kato from The Green Hornet. 

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(For the record, American and European based wrestlers also have an uphill battle when they head to Japan; the potential for xenophobia isn’t a one-way thing.)   

There are many, many more layers to the iciness between Japanese and American wrestling promotions, but those are mostly what you need to know as to how the greater “forbidden door” was erected, kept propped up, and why such a huge cross promotional show is quite the big deal in the first place. 

All that said, I’ve been trusted (cursed?) to be The Beat’s wrestling storyline guy and I put together a simplified guide to Forbidden Door 2023 to help you figure out the card for this wrestling nerd nirvana of a show that I hope is helpful if you at least know what wrestling is and if you don’t, uh, welcome to the jungle, baby, you’re gonna die?

Quick note: This being a giant crossover episode, every match on the card has some element of “bro wouldn’t it be cool to see these two face off” that plays heavily into their backstory. For some of them, that’s kind of all there is to the build-up. 

AEW x NJPW FORBIDDEN DOOR 2023

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IWGP United States Championship
Kenny Omega (c) vs. Will Ospreay

TL;DR // A shonen anime rivalry  – between two guys who IMDB said put up the greatest fight of all time –  run it back at the end of the season but you just know they’re saving the rest for the series finale.

How Did We Get Here? // Kenny Omega and Will Ospreay have been two of the biggest names in independent wrestling for a decade or so now, so any potential meeting between the two already has a shonen anime-like aura around it. That was before Omega, who ascended to superstar status with his matches in Japan, got a call from NJPW management after four years away to face then-US Champion Ospreay this past January at Wrestle Kingdom 17 (basically Japan’s Wrestlemania). 

The basis of their feud was the reasoning behind this almost certainly fictional phone call, in which Omega chastised Ospreay for not being a good enough replacement for Kenny himself in the New Japan pecking order. Omega and Ospreay would have what’ll likely end up the match of the year just four days into 2023, with Omega coming out on top of a match wrestling journalist Dave Meltzer broke his famed 5-star rating scale for by awarding it 6 ¼ stars. “The Aerial Assassin” then recently won a #1 contender tournament to earn his highly anticipated rematch.

Special mention for how the locale will be used to tell this saga’s story, as Ospreay is facing Omega in his native Canada. Should Ospreay win here/Omega want a rematch, the next AEW PPV, All In, takes place in Ospreay’s native England.

Quick Question: What is the IWGP? // IWGP stands for International Wrestling Grand Prix, which is the governing body over New Japan Pro Wrestling, similar to what the NWA was here in the States years and years ago. A ton of championships in NJPW have the IWGP branding. Simply put, IWGP tiles are NJPW’s titles as if their acronym were on it. It’s less confusing than it seems. 

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Bryan Danielson vs. Kazuchika Okada

TL;DR // It’s the Ultimate Battle of Ultimate Destiny as the two best wrestlers in the world face off in a match no one ever thought would happen.

How Did We Get Here? // More than any other match on the card, this one is the dream match; Batman vs. Superman, Sherlock vs. Lupin, King Kong vs. Godzilla. That latter duel is accurate even for the regions these two represent. The build for this match is literally just Bryan Danielson, who for almost two decades now has been considered the best wrestler in the west, meeting Kazuchika Okada, considered the best wrestler in the east, for the first time ever. The two even have parallels of rising and cementing their greatness: both men broke out in the early to mid 2010s as the most popular stars in their hemispheres. With Bryan locked into the WWE at the time, they were never going to meet. Then any meeting between the two seemed lost to the doldrums of “what if” when Danielson had to retire due to severe injuries. 

Miraculously, Danielson recovered and returned to the ring in 2018. All the while, Okada was having a 720-day reign as IWGP Heavyweight Champion. Both men continued to perform at the top of their craft and then Danielson became a free agent in 2021, signing with AEW. Since AEW doesn’t have exclusive contracts, Danielson has been free to fight whoever he wants. On June 4, Danielson issued the challenge to Okada. Just two days later, Okada accepted to find out who the “real Best in the World is.”

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IWGP World Heavyweight Championship
Sanada (c) vs. “Jungle Boy” Jack Perry

TL;DR // Luke Perry’s son isn’t done with his hero’s journey, but he was the only resumé in the door for a guy who doesn’t know why he wanted to hire anybody. 

How Did We Get Here? // This one’s one of a few that’s pretty cut and dry; a challenge was made by the reigning champion and someone answered it. With Forbidden Door on the horizon, still recently crowned IWGP Champion Sanada issued a challenge to anyone in the AEW locker room. “Jungle Boy” Jack Perry answered the call, a young man in the middle of perhaps the best arc of character development in the company. He’s bringing along his friend and tag partner, HOOK, for support.

Also yeah, Jack Perry is in fact the son of departed teenage heartthrob actor Luke Perry. Some heat has been poured onto this match with Sanada commenting that he doesn’t even know who Jack Perry is and wondered if this is the best AEW had to offer. Considering Jack Perry’s entire development he’s going through right now is proving he has what it takes to make it to the top, expect this match to tell a story of sheer determination.

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AEW World Championship
MJF (c) vs. Hiroshi Tanahashi

TL;DR // The Devil is contractually obligated to put up his championship and is trying to weasel out of it, but a guardian angel wants both redemption and for the Devil to sit his narrow ass down.

How Did We Get Here? // Another challenge-to-challenge accepted duel, Tanahashi challenged the reigning AEW Champion to a match at Forbidden Door. As phenomenal as Kazuchika Okada is, Hiroshi Tanahashi is what is known as the “ace” of New Japan, the guy the company has kind of built itself around. Think of it as him being NJPW’s equivalent of WWE’s Undertaker in terms of the kind of trust the company places in the guy to do whatever they need him to do. At last year’s Forbidden Door, Tanahashi was in the finals of a tournament for the then vacant AEW Championship opposite Jon Moxley. Now, he’s back to try and do what he couldn’t last year.

Unfortunately, while this match has been made official, Maxwell Jacob Freeman has stated he has no intention of defending his title against an “inferior” company. He claims to be skipping the event altogether to attend a softball game. I think that description tells you exactly the kind of character MJF is and why people are lining up to shove his face in. He claims to be AEW’s “Devil Himself,” and he’s earned that moniker, but how will he fare when going up against NJPW’s own patron saint?

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AEW International Championship
Orange Cassidy (c) vs. NJPW World TV Champion Zack Sabre Jr. vs. ROH Pure Champion Katsuyori Shibata vs. PWG Champion Daniel Garcia

TL;DR // One guy walks into a bar, but he owns the bar, then three other guys walk into the bar and want his bar even though they all already have bars and one guy’s bar is so small you can’t see it.

How Did We Get Here? // Okay, so AEW doesn’t recognize the PWG Championship because it isn’t on nearly the same level as AEW, NJPW, or ROH, but dammit it only seems fair to stick it on there because this match does have four freakin’ champions in it. Plus, Daniel Garcia mentioned on AEW TV that he wants to become a double champion, so it has at least been acknowledged on air. Anywho, this match was made out of essentially a comedy sketch.

Yes, it is ridiculous to have a match containing four champions and at that only one of them is on the line, and it came about just as ridiculously. While being interviewed about who might be his next challenger, the extremely easygoing Orange Cassidy simply mentioned that he knew someone was going to cut him off mid sentence and challe – oh hey Zack Sabre Jr., greatest technical wrestler in the world, I guess he’s got next? While ZSJ challenged Cassidy, Daniel Garcia, great technician in his own right, went looking for Cassidy’s buddy Shibata for his ROH Pure Championship. 

Following a tag team match between the four of them, this four way was made official. These four men are absolute workhorses and also have great comedy beats, so expect possibly some mood whiplash between being in awe at their athletic abilities and chuckling because someone won’t take their hands out of their pockets.

It should be noted that Shibata being here at Forbidden Door 2023 at all is a miracle, considering he suffered from a subdural hematoma in 2017 that caused some paralysis on the right side of his body and was never expected to be able to wrestle again. However, he returned to the ring in 2021 in an even more miraculous recovery than Bryan Danielson mentioned above. His first opponent in his return match? Zack Sabre Jr., who he’ll be meeting again here.

Also, just how good a technical wrestler is ZSJ? The Wrestling Observer Newsletter awards, run by Dave Meltzer, has an award that was once called “Best Technical Wrestler,” but around the mid 2010s it was renamed the “Bryan Danielson Award” because he’d won it every year from 2005-2013. ZSJ had won every Danielson Award from 2014-2020, meaning he has at least thrice bested the guy the award was named after for his own trophy. 

Quick Question: What is a TV Champion and what is a Pure Champion? // Television Championships are a class of title in wrestling made for, as the name implies, being defended somewhat regularly on television. It is to ensure that a championship is frequently defended on TV and not just saved for big events, but also to show off lots of different kinds of talent in contests with stakes. They’re also exciting because with all those defenses, it increases the chance you’ll see a new champion, so they’re great for ratings.

The ROH Pure Championship is a special title contested under specific “Pure Wrestling Rules”. It is a classification exclusive to Ring of Honor, a promotion that AEW owner Tony Khan also now owns. The rules are incredibly restrictive and are used to promote a, well, “pure” style of mat-based, expert level technical wrestling. The title was originally retired in 2006, but made a miraculous comeback itself during the Pandemic.  

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AEW Women’s World Championship
Toni Storm (c) vs. NJPW Strong Women’s Champion Willow Nightingale

TL; DR // SHOVE OFF, OLD LADY HATERS, IMMA SPANK YOU WITH KINDNESS AND ALSO MY FISTS.

How Did We Get Here? // Toni Storm and her running buddies Saraya and Ruby Soho have been causing havoc in the AEW Women’s division as The Outsiders, helping Toni claim the AEW Women’s World Championship not too long ago. But they didn’t just bully upstarts Blue Skye and Willow Nightingale. They bullied Skye’s own mother! Why would you bully Willow Nightingale, though? She’s like the brightest light in the world.

Willow is the first ever NJPW Strong Women’s Champion (a belt exclusive to NJPW’s program NJPW Strong Live), defeating Mercedes Mone (the former Sasha Banks!) in a tournament final in what was the first time two Black women main evented a huge event in Japan. A champ in her own right, Willow was given a chance to shut up her and her friend’s mom’s tormentors with a title shot. The least “forbidden” of the Forbidden Door matches because Willow has been a semi-regular in AEW for a while now.

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Women’s Owen Hart Cup Tournament Match
ROH Women’s World Champion Athena vs. Billie Starkz

Men’s Owen Hart Cup Tournament Match
CM Punk vs. Satoshi Kojima

TL;DR // A goddess looks to continue her domination, while the most controversial man in his craft wanted a Ferrari cake, but he’s getting an Acura cake instead

How Did We Get Here? // I’m putting these together because they have the same backstory – it’s a tournament, meaning you play it out how the bracket says. The women’s match is simple enough as that’s all the backstory you really need, aside from Athena currently having perhaps the best ROH Women’s World Championship run in its history. But on the men’s side, it is the PPV return of CM Punk after being away for 10 months. Following publicly bashing members of The Elite and getting in an unscripted, legit brawl with some of them backstage at last year’s All Out PPV, Punk was stripped of his AEW World Championship, suspended, and sent home to recover a torn bicep. He was also more or less rewarded with his own show, AEW Collision, that airs on Saturday nights.

I hate this for Satoshi Kojima, however. He’s legitimately one of the greatest Japanese wrestlers of all time, winning every championship imaginable and even holding the top titles of both of Japan’s top promotions at the same time as IWGP Heavyweight Champion and All Japan Pro Wrestling’s Triple Crown Champion. And yet, it is difficult to see him here at Forbidden Door 2023 as anything more than a consolation prize as a result of KENTA possibly pulling out of a match with Punk.

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Who is KENTA and why does he want to fight CM Punk every time Punk thinks of the word “Japan?”

This goes all the way back to c. 2007 and is about three little letters: G. T. S.

The Go 2 Sleep, or GTS, is the move Punk has solidified as his finishing move since his early days on WWE television. Problem is, Kenta Kobayashi, better known as KENTA yes all caps, invented the move and was very much active and still using it in Japan. KENTA sees Punk using his move on such a huge stage as straight-up theft, especially considering that now the move is much more synonymous with him than the guy who is a star in his own right and created it.

Finishing and signature moves are things wrestlers can be highly protective of, as they’re emblematic of their gimmicks/characters and a core part of their branding, especially if they innovated it, so you can understand KENTA’s frustration; even more so when he eventually got to the WWE himself. It also reeks of a history of many western performers taking moves from Japanese grapplers with no credit attempted. 

This isn’t really illegal as no one can truly “own” a move and wrestlers are artists who are inspired by their peers. But considering the history of some western promotions (like WWF/E) not even acknowledging that Japanese wrestling even exists and a western attitude that eastern wrestling was inferior, you can see how this becomes problematic. In fact, many of the impressive and high-impact moves seen today across the world of wrestling were first created by joshis, Japanese female wrestlers.

KENTA has stated that a match with Punk is his “personal feud” and wants him to “pay royalties.” Reportedly, the two were planned to face off for Forbidden Door this year, but KENTA pulled out. I know it’s Roman Reigns’s gimmick, but KENTA has been screaming “ACKNOWLEDGE ME” at Punk for a decade and a half. 

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Six-Man Tag Team Match
Chris Jericho, Sammy Guevara, and Minoru Suzuki vs. Sting, Darby Allin, and TBA

TL; DR // A pair of Juggalos reveal that master needs student more than student needs master and a legendary moment could unfold, but the party can’t start yet because their secret friend you might know is bringing the Xbox controllers. Also, grandpa’s here to supervise.

How Did We Get Here? // Chris Jericho is a wrestling legend that formed the Jericho Appreciation Society not long after helping open the doors of AEW as its first ever world champion. Sammy Guevara has been by his side learning from Jericho the entire time, becoming one of the brightest young stars in AEW. Also becoming a bright young star is the face painted Darby Allin, who has had several meetings with Sammy Guevara, especially of late, considering they both attempted and failed to capture the AEW Championship. Darby’s tag team partner, Sting, is one of the biggest icons in the history of wrestling and he surprisingly has a great deal of juice left at age 64(!!!). Also one of the biggest icons in wrestling is Minoru Suzuki, 55, who has been doing this for more than 30 years and isn’t really slowing down as wrestling’s resident angry grandpa character. Like, Suzuki’s been doing this so long that he helped found one of the very first MMA organizations in the world

The main story at Forbidden Door 2023 is that daredevil Darby Allin has been prodding a bit to see if or when Sammy Guevara will realize he doesn’t need Chris Jericho anymore. On top of that, despite being in the industry for decades and even in the same promotions at the same time, Jericho and Sting have never had a match together or faced off in any real capacity. Suzuki is here continuing his partnership with Jericho that showed up at last year’s Forbidden Door and also I assume because these children need some learnin’. The TBA is interesting because, as Darby has stated, Chris Jericho has made a lot of enemies in a lot of places. This is set to be a messy, surprisingly layered affair that has a built-in surprise, whether it’s announced at the event or just before.

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Ten-Man Tag Team Match
Blackpool Combat Club (Jon Moxley, Claudio Castagnoli, and Wheeler Yuta), Konosuke Takeshita, and Shota Umino vs. The Elite (“Hangman” Adam Page, Matt and Nick Jackson), Tomohiro Ishii, and Eddie Kingston

TL;DR // Turf war escalates in the Cinnabon parking lot, but someone switches sides! They’ve all brought some friends from out of town and that one uncle whose star sign is gasoline and barbed wire.

How Did We Get Here? // Oh boy. Lots of names, lots of feelings, lots of beatings. The more people there are in a match, the storytelling-to-brawl ratio shifts dramatically more towards brawl. The main story here at Forbidden Door 2023 is the BCC and The Elite have been back and forth for months to determine who is the more dominant stable in AEW. The core three of those stables faced off a month ago at Double or Nothing in an Anarchy in the Arena match, where BCC came out on top in a hellacious match that was given 5 stars by wrestling journalist Dave Meltzer. 

They’re gonna tango again, except this time, Konosuke Takeshita and his manager Don Callis will enter after changing sides. After being aligned with The Elite upon coming to America (and falling in love with Cinnabon lol) for the first time, Takeshita inexplicably turned on his friends and is sure to be the driving emotional force of the battle. Shota Umino is Jon Moxley’s hand-picked protege, so he’ll get close combat experience. Ishii is a common contender for the IWGP US Championship and happy to get another crack at former champion Moxley (and that pesky Takeshita too), and Eddie Kingston is just great, man. He ain’t afraid of a fight and implores there be bloodshed. He’s had nothing but contempt for the BCC (particularly Claudio Castagnoli, who he’s hated with a vengeance since 2006) for as long as they’ve been around, so he’s here to get his licks. 


That’s it this time around and I hope I helped someone, somewhere get at least a little bit better understanding of an event and a medium that often doesn’t slow down enough to open the door for outsiders.              

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