AEW Forbidden Door (6.25.23) review
June 25, 2023
We’re in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. Hosts are Excalibur, Kevin Kelly and Taz (later replaced by Tony Schiavone).
MJF (c) vs. Hiroshi Tanahashi
Sad to see a veteran like Tanahashi reduced to jerking the curtain against a midcarder. MJF is about as good as his fake tan. I’m not saying there’s not a spot for him, but he doesn’t need the belt and they should have someone more proficient on top. MJF as a character is great. In AEW’s defence, MJF does seem to be getting more over the longer his reign runs because people hate him and want him to lose.
Tanahashi looks painfully slow. His knees are clearly fucked. Pre-pandemic Tanahashi was on the decline but the last three years he’s fallen apart. They do a few spots around Tanahashi’s lack of mobility but then also rely on his mobility to transition from one spot to another and that doesn’t work. They could have been smart with it, but they weren’t. MJF does an ok job of selling a knee issue to slow the match down. MJF wins with shenanigans. They alternated between working smart around the shortcomings of Tanahashi in 2023 and not doing so. The result is a middling contest with a bad finish. Tanahashi should stick to tags. I saw him over Mania weekend, and it was a bit sad, this was absolutely tragic.
Satoshi Kojima vs. CM Punk
Kojima hasn’t had the sudden decline of Tanahashi, he’s slowly been sliding since 2015 or so.
This is a quarter final match in the Owen Hart tournament. I’ve basically missed the discourse between Punk and everyone else on socials. My take? I don’t really care. I only care about what he does in the ring and here it’s playing to the crowd. He does the Hogan legdrop. It’s an interesting development. Combined with Kojima’s limitations and it’s not a good match at all. Punk spends a lot of the match pissing around, doing Kojima’s own spots, doing Tenzan’s spots. Taz passes this off as Punk “doing his homework”, whatever that means. Punk has always been more about psychology than his actual work but his psychology in this is weird. It’s like he’s trying to annoy people. I guess that’s the gimmick. The work here is loose too. The GTS at the finish stinks. Punk looked rusty. Kojima was barely able to keep up with Punk’s athleticism, which is worrying for him. I’m sure he’d rather just stand and trade. Anyway, this was bad and didn’t help anyone.
AEW International Championship
Orange Cassidy (c) vs. Katsuyori Shibata vs. Daniel Garcia vs. Zack Sabre Jr
This is a fascinating collection of workers. Cassidy’s multi-man matches are usually great fun. The way he puts silly stuff together but still makes it look technically good and make sense, is a wonderful talent. They have a spot in this where everyone hits a big boot at the same time, and it looks good. That’s talent. I particularly like Shibata and Sabre taking the other two less seriously and occasionally stopping to just slap the shit out of each other.
Cassidy does a great job of selling his hand, which Sabre tortures at one point. They don’t quite keep the energy of the opening 7-8 minutes, with all four involved, and the bits where they take it in turns to work one-on-one is less good. They get it back with Sabre vs Shibata on the mat, which is sensational. Shibs hits the PK and Orange steals the pin. This was tremendous fun and a really well structured match that benefitted everyone and got everyone’s shit over. ***¾
IWGP World Championship
SANADA (c) vs. Jack Perry
Should have given the title match to Hook. Not that anyone can get anything out of SANADA. It’s a sign of the decline of IWGP that SANADA has the belt and EVIL has also had it. Imagine that when it was Okada vs. Shibata on top? Or Tanahashi? Even Naito? The most over guy in the match is Red Shoes. SANADA is his usual self here. Lots of goofy selling, lots of goofy spots. As a technician SANADA is capable but he needs someone to lead him, which isn’t ideal as a champion. When he’s not in there with a ring general, his matches are a fucking mess. Perry brings something to the match. He goes after SANADA’s weak points. Like countering an uppercut into a backslide and taking advantage of how dim he is. Perry’s biggest strength is his ability to take bumps. SANADA nails some showy spots on him and finishes with the moonsault. I like Perry getting beaten by a secondary finisher. That’s cool. The match was decent. 10 minutes is exactly how long I like my SANADA matches.
Post Match: Perry turns on Hook, just moments after I praised him for being an effective babyface.
Eddie Kingston, Tomohiro Ishii, Adam Page & The Young Bucks vs. Blackpool Combat Club (Jon Moxley, Claudio Castagnoli, Wheeler Yuta), Konosuke Takeshita & Shota Umino
Ishii is still my favourite wrestler. A tiny guy who won’t back down from anyone. Everything he does looks realistic. Snug on the strikes. Great fire and personality. Tremendous selling. The bit where Takeshita knocks him out with a forearm is elite tier selling.
Mox vs. Kingston is the main storyline here, as Eddie feels Moxley has wronged him but he still likes Mox. Neither guy is an incredible worker but they’re both great characters and know how to get people invested. Takeshita might be the MVP of this match. The exchanges with Ishii are great but the shot he takes off Adam Page is up there with Ishii’s selling. If only this company had some taller wrestlers so he didn’t have to stoop to wrestle. Kingston is “conflicted” and saves Mox from a Superkick Party. Uh? If there’s a weak point here it’s Umino. He’s out of position a few times and rushes into a spot when it’s not there. Everyone else is great. Ishii even gets handed the pin, dropping Yuta with a brainbuster. This was extremely pleasing. An all-action balls to the wall ten-man tag. They mixed in a bit of storytelling but essentially it was just a bunch of great wrestlers doing their thing. ****¼
If the show had an intermission, it should be here. It’s tough to follow such an action-packed match as that ten man.
AEW Women’s Championship
Toni Storm (c) vs. Willow Nightingale
AEW sticking the women’s title match in the death spot. Been learning from WWE, have we? I suppose they could have used it as filler between Omega-Ospreay and Danielson-Okada if they wanted to really screw them over.
They try hard here, certainly, but there’s a lot of focus on Saraya screeching at ring side. Can we turn those microphones down a bit? Toni’s heel attitude works and gives Willow a mountain to climb, even though she has a size advantage. Toni positions the ref, in an awkward spot, goes to the eyes and finishes with Strong Zero. The heel/face dynamic drove the match.
I love how Saraya is so dumb she does the L thing with her hand and it’s the wrong hand. Norwich, eh? Never mind, eh.
IWGP United States Championship
Kenny Omega (c) vs. Will Ospreay
I didn’t watch Wrestle Kingdom but apparently these two had a good match there. I can believe it. As much as I keep saying I don’t like Kenny Omega, if he has the right opponent, he can be outstanding. Omega, at his worst, is goofy and dancey and he spams his high spots. Also, he has terrible punches. A decade ago, Kenny was doing things no one else could even dream of but now there’s a bunch of guys who can do Omega’s work. It doesn’t help that they go the New Japan Main Event Style, which is do a bunch of ‘feeling out’ stuff. They’ve wrestled each other a load of times, just get to the cool stuff or the storyline meat. Whichever you’re going for.
They do litter enough bits and pieces in there that it’s not boring but it’s far from breathtaking. Ospreay tries to get revenge for Wrestle Kingdom, where Omega put his head through a table, and people boo? Hey, Kenny did it first. Vengeance is fair play, in my opinion.
Ospreay licking blood off his arm is sickening. I have to admit, I love it. Wrestlers are sickos. It’s like watching the freak show. Amuse me, monkeys, dance!
Ospreay goes full Shawn Michaels for heat but is unable to successfully stick the flag up his nostril. ****½ for effort though. Both guys do obvious bladejobs and Ospreay taps an artery. If we’re learning from Michaels, try blading in mid spot, on camera and no one seeing it.
Will heads towards the Muta scale as he bleeds all over Omega. It’s a mistake, in my opinion, to go from this to the usual high spots. I would have structured it to load up high spots early doors and then allow them to go into the heel/face structure and the slower pace with the bloodshed. Ospreay lifting popular Canadian submissions is fun, especially as he uses Benoit’s crossface and commentary go very quiet. Compare this to Punk’s earlier mockery and Ospreay comes off as the smarter guy. He’s being effective and eliciting a response.
Omega even has a sensible comeback, countering Ospreay’s dumb Oscutter and then targeting the bloodied head with a series of high impact moves. The stretch does feel overdone. They go from battling back and forth to lying around doing nothing. That’s the sign you’ve gone too long. Plus the Don Callis stuff is clumsy.
It’s like there are two good matches here overlapping. One with lots of cool spots and counters and finisher theft. One with hatred, bloodshed and Don Callis and all the storyline business. They clash. I don’t know who needs to hear that. It can be one or the other, it doesn’t need to be both. That said, both the storyline and the structure were good. Also, I kinda hate the finish. Ospreay murders Omega with the Tiger Driver ‘91. In a move that makes me GASP because it’s so brutal. And Kenny kicks out so Ospreay can just beat him with his Stormbreaker, a move that looks way less impactful. Why does it always have to be the “finisher” that wins?
Anyway, this will be divisive. I liked the brutality and a lot of what they did and I’m happy it wasn’t just a bunch of Spotz. ****½
Minoru Suzuki, Chris Jericho & Sammy Guevara vs. Tetsuya Naito, Sting & Darby Allin
What a mad collection of talent. It feels engineered to have a North American legends section, a Japanese bit and Guevara vs. Allin. Naito wrestles in his t-shirt, if you’re wondering how much effort to expect here.
The crowd chant “murder Grandpa” at MiSu, which is harsh I think. He’s only 55. That’s barely out of prime years in Japan.
Sting, at 64, deserves better than Sammy Guevara throwing himself at him.
Just about all of the matches best moments involve Suzuki being Suzuki. The rest of it? The definition of a ‘cool down’ match. Guevara and Allin try hard to make it watchable, but their athletic ability is used to for them to fly into other people’s spots. The conclusion, when it finally arrives, is a clumsy mess with Naito getting the pin on Suzuki. This was bad. Let’s forget about this.
Kazuchika Okada vs. Bryan Danielson
Danielson coming out to the Final Countdown is majestic. Apparently, Europe charge $100,000 per play. Tony Khan is out here bankrupting himself to make a cooler product. I like it. If he’s running it back to ROH champion Danielson, the GOAT is back. Also, putting Okada in the main when SANADA is in the mid-card in a ten-minute match just about sums up who New Japan’s real top guy is. Okada matches are certainly an experience. They tend to build, rather than excel throughout. This is something he’s worked at forever. I would have hoped Danielson would have dragged him out of this. It’s not to be.
Another thing I was expecting from Danielson was a tactical approach, but he just seems to charge into shit and duke it out with Okada, which makes no sense. Maybe he’s telling a story that his own character is so cocky that he wants to go toe to toe, even though that doesn’t benefit him. Danielson instead looks to counter and pick off errant strikes but that means him having to take a beating.
It takes a big chunk of the match until Danielson starts doing anything resembling strategy, as he targets Okada’s Rainmaker arm. Pfft, like that’ll ever stop him hitting it. You could tear his arm off and he’d lariat you with the stump. They have a weird angle where Danielson ‘convulses’. Is this his big tactical approach? Feigning injury? I don’t like it. Either Danielson is hurt and can’t use his right arm at all, which means he shouldn’t be in there or he’s pretending to be hurt, which is great selling, but I hate him doing it because of his history of serious injuries. It’s really uncomfortable viewing. Danielson manages to tie Okada up, despite having only one arm, and Okada taps. Huh. Wow, did not see that coming. I was going ***½ on this but I looked up the news and apparently Danielson broke his arm. I don’t know if that improves the rating, because he worked around it, or makes it worse?
I guess I’ll leave it where my gut said to go.
Compared to AEW’s disappointing last PPV (Double or Nothing), this was way better. We got off to a clunky start with two lemons (MJF/Tanahashi & Punk/Kojima) but the multi-man matches on this show killed it. Well, the OC title defence and the Elite/BCC ones did. The Elite/BCC match was the best thing on the show until Omega and Ospreay turned up and did their thing. I’m a bit sad that Danielson got hurt and hopefully he’s ok soon, the match with Okada was just in the process of warming up when he got hurt. Getting through that match is an achievement by itself. I had a great time watching this and it was far less of a slog than other shows up in the 3h45m-4h mark. It probably helped that the good stuff on this show was across the entire show. The three cooler matches in between the last four ‘good’ matches on this show were notable. The time management and card planning worked. There were spots littered throughout the show that popped me. Whether it just simple strikes, Omega landing on his head, comedy or whatever. Easy thumbs up.