The Hits & Misses Of Forbidden Door

This past weekend, All Elite Wrestling presented its annual co-promoted pay-per-view with New Japan Pro Wrestling, The Forbidden Door. As mentioned in recent articles, this was almost an exhibition pay-per-view so to speak because the majority of the match-ups are one-off type scenarios that are placed in vacuum for this event, but have zero impact on the All Elite landscape going forward. Obviously, to promote the event on television, the All Elite programming had to be geared toward these one-off bouts, which by nature doesn’t lend itself to an episodic product. The ratings in recent weeks have reflected that the TBS audience isn’t particularly drawn to wrestlers that they haven’t seen before, won’t see again for months, or have no idea who certain performers are.

I understand that Tony Khan values the Booker of the year award from The Wrestling Observer, but until it comes with a cash prize, Khan booking these inside baseball type contests have a domino effect that doesn’t fully utilize the valuable national television time on Wednesdays.

A prime example of this domino effect was the opening match on the card, which had an absurd 15 bouts in total, with five contests on the zero hour before the PPV broadcast. Maxwell Jacob Friedman’s return to the company last month after an extended absence to heal from several nagging injuries gave the organization a much needed boost in terms of an optimistic viewpoint for the brand. MJF, an athlete in the prime of his career, opted to re-sign with the organization, implying that he saw a bright future for All Elite Wrestling. If Friedman is willing to invest the prime of his career into AEW, it’s an indication that the fans can safely invest their dollars into the organization with some level of assurance that they will get their money’s worth.

So, MJF gets a major reaction for his return and his next step in his journey back to prominence in AEW is being booked in the opening match at the next pay-per-view against a luchador that the vast majority of the audience has never heard of. Furthermore, what exactly is the basis for this match? Sure, it gets MJF on the card in his hometown, but what’s the point? Hechicero isn’t going to feud with him, the match-up is a styles clash that impacted the quality of the segment that would’ve improved if either of these wrestlers had more compatible opponents, and it wasn’t as though this win does anything to truly re-establish Friedman in the organization. Don’t get me wrong, MJF can go in the ring, but he doesn’t exactly compliment the lucha style. The same could be said for Hechicero, he can work the lucha style, but it’s almost unfair to put him on this platform with an opponent that can’t work to his strengths to showcase lucha libre properly for an American audience. The match itself reflected that type of conflict, as it was more smoke and mirrors with MJF pantomiming signature taunts than anything that showcased his wrestling ability or the lucha skills of his opponent. The early brawling on the outside of the ring seemed like another way to camouflage the fact that these two weren’t going to exchange too many maneuvers because of the styles clash. The action was fine, but this was basically a TV match that was scheduled for pay-per-view, and more than anything, it seemed like a missed opportunity to properly showcase the CMLL talent, especially given that several other luchadors were booked for the Zero Hour.

Speaking of TV matches that made it to pay-per-view, The Elite vs. The Acclaimed and Hiroshi Tanahashi was also an example of this. It might sound strange to describe a segment with Okada and Tanahashi as something that didn’t live up to its platform, but that was the reality of this segment. Again, the action was fine, but there wasn’t anything too memorable or noteworthy about it. If this 12-minute contest was the main event of an episode of Dynamite or even Collision, it wouldn’t have been out of place. Tanahashi took the pin to give The Elite the victory, which at this point in his career is completely fine, but the problem with this match was it looked like Kazuchika Okada, one of the major signings from earlier this year, was underutilized again.

Thankfully, the card picked up with Bryan Danielson vs. Shingo Takagi in an Owen Hart tournament match. This was a really solid contest that showcased a lot of hard-hitting and fast-paced action, which is what the show needed as far the presentation. This match had a little bit of everything with physical exchanges and very good technical maneuvers before Danielson got the win via submission. This segment went almost 20 minutes and provided some meat on the bone so to speak as far as the viewing experience.

Toni Storm vs. Mina Shirakawa was basically another 10-minute TV match that could’ve aired on Dynamite rather to be shoehorned onto this bloated PPV card. It was fine for what it was, but with an angle that was rather flimsy and nonsensical, I’d almost say that being involved in something so silly actually takes away from Toni’s reign as champion. For as much as Dave Meltzer touted the skills of Mariah May from Stardom upon her arrival in AEW, she was cast as a total lackey. That’s not to say that she doesn’t have talent, but rather to point out that she hasn’t been given any opportunity to show any of it so right now, she’s an expendable performer on the show. Toni Storm retained the title.

Zack Sabre Jr. vs. Orange Cassidy was a very good technical bout and gave the card some variety, both in styles and quality. This was definitely a pay-per-view match and the work represented the potential that a co-promoted card like this can have for the niche audience that is familiar with Sabre Jr. That said, from a character prospective, I’m not sure what Orange Cassiady does from here, because he hasn’t been involved in anything of particular importance in a while and you could argue that his gimmick has become overexposed on AEW programming. Sabre got the win, which might be an indication that there’s a reset on the horizon for Cassidy.

I’m not going to say much about the six man tag that involved Samoa Joe, Shibata, and Hook vs. Chris Jericho, Big Bill, and Jeff Cobb. The reason being is that this will sound repetitive, but this was yet another segment that would’ve been better suited for television, not pay-per-view. This angle isn’t over with the fans, and the biggest takeaway from all of this might be how far Samoa Joe has fallen in terms of importance to AEW in the span of just a few months. The crowd was silent as certain points in this segment. He went from the world champion to a random six man tag for a storyline that the audience has rejected. Other than to get him a spot on the show, why is Shibata involved in any of this? The baby face team got the win. Since Hook pinned Jericho, hopefully this is the conclusion of this storyline.

The ladder match for TNT title was booked to be a car crash segment and that’s what it was with some risky bumps throughout the contest. There’s not much to say from a narrative perspective, but aside from the danger that goes along with these multiple competitor ladder matches, there is a place for this type of stunt segment on the PPV card. Mark Briscoe using the ladder like Terry Funk was a fun spot. I was surprised to see Lio Rush there because there’s a 50-50 chance that he’s retired at any given time. Takeashita is such a great athlete with so much potential, and unless he was going to win the belt, there was really no reason to put him in this match because he got lost in the shuffle. Jack Perry getting the win was predictable, but it makes sense with the current Elite storyline. As much as Perry had zero value to the company after the CM Punk backstage flight, credit where its due, the current angle has made him more of a heel than I would’ve guessed possible before this.

Mercedes Mone beat Stephanie Vaquer to win the New Japan Strong Women’s title, which doesn’t mean much in the grand scheme of things, but the lucha star gave Mercedes her first very solid match so far in her AEW tenure. If the roster wasn’t so bloated, I would say that Stephanie Vaquer would be a good addition to the organization, but the last thing this company needs is more people under contract, on the payroll, or on the roster. These two had some great technical exchanges that showed a lot of skill throughout the contest, with Mercedes getting the submission for the win. There were a few rocky points toward the conclusion of the match, but overall this was very well done.

Depending on your perspective, the main event was either a total miss or a home run, based on what you’re looking for from the AEW product. It goes without saying that Ospreay being booked in this spot was unnecessary and counterproductive. In some ways, this almost suggests that the storybook finish of him winning the title in Wembley Stadium is not the direction that Tony is going for this specific storyline. On the flip side, this was the first main event match that made Swerve Strickland look like a world champion rather than a placeholder. IF AEW isn’t going to give Ospreay the moment in London, and Khan is actually going to run with swerve as a long-term champion, this segment accomplished the goal of making Swerve look like a legitimate top guy. In my opinion, the setting of Wembley is too good to pass up so I think the entire booking of Ospreay a title match before Wembley was a mistake, but at the same time, if they are going to go with Swerve, it’s good to see that they are at least giving him a chance to be successful in the role with this type main event match on pay-per-view. As far as the match itself, everything was crisp and smooth. They are too polished pros and the action showed that. At the same time, this wasn’t exactly a match that had a lot of momentum behind it in terms of the storyline, which has been a continuous problems for the AEW product. I don’t think anyone will question some of the stellat match quality on pay-per-view, but the presentation and progress have been lacking on a regular basis for at least the past two years. There match solidified Swerve, but at the same time, it also implied that Ospreay isn’t going to get the memorable moment to win the title in London since the winner of the Owen Hart tournament gets a title shot on pay-per-view.

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Until next week
-Jim LaMotta

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