Break on Through: AEW, New Japan and the Opening of the Forbidden Door

by Tanner Pruitt

Batman and Superman. The Avengers assembling. The Simpsons doing a special with Family Guy. Sammy Hagar joining Van Halen… Ok, maybe not that last one. These are the coming together of forces to make something great, and on Wednesday night fans of professional wrestling got something truly worth waiting for. At the conclusion of the match featuring Kenny Omega and The Good Brothers facing Omega’s title rivals Jon Moxley, PAC and Rey Fenix, Moxley seemed to have Omega all to himself and then when we all least expected it, a masked man jumped into the ring to attack Moxley. The masked man turned out to be non-other than KENTA from New Japan Pro Wrestling. Excalibur on AEW commentary would explain to the audience that KENTA is set to face Jox Moxley for Moxley’s IWGP United States championship as KENTA smashed Moxley with his signature, the Go 2 Sleep.

And in a matter of mere moments, the landscape of wrestling changed once again. Let’s rewind, shall we?

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Kenny Omega’s last match in New Japan Pro Wrestling against Hiroshi Tanahashi at Wrestle Kingdom 13 in the Tokyo Dome.

January 4th, 2019. New Japan Pro Wrestling was rocking the Tokyo Dome with Wrestle Kingdom 13 featuring Cody, The Young Bucks, Chris Jericho, Lance Archer, Hangman Page, and headlining the show was the current IWGP Heavyweight Champion, Kenny Omega. For the members of the group known as The Elite, this event would be the tying up of loose ends: all members of the group would lose their matches, including Kota Ibushi who was speculated to be on his way out of the company. The reason for this mass turnover in fortunes for the group was quite clear: Cody and the Young Bucks were known to be headed out the door to start All Elite Wrestling with Tony Khan. It was even further speculated that the group’s intentions during the event was to try and spearhead a working relationship. The missing piece of the puzzle was Omega. His contract was up after Wrestle Kingdom 13 and after dropping the title to Tanahashi there was nothing keeping Kenny in New Japan. Kenny Omega, the man widely regarded as the best wrestler in the world, would test the free agency waters. We would only have to wait a month to get his answer as Kenny Omega would sign a full-time contract with AEW on February 7th, 2019. This move would be symbolic of what would come for the next two years. As much as New Japan would sorely miss the talents they had spent years building the company around, many on the inside of New Japan harbored serious doubts that this project being put together by Cody, Kenny and the Bucks would become a serious threat in the wrestling world. Thus, the proverbial “Forbidden Door” was established, seemingly separating New Japan and AEW from an open working relationship.

On May 25, 2019, the game would change again. AEW would hold it’s first major Pay Per View, Double or Nothing. Kenny Omega would main event the show against Chris Jericho with the winner going on to face Hangman Page at it’s show All Out later in the year. Jericho would win the match, but both he and Omega would be beaten down and upstaged by the debut of Jon Moxley, the man formerly known as Dean Ambrose in WWE. Moxley would make his mark on AEW by going after their biggest stars at the time. But in an odd twist, Moxley would be confirmed to make his debut in New Japan Pro Wrestling just two days later, taking on Juice Robinson for the IWGP United States championship. He would go on to compete in that year’s G-1 Climax tournament for the company and compete regularly for New Japan through early 2020 while also competing in AEW, obtaining the AEW Championship and becoming one of the most consistent top performers in all of wrestling.

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Jon Moxley played a major role in AEW and New Japan joining forces.

In the wake of COVID-19, wrestling companies have had to get creative, and in AEW’s case the fledgling company was still out to add depth and distance itself from WWE. Fortunately for them, they had been very consistent in being willing to work with other wrestling companies. In 2019, AEW had teamed with Mexican promotion AAA due to AEW’s working relationship with Rey Fenix and Pentagon jr. The relationship would see Kenny Omega become the top Champion of AAA, defeating Rey Fenix. Back in the US, Smashing Pumpkins front-man and new NWA owner Billy Corgan developed a further relationship with AEW highlighted by talent-share of NWA Women’s Champion Thunder Rosa who added a new spark to AEW’s women’s division. On the other side of the coin, however, Jon Moxley was still IWGP United States Champion and had been unable to return to Japan as originally desired to defend his title against KENTA who had since become #1 contender to Moxley’s title on New Japan’s US-centric show New Japan Strong.

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AEW Winter is Coming marked a major change in AEW’s current booking, aligning itself with IMPACT Wrestling

On December 2nd, 2020, AEW presented it’s TV special Winter Is Coming main-evented by Jon Moxley putting the AEW title on the line against Kenny Omega, two men destined to resume their rivalry. The conclusion of the match saw Kenny Omega, with the help of Don Callis, win the AEW championship, and before the show went off air, Kenny Omega let it be known that we would get an explanation from him on the next week’s episode of IMPACT Wrestling, signaling yet another partnership AEW gained. IMPACT, who had recently bolstered their own roster with the likes of The Good Brothers, Chris Sabin and Alex Shelley and more were also seemingly back on the upswing and adding Kenny Omega to their ranks would prove to be a major coup. Omega would main event Impact’s Hard to Kill pay per view in a tag team match, featuring him teaming with The Good Brothers against IMPACT World Champion Rich Swann, Chris Sabin and Moose.

For weeks on AEW and IMPACT television, we saw talent being shared on both shows. And that leads us to February 3rd, 2020. The Good Brothers would tag with Kenny Omega once again to take on Moxley, PAC and Rey Fenix. The finale saw Moxley attacked and flattened by New Japan’s KENTA who was on crash-course to face Moxley for the IWGP US Title on February 26, 2021 on New Japan Strong. On February 4th, reports seemingly confirmed that the so-called “Forbidden Door” separating AEW and New Japan was finally open.

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Kenny Omega and Kota Ibushi from New Japan. Could we possibly get this match again with even higher stakes?

So now that it’s open, there is a multitude of possibilities. AEW, New Japan, Impact, NWA and AAA could all seemingly be on the same page in one of the largest cooperative efforts in wrestling since the original establishment of the NWA. What could this mean? Well, to temper expectations, in the short term it seems only viable that KENTA and New Japan talent already in America will be benefactors. Any international travel between the US and Japan right now would certainly require quarantine meaning meticulous planning would be required. But as vaccinations for COVID-19 become more wide-spread and the virus is more controlled, we could see some really exciting crossovers. Kenny Omega seems to be destined to face and possibly defeat Rich Swann for the IMPACT championship, furthering his “belt collector” story as he travels from promotion to promotion winning top titles. A clash between Kenny Omega and current IWGP double-champ and best friend Kota Ibushi could be a very real possibility. Jon Moxley has lots of unfinished business in New Japan as well. New Japan benefits because they need tag teams like The Good Brothers, FTR, The Lucha Brothers and a return of the Young Bucks to bolster a division sorely needing competition. IMPACT, NWA and AAA could benefit from talent-sharing overall, and with IMPACT and NWA having particularly strong women’s wrestling they could help bolster AEW. Oh, and let’s not forget that New Japan’s parent company also owns STARDOM, one of the world’s premier women’s wrestling companies. It wasn’t that long ago that New Japan and Ring Of Honor were able to book a show at Madison Square Garden from right under WWE’s noses. Imagine what these companies could all do together.

The Elite’s mission statement was at one point “Change The World”. Consider this mission: accomplished.

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