Monday, July 1, 2024

AEW x NJPW Forbidden Door 2024 Review: Swerve and Will Have Arrived

Never doubt AEW when it comes to PPV.  Just don't do it.  This company is untouchable at putting on absolute banger shows.  Case in point the 2024 edition of Forbidden Door, a ten-match main card (plus some very fun pre-show bouts) where the worst thing on the show was the perfectly fine opening match.  The match layout also made it fly by, as they saved most of the longer matches for later in the show.

After an enjoyable Mariah May-Saraya tournament match that saw May steal a win with a rollup, and a blazing lucha trios match featuring the legendary Mistico, Forbidden Door kicked off proper with hometown hero MJF vs. technical lucha wizard Hechicero in a fast-paced clash of styles.  This only got ten minutes but they had enough time to tell the story of Hechicero targeting Max's recently rehabbed shoulder, and Max keeping up with Hechicero's technical prowess.  Max escaped a double arm submission and hit Adam Cole's Tequila Sunrise destroyer and his own brainbuster to win the match and foreshadow his impending date with Cole.  Solid stuff to get the PPV started.  ***1/2

Next up was The Elite squaring off with The Acclaimed and Hiroshi Tanahashi, marking the first Okada-Tanahashi showdown in an AEW ring.  Okada avoided his longtime rival for most of the match, and sadly Tana looked very old and banged up.  But the Bucks and the Acclaimed carried the lion's share of the workload, building to their upcoming Tag Title match.  The two teams more or less took each other out of the match, leaving the NJPW rivals to duke it out in the final stretch.  Tana got a nearfall by countering the Rainmaker into a rollup, but Okada cut off his comeback with a dropkick, followed by the Rainmaker for the win.  Fun party match that protected The Acclaimed.  ***3/4

The first great match of the night was Bryan Danielson vs. Shingo Takagi in a first-round Owen Cup contest.  This felt like a killer G1 bout, with both guys working like it was the main event.  Early in the match Shingo hit a draping neckbreaker to the floor, which Danielson sold like a thespian.  Shingo used his superior power and size to dominate Danielson, but Bryan made a comeback and it became a battle of strikes, suplexes and submissions.  Shingo scored a nearfall after Made In Japan but couldn't get Danielson up for Last of the Dragon.  Danielson got a two-count with a busaiku knee, then did his signature head stomps, locked in a triangle choke with elbows, and finally tapped Shingo with an armbreaker.  Great, gritty match.  ****1/2

Another great match was next as Toni Storm defended against Mina Shirakawa, with Mariah May torn between her mentor and best friend.  This was one of Storm's best title defenses to date and felt like a Stardom match with some great character work from both women.  Mina worked Storm's leg and locked in a posted figure four, followed by an in-ring one that saw both women slapping each other while Storm was locked in the hold.  Mina got a close nearfall with her Glamorous Driver but Storm just barely kicked out and made a comeback with a series of headbutts, followed by a German suplex and Storm Zero to win the match.  Mariah then had to choose her allegiance, but opted instead to ask her two friends to hug it out.  She then leaned in for a kiss from both of them, and the three exchanged the most dramatic kiss ever.  Nigel McGuinness stood at the announce table, applauding and crying, which was goddamn hilarious.  Excellent match that sets the stage for Toni vs. Mariah at All In.  ****  

The next match absolutely took me by surprise with how great it was.  I expected Orange Cassidy vs. Zack Sabre Jr. to be a solid undercard bout but it actually stole the first three hours of the show for me.  The story was Cassidy vowing to beat Zack with his hands in his pockets, and Zack toying with him.  But Cassidy proved he could hang with the best technician in the business, even if he came up short in the end.  Orange scored several nearfalls with ZSJ-style rollups and cradles, but Zack escaped them all and ultimately tied up all four of Cassidy's limbs in an excruciating hold, forcing a verbal submission.  This was shockingly good.  As Zack said at the media scrum, if you don't think Orange Cassidy is a talented wrestler, you're a fucking idiot.  ****1/2

Another party match was next as Chris Jericho, Big Bill and Jeff Cobb faced Samoa Joe, Hook and Katsuyori Shibata.  This was a lot of fun like the previous two trios bouts, with Jericho continuing his hilarious Learning Tree gimmick.  Lots of back and forth action and nearfalls, but in the end Joe and Shibata choked out Cobb and Bill respectively, allowing Hook to lock in Redrum on Jericho.  Jericho escaped but Hook hit him with his own Judas Effect to win the match.  Side note: I wanna see Joe vs. Cobb one-on-one, as soon as possible.  This was fun.  ***3/4

So WWE has their Money in the Bank show this weekend huh?  That's cute.  Anyway, the TNT Title ladder match was next, and it was unbridled mayhem.  They used two grades of ladders, the standard black ones and some rather flimsy silver ones that were clearly there for the crazier bumps, like when El Phantasmo hit a DVD on Lio Rush through one.  The field targeted Jack Perry early to try and keep him out of the match, and late in the game Mark Briscoe set up a ladder on the apron and dove onto Perry onto a table, which didn't break.  Dante Martin at one point got knocked off a ladder and sold his surgically repaired ankle like he broke it again, but fortunately it was a work.  Konosuke Takeshita took ELP out of the match with a Blue Thunder bomb through two tables that shattered on impact.  Briscoe took Takeshita out with a Jay Driller through a ladder.  But Perry made a comeback and took Mark out with a series of chairshots before climbing and adding more gold to The Elite's collection.  Helluva spectacle.  ****

The final women's match of the night pitted Mercedes Moné against Stephanie Vaquer for both the TBS and NJPW Strong belts.  This was another really good match and the second strong AEW PPV showing for Mercedes.  They were very evenly matched but Vaquer actually upstaged Moné here, to the point that the crowd began loudly cheering for Vaquer through the second half.  But as expected Mercedes eked out the win, hitting the Moné Maker and locking in her crossface for the tapout win.  As Mercedes celebrated some familiar music began to play, and it was the looooong-awaited return of Britt Baker to set up their inevitable showdown at Wembley.  Damn good stuff all around, and Stephanie Vaquer needs an AEW contract pronto; she's fantastic.  ****

The most disappointing match of the night, though it was still solid, was Jon Moxley vs. Tetsuya Naito, and it was through no fault of Moxley's.  They worked a slower-paced, gritty matchup, but Naito just felt a little off.  Mox tried his damndest to drag a great match out of him but the bout never got above "good."  The final sequence fell flat, as Naito meant to counter a Deathrider into a Destino but just sort of fell on top of Mox.  They had to reset and have Naito hit a brainbuster followed by another Destino for the win.  Naito just looks very lethargic and banged up these days, and it's way past time to crown a new crop of top NJPW guys.  Still this match was decent.  ***1/2

Boy did the main event make up for it though.  Swerve Strickland and Will Ospreay had a battle for the ages, one that elevated both men's stock and should be long remembered as a career-defining Swerve match.  The crowd that had been up and down all night were clearly saving their energy for this one, as they went nuclear right at the bell.  There were numerous amazing sequences in this match, starting with the initial flurry which saw both guys countering each other's moves.  The action spilled out, where Swerve tried to piledrive Ospreay on the barricade, but Ospreay countered into a crazy hurricanrana to the floor.  Back in side they each went for their finishers but missed, and Ospreay hit a Styles Clash for two.  Swerve dodged an Oscutter and went for a Swerve Stomp, but Ospreay got to the outside, and Swerve hit it on the announce table instead.  Just an insane moment.  Swerve then hit that piledriver on the barricade.  Back in the ring Ospreay hit a pair of Oscutters and some hook kicks, followed by the Stormbreaker for a close nearfall.  Ospreay teased a Tiger Driver but Swerve escaped and hit a Hidden Blade.  Ospreay evaded a Swerve Stomp and went for Hidden Blade but hit the referee by mistake.  Don Callis appeared and handed Ospreay a screwdriver, but after several seconds of deliberation he opted to throw it away.  Swerve hit a House Call and two Swerve Stomps but Ospreay kicked out.  Ospreay went limp and Swerve hit another House Call and the JML Driver for the win.  Incredible main event that should shut down any nonsense about "setting Swerve up to fail."  *****

So yeah, another fantastic PPV from the company that does PPV better than anyone.  If you didn't find something to like on this show, I dunno what to tell you.

Best Match: Swerve vs. Ospreay
Worst Match: MJF vs. Hechicero, by default
What I'd Change: Not much, other than the Mox-Naito finish.
Most Disappointing Match: Mox vs. Naito
Most Pleasant Surprise: ZSJ vs. Orange Cassidy
Overall Rating: 9.5/10

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