The forbidden door is now open.
Tony Khan announced on tonight’s Dynamite that AEW and New Japan Pro-Wrestling will hold their first-ever joint pay-per-view, AEW x NJPW: Forbidden Door, on June 26 at the United Center in Chicago, Illinois.
“This is for wrestling fans,” said Khan, AEW’s President and CEO, who spoke with Sports Illustrated before the announcement. “There are many dream matches that can take place now that the ‘forbidden door’ is finally open.”
Since the launch of AEW in 2019, there has been constant speculation about a partnership with New Japan. AEW features former New Japan stars like Kenny Omega and The Young Bucks, as well as former NJPW champions in Chris Jericho and Jon Moxley. There have been appearances from New Japan icons on AEW programming, like when Moxley wrestled Yuji Nagata on Dynamite last May, and Moxley’s pay-per-view match against Satoshi Kojima in September at All Out. New Japan stars like KENTA, Minoru Suzuki, and Tomohiro Ishii have all appeared on AEW programming, and the next step for growth between the two powerhouse companies is co-producing a pay-per-view.
“It would have been unfathomable to collaborate on a pay-per-view when AEW first started, but a lot has changed since then in the world of wrestling,” said Khan. “I believe we’ve earned their trust. We started working closely together last year. The more we’ve collaborated, the better the relationship has become and the more trust we’ve built. It’s culminating at this huge event on pay-per-view with the stars of AEW and the stars of New Japan Pro-Wrestling colliding at Forbidden Door.”
Takami Ohbari, president and CEO of NJPW, also shared his enthusiasm about bringing captivating and compelling content to wrestling fans across the globe, especially as his company celebrates its 50-year anniversary.
“The theme of our 50th anniversary year has been not just to celebrate alongside our fans, but to give something back to everyone who has supported us over the decades,” said Ohbari, who will also air the pay-per-view live with Japanese commentary on the NJPW World streaming service. “Especially as we bounce back from the effects of the global pandemic, I feel we really have to go the extra mile. It’s on us to make those dream matches and situations come true, to bring the power of professional wrestling to the people, and emerge into a bright new era. At this point in time, with AEW and their tremendous talent getting increasing notice around the world, including among Japanese fans, they make the ideal partner for us to do just that and to unite fans worldwide.”
Ohbari noted there is a great deal of mutual respect between the two companies, especially for the manner in which AEW has established itself. AEW does not have a half-century of success like New Japan, but it has developed into a major entity in a short period of time—and it has not gone unnoticed that Khan has exceeded all of his promises about engaging with other top promotions.
“AEW has undergone tremendous growth in a very short timeframe,” said Ohbari. “From a fan’s perspective that has a lot to do with meeting the ‘unmet needs’ of the consumer. Creative matchmaking and exciting wrestling have been able to satisfy fans who had been left disillusioned by the American wrestling landscape. From a business standpoint, for a new entrant into the field to be able to leverage a fresh identity and sculpt such an effective media strategy, it is very impressive.”
New Japan has held working relationships previously with promotions in the United States, most recently with Ring of Honor. It co-produced the G1 Supercard at Madison Square Garden in 2019, which ended with Kazuchika Okada winning the IWGP heavyweight title in dramatic fashion on American soil.
Dating back even further, New Japan held large-scale events with World Championship Wrestling, most prominently with the WCW/New Japan Supershow pay-per-views in 1991, ’92, and ’93. There were also cross-promotional matches at Starrcade ’95: World Cup of Wrestling, featuring a seven-match tournament that saw Sting defeat Kensuke Sasaki in the finale. In the latter half of the decade, the relationship showed true promise, with stars like The Great Muta and Jushin Thunder Liger making more frequent appearances on Nitro. Moving forward, that is a template that could be applied to the evolving relationship between AEW and NJPW.
“It’s a mutually beneficial relationship,” said Khan. “Many of our top stars in AEW have wrestled in New Japan and held titles there. A lot of the biggest names from New Japan have never been to AEW, and there are a lot of great wrestlers here that have been in the ring with Okada, Tetsuya Naito, Kota Ibushi, and Hiroshi Tanahashi, and so many others. I’m excited for fans to see matches they’ve always wanted to see.”
Collaborating on a pay-per-view has been an ongoing discussion for much of the past year. With travel restrictions amid the pandemic now loosened, this June stood out as the perfect time. Khan shared that the card will be full of matches pitting stars of the two companies against one another, though it is not out of the realm of possibility that there will also be a match pitting New Japan wrestlers against one another.
It is also possible that there are matches featuring only AEW talent. AEW has an outstanding women’s division, but New Japan does not employ female wrestlers. Its parent company, Bushiroad, also owns Stardom, which is New Japan’s sister promotion.
“This is an AEW-NJPW event, said Ohbari. “But the key phrase here is, ‘Never say never.’ Really nothing is off the table, and who knows what the future may hold for AEW and Stardom.”
That possibility leads to even more potential for this relationship. In addition to seeing a match like Bryan Danielson against Kota Ibushi, or Hiromu Takahashi sharing the ring with MJF, or Tetsuya Naito reuniting with Andrade (you get the idea)—it would also be spectacular to see Stardom’s best, including Mayu Iwatani, Syuri, and Utami Hayashishita, wrestle on an AEW pay-per-view.
“This is going to be very exciting for wrestling fans,” said Khan. “We’re going to open the forbidden door together.”
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