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How WWE Attempted to Walk Through New Japan’s ‘Forbidden Door’

Long before AEW and NJPW announced a joint pay-per-view, WWE was engaged in discussions with the Japanese promotion.

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Had WWE had its way, the “Forbidden Door” would have not opened in AEW

All Elite Wrestling and New Japan Pro-Wrestling announced last week that they are coproducing a supercard this June, opening a world of possibilities with the Forbidden Door pay-per-view.

The show will be the result of an ongoing collaboration between AEW president and CEO Tony Khan and top New Japan officials, including NJPW president Takami Ohbari.

This relationship has been built steadily over the past three years, with both sides having a chance to communicate on a more consistent basis during the pandemic. Now that international travel has resumed, this spring marks an opportune time to hold their first pay-per-view together.

“Traveling between Japan and the U.S. is no longer a significant problem,” says Ohbari, who also addressed whether there will be a follow-up event with AEW in Japan. “If Japanese fans are invested in this event and the demand is there, then there will absolutely be the impetus for us to take the next step of holding an event in Japan.”

Tony Khan was not the only one seeking to foster a relationship with New Japan. WWE president and chief revenue officer Nick Khan (no relation) also made overtures to New Japan last year, Sports Illustrated has learned. Had this been effective, WWE would have replaced AEW and become the exclusive U.S. business partner for New Japan.

A focal point of WWE’s interest in working with New Japan revolved around Bryan Danielson, who starred in the company as Daniel Bryan. After performing at WrestleMania 37 last year and then working a follow-up program with Roman Reigns that culminated in a title vs. career match last April on SmackDown, Danielson became a free agent and ultimately signed with AEW. Before reaching that agreement, WWE officials sought out creative solutions to keep him in the company, which Danielson later confirmed. That led to Nick Khan’s opening the lines of communication to New Japan, exploring ideas to collaborate between the two companies.

Tony Khan found out about WWE’s interest through his trusted contacts in New Japan, SI learned. New Japan officials stressed to Tony Khan that working with AEW was their priority, especially with the trust they had forged. This led to Tony Khan’s promo directed at Nick Khan last May, when he stated there was only room for one Khan in wrestling—and “not some con man from Connecticut.” Per sources, top NJPW officials knew about the promo before it was released—and encouraged him to do it.

It is fascinating to imagine WWE partnering with New Japan. Losing New Japan would have hurt AEW, as the partnership is a real advantage, especially internally, where the roster loves working with the New Japan talent. Plus, if history is our guide, WWE works best as its own entity. And New Japan certainly chose wisely. Whether it was Yuji Nagata on Dynamite last May, the reuniting of Roppongi Vice, which also took place last May, or Satoshi Kojima at All Out last September, the New Japan product has been treated with honor and respect in AEW.

Wrestling on a major AEW show will provide a significant platform for New Japan, especially as the company continues to develop its weekly U.S.-based NJPW Strong show. A core part of AEW’s foundation is being the best pro wrestling company in the world. Forbidden Door will further build on that mission, delivering what should be an outstanding slate of never-before-seen matches.

“NJPW and AEW will open the ‘Forbidden Door’ together this June, but what lies on the other side is something we will all have to wait to find out,” Ohbari says. “One guarantee: I always say that NJPW’s wrestlers carry the pride and the fight of wild lions. Whomever they fight against, or whomever they even team with, they will carry a fighting spirit that is unmatched and unbeatable.”

FTR’s Dax Harwood and Cash Wheeler squaring off against one another on Dynamite evokes memories of Demolition’s Ax and Smash wrestling at the 1989 Royal Rumble

A rarity will occur this week on Dynamite as Dax Harwood squares off against tag team partner Cash Wheeler in a singles bout.

The members of FTR are set to meet in a qualifier for the Owen Hart men’s tournament. The names Dax and Cash are a tribute to Ax and Smash, comprising the iconic Demolition tag team. And their match has the potential to be special, capturing a unique kind of feeling that was present when Ax and Smash—who, at the time, were the reigning WWF tag champs—beat the tar out of each other after entering first and second in the 1989 Royal Rumble match.

After an illustrious career that included stops in the NWA and the WWF, even dating back to when it was the WWWF, Bill Eadie then had a career-defining stretch as Ax in Demolition. His partner was Barry Darsow, who replaced Randy Colley after a quick stint as Smash. Speaking with SI, Eadie shared his affinity for tag team wrestling, which is embodied by the work of FTR.

“I’m happy they’re doing so well,” Eadie says. I’ve never had the privilege of meeting them, but all I hear about them is positive. I’m humbled and honored they think so greatly of us, especially by two guys who are at the top of their game. And their singles match reminds me of when we were in the Royal Rumble.”

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There was genuine surprise and excitement when Demolition’s theme music played for both the first and second entries of the Rumble, and that passion resonated through the unrivaled commentary team of Gorilla Monsoon and Jesse “The Body” Ventura. Once they were in the ring together, there wasn’t any hesitation—Ax and Smash wasted no time before starting their brawl.

“That was Pat Patterson’s idea,” Eadie says. “I still remember when we were in the ring together. We had some time before the next wrestler came out, and we couldn’t just stand there, so we went at each other. Then Andre came. Both of us laugh now about how that was probably the first and only time we were looking forward to Andre getting in the ring.”

Accompanied to the ring by Bobby “The Brain” Heenan, Andre would later team with Haku as The Colossal Connection. They defeated Demolition for the tag titles in December 1989, then dropped them back at WrestleMania VI the following April, which was Andre’s last WrestleMania match. And if you ever thought Andre looked more comfortable in the ring with Eadie, you were correct—the two shared an unbreakable bond from the time they met until Andre’s death in ’93.

“The first time I ever met Andre was in Greenwood, South Carolina, in front of a sell-out crowd, and they were all there to see Andre,” says Eadie, who later teamed with Andre under masks as The Machines (Super Machine and Giant Machine). “This was a few years before I went back to the WWF. Back then, there were no conversations before the match. There were two separate locker rooms, and you didn’t mingle with your opponent. But we hit it off from the time the bell went off. Andre was going to pick me up for a big slam, but he started to slip—I braced myself and pushed myself up, and he slammed me. All I could hear him say was, ‘Thank you, boss.’ From then on, he always wanted to work with me.”

In addition to their friendship, Andre was also the godfather to Eadie’s two daughters, as well as a dear friend to his wife.

“When Andre was overseas filming The Princess Bride, he’d call once a week on Sundays and have a conversation with my wife,” says Eadie, who is now 74. “He was a family member to us. We all took it hard when he passed.”

Eadie and Darsow will be part of the ’80s Wrestling Con on May 7 in Morristown, N.J., and they will even be presenting the winners of that night’s tag team tournament with the Demolition Cup. Reconnecting with fans is a highlight for Eadie, and he is excited to see so many familiar faces next week in Jersey.

“We’re celebrating 35 years in wrestling as Demolition, so we’re real busy with appearances and meet-and-greets with the fans,” Eadie says. “We were fortunate. That was a time when the spotlight was on tag team wrestling. Hulk Hogan was the franchise, but in many ways, the tag teams ran the company. There were so many good teams. The competition was good, and so was the fan following.

“We love hearing the stories and the memories. We appreciate the fans. They mean more to us than anything.”

The (online) week in wrestling

  • Becky Lynch continues to present herself as one of the top stars in all of pro wrestling, and pairing her in a program with the returning Asuka—when the two have plenty of unfinished business dating back to when Lynch took her maternity leave—is brilliant. And unlike so many other repeat feuds from WrestleMania, it is great to see Lynch and Bianca Belair both in their own story lines after their classic earlier this month. 
  • Is anyone else wildly distracted by the piped-in crowd noise on WWE programming, especially SmackDown? It detracts significantly from the show. One of the better moments of this past week was the backstage segment between Roman Reigns and Sami Zayn.
  • The main event of New Japan’s Wrestling Dontaku on Sunday is IWGP world heavyweight champion Kazuchika Okada against Tetsuya Naito. The smart bet is that Okada retains the title, but it isn’t out of the question that Naito pulls off the upset. 
  • Arianna Grace, who is the daughter of Santino Marella, is part of the NXT Women’s Breakout Tournament, which holds all kinds of potential. 
  • Outside of the United States, Pro Wrestling NOAH is also holding a major show this weekend. NOAH’s Majestic 2022 is headlined by GHC heavyweight champion Kazuyuki Fujita against Go Shiozaki. This would be the perfect time for Shiozaki to start his fifth reign with the GHC title. 

Tyson Fury tailor-made for WWE

Tyson Fury successfully defended his heavyweight boxing title Saturday at Wembley Stadium with a TKO victory against Dillian Whyte.

While basking in his win at the postfight press conference, Fury mentioned the possibility of returning to WWE for its next major pay-per-view.

“You might see me at SummerSlam coming up soon,” Fury told reporters. “I got to speak to Vince [McMahon] and the boys, maybe make this happen. I know this Drew McIntyre has been saying a lot of things about me.”

That comment must have been music to McIntyre’s ears, especially after an extended program with Baron Corbin that simply lasted too long.

Fury is a legitimate 6'9" powerhouse, and he would instantly garner a top spot if he appeared at SummerSlam and then built to a match at WWE’s United Kingdom pay-per-view this fall in Cardiff. He also has a strong personality, which was not entirely on full display in his last WWE run in 2019. Fury ultimately wrestled Braun Strowman at Crown Jewel that October, but the presentation of the match—including the decision to have Fury wear a T-shirt in the ring—just never reached that elusive next level. The finish didn’t help, either, as he defeated Strowman by count-out.

Mike Tyson worked in WWE because he was allowed to be himself. Tyson didn’t play a cartoon version of himself during WrestleMania 14; he presented himself as “The Baddest Man on the Planet.” And Fury needs that same trust from McMahon. If the “Gypsy King” can naturally cut promos, he will win over fans, especially with a payoff match in Cardiff. And I hope that McIntyre isn’t forced to change into a dastardly heel for the sake of the feud. Taking a piece from the boxing realm, this could be presented as two adversaries looking to cause pain.

WWE is sitting on a gold mine with Fury. If he is presented correctly, it would add legitimate excitement to the product over the summer, as well as give a well-deserved boost of adrenaline to McIntyre.

Tweet of the Week

Congrats to Randy Orton on this phenomenal 20-year run.

Justin Barrasso can be reached at JBarrasso@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter @JustinBarrasso.