Hiroshi Tanahashi will wrestle Jon Moxley for the Interim AEW World Championship on Sunday, a title match that headlines the joint AEW–New Japan Pro-Wrestling pay-per-view. And who better than Tanahashi to main event Forbidden Door, a wrestling term he popularized—unexpectedly—in December 2019.
“I will be the star of Forbidden Door,” Tanahashi says through a translator. “I mean, I did think of the name after all.”
At the time, Tanahashi was less than a month away from his Wrestle Kingdom 14 match against reigning AEW champion Chris Jericho. The belt wasn’t on the line, but Tanahashi told Tokyo Sports that if he won the match, he would open the “forbidden door” by seeking an AEW title shot.
“When I first used the term, it was three years ago, and AEW had really only just gotten started,” Tanahashi says. “I don’t think anyone really knew how they would develop, but they had some great talent behind them, and I knew we would be onto something great if we crossed over. So coining that phrase, it was my way of putting things into the universe.”
An industry icon, Tanahashi is a highly decorated pro wrestler. Even at the age of 45, he remains one of the most compelling big match performers in the world. The eight-time IWGP heavyweight champion now looks to add a new piece of gold to his collection in AEW. After a series of start-and-stop programs with Moxley during the pandemic where it appeared the two were destined to have a match for the IWGP U.S. title, they will now meet for the right to become the interim title holder.
Tanahashi has followed Moxley since he started in WWE as Dean Ambrose, and he expects the match to feature his signature brand of nonstop physicality.
“If it’s up to him, this will get wild,” Tanahashi says. “But I’m expecting that. I can fight fire with fire.
“He’s a good bit bigger than me, and he has a reputation for being a street fighter. But he’s really precise with every little thing he does. Moxley rarely makes mistakes, and I respect that about him.”
Tanahashi and Moxley teamed together this week on Dynamite against Jericho and Lance Archer. While it was Jericho who won their match at Wrestle Kingdom in 2020, Tanahashi exacted a small measure of revenge when he and Moxley were victorious in the tag. Sharing the ring again with Jericho was especially meaningful, and among the primary reasons why Tanahashi wanted a chance to wrestle in AEW.
“Chris Jericho, he is world class,” Tanahashi says. “You cannot deny his influence on the business, either. When he was young, he wrestled quite a lot in Japan for the old WAR promotion, and I think that gave him a lot of respect for Japanese wrestling, which you can still see quite strongly in him. So, in a way, I am proud he made it to the very top.”
Initially, the match at Forbidden Door was intended to be Tanahashi challenging Punk for the AEW title. But after an injury temporarily sidelined Punk, a four-man tournament was cobbled together to determine an interim champ. Tanahashi defeated Hirooki Goto earlier this month at New Japan’s Dominion show to advance to the title match, while Moxley defeated Kyle O’Reilly.
Tanahashi already extended an offer to Punk for Wrestle Kingdom next January at the famed Tokyo Dome. Considering Tanahashi has vowed to win this match on Sunday, his plan is to have a title unification bout in a few months at New Japan’s most significant show of the year.
“When I think of Punk, I think of charisma,” Tanahashi says. “Through his time in WWE, he showed how much of an expert he was at chaining events together, in and out of the ring, making everything make sense and making sure you paid attention to him.
“I know there are a lot of guys in AEW I want to wrestle against—Punk is absolutely included. When I’m the champion, everyone will be lining up to try and take the belt from me, and I look forward to that.”
The great Kazuchika Okada is the face of New Japan, while Tanahashi continues to be one of the pillars of the company. But it is “Switchblade” Jay White who is the new IWGP world heavyweight champion. Tanahashi shares plenty of history with White, including a match at Wrestle Kingdom 12 in 2018. Despite their contrast in style, Tanahashi holds White in extremely high regard—and he is eager to see how White continues to develop as a main-event talent.
“The skill Jay White has now, and the potential for the future, the charisma he has in every area, he is worthy of being called champion,” Tanahashi says. “More than being one of the stars of New Japan Pro-Wrestling, I think he is one of the very few that could completely change the entire face of the business.”
Writing the future of the business is a sweet spot within Tanahashi’s skill set. He has consistently evolved in a way that allowed him to wrestle opponents who were the top era of their generation, always remaining the key to New Japan’s success over the past two decades. Although conventional wisdom dictates that Tanahashi return to Japan after his match against Moxley, the potential always exists that he emerges victorious on Sunday at Forbidden Door.
“I’ve been over to America three times in the last two months, and I have no issue with being in the U.S. all the time,” Tanahashi says. “My job is to beat Moxley, then the main goal will be CM Punk. I’ll be waiting for him to return.”
More Wrestling Coverage:
- Preview and Predictions for AEW and NJPW’s ‘Forbidden Door’
- Allegations on McMahon Cast Shadow Over His Future in WWE
- WWE World Pays Tribute to Two Longtime Referees Who Died
Justin Barrasso can be reached at JBarrasso@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter @JustinBarrasso.