If you heard the huge news about Jon Moxley debuting on NJPW Strong last Friday to attack KENTA, then kept track of all of the Twitter rantings between AEW and NJPW wrestlers over the weekend, you may have had a different level of hype for this week’s show. The Tanahashi-coined “forbidden door” was creaking.
There was no way it was going to open, though. Right?
KENTA did in fact debut at the very end of Dynamite last night, getting revenge on Moxley and meeting up with the fake Bullet Club.
And we’re going to dive into all of that hype here in a moment, but first, I HAVE to talk about the rest of the show. When we did our Winter is Coming review back in December, we focused specifically on Sting’s return and the AEW/IMPACT relationship forming because, while the rest of the show was great, there was a clear headline.
And while there is a clear headline for this review too, last night generally slapped, and also Maki Itoh. Period.
So, if you will, allow me about three sentences a segment to describe the rest of the show before we naturally transition into fantasy booking AEW vs NJPW feuds, okay?
Chris Jericho and MJF win the Tag Team Battle Royale
Opening the show with “Tarzan Boy” and seeing the crowd start singing it back at Jungle Boy during his match not only made him look like a star, but it also was the beginning of a trend of the crowd being really hot last night.
The important notes from this one are that Jericho tried to sacrifice Sammy Guevara to eliminate Darius Martin but ended up only taking out Guevara, which came up in an argument later. Also, Gallows and Anderson interfered to screw over Private Party, but this too led to a teammate casualty as their elimination of Private Party quickly led to the Young Bucks losing as well.
Team Taz interrupt Darby and Sting, duh
Team Taz and FTR were all banned from the arena last night after beating down merch sellers and Jurassic Express respectively last week, which is good in-kayfabe management on AEW’s part.
Not sure why Joey Janela is getting a TNT Championship match with Darby Allin next week, though. Maybe Tony Khan really liked Janela’s match with Everett Cooper at GCW’s Fight Forever last weekend.
Britt Baker def. Thunder Rosa via shenanigans
This match did not disappoint, starting off hot with Thunder Rosa attacking Rebel before Rosa and Baker could get into their really smooth match (bringing us the best of both worlds). My favorite parts of the match that weren’t in-ring were that the crowd began singing AC/DC’s “Thunderstruck” at Thunder Rosa during the match and that the match actually started in the first hour.
I also thought the ending was really well done, with Rebel taking off the turnbuckle pad while no one was looking, Baker feeling the missing turnbuckle with her butt, and Rebel distracting the ref as Baker peeled Rosa off of the clearly exposed steel.
Matt Hardy & Hangman Page def. Chaos Project
Matt Hardy is a manipulative dirtbag and he’s not good enough for my boy Hangman. The match was fine. Hangman’s acting as Hardy hugged him moments after screwing him over by stealing the pin was top notch.
The Women’s Eliminator Tournament competitors are announced!
The rumors that AEW would be running half of this tournament in Japan were fully confirmed last night as all 16 competitors were announced: Serena Deeb, Riho, Tay Conti, Anna Jay, Nyla Rose, Britt Baker, Thunder Rosa, Leyla Hirsch, Aja Kong, Yuka Sakazaki, Mei Suruga, Ryo Mizunami, Emi Sakura, Veny, Rin Kadokura, and Maki freaking Itoh!
That last name is going to be who a lot of people are talking about, but I’m especially excited to see two of my personal favorites, Leyla Hirsch and Ryo Mizunami, grow closer in relationship to AEW. The only ones I haven’t seen anything from before are Suruga, Veny, and Kirihara, but I do know that Veny is notable for being Japan’s first transgender wrestler, so that’s fun!
Kip and Penelope legitimately get married
I’m part of the 50% of wrestling fans who did genuinely like the wedding, immediately getting excited at the Sinister Minister, the suspiciously Orange Cassidy-sized box, and how genuinely cute Kip Sabian and Penelope Ford looked. Miro also proved throughout that he is truly the Best Man, not only saving the day by stopping the “any objections” question and destroying the man-sized box, but also singing along with the crowd after goading them with the question, “What is love?”
I like that you can clearly see Chuck Taylor doing “something” during Miro’s singing (that being handcuffing Miro’s ankle to the ropes) before Orange popped out of the cake and did, in fact, ruin the wedding, but I like that we got a whole wedding before things went bad — which keeps in like with AEW’s attitude toward stuff like contract signings.
Lance Archer def. Eddie Kingston in a lumberjack match
After Shaq demonstrated his “Black Tornado” finisher in a clip from Inside the NBA, Archer and Kingston had a really character-led match as Archer threatened to hit his finisher on a woman and Kingston tried to fight all of the face lumberjacks despite gaining no win from it.
Some of the lumberjacks shined throughout the match as well, with Bear Country in particular getting a table spot with Butcher and Blade that led into the finish. One thing I don’t think I was supposed to notice, however, was that when Archer went to dive on all of the lumberjacks, Brian Pillman Jr. was off in the corner beating up Jack Evans for a very long time.
FTR and Tully are criminals
Tully pointed out the injustice of FTR beating Jurassic Express in a tag team match while actively vying for a tag team match only to be barred from entering the actual #1 contenders match that they’d been waiting for. He’d have a point if they didn’t cut off a dinosaur man’s horn last week.
More memorable than the promo, however, was the muffled shouting heard in the background, as Tully and the boys then pulled a bound and gagged Marko Stunt onto the screen, submitting video evidence of them kidnapping a small child.
Kenny Omega & The Good Brothers def. Fenix, Moxley, & PAC
One last thing before we get to the KENTA stuff: the main event was incredible, and just seeing Omega, PAC, and Moxley in a ring all at once never gets old. I wondered who Omega would hot tag into the match to face, as he was clearly meant to go one-on-one with Rich Swann at IMPACT Hard to Kill, but the funny thing about this match (as was also pointed out by commentary) is that everyone on the opposite side had long-standing beef with Kenny, going back to New Year’s Smash, Winter is Coming, and Dynamite in February 2020.
After Gallows and Anderson took out Fenix for the pinfall victory, Lance Archer came out to fend off the Elite, staking a claim for himself not only as an ally of Moxley and Death Triangle’s, but also as a contender for the AEW Championship.
Now we get to talk about KENTA
It didn’t happen when Moxley debuted in AEW and NJPW about a week apart from each other. It didn’t happen when AEW Champion Chris Jericho took on Hiroshi Tanahashi. It didn’t happen when Orange Cassidy and the Dark Order asked about the Best of the Super Jrs. and World Tag League.
But now we’re here. The forbidden door between AEW and New Japan has been opened.
Of course, it’s not going to be an open partnership from the get-go. Even if there wasn’t a pandemic right now, there’s still no storyline reason for AEW and NJPW to get along, as AEW and IMPACT are clearly at war right now. Looking at Private Party and Kenny Omega heeling it up in IMPACT and AAA, NJPW probably shouldn’t be looking at opening their borders in-kayfabe unless they want Serena Deeb to become their champion.
But come on, dude. KENTA and Jon Moxley met up on AEW television to further a storyline happening in NJPW. That’s pretty cool.
As I alluded earlier, this moment has been built up to throughout 2021 thus far (particularly with verbatim “Bullet Club” mentions on both AEW and IMPACT programming), and it peaked this past Friday when Moxley returned to New Japan with the IWGP United States Championship.
In the wake of this, Kota Ibushi decided it was finally time to make a challenge toward Kenny Omega on Twitter. Omega responded by asking Ibushi to work with him to build a new kingdom — and destroy the old one. Tama Tonga saw that as a threat to New Japan and said he’s going after both Golden Lovers now.
While this all started with a continued angle that’s fully within the realm of New Japan — NJPW’s KENTA taking on IWGP US Champion Moxley — it quickly spiraled into more. And now that KENTA has appeared on Dynamite, boy oh boy does it seem like that spiral is going to involve a lot more than just Twitter fingers.
Last night’s AEW Dynamite featured Thunder Rosa from NWA, the IMPACT Tag Team Champions Doc Gallows and Karl Anderson, KENTA from NJPW, and as with the Women’s Eliminator Tournament, they also snuck in Tokyo Joshi Pro Wrestling and others as well.
With Omega also dealing with El Hijo del Vikingo in AAA and starting beef with Tetsuya Endo in DDT, it really feels like AEW’s “rising tide raises all ships” mentality is starting to take shape in a huge way. It’s a really exciting time to be a wrestling fan.
Now, there is one bit of business to take care of before I go any further. The resident heel of the AIPT wrestling section, Jay Barrett, did write an article back in December about how wrestling needs to cater less to hardcore fans in order to grow, and there’s literally nothing more specific to the Internet Wrestling Community than a spurned ex-WWE guy who is now a member of New Japan hitting a Go 2 Sleep to end an AEW show.
And, because Jay and I are AIPT’s official co-GMs of the year, I am contractually obligated to insert his take here. So, I asked Jay if anything’s changed yet for him:
“My feelings haven’t changed at all, really. Again, this is going to be fantastic television and opening ‘borders’ does so much for the health of the professional wrestling industry. AEW will give IMPACT and NJPW a chance to obtain a stronger foothold in the US market. IMPACT and NJPW will bolster AEW’s women’s division and mid-card scene. Not to mention the more subtle, micro-level benefits of having the rosters intermingle as wrestlers on every side will be able to learn from each other and network with one another. There’s no question it will strengthen the industry — but will it help the industry grow? Absolutely not.
“Anyone who was clamoring for an AEW/NJPW crossover was not only already watching Dynamite but also sat through Penelope Ford and Kip Sabian’s wedding. Why? Because wrestling’s fandom is an already captive audience nestled snugly within a fully saturated market. As I detailed in the article I wrote right after Winter is Coming episode of Dynamite, the segment of the professional wrestling fan base that was just begging for KENTA to show up and attack Jon Moxley is, primarily, composed of aged fans from the Attitude Era that, yes, respond very well to all that AEW and NJPW are, but are also the ones that stuck with wrestling during Mae Young/Mark Henry, Dawn/Torrie/Al, Katie Vick, Muhammad Hassan, all three-hours of present day Raw every Monday, and will stay up till 3 a.m. to watch NJPW in real time. Tell me, which corner of this market niche would you be scared of losing?
“Again, I can’t wait to watch what happens next with AEW/IMPACT/NJPW, but I’m also going to watch all three hours of Raw this Monday. As excited as I am that KENTA showed up on Dynamite, I also realize that I am but one person in a small niche market that has not grown in the two months since Winter is Coming. Current marketing tactics and production sensibilities the professional wrestling industry utilizes have won all the fans it is going to win and the wrestling powers that be need to stop catering to hardcore fans that will never leave them.”
Now, I personally still see this whole scenario as a net win (though I’m admittedly the same guy who watched GCW’s 24-hour wrestling show last weekend), but there’s a little something to this take. I don’t imagine that AEW is about to be #1 in cable next week because KENTA showed up.
But MAN am I excited for these next few months anyway! I’m eager to be catered toward, especially if it means I get a supershow with all of the weird stuff I want, like MJF vs Toru Yano. I mean, we’re barreling toward a timeline where we do finally get Orange Cassidy vs Minoru Suzuki, and while I’d rather not see AEW or New Japan steal GCW’s thunder, I’d also rather have the match happen than live in a world without it. Sorry, Janela.
AEW is finally becoming the promotion that All In was a sign of: one where everyone in wrestling comes together and shows off the best of what the sport has to offer. Even if we don’t get dream matches or anything cross-promotional, could you still imagine a show that has reps from AEW, NJPW, IMPACT, AAA or CMLL (never both), NWA, DDT, TJPW, and more in it?
This isn’t the start of it all, but this is certainly the start of the next phase in AEW’s wrestling universe. I for one welcome our new overlords, Tony and Tony. I look forward to them cutting promos in broken Japanese during the next NJPW Strong taping.
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