By Colin McGuire, ProWrestling.net Staffer (@McGMondays)
The “it” in that sentence was Tony Khan’s tease that some news would break on AEW’s Friday night show last week. And so, as I covered last week’s episode for this site, I waited. And waited. And waited. To no avail.
But then, just as I was finishing up my audio review for Dot Net members, I looked at Twitter and …
OPENING THE DOOR
… saw this:
“As referenced on #AEWRampage, I have a surprise: on #AEWDynamite Live on @TBSNetwork a top wrestler will walk through the Forbidden Door this Wednesday and debut in @AEW. More info to come. Thank you to everyone who joined us for a great Rampage tonight! See you Wednesday on TBS!”
And that was followed by this:
“The Forbidden Door can be opened for anyone from any wrestling promotion in the world, whether or not it’s a company @AEW is on good terms with, even if it’s someone from a company that’s open for business. They’re also welcome to slam the door in the face of their prior company.”
So, here we go again. Every few months now, we are fed information that’s aimed to breed excitement in anticipation of someone debuting in AEW via the Forbidden Door. It’s not really the other way around. Maybe Impact likes to harp on it because those doors are hardly forbidden at this point, having been the only company stateside that has worked with everyone over the last year or so. But New Japan’s wrestlers aren’t shouting about it every other week. Ring Of Honor is on its spring break. MLW … well, MLW is in its own world.
Anyway, the point is, AEW sure loves to reference the ole’ door that happens to be forbidden. That, of course, leads me to …
NAMING AN ERA
… firmly believe that one day, we will look back on this era of wrestling as the “Forbidden Door” era. We had the Monday Night Wars. Then we had the Attitude Era. Then WWE started marketing this phony baloney “Ruthless Aggression” nonsense because it wanted to produce a docu-series on John Cena’s best years. Then WWE clicked the cruise control button. AEW formed. And here we are. Should there ever be such a thing as an AEW Network, and it decides to produce things like WWE’s “24” or “Untold” series, I fully expect there to be a 10-part Forbidden Door retrospective that captures the essence of what this time in wrestling history has been like.
What will be funny, though, is that unless they go all WWE on it and spruce things up a little, we’ll look at some of these moments and say … “Oh, yeah. I forgot about that,” and “Boy, remember when this person debuted and everyone thought it was going to launch them into superstardom and within six months, he was out of the company?”
I’ve said it before, but I’ll say it again here: Expectations are a fickle thing when it comes to pro wrestling. With the increase of knowledge available to any type of wrestling fan out there, it’s hard enough as it is to make a splash with a debut and true surprises are nearly impossible, so why set yourself up for failure? Do what you do and don’t throw days worth of hype on top of it.
But Tony Khan can’t seem to help himself with these things — to the point where the notion of the Forbidden Door used to be enticing and even a little bit exciting (and this comes from someone who’s repeatedly said I’m not the biggest Forbidden Door fan in the universe), but is now just another term or idea in the box of pro wrestling tropes. Part of the problem is that we hear it all the time. Part of the problem is that the very idea itself represents things a lot of wrestling fans never thought they’d see happen.
And part of the problem …
… is that, if we’re being honest, not all of the Forbidden Door participants have worked out all that great.
Since the notion actually came from the NJPW/AEW relationship that was strained for a little while, we can start there. KENTA showed up for a minute, and he was good, but he also wasn’t shocking because it was at a time when he wasn’t too terribly far removed from his WWE run (two years, if memory serves). Jeff Cobb had a cup of coffee, but that didn’t work out for reasons impossible to understand. Satoshi Kojima had one match and one pay-per-view and that was it for him. Minoru Suzuki, legend that he is, had three matches in AEW before essentially traveling the U.S. and wrestling wherever he damn well pleased.
We never got Kazuchika Okada. We never got Will Ospreay. We never got Tetsuya Naito. We never got Kota Ibushi. The list goes on and on. Furthermore, no one who walked through the door from New Japan had any semblance of an important, elongated program with anyone. They felt fly-by-night because they were fly-by-night and they never offered any real substance. The Forbidden Door was never going to be sexy if Peter Avalon was going to face off against Goto. The Forbidden Door was created to give fans Okada vs. Kenny Omega in an American ring.
But that’s something we have yet to receive. In fact, we haven’t received it so much that it’s hard not to view the whole thing as a ploy to pop a rating and draw some discourse around the AEW product. Which, to be fair, is sort of the point of pro wrestling. Every company is looking to stand out and be a cut above the rest; if the Forbidden Door talk helps draw people in, more power to Tony Khan and AEW.
Yet even with that said …
… what the hell is the Forbidden Door anymore, now, anyways?
Look at the most recent tweet from TK, which came the day after he made the announcement:
“The big announcement for Wednesday’s Dynamite that we referenced on #AEWRampage (a free agent debut) and the person walking through the Forbidden Door are one and the same. They’re walking in the door, signing a contract, and then slamming the door shut Wednesday on #AEWDynamite!”
All right, so now, we’ve blurred the lines so much that no matter what, even if you’re out of work for a few months, have the right to go anywhere and do anything and by every metric possible are known as a free agent … if you come to AEW, you’ve walked through the Forbidden Door? And let’s not be silly here: Doors are almost never actually shut in pro wrestling. Returns from people who said they’d never return happen on a regular basis — and that’s even with the people who once engaged in a nasty divorce with their former company.
So, that’s not fair. If you’re LeBron James and you’re a free agent and you decide to sign with the Los Angeles Lakers, you’re just a free agent that signed with the Lakers. You’re not slamming the door on the Cleveland Cavaliers. Did CM Punk, perhaps wrestling’s biggest free agent signing in at least a decade, walk through any Forbidden Door? Because that wouldn’t make much sense, considering he was away from the business for so long. But he was last seen in WWE, remember, so … maybe?
It leads me to the best surprise debut AEW has ever provided. It wasn’t Jon Moxley because it felt like he was heading there anyway. It wasn’t FTR because the Young Bucks teased it on BTE beforehand. It wasn’t Matt Hardy or Brodie Lee because they were rumored to go to AEW for so long to begin with and their contracts were up. It wasn’t Lio Rush because he’s retired and un-retired about as much as Ric Flair at this point. Not Christian Cage. Not Paul White. Not Mark Henry. Not Jay Lethal. Instead,
I guess there might have been some speculation at some point, but it didn’t really feel like it was a locked-in situation with the man they call Sting. But then he showed up and the snow, the Tony Schiavone call, the unexpectedness of it all was perfect. We didn’t see Tony Khan tweet earlier in the day that “a legend will be appearing tonight! Tune in!” Nor did a bevy of 90-day no-compete clauses run out just in time to make the Winter Is Coming episode of Dynamite a potential landing spot for everyone who was fired by WWE.
It was just a fun, good old-fashioned traditional wrestling surprise with a big enough star to carry the weight of the moment. It was novel in its simplicity and entertaining in its execution. Which, naturally …
… leads me to this Wednesday.
There are a lot of options out there for Tony Khan’s announcement. Because he followed his initial tweet a day later with the caveat that the signing could be a free agent … well, that probably means it’ll be a free agent. So the leader in the clubhouse appears to be Keith Lee. Another name floating out there is Jeff Hardy (which would mean legal battles everywhere if he has a 90-day noncompete agreement?). There’s Athena (f/k/a Ember Moon), who would be a great addition to the women’s roster. Don’t forget Josh Alexander, who was teased a couple weeks ago. I haven’t heard Killer Kross mentioned, but I don’t know why he’d be out of the running (he could free his narrative in AEW, no?).
Then there’s the fantasy booking that really would surprise everybody and utterly reignite the intrigue in whatever the Forbidden Door is supposed to be, and that fantasy booking is Shane McMahon. It feels beyond stupid to even type that because there’s no chance in hell (pun intended) that it happens, but if it did, it’d be the biggest non-WWE surprise appearance since Scott Hall showed up on Nitro.
But that’s wishful thinking and we all know that. What we also know is that because of the speculation and because fans are so smart these days, it’s not going to be someone that’s going to surprise a lot of people. That’s a shame not just because surprises are fun, but also because in a weird way, whomever it is will have things working against him or her, if only because they are put in the impossible position to impress right away.
Case in point: Remember Miro’s introduction? All anyone wanted for him was to be booked like the beast he is and he came into AEW as a gamer who happened to be the Best Man in Kip Sabian’s wedding. It took him months to find his footing. Ruby Soho debuted to a sold-out arena of fans that cheered voraciously for her when she won that battle royal, but since then… Christian keeps saying he’s going to out-work everyone, but he doesn’t really work anymore.
The point is, if this ends up being Keith Lee, for instance, I really hope they have a strong plan in place for how he’s going to be booked these first few months. It’d be great to see him pass on the low-hanging anti-WWE debut promo that so many people cut in AEW in their own vague, innuendo-soaked ways, but we’ll see if he can resist the temptation. That is, if it is actually him. If it’s not, all bets are off, because you know someone like Jeff Hardy would have a lot to say, and a lot of people would want to listen. But I digress.
No matter the outcome, my only true hope for Wednesday is that maybe after this signing/debut/announcement, we can maybe throw a lock on the Forbidden Door talk. Or if not lock it up, at least close it for now and start using other entrances into and out of the building. AEW provided the biggest reason for doing just that when it debuted Sting in a masterful twist more than a year ago. Wednesday won’t be that. But with any luck, it could serve as a turning point for how AEW deals with these things in the future.
Door or no door.