It’s been something that has been teased since the inception of All Elite Wrestling, but has seemingly been out of reach for much of it’s fanbase for it’s entire run so far. Colloquially known as the Forbidden Portal, a working relationship between the #2 wrestling promotion in the United States, and New Japan Pro Wrestling, the #1 promotion in Japan seemed both fantasy and trivially obvious at once when AEW was first announced. The biggest stars in All Elite – The Young Bucks, Kenny Omega, Cody Rhodes, Chris Jericho, and Jon Moxley – all had or have significant relationships with the Japanese juggernaut, after all. But that relationship, as obvious on paper and potentially beneficial to both organizations as it might be, didn’t materialize. Until Wednesday night.
How it Started/How it’s Going
The circumstances under which Omega, the Bucks, and Cody, collectively known as The Elite, allowed their contracts to expire in New Japan left a bridge that most people – including most of the wrestlers and executives involved – felt was burned. These stars left the company just as it was starting to make big moves into the North American market, when NJPW was poised to do a massive show called the G1 Supercard in New York City’s Madison Square Garden over Wrestlemania weekend in April of 2019. There’s little doubt that when that event sold out – the first non-WWE wrestling event to do so at MSG – it was due to the promise of seeing The Elite, and their departure left a major hole in that show. Clearly, there were issues to be resolved between NJPW (and it’s president at the time, Harold Meij) and The Elite which would be a major barrier between the two groups working together.
Fast forward to late 2020 and, even under pandemic conditions, owner Tony Khan and The Elite have established All Elite Wrestling into North America’s second-place wrestling brand. Trouncing the competition from WWE’s counter-programmed NXT brand on Wednesday nights, AEW has established itself as a viable alternative, not just for wrestling fans to watch, but a place for wrestlers to work if they don’t want to join (or have been removed from) WWE’s system. Meanwhile, a regime change has taken place in New Japan that saw Harold Meij step down as president in the fall and being replaced by Takami Ohbari, the CEO of NJPW’s North American operations. It seemed that pieces were falling into place for the Forbidden Portal to open, if only just a crack.
This is all in addition to the fact that AEW has begun to establish working relationships with several other non-WWE promotions. They’ve strengthened their bond with the lucha promotion AAA, where AEW’s Kenny Omega is the top champion and which has allowed stars from both organizations to work on each other’s shows. Similarly, AEW has fostered a relationship with Billy Corgan’s NWA that has allowed All Elite to promote that show on their programming, while enjoying the use of NWA’s women’s title and their champion, Thunder Rosa on a fairly regular basis. Most significantly, AEW has begun to work with Impact Wrestling , sending over their stars Private Party to challenge for the Impact tag team titles, as well as Impact allowing their tag team champions The Good Brothers and their executive Don Callis to work with Omega on Dynamite. Even though this working relationship is in it’s infancy, it is almost certainly one that has a lot of potential to be beneficial to the often-beleaguered Impact by putting some much-needed eyes on that product.
Jon Moxley (formerly WWE’s Dean Ambrose) is one of AEW’s most high-profile signings to date, and immediately catapulted himself to the top of the card by challenging and ultimately defeating Chris Jericho for the AEW Heavyweight title back in February of 2020. Complicating matters, he also won the NJPW United States Championship a month prior in January. This meant that New Japan had a champion that was contracted to another company (with whom they had a tenuous relationship) and whose contract stipulated that he could only work for New Japan in Japan unless he was given special permission by AEW. And all of this confusion was compounded by a global pandemic that severely restricted travel between Japan and the US. Not ideal!
So New Japan’s US title was in limbo, while AEW had pretty much exclusive rights to Moxley. You (and many people) may wonder why NJPW didn’t simply strip Mox of the title, and I don’t have a good answer to that, except to speculate that the importance NJPW places on their titles prevented them from doing so unless as a last resort. Throughout 2020, New Japan very slowly developed a storyline to determine a number one contender for the US belt, ultimately landing on KENTA (who has wrestled all over the world but is also a former WWE star, under the name Hideo Itami) after he won a tournament last August.
KENTA isn’t just some dude that failed out of WWE, though. He’s been an incredibly important figure in the industry and has influenced a whole generation of wrestlers in both Japan and North America, including CM Punk (who ‘borrowed’ KENTA’s finisher, the Go 2 Sleep), Daniel Bryan, and Samoa Joe.
There have been videos and tweets from both the NJPW and AEW sides, including a video from Mox that appeared on NJPW’s biggest show of the year, Wrestle Kingdom, that hinted at an eventual title matchup between KENTA and the Death Rider.
All of this was apparently to serve as a tease for an upcoming match between the two, but no one knew when, where, or how it would occur. Until last week, that is, when Dynamite closed on one of the most shocking moments in their history – an attack from KENTA on Moxley that seemed to portend huge things to come, and the Forbidden Portal to be opened wide again.
The Future with NJPW
So what does this all mean? Is this just a one-off to bring Moxley’s US title back into the New Japan fold, or does it mean a more long-term working relationship between AEW and NJPW? Will other stars – perhaps KENTA’s Bullet Club stablemates like Jay White, EVIL, or Tama Tonga – join the party on Dynamite, or will AEW/Impact’s quasi-Bullet Club faction that includes the Good Brothers, the Young Bucks, and Kenny Omega be destined for matches in Japan? The possibilities for crossovers seem almost endless, but so many moving parts to such a relationship – company politics, a global pandemic, and the fact that the two companies are physically based half a world away from one another – complicate things in both small and large ways.
You’ve heard me whine about the homogeneity of the modern WWE product, outside of a dwindling number of bright spots. What AEW’s quest to work with promotions outside the reach of Vince McMahon’s empire promises, is that a thriving industry where creativity is allowed to flourish is still possible. Maybe it’s false hope, but the idea of the Forbidden Portal being thrown open could be a new beginning for the companies involved, and for pro wrestling in general.
AEW Dynamite airs every Wednesday at 8pm on TNT, TSN (in Canada), and on the FITE TV app. Jon Moxley is set to face KENTA for the NJPW US Title on February 26, 2021 at NJPW’s The New Beginning USA show.