Forbidden Door Delivers, Another Collision Triumph | Hulbert’s Weekly Match Guide 6/27


It’s a special week for the wrestling world, as AEW and NJPW again come together for the blockbuster Forbidden Door event. In fact, it’s such a special week that this match guide is coming to you a day later than usual, as I required an extra evening to recover from such an onslaught of graps. Either way, Forbidden Door isn’t our only focus, as NXT also holds its biggest main event in some time while on Honor Club, Athena makes the headlines with yet another acclaimed title defence.

Collision’s sequel hits too and Stardom hosts one of the year’s most unique bouts so with that, let’s get to some incredibly unnecessary analysis. As always, this is not the week’s best matches but instead, a selection that I’ve opted to focus on in greater detail.

Bron Breakker vs. Seth Rollins (NXT Gold Rush)

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It’s Gold Rush season in NXT and the World Heavyweight Champion is in town. I’ve always loved this scenario, as the major league’s big star stops by developmental to do the dance with a premier prospect. In this case, that prospect is Bron Breakker, who jumped off the page upon arrival before plateauing slightly in 2022. That was to be expected on some level, as Breakker’s initial output was quite absurd. The booking certainly didn’t help Breakker either, throwing some sizeable hurdles in his way.

Thankfully, a recent heel turn appears to have steadied the ship, with Breakker now reaching the next step of his development. Now leaning into the NXT live crowd’s established disapproval, Breakker is positioned to succeed against Rollins, who’s currently more over than ever. It delivers too, closing this television special with an exciting main event. It’s the usual Rollins formula at this point, but that still allows for an interesting scouting report re: Breakker, who’s still under three years into his career.

He’s certainly impressive, especially on offence. From day one, Breakker’s athleticism has stood out, giving his game some dynamic weaponry. Don’t get me wrong, Breakker’s selling is no lost cause either, showing encouraging instincts very early into his babyface run. Those traits remain, but Breakker is still finding himself between the individual exchanges. The spots themselves look good, on both sides of the ball for that matter, he’s just currently without the transitions that allow them to stick.

The result is a control segment that lacks rhythm but even still, Breakker’s offence is striking enough to make a statement anyway. His work is targeted towards Rollins’ hurt ribs, an admittedly inconsistent theme throughout the match. While his selling is somewhat spotty though, Rollins does give Breakker an awful lot and he’s up to the task, especially late. That’s what the match is really about and where it’s earned such praise, as they go back and forth for a high octane final act.

That portion’s worth the wait too, as it’s still where Breakker is most at home. There’s no shame in that, either, it’s just where Breakker’s physical attributes can most run wild. In fact, he’s so believable in that domain that there’s even a strong near fall or two, which is some feat considering the obvious result ahead. That’s a credit to the match, a good title tilt that reiterated Breakker’s main roster potential.

Athena vs. Kiera Hogan (ROH on Honor Club)


It’s been an incredible 2023 for Athena thus far, swiftly cementing herself as the centrepiece of ROH’s reboot. As champion, Athena has traded bombs with the world’s best while also elevating others, most recently sharing a programme with Kiera Hogan. Since leaving IMPACT in 2021, Hogan has slightly struggled to find her footing under the AEW umbrella. Ring of Honor has certainly helped in that regard though, giving Hogan a place to sink or swim in something more substantial.

Especially for current ROH TV, this Chicago Street Fight was assisted by a considerable build, setting the stage for a heated shootout. In wonderfully violent flashes, that’s certainly what we get too, as champion and challenger gleefully embrace the environment’s potential. As is often the case with Athena matches, there’s an immediate intensity at the bell, bad intentions behind every blow. That energy is present in the bout’s closing moments also, finding an edge for its desperate race to the finish.

While still entertaining, the middle is more uneven. For a range of reasons, it’s a match in which the individual performances are better than the final product itself. I’d usually be thrilled to see an Athena title defence armed with twenty minutes, but I thought it stretched this particular outing slightly thin. Ultimately, it’s a plunder match and while the set pieces deliver, they come with an awful lot of setup time. The result is that inevitably, those lulls lessen that initial intensity.

That’s exacerbated by an exhausted live crowd also, at this point hours removed from CM Punk’s return. Even still, it’s an undeniably fun watch, with Athena and Hogan refusing to leaving any question unanswered. They both produce quite staggering efforts, providing the match with a palpable sense of danger. Hogan is a daredevil throughout, maximising this moment while as always, Athena bumps as though she never intends to wrestle again.

They really do bring it in that regard and that’s where the match shines, those singular sequences of outright carnage. It’s often the simpler examples too, such as Athena and Hogan trading kendo shots back and forth. There are some highlight reel table spots to boot, as well as one of the more vile thumbtack visuals that you’ll see on a glossier stage such as this. Again, that final stretch is gloriously gory, bordering on a horror picture with its wildest swings.

Warts and all, it’s really fun and an unquestionably good match. Based on the performances of both champion and challenger though, I think this could’ve quite comfortably been great with a timely edit or two. Nonetheless, Hogan’s best performance in some time and another hit for Athena, the real World’s Champion.

BULLET Club Gold & The Gunns vs. CMFTR & Ricky Starks (AEW Collision)


The sequel to last week’s epic trios bout, this was a surprising improvement on that initial effort. On paper, this didn’t look like much more than a steady stop before Forbidden Door. For a range of reasons, that forecast proved comically inaccurate, as CMFTR closed Collision with another extended shift. At just shy of 24 minutes, this was a quite staggering triumph, exceeding even the most optimistic expectations. Everyone shines here, including Jay White’s best showing since joining AEW.

It’s a career night (thus far) for the Gunns also, with Cash Wheeler once again wrestling like a man possessed along the way. In truth though, this match is about CM Punk, much more so in fact than his actual in-ring return ever was. This is Punk’s first road game since returning, being greeted by an extraordinary reaction in Toronto. In an instant, it transforms the entire show, creating an atmosphere that’ll live long in the memory.

Every single “CM Punk” chant is responded to with relentless boos and the man himself couldn’t appear more at home. The reaction unlocks a classic Punk performance, walking that fine line as only he can. Within the match’s eventual outline, he’s still very much a babyface but Punk’s thrilled to offer the content that momentarily suggests otherwise. The result is an electricity that ultimately defines the match but the work itself isn’t far behind, with all eight men rising to the occasion.

Punk is noticeably more comfortable after shaking some ring rust, finding a very special chemistry with White, who threatens to steal the show at times. If you’re a Jay White believer, this match almost certainly encapsulated each and every reason why. He’s just perfect here, letting the biggest moments breathe and constantly operating with that devilish slither. At no point does White’s villainy even slightly fade, creating a presentation that feels totally authentic and sincere.

As much as I loved last week’s trios tilt, it was a little heavy on heat, which this atmosphere allows them to avoid. Here, they simply play their respective hits back and forth, embracing the crowd’s ever-evolving dynamic. Eventually, the heels do indeed get some heat on Punk, taking an especially dramatic segment that doesn’t sway anyone in attendance. Even still, Ricky Starks’ eventual hot tag receives a hero’s welcome, only building upon the incredibly positive response that he entered to previously.

That transitions the match to a relatively brief but still incredibly exciting finishing stretch, with Wheeler quite violently exploding into action once again. It’s a fabulous conclusion to a surprisingly special match, impressively improving on last week’s trios closer. While obviously, Collision will need marquee singles main events in the coming weeks, they’ve already found a near-perfect formula with these multi-man tags. It’s amazing how different they feel from the promotion’s norm too, using the extended runtime to find a classical pace. 

That pace is then paired with tag team wrestling’s timeless playbook, producing a blueprint that could swiftly become Collision’s calling card. Well, one of them anyway as until proven otherwise, Collision is as advertised: the CM Punk show.

Oedo Tai vs. Queen’s Quest (Stardom Sunshine)


This is quite the undertaking. Here we have a 12-woman tag match, inside a steel cage. That’s not all either, as this is a ‘Loser Must Leave Unit’ bout, effectively operating as a race to the finish. Each wrestler needs to escape the cage, any less leaving them exiled from their faction. If you have declared the above four sentences silly or nonsensical, I understand and probably did similar but in truth, this is easier to follow than most of the year’s big singles matches.

They tell a simple story here, if such a thing is possible in such an absurd environment, anyway. Our two factions are Oedo Tai and Queen’s Quest, the latter struggling to overcome issues between stablemates Saya Kamitani and Utami Hayashishita. That’s about where my prior context concludes, and even that’s second-hand knowledge but frankly, you really don’t require much more. That dynamic is the match’s centrepiece, ultimately producing one of the most superb finishes that I can recall.

It’s perfectly built to also, with Utami stepping up throughout as a true leader, selflessly prioritising others. Long before that though, they set the tone here with intent and tone, immediately finding a frantic pace. It’s a brawl at the bell, instantly utilising the cage as the ring quickly becomes a battlefield. They do a remarkable job of maximising that space, which is no mean feat considering the sizeable collection of talent involved.

They even find the room for some slick combination sequencing, trading momentum as both factions unite for strings of offence. There’s quickly weaponry involved too, starting with a table spot and not looking back from there. The match never relies on those singular stunts though, seldom stalling for the arrangement of furniture. Instead, the hardware feels like an organic and inevitable reaction to the stakes, a necessary assistance in survival. That’s constant throughout in fact, an ongoing sense of desperation.

When all twelve wrestlers are inside the cage, it’s hard to see how they’ll find any kind of rhythm, but they find a seamless solution. As the initial exits unfolds, the match features these snappy set pieces, spotlighting individual pairings in centre ring. The first of those involves twin sisters Hina and Rina, for example, sharing a shootout before departing. That’s followed by a sharp high speed duel between AZM and Starlight Kid, but is transitioned to by fitting carnage first.

There’s a wonderful moment as the pace increases between those two, being brought to an abrupt halt via steel chair. That, as much as anything else, quite aptly paints the picture. There are some truly death-defying efforts along the way also, with AZM being the first of a handful who precede their exit with the most dynamic offering available. As more and more wrestlers escape, the match’s unique psychology comes into play, as it’s an inherently selfish match.

The better that your team is doing, the fewer soldiers you have left in the war. That’s a core theme throughout, with Utami’s prior selflessness appearing even more admirable as a result. Naturally, an early lead for Queen’s Quest gives Oedo Tai a momentary advantage, taking over for a gnarly portion of control. As the numbers dwindle, things are increasingly able to breathe, each blow packing an extra punch as the violence steadily escalates. Even still, the chaos continues.

As well as the momentum’s balancing act, this stipulation creates a palpable sense of panic. It’s as though time is running out, each exit leaving the remaining wrestlers in greater jeopardy. The final stretch has just about everything: creative tactics, misfires and of course, a crimson mask to boot. Best of all though, it’s that finish, some of the most stirring storytelling in recent memory. Again, I say that without any investment either, just a rough understanding of the match’s core conflict.

That’s how the best pro wrestling often works, in truth. Investment certainly helps but if it’s a good story told well, the result extends far beyond any individual fanbase. Clearly, that’s the case here, as I found this moving in ways that I certainly didn’t expect, especially considering the seemingly absurd framework at play. Either way, it’s a special match, one that comfortably stands alone in concept while accompanying the year’s best in quality.

Blackpool Combat Club, Konosuke Takeshita & Shota Umino vs. The Elite, Eddie Kingston & Tomohiro Ishii (AEW x NJPW Forbidden Door)


With an absurd lineup and multiple stories at play, Sunday’s 10-man tag felt like a potential show-stealer, even on this PPV. While in my view at least, it didn’t quite manage that feat, it came awful close, rocking Toronto with a dramatic, enthralling affair. Even within this all-star squad, Eddie Kingston is the story, an unlikely main character of a tale that he’s only just entered. That’s apparent before the bell even rings, as Kingston paces intensely during the Blackpool Combat Club’s entrance.

They make us wait for Kingston’s big standoff with Moxley, though not for long. In the meantime, we’re treated to some gorgeous wrestling between ‘Hangman’ Adam Page and Shota Umino, with Tomohiro Ishii and Konosuke Takeshita then duelling in centre ring. Those two become frequent foes, quickly emerging as one of the bout’s central themes. As you’d expect, they are natural dance-partners, sharing some of the match’s most physical exchanges. Speaking of such, back to Kingston and Moxley.

Even before the bombs, there’s a palpable gravity to the emerging moment, both men standing still as the live crowd collectively soars to its feet. The violence soon follows, trading thudding chops as chaos unfolds around them. The rest is mere noise to Kingston and Moxley though, lost in their shootout, stubbornly refusing to concede. In fact, their brawl is so intense that Kingston even forgets about Claudio Castagnoli, who takes advantage by getting some heat on his famed foe.

I adore Blackpool Combat Club’s presentation of Castagnoli, the ultimate enforcer who seems borderline impenetrable in these multi-man bouts. The heat on Kingston works a treat, setting the stage for Ishii’s typically defiant hot tag. Inevitably, that then evolves into Ishii sustaining a control segment of his own, feeding Page for his always electric comeback. You’re left uncertain that there’s a finer hot tag in wrestling right now, which is often the case when ‘Hangman’ is positioned in this role.

The match is just about perfect, though I do wonder if within the chaos, Kingston eating a bullet for Moxley was slightly too cute for its own good. I’m even torn on that, honestly, as it was fittingly conflicted while keeping their dynamic central. If anything, it probably could’ve been placed more suitably, likely packing a bigger punch if not surrounded by such anarchy. Either way, it’s a phenomenal watch, especially as The Young Bucks bring their usual fireworks display late.

The level of talent is so high and each man appears truly motivated to maximise this matchup, a combination that’s almost certainly exclusive to this event. In execution, it feels like the ideal version of a wild fan’s most outlandish dream match. It’s a recipe that probably shouldn’t work so seamlessly but on the quality of its ingredients alone, manages to do exactly that.

Kenny Omega vs. Will Ospreay (AEW x NJPW Forbidden Door)


On January 4th, Kenny Omega and Will Ospreay combined for thus far at least, the consensus match of the year. That match wasn’t merely great either, a phrase you’d only accompany with talent of this calibre, in fairness. Instead, these two wrestled a different kind of classic at the Tokyo Dome, surprising people with a gritty, violent war. That night, Ospreay was the babyface, operating as a virtual punching bag at times as Omega relished the chance to punish him.

Now six months later, the rematch sports a very different dynamic, as Ospreay heads to enemy territory, facing Omega in Canada. Admittedly, that element isn’t as immediately vitriolic as the pre-match framing probably would’ve hoped, with Ospreay talking trash in pursuit of a very particular atmosphere. They do get there though, it just takes an extra push. Either way, there’s a palpable electricity at the bell, with some athletic opening exchanges setting the stage.

Tonally, it takes a little longer than its predecessor to find a home, but the work is still immaculate early, swiftly establishing a standard in that regard. Certainly, the first act is much more like the match that many originally expected when their Wrestle Kingdom bout came to fruition, but that’s far from a critique. As much as I adored their surprising effort, people expected that match for a reason: these are two of the most extraordinary offensive wrestlers of all-time.

It’s a wonderful watch because of course, but the match levels up for me as that prior nastiness re-emerges. I’m increasingly in love with that version of their dynamic, even finding something quite frightening at times. There’s such an apparent resentment to those more heated exchanges, it feels hateful in a way that I don’t necessarily associate with either man’s norm. In this particular entry, it’s initially about Ospreay veering in that direction, desperate to match the bad intentions that destroyed him in January.

That allows for a complete role reversal, with Omega organically becoming the hero that this setting suggested. Suddenly, he’s busted open and stumbling from one blow to the next, struggling for balance as Ospreay joyously retaliates. That middle act is in my view, the match’s strongest, taking me back to the gore and menace of their Tokyo Dome masterpiece. That night, as Omega went through the gears, it was obvious that Ospreay was only fighting the inevitable. At times, Omega appears to be walking a similar path.

The match finds a different form from there though, with Ospreay’s arrogance opening the door for a triumphant comeback. That in itself feels totally at home, with Omega reverting to the route that destroyed Ospreay in January. The crowd dynamic is now fully where they always wanted it also, with Ospreay’s enthusiastic crowd work neatly feeding into Omega’s revenge. In terms of content though, they soon return to those early momentum swings, doing so without a finish in sight.

One unexpected tribute spot aside however, they seldom lose the live crowd, simply building upon the atmosphere that they’ve steadily produced. It very much feels like a war of attrition, a bloody epic, bombastic in offence and spiteful in tone. To me, the match itself reaches a natural conclusion around this range, feeling as though it’s peaking at thirty minutes or so. That conclusion doesn’t come yet though, with Don Callis’ re-appearing instead, extending the bout and adjusting its tone in the process.

That’s not a criticism of Callis, who’s obviously terrific, he’s just so central late that it almost feels separate from the rest. Tonally, it’s slightly tacked on, especially considering Callis’ prior ejection. Even still, they deliver a few staggering near falls late, elevating this to all-time great status or eroding it to something self-indulgent, depending on your preference, of course. Personally, I didn’t have an issue with the kickouts themselves. Each one receives a simply breathtaking response, including one that’ll likely live forever.

With that being said, I do think that this final act renders some of the prior portion insignificant, and likely could’ve arrived sooner. For my money, the reaction tells a tale in that regard, and while I’d concede that I do think it’s a beat or two long, I don’t feel it’s those final beats that need cutting. Instead, I’d argue that it’s the extended stretch that comes before, just after Omega levels the playing field by once again drawing blood.

Either way, it’s a fabulous match, one of the year’s absolute best. Personally, I don’t think it’s quite as good as their first, but that says more about the Wrestle Kingdom match than its Forbidden Door sequel. That Tokyo Dome meeting was defined by its focus and restraint while this, like most sequels, was a more broad offering, a much grander, louder presentation. For many, that’ll be enough to topple their January clash, but it doesn’t quite manage it for me personally.

Instead, it’ll have to settle for being merely one of the year’s great matches, not quite my 1-seed. Luckily, that still belongs to the same two wrestlers anyway, with their potential rubber match seeming like the only feasible contender ahead. We’ll see on that front but for now, another sublime effort from Omega and Ospreay. It’s not only great but better yet, it’s a great in a fashion that feels singular, distanced from its predecessor. That tension remains constant though, a resentment that’s defining this rivalry.

Bryan Danielson vs. Kazuchika Okada (AEW x NJPW Forbidden Door)


Expectations can be the greatest foe of all, and that was certainly evident for Sunday’s main event. Tasked with closing Forbidden Door, Bryan Danielson and Kazuchika Okada had an unenviable challenge, expected to wrestle the match that had been so casually pencilled in as wrestling’s greatest ever bout. They wasn’t alone in that regard either, closely following a match that had already took its own swing at those honours, now operating in front of an understandably tired Toronto crowd.

Worse yet, Danielson sustains an injury just as the match begins to head towards those lofty heights, producing a final act that’s likely incomparable to the intended route. Even still, it’s a very good match, one simply snakebit by circumstance and the most impossible expectations. More specifically, it’s a remarkable Danielson performance, wrestling with a focus that quite beautifully embodies this moment’s significance. Okada’s showing isn’t nearly as striking, but remains steady as ever, showcasing the effortless fundamentals that accompany his greatest hits.

Either way, while obviously flawed, this is still a wonderful watch, often feeling more like the ultimate treat than anything overly expansive. Eventually, that almost certainly would’ve changed if both men had their way, but it’s such a smooth ride beforehand that even with a jarringly abrupt destination, you very much enjoy the journey. Much of that is Danielson, who takes an awful lot of this and as usual, produces world class work at every turn.

Everything is so crisp, delivered with that typically sharp edge. That’s the quality of Danielson’s output, so aesthetically pleasing that even without the electricity that you’d expect, you marvel at his exemplary technique. As expected, Danielson targets Okada’s right arm, setting the stage for his finish while also taking away the Rainmaker. Okada’s selling comes and goes, to say the least, but Danielson’s work is brilliant enough to make a sizeable statement without assistance.

I adore the bout’s almost classical pace, escalating steadily and capturing the cerebral nature of a box-office prize-fight. Even with less heat then expected, it really felt as though they were trending towards something special, more and more drama emerging with each subtle momentum shift. Unfortunately, they don’t go beyond that level, only threatening to as Danielson’s injury halts things instead. He still toughs it out for some exciting exchanges, they are just without that gorgeous prior rhythm.

The result is an inevitably uneven match, but one I still very much enjoyed. Certainly, they’re capable of much better, but not every dream match can come to life exactly as we imagine, such is the mystery that keeps us coming back. As is, it’s still very good, showing frequent flashes of greatness throughout. Thankfully, I sense they’ll eventually have a chance to paint a more complete picture with those flashes, but time will tell.

Either way, a worthy main event for Forbidden Door, even if hindsight would suggest that it probably wasn’t the right one.

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