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Rocky Romero on how AEW x NJPW Forbidden Door came together, Kenny Omega's early role

Denise Salcedo got all the inside information on how last Sunday's PPV came to be.

After Sunday's AEW x NJPW Forbidden Door was a wrap, AEW head Tony Khan thanked Rocky Romero for being the liaison between himself and Gedo to ensure that both sides found the collaboration satisfactory.

Romero was on the card itself, teaming with Trent Beretta as Roppongi Vice in the three-way ROH/IWGP Tag Team title match that also included FTR and Great-O-Khan & Jeff Cobb.

For Romero, this was a unique position to be in. I had the chance to speak to him following the show and he provided lots of insight as to how the event came together, the experience of working in-between AEW and NJPW, and some interesting news about the future.

"I just went back and forth between AEW and New Japan and tried to be sensible and try to be the one to communicate what the ideas were, but also the sentiment and overall what the show needed. Whether it be, 'We need more of this' or 'We need more of this' and 'Let’s not forget about American fans or Japanese fans so we need to cater to them this way.’ I was kinda really trying to break that down, so that both sides could understand two completely different ways of doing business. The AEW model is obviously a traditional American TV model whereas New Japan is more of a Japanese tour-based model so it’s very different, the way they booked shows and do things."

How Kenny Omega helped open the "forbidden door"

While we have seen glimpses of a working relationship between AEW and NJPW the past year or so, it wasn't always like that. Romero explained how Kenny Omega was the person who helped open the doors between both companies after the relationship became strained following the exit of The Elite from NJPW. 

"...the New Japan/AEW relationship was kinda on ice when the Elite guys had exited New Japan and there was kind of a worry of how they were gonna go forward. Our president at the time didn’t really see the potential in maybe working with AEW. We already had partners in ROH and CMLL, so maybe they were thinking, 'Let’s see how this AEW thing works out before jumping into it, so we don’t offend our partners Obviously those guys had left ROH too, so it was a very messy and complicated situation.

"Now jumping forward to, I would say, a year-and-a-half ago when Kenny (Omega) called me and had pitched the idea of kind of opening the doors a little bit. Obviously, (Jon) Moxley and (Chris) Jericho were still working with New Japan, but Kenny and the (Young) Bucks were a pivotal, important part of New Japan prior to AEW and they are EVPs, so they hold a lot of power. Not wanting to forget about them completely, we had to open the relationship and Kenny kind of opened that and said 'Hey, I have this idea of KENTA coming into AEW and working with Moxley since they already had a storyline' and that’s kinda where everything started." 

From that point on, he became the liaison between both promotion. Since KENTA first appeared on AEW television in February 2021, he and Tony Khan have been in communication, exchanging talent to appear on NJPW and vice versa. These back and forth exchanges are part of what helped build a strong and trustworthy relationship for both AEW and NJPW.

"All of the things that you have seen, people showing up on AEW television, and AEW stars coming to New Japan Strong, that’s all been Tony and I going back and forth. It's definitely built a really solid relationship between New Japan and AEW, where I know Tony has said, 'I can truly say that both companies have trust in each other and confidence in the relationship.' 

"So that’s really been the most important thing in all of this is building that. And both companies I think have the same view of 'Let's try to do something really cool for the fans and let’s try do something different' because no matter what there is always another company that has such a stronghold on the professional wrestling business worldwide that teaming up only makes sense. These totally awesome products, one in Japan and one in America, can totally team up and not hurt each other's business or revenue share or anything like that."

Texting Tony Khan about a joint event

Tony Khan made the Forbidden Door announcement on AEW Dynamite. However, it never really became known how exactly the idea came together.

As it turns out, it was Romero.

"Now, nobody get mad at me if my memory doesn’t serve me well. I think that I sent a text to Tony and said, 'I think it would be cool if somehow we can figure out how to do some kind of joint event’ and then it just kinda started from there. Then he immediately had ideas about what we could do card-wise, honestly starting with Okada, Jay (White), Hangman (Page). I am not sure if Cole was in the picture at that time or if he came later. 

"But that was already kind of an idea, so it’s funny that it worked out that way, all the way to Forbidden Door. This conversation was like ten months ago or so, I would say. I think that’s kinda how it started and then it just snowballed. So, I wanna say 10 months ago, it started with that text."

The challenges of putting Forbidden Door together, beating "the curse"

Heading into Forbidden Door, there were a lot of issues that surrounded the show that led to many fans believing that the show was cursed. This included the removal of Bryan Danielson and CM Punk on the AEW side due to injuries and Tomohiro Ishii's injury and Hiromu Takahashi's fever on the NJPW side.

Romero spoke about the challenges they faced in pulling off the show. 

"The initial part of the negotiation was fairly easy and just working out details from there. Both sides were pretty giving because they wanted to make it work. Obviously, there is a huge potential for business, so once we got done with that part, we moved onto creative. That’s where it got difficult due to scheduling, other things, injuries, everything else that came down the pipeline, so then it got even more difficult.

"Finally in the last 24 hours or so, Hiromu got the fever, couldn’t come, couldn't make the plane ride and then it was like This is crazy.' Everybody was saying 'This show is cursed' and then I started to feel like ‘This show is cursed. Something bad is gonna happen!' And then it goes off without a hitch the day of.

"It felt really good. For an event that I feel had a lot of mixed emotions, everybody seemed to have an opinion on the show, and a lot of people were saying ‘Oh, this will never do well.' Then the sellout happened, pay-per-view numbers so far have been really really good, and 15,000+ people showed up to the United Center. Not a bad night for a show that was supposedly cursed, and wouldn’t do good business. Thanks to all the haters for hating on it. It also helped promote the show. That’s the funny thing: Everybody having an opinion on the show and saying how it wouldn’t work got people talking about it."

Forbidden Door 2

Fans are wondering whether or not there will be a second Forbidden Door. Khan has already stated multiple times that he hopes to have more joint events like this one and Romero spoke about how much smoother a second show would hopefully go.

"I definitely think moving forward into Forbidden Door 2, when and if that happens, it will be a much smoother working relationship. Everything should be much smoother because now both companies have a true understanding of how each one works. The things we could do better and fix all of the problems -- minus injuries and things that you can’t really (control). They just kinda happen unfortunately. That’s just the name of the game."

Could the second show happen in Japan? Romero said NJPW is game for it.

"I know that that is something that New Japan is very interested in doing and it doesn’t necessarily have to be Forbidden Door 2. It can be Forbidden Door 3. It can definitely be in Japan. Forbidden Door was successful internationally, so I feel that can be left open. There are definitely tons of places you can go internationally with a card like Forbidden Door. I think Forbidden Door would be successful internationally. It just depends on the timing if we decide to do it in June of next year or if it needs to be accompanied by part of January 4th and 5th or something. I think there are a lot of options."

Romero said they would like the build to be stronger for a second show, having AEW stars appear on NJPW and vice versa. He also explained how obtaining working visas for the talent played a major role in the storytelling leading up to the show.

"In terms of what we would do differently. I feel like scheduling would be a lot easier because we would know ‘x’ amount of weeks out if people need to come to America, whether it be in the U.S or Japan. The Japan side would have loved to have AEW people come over to help make storylines, but the problem obviously being that there wasn’t enough time to get visas and other things that were just beyond our control. Visas literally opened up three weeks before the build to Forbidden Door started, so it was almost impossible to really get visas at the last second.

"Now, knowing what we need to do, I think we can definitely fix it where I think it will be an even more exciting build. Imagine Bryan Danielson shows up to Dominion or something like that or CM Punk or Kenny show up. That would be really, really cool."

Orange Cassidy was "tentative" about his match with Will Ospreay

Given what a strong night of wrestling action there was, I asked Romero what his favorite match of the night was. He swiftly answered Orange Cassidy vs. Will Ospreay for the IWGP United States Championship -- a match he felt stole the show.

"Here is another example of the fans being like Oh, you could have done anything else with Will Ospreay.' This was Tony’s idea to do Cassidy and Ospreay. I saw the potential in it because I was like 'That’s so money because that’s a dream match that maybe you wouldn’t think of right off the bat but it’s a for sure dream.' Everybody kinda forgets that Cassidy is such a great wrestler because he has such a fantastic gimmick. So, you have two great wrestlers. I thought that was gonna kick butt and it exceeded my expectations because it really stole the show."

Romero also revealed that Cassidy felt "tentative" about being the guy to wrestle Ospreay on this high-profile event.

"Even going into it, Orange Cassidy was like 'I am not sure.' He was a little tentative, like 'Maybe that’s not a great match for me.' I was, like, “Dude, this is gonna be awesome.' We actually talked about it after. He was, like, 'Dude, that was one of my favorite matches of all-time that I’ve ever done I can’t believe I was tentative.' I said, 'If you’re not tentative and you care about what you do, then you really don’t care. So you gotta feel that way as a performer.' But I think for the most part, Tony and I knew it was gonna be a home run."

NJPW Strong PPV-sized event coming in October to the U.S.

After discussing Forbidden Door, Romero shared some exciting news regarding New Japan Strong. 

He informed me that for the NJPW Strong show taking place in Nashville as part of Starrcast weekend and Ric Flair's Last Match on July 30th, they have signed some big stars for that show, heavily alluding to current IWGP Tag Team Champions, FTR.

"We do have NJPW Strong stuff coming up. We have a pay-per-view in Nashville that’s gonna be part of Starrcast. So that’s gonna be huge, that’s July 30th. We just signed some really big names for that, some really really big names. Maybe you’ll see some IWGP tag champions there."

On top of that, he also revealed that NJPW Strong will be holding a "big pay-per-view sized event coming to the East Coast" later this year around October. He couldn't reveal more info as contracts have yet to signed.

You can watch my entire interview on YouTube at the top of this post.