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AEW WrestleDream HOT TAKE

September 26, 2023

"It was All A Dream" - The Notorious B.I.G.

There are countless professional wrestlers seeking to earn their way to fame and fortune inside the squared circle, but very few make it to the top of the industry. Even a smaller collection among those raise their profile to iconic status, living on forever among fans and competitors alike in infamy and glory. Then, there is the top one percent, who not only radiate greatness forever, but in doing so, change the entire landscape of an industry.

The late, great Antonio Inoki is among the most important, finest competitors who ever stepped foot in the professional wrestling genre. Whether it be groundbreaking matches, Tokyo Dome extravaganzas, parlaying his wrestling celebrity into international political accomplishments or laying the foundation for mixed martial arts against Muhammad Ali, Inoki, the founder of New Japan Pro Wrestling lives in forever through his accomplishments, his legacy remaining something for all professional wrestlers, present and future, to aspire towards as they seek to build their own dreams of squared circle preeminence.

This Sunday October 1st, the acclaimed roster of stars who dominate All Elite Wrestling will invade The Emerald City of Seattle, stepping into the heat of battle not just to entertain the FITE fans around the world, not just to raise golden championships in victory, but to pay tribute to Antonio Inoki, who's dreams of global peace through sports have given way to a new elite tradition - the first ever AEW WrestleDream event, emanating live from The Climate Pledge Arena for FITE's international audience across the globe.

The inaugural WrestleDream this Sunday will feature the following climactic clashes and main event attractions:

The American Dragon Bryan Danielson vs. Zack Sabre Jr.

It was just several months ago at The Forbidden Door 2023 when Bryan Danielson, with a broken arm, still forced Kazuchika Okada, one of the best professional wrestlers of all time, to submit. Once again, Danielson was lauded as perhaps the best in-ring talent in the world, one of the most adept and proficient at the art of scientific professional wrestling, the purest form of in-ring technique there is. After taking time off to convalesce, Danielson returned to brutally defeat Ricky Starks in both a strap match and a Texas Death Match, showing the versatility of his skillset as a combat sports pugilist. Across the world, Danielson remains celebrated by the world's most die-hard fans as one of, if not the best competitor in the ring today.

None of that has set well with New Japan Pro Wrestling's reigning and defending World Television Champion Zack Sabre Jr. The brash British star has built his reputation and career on conquering every level of technical professional wrestling and using the skills he's developed to wear the bodies and break the spirits of his challengers inside the squared circle. With some of the best performances of his career highlighting a breakout year for NJPW, Sabre believes that he, not anyone else, should be lauded as the best wrestler in the world - and he hasn't been shy about crowing about that.

Sabre's protests and boasts have caught the attention of the international wrestling community, including Danielson himself. That led to issuing a challenge for the two to meet in the center of the ring at WrestleDream, setting the stage for perhaps the finest chess match in the history of professional wrestling as two of the all-time masters collide in the ultimate battle of not just physicality but mental aptitude and strategy. These are two men who are known for thinking moves ahead of their opponents, for shattering ligaments and muscle and for going the extra distance when it comes to cardiovascular training.

In many ways, Danielson and Sabre Jr. are two opposite sides of the same spectacular pro wrestling coin, but what will happen on FITE when they collide with the entire world watching? Professional wrestling greatness!

NJPW Strong Openweight & ROH World Champion Eddie Kingston vs. ROH Pure Champion Katsuyori Shibata.

The professional wrestling world rejoiced at AEW Grand Slam 3 when Eddie Kingston finally lived his dream and defeated Claudio Castagnoli to become the 39th competitor to become the Ring of Honor World Heavyweight Champion since it was created back in 2002. For Kingston, the victory over his hated rival Castagnoli was doubly sweet as the New Japan Strong Openweight Championship was also on the line and was retained, as for Kingston, the art and beauty and violence of Japanese professional wrestling was what enamored him growing up in New York.

It's not an understatement to state that without those VHS tapes, the trajectory of Kingston's entire life would have been different, perhaps criminal, but instead, Kingston has ascended to become a prestigious champion across multiple continents, even if he's still Eddie from down the block. For someone who almost gave up on his Wrestledreams countless times during the up and down twists and turns of a professional athlete's career, Kingston now stands on the top of the mountain, forever enshrined in the history books, a job well done.

However, it's not a job that has been completed. While Kingston's rise to prominence is one that should inspire countless others, his WrestleDream opponent Katsuyori Shibata's story is also one of resilience, heartbreak and of an unyielding competitor refusing anything but the triumph of returning from the brink of disaster.

After suffering a traumatic brain injury while competing back in 2017, it was feared and believed that Shibata, one of the most beloved members of the New Japan Pro Wrestling roster would never compete again. Despite an extremely depressing initial diagnosis and outlook, Shibata quietly and stoically fought to return to the ring, eventually achieving that goal and today, reigns supreme as Ring of Honor's Pure Wrestling Champion.

Shibata is extremely respected by everyone in the combat sports community, especially Kingston, who parlayed that respect into a call for Shibata to face him at WrestleDream in Seattle. For Kingston, the gnawing feeling inside that forces him to continue down the hard path, to place himself into situations where he must battle out of the corner, all of that makes him want to test himself against Shibata, the same way he has tested himself against Jun Akiyama and other Japanese greats. Kingston needs to know he's the best in the world, just as Shibata needs to know he can finally achieve World Championship greatness.

This Sunday on FITE, two men who have lived their entire lives defying the impossible will now step inside the ring and seek to defy each other - but only one man will emerge victorious.

ROH Tag Team Champions Adam Cole & AEW World Champion MJF vs. The Righteous

The bromance between AEW World Champion MJF and his best friend, tag team partner and sometimes rival Adam Cole has electrified and mystified All Elite Wrestling fans all at once. Can they maintain their brotherhood? Can MJF be trusted to do the right thing and show himself growing as a person? Can Cole's lust for the World Championship remain unsatiated? As AEW fans have watched and debated the twists and turns in this unique situation, AEW All In: London saw a new wrinkle develop when MJF and Cole won the Ring of Honor World Tag Team Championship from Aussie Open, just hours before they were slated to battle each other for the AEW World Championship at the same groundbreaking international event.

While their friendship endured that championship battle, the question of whether their ROH World Tag Team Championship reign can do the same at WrestleDream live on FITE is another question. Since re-emerging upon the scene, Vincent and Dutch, The Righteous, have brought a new level of viciousness to Ring of Honor and AEW. The embittered, charismatic Vincent has brutally toyed with and destroyed foes standing in his path, empowered by the brutal might of Dutch, who has proven to be all but indestructible.

Vincent and Dutch believe the ROH World Tag Team Championships to be their path to power in professional wrestling, the latest stepping stone to prominence of their nightmarish hellscape vision of what Ring of Honor should be. It's perhaps the latest example of how truly inverted professional wrestling can be at times that MJF, of all people, stands as the defender to Ring of Honor and all that it means to fans across the globe. If he and Cole can remain on the same page, they stand a fighting chance of retaining their titles. If not, as Alice Cooper once sang, "Welcome to my Nightmare…"

Swerve Strickland vs. Hangman Page.

WrestleDream will also feature a grudge battle between generational AEW stars, each of whom have massive fan bases within the global FITE community. Hangman Page was one of the founding members of All Elite Wrestling, battling his way through many injuries, trials and tribulations while rising to victory as AEW World Heavyweight Champion, becoming one of the true cornerstones of All Elite Wrestling in the process.

Swerve Strickland arrived in AEW later as part of a second wave of tremendous athletes seeking to prove themselves, an accomplishment that has been proven countless times over as Strickland has risen to prominence as the centerpiece of the Mogul Embassy. However, never one to remain content, Strickland called his shot, stepping to Hangman and declaring that Page had grown too comfortable in his position within AEW. Declaring Hangman Page to be complacent, Strickland threatened to take him out and usurp Page's place in AEW for himself.

With that, the war was on with each side with Page looking to turn back the challenge of Strickland and his minions while also seeking to prove that he had gone anything but soft from his successful run within All Elite Wrestling. Page, once the young upstart in Ring of Honor and Southern independent promotions, had grown to become the calloused, weathered, matured champion in AEW - and now finds himself facing someone who is just as hungry as Page ever was. The bounty is out and Hangman is wanted.

For Strickland, a competitor who has always been revered and respected by fans and competitors alike, WrestleDream represents the biggest singles bout of his career. While he has held the MLW Championship and main evented around the world, this battle is about more than gold or even respect. It is about taking what he believes is his, and taking out the person Strickland believes doesn't deserve what they already possess. It doesn't get more base or more personal than that and at WrestleDream, punches will be thrown and history will be made before the international FITE audience.

Will Ospreay & Konosuke Takeshita & Sammy Guevara vs. Kenny Omega & Kota Ibushi & Chris Jericho.

Six competitors. Tempers flaring. A true international incident shadows WrestleDream and threatens to plummet it into darkness. What more can truly be said about a match that features not one, but two dream six man tag team combinations that are seeking to tear each other apart.

It all begins with one man, Don Callis, stabbing his long-time family member Kenny Omega in the back, aligning himself with Japanese star Konosuke Takeshita, who goes on to decimate Omega in order to ascend his career to the next level. Then, Callis teases that he will align himself with Chris Jericho - a longtime Omega foe - only to instead take international superstar Will Ospreay under his wing, setting the stage for the former IWGP Champion to defeat Jericho at All In: London.

As Jericho's frustrations boil over, he and longtime associate Sammy Guevara find their relationship fraying and do what true men do, offer to fight it out. At AEW Grand Slam 3, Guevara and Jericho battled in NYC with Jericho emerging victorious. After embracing the other in a show of solidarity and respect, Guevara drills Jericho in the nether-regions, as Callis emerges from the shadows. Guevara reveals he's firmly now part of the Don Callis Family and leaves his long-standing friendship with Jericho in the mud, just as Takeshita did to Omega. Even more shocking, it's now Omega who comes to Jericho's aid, an unthinkable turn of events even 24 hours prior.

As all this is going on, Takeshita announces his intentions to make even further revenge on Omega by targeting his closest friend in and out of the squared circle, Kota Ibushi, intent on destroying Ibushi's career and by doing so, plummeting Omega into an even deeper emotional anguish. Isbushi, never known to duck a challenge, immediately charts his way to the United States.

All of this emotional turmoil will come to an explosive head this Sunday live before FITE fans as the unified might of Don Callis Family seeks to step into battle and decimate their chosen targets - Ibushi, Jericho and Omega. But can the combination of three of the most decorated international stars be the answer to what is needed to turn the tide of battle? The Emerald City may be painted crimson by the time this six man war of attrition has concluded live for international FITE fans this Sunday!

AEW World Tag Team Champions FTR vs. Aussie Open

The AEW World Tag Team Champions, Dax Harwood and Cash Wheeler, have been seeking competition in recent weeks, taking on all challengers and then taking them down in order to prove over and over that they are the best tag team competitors in the entire world. Since forming their tandem back in 2014, they have risen to the top of the world of professional wrestling, but remain driven, forcing themselves to continue to sharpen steel against steel in order to remain at the top of the mountain.

This Sunday in Seattle, FTR will again seek to achieve their goal of tag team superiority, but to do so, they will have to turn back the challenge of Kyle Fletcher and Mark Davis, Aussie Open, who may be the hungriest sharks in the tag team world currently. Seeking to prove themselves once again after losing the ROH World Tag Team Championship at All In: London, Aussie Open are seeking to level up by shocking the world and adding a new set of golden championships to their mantle.

Aussie Open have battled their way across Australia, Japan, Canada and The United States to earn their infamy. FTR have carved their own path across those same countries and more, setting the stage for a true dream tag team encounter for international FITE fans at WrestleDream! One team will exit with the championships. The other will have to find a way to rebound and fight on another day, but the victors will get the spoils, the glory and find themselves gloriously celebrated in the record books.

TBS Champion Kris Statlander vs. Julia Hart.

Kris Statlander has slowly and surely developed into one of the most beloved competitors inside and out of the AEW ring since making her debut back in 2019. Beloved for her in-ring prowess, Statlander fans rejoiced when she returned from injury and defeated Jade Cargill to become the new reigning and defending TBS Champion. Since that championship victory, Statlander has been nothing less than the heart and soul of the AEW Women's division, scoring victory after victory against the best competition in the world.

This Sunday at WrestleDream, Statlander faces a most worthy adversary in The House of Black's Julia Hart, who's dark and demonic visage has forged the path to numerous victories over renowned competitors. For Hart, WrestleDream represents her biggest singles opportunity in AEW history, a chance to earn her first Championship and prove herself as formidable as any other competitor within The House of Black.

This Sunday live on FITE, a true clash of the light and the dark takes place with the TBS Championship on the line!

TNT Champion Christian Cage vs. Darby Allin - Best of Three Falls.

If there is someone guaranteed to make AEW fans miserable, it's likely Christian Cage, who's toxic, obnoxious behavior is overshadowed only by his utter glee in ruining everyone else's happiness. Having now captured the TNT Championship, Cage seeks to have a massive championship run, rubbing it in the face of everyone around him, especially since he still retains power over the ever-dangerous Luchasaurus.

This Sunday in Seattle, Darby Allin returns home to the Pacific Northwest and seeks to end Cage's antics once and for all, challenging for the TNT title. With this bout set to be contested under Best of Three Falls, it means that each competitor will have to pick up two victories. That means that Cage will have to defeat one of AEW's most resilient and dangerous competitors not once, but twice. It also means Allin will have to put down one of the most decorated fighters in modern day professional wrestling in rapid succession, two times in a row. Could Allin's never-say-die attitude and aptitude to destroy himself in order to hurt his opponent give him a true edge over Cage?

This Sunday, the future of the TNT Championship is at stake - as is the hopes and dreams of everyone around the world that wants to see Christian Cage humbled at last. Will FITE fans get their wish?

This Sunday's WrestleDream will feature additional matches yet to be revealed, but the one thread that will run through all of these classic battles is that every single fighter on the card is looking to live their dreams through victory and seeking to achieve lasting immortality through their sweat equity and hard-fought achievements, just as the late, great Antonio Inoki did.

FITE fans around the world will assemble to pay tribute to Inoki, who's greatness stretches back to the days of Karl Gotch and Rikidozan, not by emulating his work but by seeking to inspire others with their own. Just as Inoki, the very first IWGP Champion sought to inspire those who came after him, the international combatants of AEW seek to spark the WrestleDreams of a new generation - and it all begins this Sunday live on FITE!

Mike Johnson is the lead reporter for PWInsider.com and has been writing about professional wrestling since 1996. He can be found on Twitter @MikePWInsider and MikeJohnsonWrites.com.