Oh, what a mighty twist befell conventional wisdom when “Hangman” Adam Page failed to secure an AEW World Championship match against Kenny Omega on
the grandest stage of them all AEW’s signature pay-per-view extravaganza All Out. With one somewhat convoluted yet impossibly strong finishing move, Kenny Omega squashed Page’s title dreams into, well, “cowboy shit”. The expectation came to a crashing halt and fans lamented the booking that prevented him from getting the shot they alleged he deserves.
But from those lamentations, we are at a crossroads between two of wrestling fandom’s greatest and most contradictory desires: the intersection of “Give Us What We Want” and “Give Us Long-Term Storytelling.” Two desires that became expectations from wrestling fans upon the creation of All Elite Wrestling as a response to Vince McMahon’s Sports Entertainment Experience, who never seemed to give fans either.
GIVE US WHAT WE WANT
Strike while the iron is hot! Make hay while the sun shines! Take time by the forelock! How many times have wrestling fans shouted those exact words (well, those of us who know what a forelock is, anyway) for a red hot fan fave to get their time at the top. Wrestling history is riddled with missed and/or ignored opportunities (see Ryder, Zack), so in that respect, the argument for putting the belt on Page now is irreproachable.
From the initial failed attempt to get him over in Fall of 2019, to his creative rehabilitation into a bitter, yet likeable, ass-kicking cowboy who hits the sauce a little much, Page’s love from the crowd is unquestionably soaring. It would be considered daring, at the very least, to not make the most out of his current fan favorite status to push him to the moon. The returning live crowds only confirm how resolute his position is with them. The timing does seem impeccable to bring an end to his travails and let there be celebrations at the ranch…or wherever cowboys hang.
GIVE US LONG TERM STORYTELLING
Yet there are wrestling fans who seek the Ulster Cycle of wrestling, the long-form epic that will captivate and enthrall generations with its twisting tale of heroics, defeat and triumph.The lack of forward thinking storylines is a notorious critique of North American wrestling that stems from two decades of having things done one way, which has invariably poisoned our faith in a wrestling promotion’s capacity to deliver a compelling and logical long-standing tale.
It feels like a lost art, and one that AEW seems to have a better grasp on than its top competitor. One needs only to look at the sports-driven tale woven between Cody Rhodes and Darby Allin, whose outcome led to the latter becoming a bonafide star and proven draw for the company. The road taken between Page and Omega is comparable, if not more twisting, but has guided Page’s every action in the interim to where he circles back around to face his former friend, now bonafide nemesis. Fans pick apart and reassemble the story, not unlike scouring the latest Marvel release for connections between films, in a way that demonstrates a sincere appreciation and outright hunger for wrestling tales with meat on the bone. It is unquestionably the area where AEW has stood apart from its competition to this date, so it is understandable that fans are backing it.
So which path should we walk down?
GO FOR THE LONG BALL
I, for one, believe the perfect storm of elements has combined to give wrestling fans the Holy Grail of long stories and it is mostly because of the special nature of “Hangman” Adam Page. The skittishness any fans might have in regards to our conditioning regarding booking patterns is understandable.
The “Millennial Cowboy” joshing that accompanies him is, in fact, the best categorization of what makes him so unique and relatable in the landscape. Despite being decked out in manly man archetypal man-gear, Hangman Page’s biggest strength is that he is fallible. He has flaws. He fails.
That, and his intangibles, is what makes him so relatable. He’s a Dusty as opposed to a Flair; a guy who struggles his way to the top, overcoming those who seem to have it all. We should all be here for the struggle. And if we accept him to be a Dusty, then his appeal will never be in a title, but rather in the chase and the struggle. We could have seedlings for a long and legendary feud between Hangman and newly-burgeoning arch-nemesis Kenny Omega, one that could sit on the mantle alongside the likes of Steamboat and Flair or Misawa and Kawada. It’s once we realize that even when the hero loses we still win, do we have something truly special on our hands.