By Will Pruett, ProWrestling.net Co-Senior Staffer (@itswilltime)
“Hangman” Adam Page is the AEW World Champion. On Saturday night Page won the championship while fans screamed in approval. In Adam Page, AEW has created a rarity in modern wrestling: a true babyface anointed by management and still beloved by fans.
When AEW began, Adam Page was not quite a star. He was a wrestler that never seemed to fit in with the Bullet Club in New Japan. He never felt like a main event wrestler while Ring of Honor enjoyed an embarrassment of riches. He seemed like an obvious signing, but ultimately just a good hand. I was surprised when AEW inserted Page in their first championship match. The spot was bigger than Page could handle at the time and it showed.
Fans did not turn on Page in this slot, but more supported Chris Jericho in this match than Page. The match itself seemed like a foregone conclusion. At the time, Jericho was the biggest star in AEW. It seemed like he was being fed Page in this title match to keep the other potential challengers (Cody Rhodes, Kenny Omega, Jon Moxley) fresh. The first title match itself was supposed to be the draw, not the idea that anyone could win.
As we know, Page failed and turned within himself. It’s rare for a character in wrestling to get introspective, but Adam Page did just that. He questioned himself. He questioned his friends. He turned to a favorite coping mechanism. And he still fought. Page really took off in the pre-pandemic era of AEW where his tag team with Kenny Omega caught fire. Their unique chemistry as a team made pre-pandemic AEW a blast and kept me watching in the early pandemic times.
All through this, Page was still turning inside and away from others. Even in his team with Omega we saw Page flinch when things were too close and too personal. This ultimately cost him as FTR played on his insecurities and managed to capture the AEW Tag Titles.
Page would once again see his insecurities played on as he faced Kenny Omega for an AEW Championship shot at Full Gear 2020. In the year that followed Page would try and fail and try again, always pushing forward, even after taking two steps back. This was key. Failure is important for a modern babyface. While it might be fun to watch a Goldberg-like killer climb the ranks and suddenly become champion, to truly overcome and develop a bond with fans, the character must fail.
It’s not about self doubt, but it is about overcoming self doubt. It’s not about winning every match. It is about learning from your losses. Adam Page did not become massively popular in AEW because he was the chosen one from the beginning. He became massively popular in AEW because the promotion took the time to tell his story and allow fans to become enamored with him.
There’s no question, looking back to the beginning, about Adam Page being AEW Champion today. Even with all of the stars who have entered AEW in the last two years, Page was always chosen. What AEW avoided was the awful experience of Page being labelled “the chosen one” and rejected by fans.
Tony Khan and those around him saw the responses to John Cena and, to a greater extent Roman Reigns. They saw how being chosen can derail a career. They told a story with the nuance and heart to avoid this. They invited fans to invest in Page with them and they were rewarded for it. AEW intentionally did what WWE accidentally did with Daniel Bryan.
There’s a lesson to learn here about modern wrestling storytelling and how to make a star. In the last decade, no one has created a babyface star like AEW has with Adam Page. My faith in AEW as a promotion is quite high. They did it. They pulled off something no wrestling company in the United States has in over a decade and they did it on their first try.
In Adam Page, we see that failure makes the man just as much as success. We see what happens when you suit the actions to the character. We see what happens when the heroes we watch wrestle become human onscreen. The road ahead will be tough for Page, as maintaining momentum after a major title win is tricky. After the last two years, I know if anyone can get it right, AEW and Hangman Page will.
And now for some random thoughts:
– AEW really needs to figure out pay-per-view distribution in the United States outside of Bleacher Report. They are very bad.
– As much as I enjoyed the Adam Page vs. Kenny Omega main event, it was not close to my favorite match on this show. CM Punk vs. Eddie Kingston was a bloody intense fight that brought the anger out of CM Punk I’ve been waiting for. This felt like a return to form for Punk and another moment where Kingston asserted himself as AEW’s most beloved star.
– Eddie Kingston, in taking these tough losses and his defiant responses to them, feels like a modern Mick Foley. He’s easy to love, tough to get along with, and as violent as can be.
– My second favorite match of the night was MJF vs. Darby Allin’s technical clinic in the opening match. Allin promised a wrestling match and delivered something great. MJF winning in a less than honorable way sets him up as a challenger for Hangman Page and reminds us about the Dynamite Diamond Ring, which will likely be up for grabs again soon.
– The final glance to Matt Jackson looking sad and nodding to Hangman Page in the main event felt like more of a moment for Being The Elite than for AEW. I understand its significance to the story, but it was the only off moment of the match for me. Less dramatic face acting from Matt and Nick Jackson, please.
– Miro vs. Bryan Danielson did not live up to expectations for me, but my expectations were set quite high. It was not bad in any way, but I expected it to hit a pace we haven’t seen from Danielson outside of the Omega match.
– I am enjoying the story of Bryan Danielson wrestling so much that it might cost him matches eventually. It’s a fun way to bring Danielson in. The story was really apparent when Tony Schiavone started listing Danielson’s opponents while Miro was on offense.
– This show felt very long and most of the matches felt a little on the long side. I know there is a careful balance between giving fans their money’s worth and doing too much and this errored towards doing too much. Multiple matches could have been shorter (some even 5-10 minutes shorter) and would have been more effective. At the same time, it was obvious elements of the show were being rushed through and cut for time. AEW often goes a little long on pay-per-view and this was in line with that.
– This show also featured Jim Ross’ weakest performance for AEW in months. Names eluded Ross at times and he often seemed a touch behind. His big match call for Omega and Page was not there. He seemed exhausted by the end of the show and not elated about the new champion. I know Ross is valuable. He offers a ton of credibility on commentary today, but I would like to see him reserved for main events on these major shows, not put out to drown after four hours.
– FTR and The Lucha Bros found the chemistry they were lacking after their first (awkward) match. I am so glad! This was a blast from beginning to end and I love the touch of FTR’s antics costing them the match when the non-legal man was pinned. Hopefully we see AEW run this match back soon.
– Adam Cole and The Young Bucks vs. Christian Cage, Jungle Boy, and Luchasaurus was very fun, but ten minutes too long. I loved the story of Jungle Boy finding the killer instinct he needed. This will be a moment to look back on when Jungle Boy is main eventing pay-per-views. The action never stopped in this match and it’s possible I’ll enjoy it more and not mind the length outside of the show itself.
– I would like to subtitle the six man Fall Count Anywhere match “Jungle Boy Learns How to do Murders.”
– Tay Conti’s match with Britt Baker for the AEW Women’s Championship was great. It was a far better match than the burnt out crowd gave it credit for and it was better than the build to it was on TV. Baker is on a great run as champion. Conti’s growth since joining AEW is apparent. She’s ready for major TV matches and big spots.
– AEW’s women’s division’s growth has been slower than I would like it to be. Only one women’s match on each TV show and pay-per-view makes that even more apparent. If AEW can come up with six matches outside of championships for their male roster, why can’t they come up with at least one non-title match for their women’s roster? There is no longer a lack of depth in this division. Tony Khan, who awkwardly deflected a question about growing this division last week, can and should do better.
– I did not care about the American Top Team vs. Inner Circle feud going into this show and I felt like the match was 15 minutes too long. It was not bad, but it didn’t capture my attention. It felt like the final test before getting to the Hangman Page title win.
– Andrade El Idolo and Malakai Black vs. Pac and Cody Rhodes was interesting. Both teams refusing to get along and bickering definitely fit the “singles stars having a tag match” vibe of it all. This match is also the one I would have cut from the show for time. It felt more like a Dynamite match meant to lead to more anyways. Why not give the rest of the show room to breath?
– I want to write about this more in the next few weeks, but Cody Rhodes’ feud with Malakai Black seems to have brought him out of the CodyVerse and into AEW’s actual storyline world. After almost a year of doing his own thing in side stories with no consequence, it is nice to have Cody back. I fully believe the response Cody is getting is purposeful and AEW knows what they’re doing with this character. Maybe that’s naive, but as I mentioned above, AEW is a promotion I’m willing to trust until they show me I shouldn’t.
Overall, I loved this show. It did not blow me away and convince me wrestling as I know it had just changed like All Out did, but it confirmed how I felt after All Out. AEW is producing the best major shows and the best TV shows in wrestling right now and it is not even close. They’re also telling the most engaging long term stories with satisfying payoffs. Creatively, the promotion is on another level above anything else.
Will Pruett writes about wrestling and popular culture at prowrestling.net. Of interest to him are diversity in wrestling and wrestling as a theatrical art form. To see his video content subscribe to his YouTube channel. To contact, check him out on Twitter @itswilltime, leave a comment, or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.