The Hangman's Tale...
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From the night “Hangman” Adam Page earned his spot in the first AEW World Title match, the pressure has been on him to become the flag bearer for All Elite Wrestling. Originally set to face PAC at DOUBLE OR NOTHING 2019, an injury to Page, as well as The Bastard's refusal to come stateside for the fight, ultimately prevented the bout from happening as scheduled.
So it was quite a surprise that May night in Las Vegas when Hangman emerged as the first-ever Joker Card in the inaugural Casino Battle Royal. See, the winner of this 21 man bout would move on to ALL OUT 2019 as one-half of the fight to crown AEW's first World Champion. The other half of that historic main event would be determined by the winner of Chris Jericho versus Kenny Omega. Page would fight through his injury to win the Casino and earn his spot, eliminating Luchasaurus and MJF en route, while Jericho, rather than Hangman's then-Elite brother Kenny, would win the main event to officially set the World Title bout.
Hangman and Jericho now had just over three months to prepare for their historic showdown at ALL OUT 2019, and a great deal of that was documented on BEING THE ELITE as well as ROAD TO ALL OUT specials:
That night in Hoffman Estates, IL at the Sears Centre the electricity ran at intense levels all night long. From the Women's Casino Battle Royal to PAC versus Omega to Escalera De La Muerte, the fans were absolutely manic by the time the main event entrances began.
With The Inner Circle still in his future, Chris Jericho came to the ring alone for this highest of high-pressure situations. Approaching his thirtieth year as a competitor, it was not alien territory for Jericho to be in this zone, but the possibility of being the FIRST AEW World Champion made it different, more special, than any other moment of Chris' globe-spanning career.
Adam Page, save for the horse he rode in on, also came to the ring alone. The difference between the two men was that Hangman had never been remotely close to this environment. It was no hyperbole or exaggeration to call this the biggest moment of his professional career, possibly his life to date, and certainly a defining point of both. That unfamiliar territory, the pressure that came with it, the belief that many fans and co-workers alike held in Page being the man to carry AEW forward, it had to all play a part in why Adam asked The Young Bucks to support him at ringside as they had Kenny Omega many times before.
They denied his request...
Whether it was out of concern for their own Ladder Match against The Lucha Brothers that night, or a total selfish lack of care for a supposed friend, well that is something only the brothers Jackson truly know, and everyone else must judge based on the video embedded above. No matter their rationale, the reality was that a mentally unprepared Page entered into ALL OUT 2019 alone, lost his bid to become the first AEW World Champion, and had to deal with the fallout alone. Now perhaps Page did not have to roll through it alone, maybe he could've found support in his Elite friends, but instead Hangman retreated into himself and the world saw his self-confidence dwindle with this personal crisis.
Yet, even in the midst of this existential crisis, Adam would find a kinship within The Elite. Kenny Omega, having dropped the ball against Chris Jericho at DOUBLE OR NOTHING 2019, against PAC at ALL OUT 2019, and against Jon Moxley at FULL GEAR 2019, was going through his own crisis of faith. Much as the weight of expectations fell on Page, so too did they fall on Omega, but where Adam's rested externally from fans and pundits, Kenny's came from inside with his own self-disappointment. Omega felt he was the best and yet he was not living up to the expectations he had for himself. Page, on the other hand, did not seem to think he was the best despite the expectations and feelings of fans. In fact, it was almost as if Adam felt he was just an impostor to the Elite moniker, and did not deserve the fans support.
Who would've thought that mix of self-doubt, insecurities, and elite wrestling ability would create such a magical tag team combination? And yet, that is exactly what came to pass:
Together, with Adam initially being dragged reluctantly into the pairing, this combination would dethrone the first World Tag Team Champions, Frankie Kazarian and Scorpio Sky, hold onto the titles for 228 days, and set the bar for successful title defenses at nine.
Speaking of those Jackson brothers, the REVOLUTION 2020 match over the World Tag Team Titles may have been lauded with much praise and Match Of The Year honors, but it was also when the ties that bound The Elite truly unraveled. Although Page had taken a leave from his friends sometime before, in large part because Matt and Nick expressed concerns over Adam's outside-the-ring behavior, it was the weeks prior to this pay-per-view event that decisively severed the ties for Page and The Young Bucks. Insults flew while Omega attempted to keep the peace between his three friends. Eventually the Bucks took Page's “leave of absence” from The Elite and made it a permanent separation. Page was left with only Kenny to cling to as the four men headed for their inevitable in-ring collision:
The fight that ensued at REVOLUTION 2020 was epic, worthy of all the honors and plaudits it received, and came to an end with the defending champions retaining their titles. There was hope that perhaps this would heal the rift within The Elite, and perhaps it did for a breath, but make no mistake, there was a moment after the match, after Kenny and The Young Bucks embraced and the failed challengers left the ring that could've changed everything. With Omega in the ring alone, Page stood outside the ring, one hand holding the cable from the top, the other with an underhand grip; the hand positioning that usually heralds a Buckshot Lariat on its way. Perhaps Hangman did not even realize his hands ended up like that, that it was a subconscious act, or perhaps he had a moment after watching his championship partner embrace the two men who had verbally abused and berated him the last several months. Perhaps there was a moment where Adam Page thought of ripping Omega's head off his body with that notorious Buckshot...
It was no doubt a difficult situation, watching one friend remain friends with his ex-friends, and perhaps Kenny still felt he could be the bridge between the two parties. There was certainly a hope that the multitude of successes the Omega/Page duo experienced would rebuilding the confidence Adam had lost, and quell the anxious voices nagging the self-described “anxious Millennial cowboy”. Unfortunately the opposite proved true; the greater the successes, the stronger Adam's impostor syndrome grew, the greater the excesses of his extracurricular activities, and the isolation brought on by the earliest months of this global pandemic did not help Hangman whatsoever.
Watch the BTE editions from April/May 2020, like the one embedded above, prior to DOUBLE OR NOTHING 2020 and you will see a man struggling to pull it all together. Yet that is what Page seemed to do on the eve of the first Stadium Stampede when he reemerged on DYNAMITE, sprinting the length of the field, to help Matt Hardy, The Young Bucks, and Kenny Omega against The Inner Circle!
It was a triumphant moment it seemed, but the painful reality was that Hangman did not stick around for the group moment after The Inner Circle retreated, instead preferring to walk off the field towards the Daily's Place concourse. Still, he was there come pay-per-view time and the Stadium Stampede spectacle where, over a glass of milk and a few fingers of whiskey, the estranged World Tag Team Champions reaffirmed their bond. And although the Elite, Hardy, and Page won the match, it did not remotely serve to heal the wounds between Adam, Nick, and Matt.
In retrospect, those few weeks where Kenny fought alone likely woke Omega back up to his own abilities as a singles performer, and planted initial seeds in his heart and mind for how the relationship with Adam Page would change post-DOUBLE OR NOTHING 2020. The “Kenny dragging Page along for the ride” dynamite shifted into something...else. Despite that reconciliation, the fact is that for several weeks Omega did not have to worry about Hangman's sobriety, or if his heart was in the fight. He was able to focus on himself, and not worry so much about Adam Page. Yet here was Hangman, back in the fray, and seemingly recommitted to the idea of his union with Omega. Unfortunately that did not seem to be the case with Kenny, who would go increasingly disenfranchised with this partner despite their continued success as champions.
All this caught the eye of “The Exalted One” Mr. Brodie Lee, and on July 22nd of 2020, as seen in the video below, Mr. Brodie would extend a Dark Order offer to AEW's resident cowboy, thus beginning the path that led to where things are today:
Yes that was Cash Wheeler and Dax Harwood, having arrived on the scene in AEW just two months prior, who came to the ring to make the save for Adam. Not Kenny Omega, still Page's tag team championship partner, but FTR who were there in the moment assistance was needed. To say this reality further distorted Hangman's perceptions would be an understatement. FTR, with their clearly stated goal of becoming champions out there for the world to hear, befriended Adam Page and in actuality it made more sense than any member of The Elite. They had common upbringings and shared experiences in the independent wrestling scene in their younger years, they liked to drink, and FTR just felt a better fit for Hangman as friends. Page was even their to toast Cash and Dax when they signed Tully Blanchard as their manager, little knowing he was essentially toasting to his own demise.
FTR even got Page to bring them along as allies in a giant 12-man tag against The Dark Order that ultimately ended badly for The Elite, FTR, and Hangman when Brodie Lee pinned Page. It could have gone even worse as, right before “The Exalted One” delivered the discus lariat to Hangman that ended it all, Page nearly decapitated Kenny Omega with a Buckshot Lariat meant for Lee but evaded by the behemoth.
But the true tipping point came when FTR got into Page's head so much that, rather than risk facing The Young Bucks once again in a World Tag Team Title match, Hangman blatantly cost Matt and Nick a title shot during the 8/27/20 THURSDAY NIGHT DYNAMITE number one contender's gauntlet bout. This was no accident, not a mistake by any means, Hangman insured The Young Bucks would not be challengers for he and Kenny at ALL OUT 2020, and as a result put the final nail in the coffin that was the original Elite.
The DYNAMITE prior to that pay-per-view event had its own heartbreaking moment seen in the video above when FTR essentially ripped Hangman's guts out on international television and displayed all his flaws for the world to see. Adam finally saw how he was used by Dax, Cash, and Tully, but when he reached out for Omega in those closing moments, much like an estranged spouse that has reached their end, Kenny's hand was not there. He had walked away from Page in that moment, leaving everyone wondering just what would happen at ALL OUT 2020.
The champions lost...
With no more unity, and no ties to bind, Omega and Page had finally reached their end and truthfully it was all Adam's fault. When he chose fear, and in turn chose to eliminate The Young Bucks from the equation, Adam made Kenny's decision for him, it was just a matter of when the moment would come from Omega to walk away completely. It came when FTR defeated the champions to claim the World Tag Team Titles as their own. In the aftermath, Omega left Page behind after, for a moment of his own, looking as if he'd strike Adam with a piece of broken table.
The shock for Hangman was that Kenny Omega had no desire to rekindle their championship caliber team after FTR won the title. In fact, Omega dove straight into the singles ranks with the World Title Eliminator Tournament that culminated at FULL GEAR 2020, rattling off wins over Sonny Kiss and Penta El Zero Miedo en route to the finals. Hangman was also entered into the tournament, beating Colt Cabana and Wardlow on his way to AEW's fall pay-per-view event. With a future World Title match at stake, the former championship duo would collide one-on-one for the very first time and it would mark a sad landmark for anyone who ever held hope Omega and Page would ever reunite, much less The Elite as as whole.
Omega won, he would parlay that victory into an eventual title fight with Jon Moxley at DYNAMITE: WINTER IS COMING, where he would win the championship and has reigned over All Elite Wrestling ever since. Hangman Page, on the other hand, would wallow in his misery for several weeks before returning to action against a man who would prove crucial to the rest of Hangman's tale thus far: John Silver. See The Dark Order never really stopped attempting to recruit Hangman Page to their cause, and with Adam left on an island alone without The Elite and without FTR, he became the target of two distinct unites attempting to sway him to their side: The Dark Order and The Hardy Family Office.
The Dark Order, through fun and a genuine desire for friendship, reached out to Adam not out of selfish reasons but rather to help him heal from the traumas he had experienced the last several years, both self-inflicted and external. Their antics even got Page to smile for the first time in ages, and he even began to enjoy spending time with them, although he never once considered himself a member of this “cult” as he once called it months prior. Page's mentality, although still not healed, seemed to be embracing the lighter side of The Dark Order and things like their Cowboy Day (Watch Here). It was certainly a far cry from the sad man who wandered into their office one day to join in on the “F*** Hangman” chant they all started.
So it came as a shock to John Silver and the other Dark Order members in January 2021 when, following an eight-man tag team victory, Page spurned The Meat Man's offer to officially join their ranks.
Matt Hardy, ever the schemer, saw this as opportunity and, with his money and pulling at ties from their alliance of necessity earlier in 2020, did everything he could to recruit Hangman into what would become The Hardy Family Office, but it was to no avail. Hardy would in fact end up in a match against Page at REVOLUTION 20201 in which all of Hardy's 1st quarter earnings were at stake. Page won the match, The Dark Order remained loyal to him despite Hangman turning down their offer, and this has been the nature of their dynamic for all the months since.
As The Dark Order has gone, so too has Hangman Page. If Page was in need of support, then The Dark Order was there to cheer him on as well. It was a healthy dynamic, possibly the healthiest wrestling relationship Adam Page had experienced in years, and it helped all parties involved to grow. But let's focus on Hangman for this moment; through the self-worth he rebuilt thanks to The Dark Order, Page made his way back into the top spot in the Men's Rankings, and despite a brief blip when Brian Cage and Team Taz stole it away from him, Page remained in that top spot long enough that it became undeniable that he needed to be the next man challenging Kenny Omega for the AEW World Champion.
It was not the expected response from Hangman Page, but clearly The Dark Order was there for the man no matter how he felt about himself. They saw this as their opportunity to boost him after months of being boosted by him, and were going to help Adam through whatever he needed to go through to prepare himself mentally for this golden opportunity.
So when the time came for Hangman to step up to the plate, he do so unselfishly and with the intent of garnering some benefit for the men in The Dark Order who helped him get to this place. They had stood beside each other to this point, and Page would insure that would continue to be the case with a potential championship bout looming. It would be Page's World Title Match as well as a potential World Tag Team Title match for The Dark Order at stake, and they would lose it all if the Elite captured the victory in a five-on-five elimination bout:
In a tremendous show of solidarity with the men who had been his staunchest allies all these months, Page wore gear with purple throughout, and when everyone else hit that trademark Dark Order pose, so to did Hangman albeit with his own little finger gun twist. It was as close as Page had ever come to officially declaring himself a member of the family, and it was quite a special moment.
Sadly though, the valiant effort from the Hangman and Dark Order quintet was not enough and, when the numbers dwindled down to just Hangman for his squad, the Elite played the distraction game which allowed Omega to use the AEW World Title as a weapon, followed by a pair of V-Triggers, and a One Winged Angel. The championship quest for Adam Page and The Dark Order had ended that night, but it certainly felt like that was only the case because of the Elite using every shortcut they could to win.
So when the DYNAMITE: HOMECOMING edition kicked off from Daily's Place, there was certainly some speculation as to what the future of Hangman Page and The Dark Order would entail. Page had more than earned his spot atop the rankings, but the nature of the deal cut with the devil certainly affected the potential for that to take place as long as “The Cleaner” remains champion. Shockingly though, the first thing fans (and The Dark Order) would find out about Hangman Page that night was that he needed to ride solo, roll nomad so to speak, moving forward.
Unlike when Page declared his “leave of absence” from The Elite over a year earlier, this was not a choice made out of fear or self-loathing, it was not made as a way to run away from the issues, rather it was a rational adult decision . It was one made with clear head and with Page understanding that, in order to move forward with his life, he had to do it truly on his own. He had faced his inner demons with The Dark Order's assistance, he had even found the courage to deal with his outer ones knowing they had his back, but for Hangman, the true test of how far he had come since that disappointing loss to Chris Jericho two years would be in tackling the demon face-to-face. This was the equivalent of a recovering alcoholic walking into a bar alone to test themselves, and sitting down to order a club soda.
It was brave, it was necessary, but unfortunately for Hangman it was not a scenario that worked out in his favor as the entirety of The Elite assaulted Adam as if he never meant a single thing to them. Even before the physical attack, Omega unleashed a verbal assault that he likely assumed would break his former partner into tiny little pieces. Kenny, thinking he was still dealing with the same man who he had to drag into a World Tag Team championship pairing, figured Page would break and go riding off into the sunset with his tail between his legs. Fighting back was the absolute last thing the AEW World Champion expected, but that is exactly what Hangman gave him and the rest of The Elite. But no man, no matter how tough, is going to last long against such an onslaught, and no man is going to get up from the cumulative effects of a Magic Killer from The Good Brothers and multiple BTW Triggers from The Young Bucks.
The sad thing at the time, the unknown thing at that moment was what the future would hold for Hangman Page. Would he return to action, and if so how long would it take him to recover from the physical toll this Elite beating took? In addition to that assault, “Hangman” and his family celebrated the birth of a newborn, further illuminating the question of when and if he would return to All Elite Wrestling. Whatever way the future of Page would swing, one undeniable fact was that after two years of struggling with the demons in his head, of losing and finding friendships, of manipulations, successes, and tragedies, Hangman left an indelible impact on The Dark Order and them on him:
Over the course of the weeks that followed, that impact on The Dark Order and the request Adam made of them, created a great deal of internal strife that threatened to tear the family apart at the seams. Not only did they argue and pick sides based on where each stood on Hangman's request, they even came to blows with one another, such as in the case of the match between Evil Uno and Alan “5” Angels on AEW DARK. Then on a DYNAMITE that followed, in the aftermath of a six-man tag team loss against The Pinnacle, the men came to blows with one another again. Their future seemed rather uncertain, with the ties that bound The Dark Order slowly unraveling, but in Rochester, NY they finally came together with confronted by Amanda Huber, the widow of “The Exalted One” Mr. Brodie Lee. Although the bonds were renewed that night, and have grown stronger in the weeks since, for a time the path of The Dark Order was essentially the polar opposite of AEW's bigger picture as the future grew brighter and brighter with each passing week.
One need only look at what has happened since RAMPAGE: THE FIRST DANCE, and the wrestlers that have arrived into AEW to see that how the landscape changed in Hangman's absence. The Young Bucks lost the World Tag Team Titles for one, and we have witnessed the arrivals of CM Punk, Bryan Danielson, Ruby Soho, as well as Page's former Bullet Club ally Adam Cole, that have completely changed the game, altered the face of All Elite Wrestling, and created a vastly different situation than when Page was forced out on August 4th.
The question of where Hangman would stand in the midst of that crowd was unavoidable. IF he returned, where would he rank in the grand scheme of things upon his return to All Elite Wrestling? And, given the nature of the confidence issues Adam had experienced throughout his AEW career, where would his head be when looking at all the changes? Would the AEW World Title still be his goal? Would he have it in him to climb that ladder yet again? Well, we all found out the answer to that, quite literally, on the October 6th edition of DYNAMITE:
For the second time in his AEW career, “Hangman” Adam Page took the role of the Joker Card, this time in the Casino Ladder Match rather than the Battle Royale, and parlayed it into the World Championship match that will go down Saturday November 13th at FULL GEAR 2021! And when Hangman spoke to the crowd in Miami on October 16th's edition of DYNAMITE, he demonstrated a whole new confidence, as well as an awareness of the path he took to get here, and an extra appreciation for the fans who have not only supported him since day one, but whose support has grown every week!
The fact that one year ago, at FULL GEAR 2020, Hangman fell to Kenny Omega in the finals of the original Men's World Title Eliminator Tournament is something that cannot be ignored, and something that Page is fully aware of as he once more attempts to fulfill the promise he made the fans before ALL OUT 2019.
Yet, despite the success of winning the Casino Ladder Match, the fact of the matter was that The Elite, and Kenny Omega specifically, did not appear to take Hangman Page seriously at all as a challenger. Or perhaps it is a case of the exact opposite being true and The Elite do see the threat Hangman represents, especially as a man who rode alongside them for several years and reigned as a dominant tag team champion with “The Cleaner”. Perhaps this was all just their way of putting themselves at ease while simultaneously playing good old-fashioned mind games with the number one contender, continuing to undermine him via mockery and dismissiveness:
Well, the unfortunate thing for The Elite would turn out to be the fact that they perpetually underestimated their former friend. Kenny, Matt, Nick, all of them had such a limited view of just who Adam Page is and what he is capable of doing, that they genuinely did not think he would step up to their taunts. Turns out they were wrong...
In that moment, using a little bit of trickery and subterfuge, Hangman showed his FULL GEAR 2021 (Order Now) foe and his estranged friends that he was done with their games, done with their terms of engagement, and was taking control of the narrative. Matt Jackson was the first to feel the wrath when he, much like The Elite's expectations, got turned inside out by Page's lariat, and the AEW World Champion felt it too when he got dropped head first with a Deadeye from his next challenger. To any rational mind, Page's actions on the October 27th DYNAMITE would be a sign that, appearances to the contrary, he needs to be taken seriously by the World Champion as a threat to the continued reign of Kenny Omega. Perhaps it was a wake-up call to “The Cleaner” because he certainly wanted no part of his pay-per-view challenger on the November 3rd DYNAMITE when Hangman was on the spot to prevent Kenny from assaulting Alan “5” Angels with a chair after having already defeated The Dark Order member. Omega should be grateful for his own quick reflexes because a fraction of a second of hesitation, and his head would've been taken off with a Buckshot Lariat:
With the title belt in his hand, Page could have very easily held that hostage until November 13th but that is not the type of competitor he is, nor how Adam wants to possession of the most coveted prize in professional wrestling today. When that belt becomes the property of Hangman Page, he wants it to be at FULL GEAR 2021 (Order Now) in a proper match with his hand raised by whichever AEW official is on duty for that contest. Adam wants this done the right way, with no question as to whether he deserves to be called AEW World Champion, and to be able to bring that championship home to his family with pride.
With just a few more days until their meeting, Page is no doubt reflecting on the last couple years of his life and this winding road that has led to the Target Center in Minneapolis, MN. The ups and downs, the successes and failures, and the lessons learned; they have forged “Hangman” Adam Page into a man who is not only worthy of being AEW World Champion, but also being one that All Elite Wrestling can take pride in being their representative. DYNAMITE brought the former partners together to sign the official Men's World Title bout for FULL GEAR 2021, and that brought us...
Kenny once again trying to rip at scabs, to make Page feel like less of man because he actually struggled to get where he was Wednesday night, sitting across the table with that contract between them. Still, sitting in the eleventh hour, “The Best Bout Machine” was looking for mind games and belittlement to get him an advantage, and when that didn't work, well good thing Don Callis was waiting in the wings to get Omega that last ditch advantage. Kenny may truly believe deep in his heart, Don may truly believe in that lie, but there was no advantage gained, rather the AEW World Champion gave truth to the words Hangman spoke: Kenny is indeed scared of the threat Page represents.
It remains to be seen what additional fuel RAMPAGE may throw on this fire, or if The Elite aim to put additional obstacles in Adam's path during the final steps before FULL GEAR 2021; whatever happens, Hangman Page can enter the pay-per-view finally believing in himself, and confident that come what may, unlike his former compatriots, he has come to this point honestly.
Will November 13, 2021 be the night Hangman ascends to the mountain top that so many placed him upon the second DOUBLE OR NOTHING 2019 ended? Can Page live up to his own expectations and finally become the face of All Elite Wrestling? We shall all see at FULL GEAR 2021 (Order Now) LIVE on Bleacher Report, as well as traditional pay-per-view providers, this Saturday night!