At this point, you’ve no doubt read a ginormous amount of opinion pieces about Hangman Adam Page. Is this one of those articles? I don’t know, folks. I’m just winging it here. I’m going in raw on this one, as the kids say.
The way we relate to wrestlers is unique to us. Sure, many of us understood Stone Cold Steve Austin acting out against his own boss, even when he’d find himself still working at that same job with that same boss. We’ve come to see ourselves in the underdogs and rooting for them, or sympathizing with heels being driven to some difficult times. And sometimes we are ostensibly linked to those in the roles meant to mock or demonize us.
However, there are those that just speak to the inner core of us, wholly relatable to our highs and lows. As stated earlier, there are many looks at Adam Page that discuss this in great fashion.
It’s in his nickname, after all. The Anxious Millennial Cowboy. Many saw him in the indies and in Japan, tagging along with Bullet Club and The Elite, a group that took the wrestling world by storm without having worked with WWE. Perhaps it was this that aided his choice in making the jump with his friends to a place that would become all elite. His friends would remind him as such, that he was but a jobber at that time and they made him relevant.
Come Double or Nothing 2019, Page was scheduled to face the British Bastard known as PAC, but booking plans said “no”. We had no choice but to be okay with it, though it was a dramatically worse incident than the Montreal Screwjob (it wasn’t, I’m joshing you). Page instead would go on to join the show’s Buy-In in the Casino Battle Royale, and would leave the victor after dispatching MJF. The young cowboy even found himself summoned by the legendary hitman Bret Hart in the reveal of the AEW World Title, a belt that Page would have to fight either Chris Jericho or Kenny Omega to obtain.
With all this, the world and the momentum seemed fully on Page’s side as he discovered he would be facing Chris Jericho. Yet everyone warned him to curb his expectations. He had heaps upon heaps of passion, talent, and grit inside him, but the experienced veteran in Jericho still had lots left in the tank. Cowboy Shit wouldn’t cover it just yet. Despite the determination, Hangman, like many millennials, didn’t know who he was yet, didn’t understand the world and life and its many beautiful mysteries, and didn’t know that he…didn’t know.
Us humans can be stubborn. We have our own concepts of logic and reason that we uncover for ourselves. The universe, brimming with the unknown, is unacceptable and foreign to us. We want to make sense of it all, to understand what isn’t exactly clear-cut. Some acknowledge forces beyond our understanding and some turn to science. Some believe they are smarter than everyone and some believe we truly know nothing.
Hangman…didn’t know. He had lost control of the one thing he thought he had control of. This pill was too bitter to swallow, so his soul outright rejected it for a medicine Page felt he truly could control: alcohol. As with any addiction, however, you forfeit control as it consumes you. As the Irish saying goes: the man takes a drink, the drink takes a drink, and the drink takes the man.
The Millenial Cowboy didn’t even possess control over his willpower as the audience itself enabled him with their cups of beer, which Page heartily took a swig of, burning away his judgment. That’s right, it was us! It was us, Austin – we were the heels all along, Austin!
In this period of our lives, millennials oft forget they are not alone, and this is where his story with Kenny Omega comes in. Coming off of many defeats that deflated the Best Bout Machine, Omega sought solace in his friend, to see if they had tag team chemistry. There would be a lot of success there, so why not? Why not have a great time with a friend who is also, as the kids say, “going through it”?
Thus, the duo would gain enough wins to become tag team champions in AEW, and for a time, things seemed to be going well. That is, until that classic of a tag team match between Page/Omega and the Young Bucks at Revolution 2020. This was the linchpin of what weakened The Elite – as the Bucks twisted Page’s inner turmoil with barbs of how he was a jobber until he met them, that he was a jobber in Ring of Honor, etc. Maybe it was to light a fire in him, or to mess with his head to benefit the Jackson brothers, but all it did was drive a distance that didn’t need to be there. And poor Kenny Omega was in the middle of it, wanting to save the relationship between his friends, and the match at Revolution just left so many uneasy feelings in the air.
Perhaps the only bright spot in this period for The Elite was the Stadium Stampede Match at Double or Nothing 2020, where The Elite, with the help of Broken Matt Hardy (man, I miss that version of him) faced off against the Inner Circle and got the win. For this brief period of time, the team banded together after pushing their differences aside in the midst of the world outside the squared circle falling apart for over a year.
Unfortunately for the cowboy, the advent of the debuting FTR would signal the end of his ride with his friends. So many people in their youth end up putting their trust in new friends, because they’re “cool”, they have so many things going for them, and you lose your inhibitions because you think you know these people. The truth is, you don’t. You don’t know if people have the same head as you, the same heart, the same experiences, the same goals and intentions. Yet, it seemed as though FTR and Hangman were on the same page, they couldn’t turn their backs on him and remind him of his worst qualities at this point in his career, right? Not like his friends, who called him a jobber. Not his friends who didn’t believe in him.
FTR didn’t point out Page’s flaws, they capitalized on it to dismantle The Elite. Cash Wheeler and Dax Harwood knew how to sow the seeds of contempt, and as Hangman cost the Young Bucks a chance at another tag team title shot, that was the nail in the coffin for his relationship to the brothers.
This only lead to Hangman and Omega having to defend their titles against FTR at All Out, with Hangman almost soberingly trying to hang on to his last friend in Kenny Omega, who at this point is close to done with him. Even the fist-bump the two shared felt one-sided. So much worry and doubt in Page, hoping to not lose two things that mean a lot to him right now, so much weariness of Omega, and so much smugness in FTR. Grasping onto Omega’s tassels, like the last strings of their friendship, the two lose the match, and therefore, their titles. Omega is done with his former friend and with tag team wrestling.
Alone and aimless, Page just…floats. Except he’s never alone.
During his spiral into turmoil and failure, he was being scouted for quite a while, by The Dark Order. In the early goings, the group would fail to acquire him, to comedic results – often at the chagrin of Mr. Brodie Lee. But following Hangman seemingly losing everything and everyone, and with The Exalted One off of TV after losing his TNT title, the group kept chasing him, as did Matt Hardy. This millennial cowboy had no iota of interest in joining or aligning with anyone, worrying that he would let them down and let himself down. He just couldn’t do it again.
Tragedy struck outside of kayfabe, altering this storyline in the aftermath of Jon Huber’s passing, with Mr. Brodie Lee unable to guide his cult with a massive heart. And now they were as directionless as the cowboy.
Heading into Revolution 2021, Page would fight against Matt Hardy after all the chasing that this big money man did for Hangman, and when things seemed dire – The Dark Order came to defend their friend, with the knowledge that he wouldn’t be a member, would never be a member, but that there will be this understanding friendship. One can’t help but think of The Exalted One, beaming from the afterlife as the Dark Order finds their way as they at last start their path to stop losing. Because with Page, they won a friend and nothing can change that.
This remained true even after the loss sustained by Page and the Dark Order against The Elite to secure the chance to face former ally Kenny Omega at All Out 2021, for on the second anniversary of AEW Dynamite, he saddled up and rode again, to survive Jon Moxley and win the chance to finally enter that duel with the one he once thought had his back. A new father, he regained support of his cult goth friends and with momentum on his side, he found there is so much to live for and strive for.
The pain of having lost friends is still fresh on him. They have their own problems and faults as he has had his. They’ll keep making mistakes and do bad things like he once did. They’ll fail, like he did. The difference now is he’s learning and growing and knows just who he is. He doesn’t need his past and relationships to define him.
This long-term story spanning over two years has been one of the big stories told in AEW, to prove that professional wrestling and sports entertainment can have long-term booking and have it be as effective, as compelling, as heart-breaking, as cathartic as any other medium, and it is a story that so many of us have went through and in some cases are still going through.
This man is most, if not all of us. One who wants to prove himself while quietly simmering with passion and emotion. Underneath the comedic observations veiled with a knowingness that the world around him is fucked, he strives for the good. He knows he won’t be able to stop the greedy and powerful that run our society, but he can stop others from doubting him once those cowboy boots are laced. That we don’t need a hat to be a cowboy, we just need to believe in ourselves and saddle up.
In summary, there is the pain of once being this prospective prodigy with the support of the world only to disappoint. There is the pain of failure. The pain of losing friends and coming to terms that there are times you just lose people and there is naught you can do to stop it. But the world keeps turning, regardless of what you go through. There is still so much to fight for and it’s always worth fighting for as long as you fight for it and it fights for you.
Ending on a personal note, I know what it is like, to have so much inside you that can achieve greatness, only to not believe in yourself until enough people shake you and slap you with the shouts of how you can do so much better, that you are so much better than you are letting yourself be and the fact you can do this but won’t is bullshit when they can’t and you can. I’ve lost friends and family because life sucks sometimes. I’ve been used by people I trusted and been lied to by people I depended on for the truth. I’ve been in Hangman’s shoes (well, cowboy boots but whatever this is my article, not yours), I know what he’s been through because I’ve been there, I am there, and I’m going to get out of it like he does.
Because that’s Cowboy Shit.