The Ascension of Adam Page: Following a Legend and Building Your Own Image
What do you do when you follow a legend? The story is one we’ve been following since the first day, of Adam Page and his quest for gold. Page’s story in AEW has been one of the longest, most well-mapped plots in wrestling, which finally culminated with him lifting the AEW World Championship in the fall of last year.
But Page’s story isn’t done. Wrestling never is. The story of Adam Page continues with him as champion, and the story of Adam Page as AEW’s champion is one that iterates on his past. In 2021, Page’s story was one of finding confidence and letting people support you. His rise to find strength in friendship and finding how to believe himself is one of my favorite stories of the last year not just in wrestling but in fiction.
Things change, though. With a championship comes the weight of the belt. For Adam Page, who one can easily see the characteristics of depression, anxiety, and the toxic self-sabotage that haunts to many of us, that can only be exacerbated by who he followed. Kenny Omega has been missing from AEW the last five months, in-character to do soul searching and in real life to heal from injury. Even without his presence onscreen, his blood and sweat is as much a part of that belt as the gold on it. For nearly a year, Omega held onto that belt with legendary matches where he outlasted legends of this business. Jon Moxley, Christian Cage, Orange Cassidy, PAC. Taking the belt off his former tag partner may have relieved some of Page’s anxieties, but holding the belt is an entirely different animal than winning it.
So, of course, Hangman’s first defense has to have the specter of Kenny Omega lurking over it. The American Dragon, Bryan Danielson, the only other wrestler that Omega could not defeat in singles action in 2021. Danielson’s true colors were made clear during this feud. Bryan Danielson was not in AEW to be a good guy, but instead be a piece of shit who wants to inflict violence and win all the time. There really wasn’t much of a change from when he was feuding with Omega, just a change on who his sights were set on: the man who did what the Dragon could not.
From Full Gear to their first meeting at Winter is Coming, Danielson picked apart Page’s friends. Destroying them one by one, pulverizing them and forcing Page to watch. And finally, when they met, Justin Roberts uttered five words after sixty minutes: This match is a draw. In a very real way, Page survived Danielson. But survival was just a way to stall the dragon, to fend it off temporarily. The buildup to the second match focused on Page’s lack of aggression, of allowing Danielson to dictate the terms. Page did not make the same mistake in the rematch, and beat Danielson in under thirty minutes, coming out swinging and doing what no one else in AEW did in 2021 by pinning Danielson.
After Danielson, though, was an entirely different monster. Down with the dragon, enter the Murderhawk. Lance Archer, with some opportunism, barreled his way onto the main event scene and got his title shot, and as is Lance Archer’s custom, made sure that it was a Texas Deathmatch. This match is again about Hangman finding something deep down, and having to expand. Faced with a more violent opponent, Page has to improvise and find something new, finishing off the match with an improvised Buckshot Lariat off of a referee’s back to knock Archer into a table for a ten-count. Someone who balked at the idea of a Texas Deathmatch weeks ago comes out of it with his hand raised, still ripped from the barbed wire he had wrapped his arm in, but of course, some people can’t help but be drama queens.
Said queen was Adam Cole. Unlike Archer and Danielson, Cole wasn’t a monster of physical strength and technique for Page to slay. Instead, this was a demon, one that was summoned from Page’s past, that past of self-doubt, of living in others’ shadows. Cole and Page have been in each other’s orbits for years. Adam Cole had always been the bigger name, the champion, whereas AEW was Page’s first taste of singles gold. For Adam Cole, the AEW World Championship was an assumption, a mantle he was destined for.
Page’s first encounter with Cole, a tag team match with John Silver and Alex Reynolds backing him up, did not end well, with Page taped to the rings and beaten. Hangman, however, came out of Revolution with the belt, but something changed. When Cole and ReDRagon came back for more, it wasn’t the Dark Order that he returned to as partners.
Instead, Page took a page from Omega’s playbook. He enlisted the current Tag Team Champions, Jurassic Express. After all, if Kenny Omega could have the Young Bucks in his corner, he could have the champs in his. It didn’t go well. The newly dubbed Undisputed Elite stole the belts, and it was only after several weeks back and forth that Hangman made his final declaration.
Cole would get his rematch, but it would not just be an ordinary match. It would be a Texas Deathmatch. And, in Hangman’s constant quest to prove himself, to match up to the man who came before, it feels like an echo of what came before: Over a year ago, with four words: Exploding Barbed Wire Deathmatch.
That Texas Deathmatch, from the bell, was Hangman’s to control. He came out aggressive, violent, assertive. Before he even jumped in the ring, he was throwing chairs in, and he dragged Cole through the crowd laying down a beat down. Though there was drama of course, it was Page who was the dominating presence. He took time to drain a beer from a fan, to sit on a chair and bask in the center of the ring. He told Cole to hit him, to encourage that violence.
Then, Cole had to wake the dragon. Three statements: “You will never be me. You will never be Kenny Omega. And you are a joke of a champion.” For a man who had spent the last five months chasing the shadow of his former tag partner, of the Best Bout Machine, this was the wake up call. He clobbered Cole with a Buckshot, and then decided to go further. He tied Cole to the ropes, and brought out a barb-wired wrapped chair. This was the moment where Page could assert that he was that purveyor of violence, that monster, that undeniable powerhouse who no one could stand against.
But as he raised the chair, as he looked at Cole, he set it down. It’s there that he doesn’t want to become Kenny Omega. He doesn’t want to be the toxic monster that the Belt Collector was. After months of being challenged and having to figure out what he was, he wouldn’t sink to that level. He’d win by a fair fight.
Of course, just because you don’t want to become a monster, doesn’t mean you can’t be petty. It doesn’t mean you can’t revenge on a man who’s been a nightmare to you for over two months. Sometimes, you can be perfectly justified to wrap a man in a crown of barbed wire and put him through a table.
Sometimes, when you reach deep down, you realize you don’t need to be a monster: you can be your own hero who realizes that you don’t need to take shit from people, and you can still stand tall.