I. Everyone Who Pretended to Like Me Is Gone
When FTR rode into Daily’s Place in a custom pickup truck, “Hangman” Adam Page seemed to revel in the arrival of true kindred spirits. A tag team deeply entrenched in the art of pro wrestling (to the extent where they’re quite susceptible to overthinking it), natives of the upper end of the historical, near-mythical, oft-maligned American South. A four-hour drive separates FTR’s home of Asheville, North Carolina and the town which surrounds the tobacco farm Page grew up on.
The Young Bucks—up to this point, merely social media rivals of the men now known as Dax Harwood and Cash Wheeler—hold back the vitriol and likely suppressed rap beef claims of your employer rented that truck for you and settle for near-seething indifference.
Hangman was in the eye of a series of interwoven storylines in the summer of 2020. FTR began to strike a friendship with Page with great suspicion from Kenny Omega and the Bucks, all while Mr. Brodie Lee was trying to recruit him into the Dark Order fold. Revisiting this storyline almost feels like digging up archives from decades ago, which might be kind of fitting as we’ve pretty much lived a century in the last two years.
More on the Saga of the Anxious Millennial Cowboy
- Part One: The Long Climb to Failure
- Part Two: Ballad of the Fifth Wheel
- Part Three: Leaving Your Horse Behind
As Brodie and the Dark Order lingered in the background of Hangman’s story, FTR continued to consume the forefront, enabling Page’s drinking habit, calling him by his first name, and persuading him to let his guard down. A host of intriguing subthreads cropped up: Omega began a temporary descent into madness while Matt and Nick Jackson continually talked him down from the ledge; FTR scaled to heights of assholery by attacking the 60-something-year-old Rock ‘n Roll Express; Hangman triple-fisted whiskeys and Bud Light chasers trying to figure out what the hell everybody’s deal was.
It’s through what he believed to be newfound friendship that Hangman would perform the actionable offense that finally got him kicked out of the Elite.
In the buildup to All Out 2020, the highest-ranked members of the tag team division were slotted in a four-team gauntlet match to determine who would challenge Hangman and Omega for the championships at AEW’s Labor Day Weekend event. After pretty handily defeating the Natural Nightmares, the Young Bucks were well on their way to defeating Best Friends (yet again) and facing FTR for the final set of the match. But while preparing to finish the match with a Meltzer Driver, Nick Jackson’s ankle was held by Hangman—who himself had felt held back by his friendship with the Bucks for the entire past year—preventing the younger Jackson brother from executing the team’s ace in the hole and ultimately costing them the match.
Hangman’s actions weren’t the result of some calculated master plan; one of his more glaring character flaws is that he’s often impulsive to the point of impetuousness. Guilt was painted on his face as broadly as a roadside mural as the Jackson brothers screamed the riot act at him from ringside. Page offered nothing in the way of eye contact and solemnly made his way through the empty bleachers of Daily’s Place.
Even while achieving the goal he’d been passively resisting for the past year—instead allowing himself to continue to be roped into the Elite’s orbit with growing reluctance and resentment—it was clear he wished things didn’t have to turn out that way.
After being formally dismissed from the Elite on BTE (the proverbial title track of Episode 219), Hangman came out to settle tensions between Omega and FTR, only to be blindsided by Harwood’s assessment of him: that he’s been a “selfish, insecure little boy” for his entire career—essentially revealing Hangman had been manipulated into thinking he had true friends worth leaving the group he had built a wall between. As Harwood and Wheeler dropped the titles they were using to taunt Hangman, Page picked them up and gestured as if he were handing one of them to Omega, only to find him not at his side, but glaring at him from ringside.
Noticeable tension existed between Page and Omega during their championship match against FTR from the opening bell, as a tense staredown beamed from each champion when Hangman urged Kenny to let him start the match. After urging Page to keep his head in the game, Kenny tagged him in—only to have to pull him off of both members of FTR after flying off the handle following a (rather disingenuous) handshake attempt from Harwood.
Hangman and Omega ended up exhibiting some solid teamwork during the match, albeit after a prolonged attempt to engender trust on Page’s behalf. The match was delivered at a very measured pace thereafter, with Omega spending long stretches at the mercy of his opponents’ focused attacks and quick tags. Page was knocked off the apron several times by both FTR and forced errors on Omega’s part. When Hangman did finally get the tag, he employed, as Jim Ross noted, “ubiquitous offense.” Eventually FTR took the advantage again, and an errant V-Trigger from Kenny knocked Page clean out which began the downfall of the team; two spiked piledrivers and that was all she wrote. Hangman and Omega were no longer AEW Tag Team Champions.
After the match, a woozy Hangman leaned toward his very aggravated partner, who did not make any effort to catch him, letting him fall to the mat. Which led to one of the boldest production moments of AEW so far: a long, interrupted tracking shot where Omega resolutely said he was done with Hangman, complained about him at length, suggested a “clean break,” and told Matt and Nick Jackson there was no turning back if they came along with him.
II. Lately I’ve Been Making Strangers Wherever I Go
Ambition and depression can make for fitting and often distressing bedfellows; each fuels the other symbiotically and dangerously. Depression has a way of inspiring the drive to make someone crave recognition—outside validation has this funny tendency to enhance our self-worth—while coming up short of our ambitions often makes people with big dreams feel without purpose. For ambitious people in particular, more than a little depression can be found in their psychological makeup. For me, my ideas and dreams, the things I try to manifest aren’t informed directly by my depression—except the facets of trauma and abuse that play like old movies in my brain—but my ambitious nature tends to lead to some dark moods.
I’ve been writing for a long time; long enough for me to witness my peers become television showrunners, New York Times Best Sellers, Pulitzer Prize nominees, National Book Award finalists. I’ve attained a modest but very meaningful amount of material success, but self-doubt—and sometimes outright self-sabotage—has prevented me from crossing the goal line on things I’ve wanted to accomplish for a long, long time. Much like Hangman Page said on “literal day one” of AEW that he would be the promotion’s inaugural champion, I thought I would finish my first novel by my 30th birthday. As I’ve careened past 38, that novel remains half-finished in a long-dormant Google Drive folder.
Sometimes success for me is finishing an 800-word review for my day job with a deadline past due. Sometimes it’s going a full eight months without thinking about how the world would be better off without me. Depression is a daily struggle, and I’ve got to admit, some days I just want to give up. I’m not a jealous person, so envy doesn’t crop up when I see my friend publishing engrossing novels, beautiful memoirs, and essential anthologies of their critical work. But I think about all the times I was convinced I didn’t have what it takes to see my work through to the publishing stage. It eats away at me when I stop myself short of my own goals.
I see myself reflected in the long road Hangman has taken to reach the summit of his professional and artistic life. He now has peers who have main-evented WrestleMania; who have obtained record-setting world championship reigns; who have had their name on the marquee of the Tokyo Dome. There’s that nagging feeling inside of himself that maybe he wasn’t meant to attain similar success. You could tell in his face it would eat away at him.
When Page started to push away the overtures of the Dark Order—first as a Being the Elite bit continuing Brodie Lee’s strong-arm recruitment without his presence, then eventually getting prime placement on Dynamite—a pang of recognition hit me. The shy deflection of the group’s admiration and the awe in John Silver’s eyes burning brightly, the timbre in Silver’s voice rising immensely as he struggled to hold back his friend-crush. A particular signpost comes in the self-loathing process where you simply don’t want to hear about how great you are, especially if you’ve experienced an acrimonious split mashed together with some of the biggest losses of your career. Especially if you’ve spent the past year staring off into space as people you cared about called you an unreliable drunk.
The scene where Silver, brimming with enthusiasm and joy, proposes on bended knee for Hangman to finally and formally join the Dark Order is one of the more heartbreaking segments broadcast on Dynamite to date. Page stammered his way to a remorseful “I can’t” as HE SAID YES flashed on the big screen and he was lightly showered in purple confetti. It was played for laughs—with Stu Grayson kicking the extras (which included a pre-Team Taz Will Hobbs) backstage while they struggled to keep their Party City cowboy hats on top of their Dark Order masks—but Hangman dumping them, citing his distressing past being in a group, carried a heavy twinge of sadness. Especially for anyone who has rejected love and acceptance as a result of being unworthy of it.
But Hangman still accepted the bottle of whiskey as he hung his head low on his walk backstage.
III. On Old Friends and Old Wounds
As we split from our friends—whether through verbal blowouts or simply growing apart—it always feels as if we break into different trajectories. One friend gets a promotion, starts dating someone new, decides to move to L.A. or Sicily. The other friend continues the slow swirl down the drain at their unsatisfying job or a sudden tragedy in their life strikes. When your ex-friend is doing better than you, that feeling of rapid decay begins even if it’s simply a period of heightened stress.
Of course, after Omega deliberately failed to catch Hangman and took the long walk out on their friendship, the two former championship teammates were situated on opposite brackets of an eight-man tournament to determine a #1 contender for Jon Moxley’s AEW World Championship. Destined to meet again after avoiding each other for weeks.
Hangman’s road to the finals of the AEW World Title Eliminator tournament was a little tougher than Kenny’s—as Omega breezed through his first-round opponent Sonny Kiss before an epic win against Penta El Zero Miedo—but as fate often brings the most obvious scenario in front of us, Omega and Page squared off to see who would go on to face Mox.
After a match which served as the clear beginning of a rivalry that may last years as far as we know, determinism struck in the form of Omega getting his hand raised. A month later, Omega colluded with Don Callis to steal the world championship from Mox and subsequently kick open the famed “Forbidden Door.” Page’s notoriety stalled as he was sent to the back of the line.
Page finally decided to start hanging out with Dark Order, the group reeling and then healing from the sudden, tragic death of Mr. Brodie Lee. Hangman used his natural cunning to outsmart Matt Hardy and Brian Cage in subsequent, low-stakes feuds. He drank lots of whiskey and beer. He persevered. And then his friend’s looming shadow came cascading into view.
After spending the spring and summer riding a wave of momentum back to the top contender’s spot in the men’s division rankings, Hangman found himself once again at the precipice of another crack at the AEW World Championship, this time held by a very familiar face: Kenny Omega, skipping from company to company on a title collecting spree which bolstered him as the top champion of AEW, Impact Wrestling, and AAA. Page never let on to what he was feeling when seeing his shitty former friend defeat him nine months prior to attain heretofore unprecedented accomplishment—but it had to have been a lot like what a lot of us go through when our former friends are shitty to us and the karma wheel swings backwards.
As Hangman’s aspirations to be the top star swelled once again, he finally had the verbal blowout with his old running buddies he never got the chance to when Omega left his side and didn’t even feign looking back. On Fyter Fest Night 1, the Young Bucks took their abandonment issues right to Page, citing his alcoholism and depression and referring to him as “the next great wrestling tragedy.” To retort, Hangman offered up a challenge with a wager. Omega and Hangman negotiated a 10-man tag team elimination match with Hangman and the Dark Order against the Elite—with World and Tag Team Championship matches on the line. (Meaning: If Page lost the match, he would forfeit his right to face Kenny at All Out 2021.)
It was a match Hangman would ultimately lose as the final man eliminated. He would sever his ties from the Dark Order definitively. After a beatdown from the Elite—which consisted of multiple BTE Triggers from the Young Bucks and a belt shot from Omega—Hangman disappeared from AEW television for weeks, just as stars like CM Punk, Adam Cole, and Bryan Danielson made their way into the company.
Even in the influx of these top stars, Page remained arguably the most beloved star in the AEW orbit, particularly because of his emotional intelligence and vulnerability. Many of his peers would worry about looking cool in regards to talking about newfound parenthood on a pro wrestling show, but Hangman is clearly the type to interrupt a backstage interview with Tony Schiavone to show him pictures of his newborn, as he did after he won the Casino Ladder Match to regain his shot at Omega and the championship.
A perfect time for Hangman to perform the necessary introspection required for a person to push past their emotional roadblocks to achieve the success they’ve been working toward. Letting go of the baggage in order to lift themselves to the next level.
In a revealing promo after Omega vs. Page was announced for Full Gear 2021, Hangman waxed poetic about his story from the very origins of All Elite Wrestling. He talked about the excitement that came from the potential of changing the wrestling world, “but it seems like the world changed us. I mean, it changed me.”
Hangman laid his insecurities bare to the world as a fan shouted, “We love you!” He acknowledged his immense connection with the fans who chanted cowboy shit—and all the lessons he’s learned over the past three years: the triumphs, the failures, the joy of finding new friends and sitting out of the hottest period of his career to witness the birth of his first child. He noted the essence of cowboy shit was getting back on the horse no matter how many times you fall off.
He said for the first time in his career, he believed in himself.