Is “Hangman” Adam Page the Voice of a Generation? (Part One: The Long Climb to Failure)

The first of a four-part requiem for the anxious millennial cowboy

The primary theme coursing through most of the 220 episodes (and counting) of AEW’s YouTube series launchpad Being the Elite is friendship; the trials and glories and 5am flights and petty sibling rivalries and huge fissure of brotherhood. World-traveled wrestlers bleary-eyed in airports, goofing around backstage at shows and in hotel rooms just to pass the time. “Hangman” Adam Page went from playing the background in the web series’ earliest efforts to being one of its most nuanced, emotionally resonant, and important characters.

Once he became a primary member of its cast, Page fit right in with BTE’s sophomoric charm, notably engaging in an unfortunately very poorly aged blood feud with Joey Ryan over dick size. The Hangman character nevertheless shined, drinking a jug full of piss and descending into madness and jealousy-induced rage, eventually bludgeoning Ryan with his cowboy boot and subsequently being overtaken by guilt and paranoia.

In something that’s actually still kinda fun to think about, Being the Elite’s buzzworthy “invasion” episode came after Page was kidnapped and suffered weeks of torture by an anonymous WWE stooge and forced to watch non-stop WWE programming, including every episode of 205 Live, only to single-handedly evade capture and pledge in front of comped members of Monday Night Raw’s live audience outside the arena to shove the Bullet Club flag up Triple H’s ass.

Inside the ring, Page possesses a pitch-perfect style of contemporary pro wrestling. He’s not too derivative or reliant on the tropes of the day, like the international-hybrid, Dragon Gate USA style that’s been played out in American independent wrestling for a handful of years now. Hangman’s in-ring approach is a little Keiji Mutoh and a little “Stunning” Steve Austin; agile, pummelling, savvy, and seemingly built with a V-12 engine which never runs low on gas.

At a certain point in his career, he became a protege of Kenny Omega, the Young Bucks, and Cody Rhodes, and then their peer and friend. When All Elite Wrestling was first announced, the rumor mill churned the idea of Page turning down an offer to head to NXT for WWE main roster money— part of an apparent bidding war for the services of the Elite— to help build All Elite Wrestling from the ground floor. In turn, both Nick Jackson and Kenny Omega predicted Page would become AEW’s biggest star at some point not too distantly in the future.

With an early earmark for massive success on his side, when All Elite Wrestling held their inaugural pay-per-view, Double or Nothing, Page was scheduled to face PAC in a spotlight singles match. Even on a card headlined by Kenny Omega and Chris Jericho in the sequel to their ballyhooed Wrestle Kingdom 12 brawl, PAC/Page was hyped to be the show’s most satisfying encounter. After a booking situation which was speculated upon endlessly prevented the match from happening, Page was instead slotted into the opening Casino Battle Royale, coming to the ring last and nursing a knee injury only to snag the relatively easy win and move on to face Jericho— who defeated Omega in the show’s main event— at last year’s All Out. The winner in its main event would earn the honor of becoming the very first-ever All Elite Wrestling World Champion.

An emotional swell courses through Chicagoland’s Sears Centre Arena as the minutes inch closer toward All Out’s main event. A twinkle of intimidation beams from the intense blue eyes of Hangman as he rides a horse to the ring. His slight, blink-and-you’ll-miss-it expression reacts to the pressure of participating in the biggest match of his life in front of his mom, his dad, and his wife of a handful of years; the pressure of maybe having to go back to the Virginia tobacco farm he was raised on if he came up short— as he opined to Jim Ross in a sit-down interview in the weeks leading up to the inceptive match in the history of the AEW World Championship. The pressure of the frontier cowboy shit was founded upon.

A badass determination rests foremost in those eyes, but as would be become one of Page’s gifts as a storyteller, the hint of doubt flickers subtly.

The year Hangman was born, Chris Jericho embarked on his first tour of Japan, wrestling for FMW while Page was drinking his meals from a bottle. And as you would expect, Page’s charged passion from working his first main event championship match is expertly countered by Jericho’s experience and intuitive ring smarts. Early in the match, Page’s Shooting Star Press off the apron is countered by a Codebreaker; though being outsmarted by Chris Jericho is as common in pro wrestling as being hit with a steel chair. Jericho spends the match neutralizing Page’s arms (as to prevent the effectiveness of the Buckshot Lariat) as well as his recently healed knee. As Hangman and Jericho battle back and forth, chants of “cowboy shit” rise and fade throughout suburban Chicago.

Throughout the match, Page delivers a gutsy performance befitting a rising star’s maiden voyage in the championship scene. He busts Jericho open (a callback to the summer of beatdowns, sneak attacks, and Page getting busted up to the point of needing stitches), hits a top rope swinging neckbreaker, and fights off everything Jericho throws at him. Until he rolls out from a backslide pinning attempt and gets hit flush with the Judas Effect, Jericho’s recent killshot finisher. The crowd counts along with the three-count, and in front of his family, Page’s championship dreams and desperate aspiration go up in smoke as Jericho holds the AEW World Championship aloft for the world to see.

This bitter pill of coming up on the world’s stage is the failure that would help define the next year of Hangman’s career.

As millennials, we’re far too often sold a dream of prosperity by the generation that raised us; saying if we work hard enough, we’ll eventually get everything we’ve ever wanted and felt we deserved. Even if we’ve lived enough life to know we don’t always get what we “deserve” or earn. There is a burden put upon us to be better than our parents because they mostly think we’ve had it easier than them, whether or not that perception is actually true. There is the weight of going to college so we can have a good job, of having good credit so we can buy a nice house. We are but vessels of our parents’ vanity, so when we’re not viewed as a spitting image of success as they define it, we feel the twinge of disappointment when we miss the bullseye of achievement.

Maybe this is just projection on my part. In the miscarriages of intention made by the great minds and vast potential in my generation, I see the disappointment in my working class father before his death, watching his first born child toiling away in supermarkets and renting cheap rooms, chasing a dream of artistic fulfillment instead of being financially prosperous. “Hangman” Adam Page’s father seemed incredibly supportive of his son making it to such a massive platform, but Page himself evoked the sense of crushing deflation in flying his family out to Chicago— estimating it had been at least 15 years since his parents last boarded a flight— only to see him blow it.

Perhaps his dad gave him a very heartfelt chat about how proud he was of his son that he made it this far, that his AEW World Championship dreams aren’t dashed and he still has the potential to be a generational touchstone in his chosen field. Perhaps his disappointment itself is a generational touchstone, borne of the bootstrappy bullshit we’ve been fed through various spoons.

My generation is far too often given a bad reputation for being entitled and lazy, even though we inherited unprecedented expectations, a disintegrated economy, and a dying planet. The excess of the 1980’s and 1990’s passed us by and all we do is get blamed for it. No wonder failure hits us so hard.

Next week in the series, Martin Douglas will explore the next stage of Hangman Page internalizing his relationship to failure, manifesting itself in feeling stifled and alienated by his rich and successful friends in the Elite. 

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Martin Douglas

Martin Douglas is an essayist, critic, and journalist specializing in the fields of music and pro wrestling. He is the very unofficial poet laureate of Tacoma, WA and is starting to dabble in fiction.

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