Is “Hangman” Adam Page the Voice of a Generation? (Part Two: Ballad of the Fifth Wheel)

Wherein our hero drinks to drown out the condescension of his friends

“In 27 years, I’ve drunk 50,000 beers / And they just wash against me like the sea into a pier”
– Silver Jews, “Trains Across the Sea” (1994)

Whose voice do you hear in your head when you do the things you do? Inside of me there is an idealistic optimist raging against a sober fatalist in a lifelong battle for my eternal soul. Therefore, while I’d like to think most of us are guided by the supportive presence in our lives shouting, “You got this! You’re a healer! You’re a genius! You’ve had to grind hard for everything you’ve ever gotten!,” life experience has led me to believe otherwise. I have a sinking suspicion it’s the people who doubt us who make us doubt ourselves. It’s the backhanded compliments, the incredulous reactions to our successes, the constant illumination of our shortcomings which scream louder than bombs in our inner dialogue. The parents I mentioned in part one of this series. The siblings, friends, coworkers, and acquaintances who want to see you do well, but not necessarily better than them.

A Being the Elite scene which foretold the fracture of “Hangman” Adam Page’s friendship with the Young Bucks was toward the end of Episode 167, titled “What Time Is It in London?” Somewhat as a means of emotional security to alleviate the stress of competing in such an important match, Hangman asked Matt and Nick Jackson if they would be in his corner for his AEW World Championship match against Chris Jericho. This request is a direct callback to Kenny Omega’s big matches in New Japan Pro Wrestling, most notably his all-time classic IWGP Heavyweight Championship trilogy against Kazuchika Okada; matches where the Jackson brothers seconded Omega, cheering him along and making sure that table spot at the Tokyo Dome didn’t kill him.

Matt and Nick politely declined Page’s request, citing their need to mentally prepare for what would be an insane, potentially life-shortening AAA Tag Team Championship ladder match against the Lucha Bros. Hangman, with a slightly hurt expression— as if to say he knows the Bucks don’t believe in him like they believe in Kenny— tells his friends it’s totally cool, he can totally do this on his own.

It seems like the kind of slight a person would hold onto.

***

All Elite Wrestling

After Page’s crushing loss to Jericho, he spends most of autumn 2019 struggling in the ring and bouncing back, defeating PAC (at AEW’s Full Gear event) in the pretty sensational match they were heavily rumored to have in May. The next leg of Hangman’s journey finds him passively trying to leave the Elite while simultaneously being thrown in tag team matches with Kenny Omega, coming off of his own gutting loss to blood rival Jon Moxley in an almost comically brutal unsanctioned match. Page’s poor response to failure and festering desire to emerge from the shadow of the much ballyhooed Elite inspires this growing distance and the first traces of alcoholism, chugging beers offered to him by audience members and stiffing Private Party on a $12 whiskey neat.

Like with any partnership, it takes time for Page and Omega to find their chemistry; after a few lapses in communication and costly mistakes leading to a couple losses, they find the winning trail to the point where they make their way to becoming officially ranked. Their sudden sprint in the win column leads to a four-way tag match with three of the other highest-ranked AEW tag teams to determine who will face SCU in a future tag team championship match. On commentary, Excalibur notes how Hangman and Kenny were the dark horse to become number-one contenders— a quaint pun turned into powerful metaphor.

The crowd throws “cowboy shit” chants at Page like roses at Nina Simone’s feet as he and Omega stands in a corner opposite the Young Bucks in the match. It’s a juxtaposition not lost on anyone, least of all the participants in the match. They’re Kenny and Hangman’s longtime friends, but because of their history, there is more there. For the former, Matt and Nick are his closest friends not just in the wrestling business but in life; for the latter, the bad penny he keeps in his pocket he keeps as a secret.

Early in the match, Nick tags in Hangman like a partner would. Later in the match, when someone needed to tag into the match lest Matt’s body gives out, he has a clear choice of who to tag, Hangman or Kenny, and chooses Kenny after about a second of thought. Disappointment washes over Page’s face. It feels like the moment where he finally realizes nothing is more important to the Elite than themselves— the group’s three founding members who first insulated themselves from the rest of the business as a Bullet Club subfaction— and the bond they’ve shared for well over a decade.

Toward the end of the match, Matt rears back for a superkick, saw his target was Page, and stalled. Hangman a few seconds later goes for a blind tag and Matt looks confused and incredulous. The elder Jackson brother goes for a spill out of the ring and Kenny and Hangman win the match by way of a Buckshot Lariat/V-Trigger combination, which they would later refer to as Last Call. After the match, the Young Bucks, Page, and Omega, two tag teams in the same group, get into a little disagreement but end up forgiving each other. Hangman’s forgiveness seemed to be nakedly tenuous.

All Elite Wrestling

Aboard the Norwegian Pearl, Hangman secured the win that would finally take him to the next level. Docked in the Bahamas along with several hundred drunk and otherwise stoked wrestling fans, Page and Omega stood across the ring from SCU in a match for the AEW World Tag Team Championship. How Hangman responds to pressure is clear in the way he looks at Kenny when he first tags his partner in, or the way he gets in Scorpio Sky’s face before the match has a chance to really begin. Losing two championship matches in a row isn’t a possibility for him; he has given too much of himself to come up short again.

As events have played themselves out a couple times before, Page mistakenly hits the Buckshot Lariat on Omega, but this time it doesn’t necessarily spell the end of the match. Its conclusion actually comes when Hangman wins with a Buckshot Lariat on Frankie Kazarian while Kenny was laid out, Omega realizing he is now a tag team champion after the bell rings and taking a few seconds to realize what happened. The Young Bucks come out to celebrate, but Page doesn’t want anything to do with it, instead accepting free beers from the crowd and crowd surfing with championship in hand before acknowledging his partner from the stage.

Later, Alex Marvez interviews Kenny and Hangman, and none other than the Young Bucks barge in the shot to celebrate during their scheduled interview time. After trying to stay civil while his friends have shown up to overshadow him again, Page blurts out his surprise that he and Omega won the belts before the vaunted Young Bucks, the supposed best tag team in the world. And then he splits, presumably to the ship’s ballroom for a stiff celebratory drink.

And who could blame him? Have you ever witnessed a close friend— close to the point where you’re basically siblings— drunk off their own entitlement, always talking over you and looking past you, surprised you actually achieved something significant? Among Hangman’s chief anxieties is the part of him who is starting to suspect two of his best friends are holding him back psychologically, taking the lead and standing beside Kenny to bask secondhand in the successes of their friends. Page is now a tag team champion, Page is the one who won the match, entirely on his own. Yet he’s still playing the background to the Young Bucks and Kenny. (Slightly conspicuous in his absence is Cody, at this time embroiled in a marquee feud with MJF, but his successes can be felt, as he is clearly the face of AEW’s corporate structure and wearing expensive-looking suits at TV tapings.) He thinks his friends are refusing his burgeoning greatness, and he’s not that far off.

***

As Hangman retreats deeper into cocktail glasses and plastic pint cups, the Young Bucks finally find their way into their first AEW Tag Team Championship match. In spite of having great prosperity on the executive level, Matt and Nick Jackson between the ropes have had their own struggles of achievement; most notably in an upset loss to Private Party in the first round of a championship tournament the Bucks quite literally handpicked. They’ve engendered enough goodwill to be repeatedly considered the best tag team in the world by Jim Ross, but according to their win-loss record, they are a pretty long walk from being the best team in AEW.

This is where the Young Bucks start to show their true colors, and where Hangman approaches the first crossroads in his professional wrestling career.

In the run-up to Revolution, the Bucks win a battle royal to earn the #1 contenders’ spot, guaranteeing a match with the AEW Tag Team Champions on pay per view. Later that evening, Hangman and Kenny retained their titles against the Lucha Bros in a fairly brief but still pretty grueling match. Multiple emotions cross Hangman’s face while his music plays: the dread of knowing he’ll have to take on the Young Bucks in a week and a half, the letdown knowing he has come this far only for his spotlight to be stolen by his challengers, the relief of getting past Fenix and Pentagon, two of the world’s very best wrestlers.

Not to mention Matt and Nick have historically done their best work when the stakes are high and the lights are on bright. The trait which unites the Elite— more than perseverance, more than loyalty— is ego; their belief that they are the clear-cut best at what they do pushes them to unbelievable heights.

Of course the Bucks come down to celebrate Omega and Page’s win, taking Kenny by the arm even though Hangman was the one who scored the pinfall. Page takes Omega’s other arm, signifying a tug of war for his friend’s heart. Kenny breaks both their grip with a confused, almost annoyed expression, leading Hangman to once again celebrate his win with a beer.

The final episode of Dynamite before Revolution opens with a 30-minute Iron Man Match between Omega and PAC, and the Young Bucks serve as his corner men, just like in those titanic aforementioned matches with Okada. This move feels like only partly a measure of support for Kenny and mostly a weird flex directed at Hangman, whose absence speaks volumes to the point where Excalibur and Jim Ross discuss it openly on commentary. Kenny wins in sudden death overtime as Matt and Nick celebrate with their friend.

All Elite Wreslting

Later in the episode, J.R. sits down with both challengers and champions ahead of their tag team championship clash. For months, Page has avoided confronting his friends about his feelings; his perception on why the Elite wouldn’t let him ride solo, his thoughts on continually riding backseat to Matt and Nick Jackson even in the face of his own triumphs. Now he finds himself the same place he’s been for the past six months; sitting rather uncomfortably in a room with his friends.

With a hint of haughtiness in his voice, Matt talks about the sight of Kenny and Hangman holding tag team gold being the last image he thought he’d see; Page mutters feigned surprised in retort. Hangman isn’t the only member of the Elite reckoning with his failures, as the Matt carries a hint of disappointment at his and his younger brother’s dearth of accolades since the inception of AEW and calls Page and Omega his best friends in the same breath. He offers a pithy statement of pride as Page seethes, trying to hold his tongue.

Kenny adds that a lot of his and Hangman’s championship win could be boiled down to circumstance, saying the Bucks inspire him. Hangman, whom it should be reiterated carried the team on his back in order to win the tag team titles, replies, “You’re right, this was all a big accident, really,” and takes another angry sip of whiskey. Matt brings up Hangman bringing a drink to the interview as Page denies his discomfort. Matt says he’s lost enough sleep over not having the belts, and that the Bucks are going to prove they are the best tag team in the world, not Hangman and Omega. He follows it up by saying the Elite is bigger than who holds the tag titles— which sets Page off.

Hangman notes he’s been trying to leave the Elite for months to deaf ears, and the Bucks become indignant. “After all we’ve done for you?” “We made you.” “You were a jobber in Ring of Honor; we put you on Being the Elite and made you a star.” Page says this is the first major championship of his career— compared to the dozens Kenny and the Bucks have acquired— and the first chance the Bucks get, they want to take it away from him.

“That’s just part of the business,” Kenny matter-of-factly replies to Hangman, which leads him to storm off from the interview.

Pressure. There’s that word again. This pressure has built inside of Hangman Page for months, the idea that his friends have taken and will continue to take credit for his success until he strikes out on his own, which is precisely why he tried to leave the Elite in November. The internal struggles of Hangman resonate with any of us who have had fallings out with our friends— the jealousy, the emotional neglect, the criticism and being looked down upon. Drowning in a sea of beer and hoping it will help you float far away from your one-time best friends thinking you’re the weak link in the clique. For Hangman, he used that sea of beer to sail all the way to his first meaningful piece of gold, only to crash against the dam of his way more successful friends in the Young Bucks.

Whose voice do you hear in your head when you do the things you do? For “Hangman” Adam Page, it’s the doubt of Matt and Nick Jackson ringing loudest.

***

Downtown Chicago lights up for the Hangman.

After swaggering to the ring for his and Kenny’s hotly anticipated clash with the Young Bucks, he gets in Matt Jackson’s face; not necessarily unique to the situation given his pre-match shit-talking ritual, but also carrying a little more weight on this late-February night. During the match introductions, the Bucks receive a decidedly mixed reaction while the brief “cowboy shit” chant scales to nearly deafening levels.

To start the match, Kenny and Nick engage in some sportsmanlike counter-wrestling before shaking hands and tagging their partners. After a short volley, Matt somewhat disingenuously offers Hangman a handshake and gets spit in the face for his trouble. The Bucks, as they’re wont to do, dissect their opponents as efficiently as a running motor engine, which leads to a hard tag from Hangman to Kenny. Page harnesses this resentment throughout the match; Matt and Nick still see him as an also-ran, Omega feels he’s unpredictable and untrustworthy. As if a spotlight championship match on pay per view wasn’t stressful enough.

Kenny, desperate to be the voice of reason between friends, tries to keep Hangman on task in the early parts of the match, including stopping him from powerbombing Matt through a ringside table. The lingering back issue which has plagued the elder Jackson brother in many matches over the past handful of years becomes a broad target for Page. Matt and Nick show fleeting but not negligible flashes of the shitheads they were in their PWG heyday, inciting Page on the ring apron and pulling him off when Omega is inches away from a tag. Page and Omega find a solid groove as the match progresses, which is the story of their pairing. Both teams lift tricks from old friends and rivals to gain the advantage.

An Indytaker to Hangman on the ramp inspires a chorus of boos.

Matt, the hothead of his tandem, instructs his reluctant little brother to get a Superkick Party started, to which they follow up with a Golden Trigger— a measure of insult and injury, a reminder of Kenny’s far-away former teammate and perhaps the closest friend he’s ever had, Kota Ibushi. Omega kicks out at one. If matches are stories, this sentence is augmented by an exclamation point. Omega dares them to try harder and receives yet another superkick. Overcome with emotion, Matt is pulled from the ledge by Nick’s levelheadedness, as if to say, “Let’s just win the match.” So they set up a Meltzer Driver, to which Hangman pulls Nick off the apron and powerbombs him through a table. A Last Call is hit flush, but only draws a two-count. Omega goes for the One Winged Angel, but his injured shoulder (courtesy of the taxing 30+ minutes he spent with PAC a mere three days prior) stops him from connecting with the move.

With hellfire burning in his eyes, Hangman tags in and hits his own One Winged Angel. The crowd erupts.

Page hits two Buckshot Lariats to end the match: one to Nick on the ramp, the other to Matt in the dead center of the ring. After being made to feel like he was the straggler of the Elite, Hangman reaches deep inside of himself to win the match again on his own, the doubt seeping into him for months cleared away by seconds of determination. Months of resentment boiling in stomach bile making way for the biggest gut check of his career so far.

After the match, the Young Bucks offer a sincere gesture of gratitude to Kenny as Hangman exits the ring. He sets down his title and tugs on the ropes, appearing as though he has another Buckshot Lariat in the chamber.  On commentary, Tony Schiavone nearly gasps when he sees Hangman readying himself to turn on Omega. After a moment of thought, Page beckons Kenny to leave the arena with him, holding open the ropes, drinking a celebratory beer and wondering to himself the future he could have had by definitively severing his ties with the Elite. In the end, he offers a gesture of fidelity to his friend and tag team partner, realizing success on his own terms. Page is no longer the junior member of the Elite, nor attached to the group’s trailer hitch, nor its secret weapon. He is as much of a star as Kenny or the Young Bucks, and if the fan reaction is to be judged, the most beloved of the group.

The proverbial sunset blankets the horizon as he puts his arm around his friend and they head toward their next chapter, their next frontier as a team.

Next week in the series, Martin Douglas ruminates on Hangman’s headspace as the COVID-19 pandemic stops the entire world; the anxious millennial cowboy getting drunk, making Spotify playlists, and living in the woods (leading to a truly arresting monologue); and Page’s return to All Elite Wrestling to bail his friends out of trouble with the Inner Circle.

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Martin Douglas

Martin Douglas is an essayist, critic, and journalist specializing in the fields of music and pro wrestling. He has resided in Tacoma, WA for over two decades, but give him twenty minutes and he can locate the best spot for chicken and waffles in any American city.

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