Ace or Jack? AEW and the handling of Hangman Page
To talk about the handling of Hangman Page in All Elite Wrestling, one must first address the misconceptions wrestling fans have today on what is or is not a babyface.
While this is mostly based on your own perception, and your own perception could be different to what the general consensus believes, pro wrestling doesn’t just work on a list of good attributes and bad attributes. It’s about perspective. That perspective is who is the protagonist of a wrestling story and who is the antagonist. The promotion and booker decides this, and it’s up to the fans to agree or disagree with the perspective. The promotion might promote someone to be the protagonist of the story, the person you should be rooting for, and the audiences just don’t agree.
The reality is that the babyface isn’t about who does the “right thing”, or kisses all the babies, or plays by the rules, it’s whoever the crowd considers their protagonist. And if that clashes with who the promotion believes, fans will often hold steadfast to the one they support until the program breaks down. It doesn’t matter what nefarious actions their protagonist performs. An easier way to understand this is patriotism or when you choose a team to support in a sport. One will twist and justify any action to make their team the protagonists in your mind, the good guys always being ripped off by calls by the referee. Your country can invade another country and you’ll find acceptable justification to other the country they are attacking. Pro wrestling is reflective of this, no matter how much people feel that good guys and bad guys have defined characteristics.
This doesn’t mean actions won’t change their opinion of who is their protagonist. What it does mean, is that doing things to purposely pull the perspective into someone else’s mind as the protagonist can weaken the support fans have for the person they want to be the protagonist. The more you work in pulling that perspective away, the less they support.
Hangman Page: Blue Chipper
When All Elite Wrestling dealt with some booking issues and had to turn a pre-show battle royal into a number one contender match, they went with Hangman Adam Page getting the shot to become the first men’s Heavyweight Champion at All Out against Chris Jericho. In going with Hangman, they decided to believe that a babyface is someone with defined characteristics. And despite having wrestling minds with half a century of history in the business, they went with the worst possible definition they could: blue chipper. That term is best known for when Dwayne Johnson was Rocky Miavia trying to be the good guy in 1996 and getting booed out of the building for having no edge. Jim Ross himself called those matches and called him such. And here he was, 23 years later, doing the same for The Hangman. There he was, sauntering to the arena on a horse, surrounded by his family, with no edge in sight.
Following his loss with Jericho, it was clear that AEW didn’t know what they exactly had with Page. On the Being The Elite YouTube show, they began building a storyline where Page was becoming an alcoholic. Alcoholic storylines are often a way to turn someone heel, a former babyface whose life is spinning out of control with friends who don’t know how to handle the situation except fight them. But when AEW began moving the character flaw to AEW Dynamite, fans didn’t see it as an alcoholic. They saw it as Hangman Page finally adding some edge to his blue chipper character. When people hear “cowboy” in pro wrestling they don’t think of the traditional cattle rancher term. They think of frontier town desperadoes and gunslingers. Page even wears a bandanna over his face when entering the ring. Drinking beers with the fans wasn’t looked at the way it was when Scott Hall was letting his personal life spill into his wrestling life. Instead, the fans saw the Hangman Page they wanted to see instead of the Hangman Page AEW gave them for All Out.
Despite Being The Elite still trying to push the idea that Hangman Page was neither sympathetic or deserving of support as an alcoholic (the Young Bucks and Kenny Omega don’t drink so despite growing up in the Attitude Era with Sandman and Steve Austin as some of the most popular wrestlers of all time, they likely didn’t see it as something the fans would love. AEW’s top heel in Chris Jericho also constantly talked about drinking champagne and vodka so they probably couldn’t see what the fans would like about it) AEW Dynamite made it clear that the fans were claiming Hangman Page as one of their own. His reactions became the loudest in the company along with the top babyface Jon Moxley (more on him later) and when the company looked to be working a tag team between Omega and Page with the purpose of Page’s alcoholism leading to a heel turn, it was clear this wasn’t someone to turn heel. This was someone to lean into.
Hangman Page: Cowboy Shit
To AEW’s credit, lean in they did. Page and Omega became AEW Tag Team champions, and when they faced the Young Bucks at Revolution in February, it wasn’t the babyface Young Bucks against turning heel Page and his on the fence partner Omega. The Chicago crowd (which I was in) was behind Hangman Page more than any other wrestler on the roster. They shouted, “COWBOY SHIT!” louder than even Jon Moxley’s AEW men’s Heavyweight Championship win. Some credit should goto the Young Bucks for no longer playing the worried friends of Page and instead played bitter veterans angry that Page and Omega were tag champions when they considered themselves the best tag team in the world, and specifically angry at Page for wanting to leave The Elite to be on his own. That allowed the crowd, who in times past treated Matt and Nick Jackson like the biggest heroes in pro wrestling, to be completely against them for trying to take the one thing Hangman Page has achieved in AEW.
At the end of the match, they first teased the idea of Kenny Omega and the Bucks being in position to superkick Hangman Page and officially kick him out of The Elite (even though he already tried to leave), but they held off. Page then looked ready to hit his Buckshot Lariat on Kenny Omega alone in the ring. You’d think that the crowd would react negatively to the setup and that was a total heel move. Instead we cheered in anticipation, in complete support of Page. He didn’t do it, but we would have been fine if he did.
That is what defines a babyface. Hulk Hogan would scratch backs and hit heels with steel chairs, but as long as the crowd supported him, he was the babyface. Hangman Page can get drunk and ditch his supposed friends, two men who did a lot to help his career, and we don’t care. He’s our guy.
In the build up to All Out 2, Hangman Page has become chummy with a new tag team in FTR, the former Revival who had been building up a feud with the Young Bucks back when they were still in WWE. FTR have played uneasy friends with the Bucks but eventually did their turn against the Rock and Roll Express and aligned themselves with heel manager and former Brainbuster and Four Horseman Tully Blanchard, who manages heel Shawn Spears. Despite FTR and his partner Kenny Omega having problems, and the Young Bucks being angry at the attack on the Express, Hangman Page liked his new friends in FTR. This led to last weeks Thursday Dynamite where during the gauntlet for the number one contender shot against Page and Omega, Adam Page came out and interfered to cost the Young Bucks their chance to face FTR for the number one contendership. Page did it looking dejected and full of doubt, leaving the arena from the back with a spotlight on him. He also held the leg from the heel side of the ring.
Later on, the Young Bucks found Page at the bar and berated him worse than what he had before their match at Revolution. “Who the hell are you? This is your insecurities push you to this!” remarked Matt Jackson, whose lack of insecurity is why he went back to the worst sideburns in the business when his beard was looking just fine. “One time I called you a jobber, long time ago!” followed up Nick Jackson, who can be forgiven for thinking February was a long time ago and not six months ago since the pandemic has made everything prior to it a generation ago. “But tonight, you decided to be a jobber!” he shouted in Hangman Page’s face, a remark that makes no sense. Hangman takes it all, including taking a glass of alcohol to the face by Matt. Matt Jackson then officially remarks he is getting what he wants and he’s out of the Elite, where they slam the bar door so hard it breaks the mirror on the back of it (strange bar to have a mirror there but hey) as Page tries to finally say something. He then looks at the cracked mirror distorting his face.
Hangman Page: Ace or Jack?
It’s pretty clear that the whole time, Hangman was doing something he didn’t want to do, and was speechless when confronted. It’s likely in the eyes of AEW that this is supposed to make us think he’s going to turn heel, only for there to be a justification of his actions. My thought is that they still want Hangman Page to be a good guy, but they don’t want the Young Bucks to be bad guys. And they are okay if either side does something that contradicts the actions of bad guys and good guys. But this is the problem with what I said before. It’s about who is the protagonist and who is the antagonist. And prior to the pandemic, the fans made it very clear to AEW that Hangman Page will not be the antagonist to the Young Bucks story.
Regardless of whether I’m going to trust the story AEW is trying to tell, I’m worried that this direction is far too much in what the Young Bucks initially wanted from their BTE segments in 2019. I’m also worried that after aligning Page with FTR and turning them heel, while also trying to keep Bucks as babyfaces, AEW is going to try to be way too much in the shades of grey. The Bucks confrontation of Page is just further proof that the Young Bucks are miscast in All Elite Wrestling as the babyface best tag team in the world that isn’t tag team champions. Much like Kenny Omega, those two would be best as the cocky arrogant heels that rub it in everyone’s face. The entire time the Bucks were chastising Page, even though he did something that wasn’t, “the right thing to do”, Page felt like the protagonist in front of two assholes who were just getting what they deserved. It doesn’t matter what AEW tries to make us doubt Page or dislike Page, he is never going to be a villain to us. Similar to… Jon Moxley.
AEW men’s Heavyweight Champion Jon Moxley is often compared to The Sandman and Stone Cold Steve Austin, and for good reason. Moxley is a bad ass who likes to inflict pain and doesn’t care if you don’t like the way he conducts himself. The fans are in full support in everything he does, even if it has him sneaking a heel from behind to take them out. Why? He’s the protagonist of the story. When AEW put him up against Kenny Omega, a guy people thought was supposed to be the ace of AEW, it was pretty clear that no matter how much the audience appreciated Omega, Mox was their guy. That’s because Jon Moxley is the Ace of All Elite Wrestling, and testing that loyalty is pointless.
Hangman Page has the potential to be the next Ace of All Elite Wrestling. The crowd is passionately behind him. His gimmick is enough of a twist on older gimmicks to work. He can handle the in ring and his personality resonates with the fans. In my mind, the path AEW needs to take is making Hangman Page the AEW World Heavyweight champion by beating a heel Kenny Omega, his current tag champion partner whose temper is getting the best of him lately. Those two have to be the eventual collision course (I expect Page’s first program in singles to be Mr. Brodie Lee, who they’ve been teasing a program with) and if done right, it will be the biggest payoff of the best story. My worry is that AEW’s insistence on shades of grey will sand the edges of Hangman Page when it’s his time to go singles because they wanted to keep the Bucks babyface, two men who have been the biggest pain in his ass since December.
It’s sometimes difficult to remember why people loved Hangman Page six months ago pre-pandemic, but AEW needs to tap into that when executing the turning point of this story. If you try to pull him away from being our protagonist, only to ensure someone else can still portray the protagonist, you’re going to hurt what makes him special. Doing this won’t stop him from being a top guy in the company, but he won’t end up the Ace in AEW’s deck. He’ll end up the Jack, a face card with a lot of power but just another face card in the deck.