There’s an iconic line from Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy where Alfred tries to drive home the point to a young Bruce Wayne that, summarily, failure is part of who we are; it’s ingrained in our stories and how we develop. Aside from an elite group of individuals afforded every opportunity for success who might not know that plebian reality, it’s a commonality we share together.
We struggle, we fight. We struggle and fight, hilariously often to the tune of Itchy and Scratchy from the Simpsons on repeat. Battered, beaten and broken — perhaps even bloodied — it’s in that moment when each given chapter of our lives ends that we we’re faced with the simple choice of whether or not we sit and stew in our own loathing, or we stand up, dust off and continue walking forward.
It often feels like there are two takes in wrestling when it comes to presentation: you have the larger-than-life gods, and you have relatable figures living unassumingly in the shadows.
Hangman Page was the latter until Saturday night.
Turning The Page
The story of Kenny Omega and Hangman Page goes back to their time in Bullet Club, although some have said the story dates back to the first AEW press conference and Page’s subsequent loss to Chris Jericho at All Out 2019, that isn’t the complete chain of events.
While in the Bullet Club together, there was a point when Omega held the IWGP U.S. championship. During that time he offered “Switchblade” Jay White a spot in the group, which he turned down. Shortly after Omega defended the title against White who would win the belt at New Beginning, but what’s relevant to the discussion is that after the match ended, Page came out and as is customary in the promotion, he grabbed the belt and challenged White for the title. However, Omega walked over, took the belt out of Page’s hands and effectively said, “it’s his time.” Page later sided with Cody Rhodes during the Bullet Club civil war between Rhodes and Omega throughout the middle of 2018, and while this all led to the formation of AEW following All In, narratively it’s that point we can draw from as the beginning of their story.
Coincidentally, Page would eventually get his match with Switchblade, which he would lose — a theme of his entire run in AEW.
Page also lost his first chance at the AEW title. And despite winning the AEW tag team titles with Omega, even then, Page downward spiraled as tag team champion under the weight of his doubts and demons which directly led to the loss of the championships to FTR at All Out 2020. Page then lost his title eliminator match to Omega at Full Gear 2020. He then lost his friends. Then he lost his number one contender status not once, but twice this year.
Frankly, he had the ever-present stench of burnout on him mixed with the aura of wasted potential as the chosen one of AEW, touted early as an ROH star in the making, but never able to win when it actually mattered. Yet, despite the losses, the stench of failure, wasted opportunities and forever living in the shadow of Omega and the Young Bucks, the fans stood by him. They helped him out and extended their hands when no one else was there, and then eventually, the Dark Order accepted him as one of their own and supported him. We and they embraced him as one of our own, because at the core of the story is someone who frankly, is us. And even in the end as the three was counted Saturday at Full Gear, his estranged friends stood by him even if it compromised the integrity of their own group and relationship with Omega.
The reason why the Hangman Page journey works as a story is simple. Each day we wake up laying down, staring up at everything we perceive to be above us — goals, people, wants and desires and through that we chart our courses. We all approach the day the way we do for different reasons, but through storytelling in wrestling we’re all brought to the same place. We grow and evolve, we learn and strive, we push forward and succeed, and oftentimes succeed only to fail. It’s there where we learn to find ourselves inside the failure, learn what we’re made of, and above all what we’re capable of. The path is winding, and along the way like Page’s trek to the top it won’t be smooth and it’s possible we’ll alienate the people we looked up to, or the people we called friends once upon a time. That notwithstanding, the critical piece of what makes Page’s success a hit is the willingness to find his own place in the world, with people who love him unconditionally aside from external impressions of who he is and what he could be as held by others. It’s how he rises up that can raise each of us up; so we can stand up as well, make amends if we need to, and become who we first thought we could be and rise above adversity.
Hangman Page has been tapped as a breakout star for years, and at the very first AEW event he plainly stated he was going to be champion. It didn’t happen right away, nor should it have. We needed to see Adam Page’s comeback from failure, and more than once at that because of what it teaches us. We needed to see him come back from embarrassment and self-loathing. We needed to see him find himself, understanding it’s no easy task nor is there a shortcut to finding that apex. And we needed to see him come back stronger through his adversity to win; not for us, nor his old friends and much less his new ones — he won it for himself, and through that, he found everything he needed because it was always there. It’s the epitome of long term storytelling, perhaps one of the best examples.
The story’s exceptionalism isn’t found in the fantastically overstated, its exceptionalism grows from the simplicity of the everyday steps we take, the callouses we develop and the rewards we can grab hold of if we do the work and persevere.