Generally speaking, I think it’s a fair comment to suggest that AEW has been an undoubted success since hitting the wrestling scene.
Commercially, Tony Khan’s company has exceeded expectations, with superb ratings and buyrates for a new professional wrestling company. From a consumer point of view, the company has drawn widespread critical acclaim and positive reviews from both industry analysts and fans alike. The majority of the content produced by AEW has been well received, from their thoroughly entertaining matches, to their simple yet effective booking. AEW is certainly headed in the right direction.
From a booking perspective, Khan has faced a plethora of almost weekly tests as they navigate their way into the hearts and minds of modern-day wrestling fans. Over the past two to three years, obvious tests like how to book Kenny Omega and the Jackson brothers to appeal to mainstream audiences or how to rehab ex -WWE talent that suffered from being misused were, were just some of the challenges the company faced initially faced.
More unforeseen challenges arose unexpectedly that needed care and attention, such as how to produce a weekly wrestling show with no fans, to the untimely death of one of their fondest performers in the late Brodie Lee. Most recently he has had to deal with his Friday night show clashing with the flagship show of his main competitor. The hurdles have been coming thick and fast and by and large, they have successfully leaped said hurdles. Not many rational-minded fans would disagree that AEW has handled each difficult situation with care, grace and a calm approach. Something that is not always true about their main competitor.
AEW’s booking hasn’t been without its negatives. I can point to the booking of the best man Miro or the flat finish to the Blood and Guts match as examples of when AEW just falls flat. Tony Khan is human after all I suppose and I am realistic in my expectations each week.
But make no mistake about it, putting the World title on “Hangman” Adam Page is the next big test for AEW.
Page’s title win marks the first time that their top prize has been held by an out-and-out babyface. Before him, the ever-scheming Chris Jericho and Belt Collector Kenny Omega, were very clearly positioned as heels. But what about Jon Moxley? Well, for me Mox was more of an anti-hero than a virtuous good guy, with his clear disregard for conventional rules and he possesses the compulsion to do whatever the hell he wants, making him anything but a white-meat babyface.
New champion Adam Page is different from Moxley. Hangman is as clean-cut a babyface as you will find in AEW. His character is an undoubted fan favorite, who has a coincidence, and he conducts himself in an honorable way. Yes, he has his flaws like his fondness for alcohol, but no matter what way you look at Hangman’s current persona, the intentions of his character are pure.
Page has been on a hell of a journey since arriving in AEW. Initially, no one gave two shits about Page when he arrived on the AEW scene. His match against Chris Jericho for the vacant AEW Title was not initially looked at with optimism. I don’t believe Page was hated by the fans but he just wasn’t ready for the main event level in terms of how his character was presented and the fans weren’t too fused. While I always enjoyed Hangman’s matches before he joined AEW, I believe he was always overshadowed by the likes of the more successful Omega, Adam Cole and Bucks despite being a perfectly fine wrestler.
AEW harnessed the relationship between himself and members of The Elite to propel him to where he is today. The storytelling told was simple yet effective, as Kenny and company tossed aside the troubled Hangman while simultaneously making Page look like he belonged in the same wrestling sphere. Nothing did more to further the story or increase Hangman’s credibility as the epic AEW Revolution 2020 tag match Omega and Page battled with Matt and Nick Jackson. A near-perfect rollercoaster of a match not only provided further evidence that Omega and The Jacksons have arguably the best resumes in modern wrestling, but the match also demonstrated that “Hangman” Adam Page was ready for the main event scene.
Fast Forward to Full Gear 2021 and Hangman has been given the responsibility of being the top guy in All Elite Wrestling. In a roster filled with not only immense talent, but bigger more recognizable names, Page has been given the backing to lead the company into the next phase. Now begins the next big test for AEW and perhaps the biggest test for Adam Page.
Anyone that has watched WWE in the last decade—for my sins I have habitually watched, don’t judge—knows that they have had a difficult time in trying to produce a top babyface. Vince and his merry men in creative have tried and failed to present their top babyfaces in a way that not only improves the perception of the wrestler but also enhances the popularity and stature of the company. Braun Strowman, Seth Rollins, Roman Reigns, Kofi Kingston, Dean Ambrose….the list can keep going, have been arguably been viewed as failures after they were given the ball by WWE. While these names represent a talented bunch, instead of booking them to their strengths, WWE appeared to be hellbent on rehashing past glories.
Mox, as the former Dean Ambrose, was positioned as a whacky Steve Austin tribute act, while Roman Reigns was fed unfunny material as they sought to recreate The Rock. Horrifically formulaic booking, coupled with the unimaginative storylines, ensured WWE was doomed in this regard. I feel it’s accurate to a point to say that these guys failed mostly through no fault of their own.
Even the most successful babyfaces in WWE in the last decade had less than spectacular runs at the top. Daniel Bryan, arguably WWE’s best white-meat babyface in the last decade, had his big moment at Wrestlemania 30 followed up by the sad news of an injury hiatus.
The 2019 run of Becky Lynch, potentially the most successful main event face run in the last decade within WWE, was hamstrung by the most common problem encountered by a top face in recent memory: After the big win, it is never capitalized on. Once the big moment hits, it’s all downhill.
I would argue that nothing truly memorable occurred in any top face run in the last decade beyond the initial win while watching WWE. Hell, maybe the last two decades. CM Punk’s kissing-blowing coup at Money in the Bank 2011 was never topped. No moment was better during Kofi Kingston’s title run than his big WrestleMania victory. Most recently, Bianca Belair’s secured a massive triumph when she defeated Sasha Banks in the main event of WrestleMania. And while it was one hell of a moment, you guessed it, it was never adequately followed up on by WWE and that win has been her peak in her career.
So, by this evidence, is Hangman Page going downhill following his win regardless of what happens?
WWE deals in moments, and things like storytelling, logic and character development are afterthoughts as they chase the next moment. Problem is that these moments suffer from the law of diminishing returns, with each one feeling less special as we come to expect the disappointment that follows. AEW doesn’t appear to operate the same way. While Jon Moxley had his big win, I’d argue his feuds with Eddie Kingston and Kenny Omega outshined his initial title victory.
But, as I have said, Mox isn’t Hangman. The big question is, can Tony Khan solve the riddle of how to book a modern-day babyface in a North American promotion?
Time will tell, and Tony has a lot on his side. Adam Page has found his feet as an utterly likable and endearing character. The massive pop at the Casino Ladder Match will tell you that Page and his “Cowboy Sh*t” have the backing of the AEW faithful. This was no fluke. Smart, long-term narration with great attention to detail has slowly been fed to the masses with whom Page has connected with over the past two years. Credit must be given to all involved as Hangman looks ready for the baton.
— All Elite Wrestling (@AEW) November 14, 2021
I am invested in Page’s journey, he is easily relatable and the emotions I have felt throughout his story are a testament to how excellent every player in this story has performed. From Kenny and The Elite, so the Dark Order and even Matt Hardy, Page is so likable because of the tale has been presented. The substiles of the “will they/won’t they turn” with The Bucks, to the unwanted friendship of Evil Uno and friends, AEW has slowly given the audience the tools to view “Hangman” Adam Page as a bonafide star.
But while Page appears to be clearly ready for this position, can AEW keep him flying high following his big win?
AEW has built up enough goodwill with me to suggest that at the very least if anyone is capable, Tony Khan and his creative team are. Building stars has been the MO of All Elite Wrestling, showing it is not that difficult to push multiple guys at once and get everyone over. Jungle Boy, Dante Martin, Rey Fenix, Sammy Guevara, Thunder Rosa….. all good examples of solid babyfaces being built up by the AEW machine. However, the main event is a different ballgame.
The former Dean Ambrose, John Moxley is the best example to look at that we have despite not being an out-and-out babyface. As stated above, he wasn’t a clean-cut hero, but if his WWE and AEW title runs are evidence of how to book him as a face, it is safe to say that AEW has a better chance of successfully making Adam Page the next top guy in professional wrestling. The booking of Moxley in AEW and WWE is night and day, with AEW allowing the former Shield member to be himself and interact on television in a natural, intelligent manner. It was a far cry from his “lunatic fringe” moniker of 2016, and the result shows that Moxley is now a star and probably the most valuable player in AEW’s rise.
From an in-ring standpoint, Page is a fantastic wrestler who has now come of age. He’s had bangers in AEW and before he became All Elite, whether you look to his crowd-pleasing effort with Kota Ibushi in Ring of Honor or his battle with Brian Cage at the most recent Double or Nothing PPV. I have no doubt he can continue to not only have plenty of excellent matches in his run, but I also feel he can continue to grow and evolve as his run progresses.
Time will tell if Hangman Page will be remembered for his first AEW World title run in a favorable light, and while all signs point to him being more than capable of being the guy in All Elite Wrestling, it’s no sure thing. If I was a betting man I’d say the odds are favorable for Hangman’s chances.
The spotlight is firmly on Hangman Page now that he is World Champion and I’m along for the ride.
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