We’ve all seen and heard the many, many, many, MANY think pieces about AEW’s recent downturn in business. Voices of Wrestling has published about a quarter of them. The blame has been thrown around and placed on many factors: WWE business being hot, a growing room of ex-WWE writers with a lack of meaningful creative ideas, an extra weekly show, ticket prices, efforts in local marketing, sports games, Kendrick Lamar concerts, with the list continuing to grow. But in our efforts to figure out what is causing the problems, we all may have missed the biggest problem staring us in the face.

AEW doesn’t have a strong lead heel.

Let’s go back to All In: Wembley last year, as the weekly downturn in business became evident after that show. Going into the build for All In, MJF was the undisputed top heel in AEW as the World Champion that the league of babyfaces in the promotion were chasing. But in the build to All In, MJF and Adam Cole infamously became Brochachos. MJF began leaning more babyface as their antics caused his small heart to grow three sizes. Wembley closed with MJF and Cole hugging, signifying MJF’s face turn for the rest of the year.

Let’s look at who the main event heels in the promotion have been since that point.

Roderick Strong

There was Roderick Strong, who, despite never wrestling MJF or Cole, was a constant thorn in their side. He was never meant to be taken seriously, as he was wheeled around in a wheelchair by Matt Taven & Mike Bennett like an invalid, constantly screaming Cole’s name to the point of comedy. That group was never going to be a money-making act, as it did far more damage to Strong as a credible act on the card.

Samoa Joe

There was Samoa Joe, who was a big part of MJF’s Autumn as a challenger to the title. Joe feigned helping him against the Devil and his masked cronies before turning on him and winning the World Title at Worlds End in December. Despite Joe’s on-screen credibility, he’s never been a talent to move numbers or business. It felt like he was just the guy to get the title on the next guy. Outside of a fun two-week feud with Hook, Joe never felt like the true top guy of the promotion.

Undisputed Kingdom

There was the Undisputed Kingdom, or The Alliance to End MJF-Mania as I’ve called them. The group of freshly-heel Adam Cole, Strong, Taven, Bennett, & Wardlow was meant to be the top heel group of the company, set to take credit for ridding AEW of MJF and running the promotion with Cole on top. The group immediately died in the water, as both Cole and MJF were dealing with long-term debilitating injuries that put them both on the shelf. Cole still hasn’t returned from his broken ankle, with MJF returning at Double or Nothing and seemingly putting the group in his rear-view mirror. Without Cole, the group was just Strong, Taven, & Bennett again, with Wardlow sometimes in the background.

The Elite

The top heel act as of now is a rebooted version of The Elite, with The Young Bucks kicking Kenny Omega out of the group and inserting his most famous rival Kazuchika Okada in his place. This group had real potential, as the Bucks siding with Okada helped Okada bring out his natural charisma on American television while also setting up a money match upon Omega’s return. Unfortunately, that hasn’t changed the tide yet either. 

While I believe the Bucks to be the greatest tag team of all time, they are not equipped to be the top heels of a promotion. They’re too jokey and snarky for that role. They are far better set to be the sidekicks to the actual top heel than trying to fill that role themselves, the mini-bosses to the Final Boss. It worked with Omega back in New Japan and during Omega’s successful heel run in AEW. While Okada could easily fill that role, he’s slipped into a comedic role as of late alongside them. That leads to Blood and Guts on July 24. The special episode of Dynamite, which was in front of nearly 9,000 fans last year in the TD Garden in the midst of MJF’s babyface turn, has sold less than 3,000 tickets this year per the June 29 WrestleTix update.

AEW is chock full of headline stars. Swerve Strickland, Will Ospreay, Jon Moxley, Bryan Danielson, and MJF just to name a few off of the top of my head. But the problem is that those top names are all good guys. There’s nobody that AEW fans want to see those top names get their hands on. Try as they might, there’s no HEAT.

I have been this site’s self-proclaimed WWE correspondent for about 18 months now. While I don’t enjoy the product itself, I do enjoy being the canary in the coal mine for fans that the company ran off years ago hearing about the now-hot product. And if there is one thing I can give that company, it’s that they made Roman Reigns into the top heel of the promotion. He was a top heel that everybody cheered for anyway, and that the announcers put over as the best despite his constant and repetitive cheating to stay on top, but he was the top heel in theory. WWE is doing the same thing now with Solo Sikoa, basically re-doing the Bloodline with him, Jacob Fatu, and the Guerrillas of Destiny.

WWE just sold Madison Square Garden out with Solo Sikoa and the Guerrillas of Destiny. Why? Because they are credible top heels, which are dead serious about what they’re doing, with babyfaces that the fans want to get behind in Cody Rhodes, Randy Orton, and Kevin Owens. AEW has the babyfaces to get behind. But they don’t have the heat that energizes a fanbase like WWE does. They don’t have the heels for them to chase.

Currently, the Young Bucks have gotten into a cold war of sorts with AEW World Champion Swerve Strickland, with Strickland repeatedly badmouthing the Bucks after they attacked Tony Khan to take control of the company. While the Khan/Bucks power struggle has been clunky and logically inconsistent, it has set up The Bucks to take issue with the World Champion. The Bucks announced on the June 26 episode of Dynamite that the Wild Card entrant in the ongoing Owen Hart Memorial Cup would be representing The Elite. The winner of The Owen this year will get a World Title match at All In: Wembley this year against Swerve Strickland.

“Hangman” Adam Page

Enter Hangman Adam Page.

Page and Strickland had been in an incredibly heated and violent feud at the end of 2023, with Strickland breaking into Page’s home and Page drinking Swerve’s blood as it poured out of his head in their highly acclaimed Texas Death Match at Full Gear last year. Hangman made a promise after that match that he would never allow Strickland to reach his goal as AEW World Champion. Page has been gone from the company since the Revolution PPV in February, where he wrestled in a three-way match for the World Title against Strickland and then-champion Samoa Joe. Page lost his mind in that match, attacking referees and drilling Strickland with the title belt before tapping out to Joe, with the possibility that Page quit just to make sure Strickland couldn’t win the World Title.

Hangman couldn’t fulfill his promise, as Strickland won the World Title from Samoa Joe at Dynasty. But now, he shares a mutual enemy with the Elite. Now, he can take the title from Swerve on the biggest stage in wrestling. Now, Page can run on top of the company as the true top heel of the promotion with a plethora of headline babyfaces to chase him. We know he has the talent, with several of the best matches in company history on his resume. We know he has the cache with the audience, as he’s been one of the most consistently over talents in the promotion since day one. He has already been a business mover on top, drawing big business with Kenny Omega and AEW’s first million-dollar gate back at Double or Nothing 2022 with He Who Shall Not Be Named.

Run back some of the biggest feuds in the AEW history with Swerve, Danielson, and Omega. Run interesting first-time-ever matches against guys like Darby Allin and Orange Cassidy. Have Will Ospreay chase the World Title as he tries to become the ace of the promotion and get that elusive Wembley main event. Let the promotion be centered around Hangman Page as the world fights to pry that title out of his hands.

The current AEW product has been missing a fundamental part of pro wrestling, and Hangman Page is in the perfect position to fill that void.

Will putting Hangman Page in main events solve all of AEW’s business problems, sell all the tickets, and ensure that AEW never has any problems ever again? Couldn’t hurt to try. 

Listen to Voices of Wrestling’s AEW podcast: The Good, The Bad & The Hungee!

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