Hangman describes himself as the anxious, millennial cowboy, and he very much is. What’s interesting to me about the moniker “millennial cowboy” is the fact that it’s sort of an oxymoron. Cowboys, at least in the traditional sense of the word, don’t really have a place in the 21st century. Perhaps this is me over-analyzing, but to me a “millennial cowboy” seems like a man who feels that the world’s passed him by, and is now struggling to find himself in spite of feeling so disconnected from everyone around him.
On AEW Unrestricted, Adam said one of his favorite artists is Orville Peck. This immediately made perfect sense to me, another fan of the same artist. Orville Peck’s music is very much inspired by the olden styles of country music; his deep, sultry voice and the storytelling in his songs makes you feel like you’re sitting at a campfire somewhere in the Old West, where the wind is slow and time is even slower. There’s something very unique about Orville Peck, though; his music is incredibly vulnerable. He uses the motif of cowboys and old western life to share intimate emotions and thoughts that are far from the general media’s present idea of the macho, gun-slinging tough guy in the Wild West.
Much like Orville Peck’s music, there’s much more to Hangman Adam Page than what initially meets the eye. Yes, he is incredibly strong (as he’ll show you with any Buckshot Lariat), but emotionally, he’s very vulnerable. This comes in the form of little, sincere gestures (like his simple tweet from a few months ago, “My belly hurt”), to showing emotional hurt on Dynamite through his puffy red eyes that clearly indicated he’d been crying before the show.
Every member of the Elite is driven by their emotion, but they each have a facade or blanket they retreat to when they feel too vulnerable; for Kenny, it’s his Cleaner persona, for the Young Bucks, it’s the cocky, gum-chewing attitude they put on (usually while at the Cleaner’s side), and for Cody, it’s the devilish, manipulative, American Nightmare. Adam, though, has no place to hide, as he never pretended to be anyone else in the first place. Adam can’t put on a pair of sunglasses to show he’s turning into someone else. He’s trapped by the same thing that fans adore him for: his genuineness.
Because Adam is so genuine, we know where much of his pride, joy, sadness, and insecurities come from. Much of these have been in the open for a long time. So, here’s a stroll down memory lane, to try and find out just how much this cowboy’s been through, and hopefully see where he’s heading next.
Dead of Night
Adam joined the Bullet Club rather unceremoniously. His arrival was heavily overshadowed by the that of former Ring of Honor champion, Adam Cole. While Cole’s starpower continued to grow both in the US and abroad, Hangman laid low. His quiet, almost aloof demeanor didn’t turn many heads, despite obvious potential.
With time, though, Adam started to draw some eyes. One man in particular who saw something great in the Hangman was none other than the Ace of NJPW himself, Hiroshi Tanahashi. He saw potential in Adam, not just in terms of wrestling ability, but personally as well. After their match in G1 Climax 28, Tanahashi said the following:
“Page is.. I’ll hold onto him. He’s like nobody else. He’s too good for Bullet Club. Leave him to me. I’ll remove the poison inside of him.”Hiroshi Tanahashi
When the Civil War in Bullet Club broke out, Adam was caught in the middle. Because he lacked any strong convictions about the Golden Lovers reunion like the Bucks had, nor had any strong motivations to rise in the power ranks of Bullet Club like Cody did, Adam was very easily manipulated. Cody was able to rope Hangman into being his henchman, and even got him to participate in separate ambushes on Kenny and Kota. When the rug was pulled out from under the Elite, and they all found themselves kicked out of Bullet Club, Cody was the only one given a real shot at redemption. Hangman never really addressed his role in Civil War, or owned up to his participation in the attacks on the Golden Lovers.
Given the long term storytelling style of the Elite, I think there’s at least some semblance of guilt in Adam for his role as Cody’s henchman that still lingers in AEW. He must be aware of how easily Cody manipulated him into committing violence against one of his best friends, and against Kota Ibushi. You have to wonder if he’s feeling particularly guilty nowadays, as his manipulation at the hands of FTR is a clear echo of Cody’s manipulation over a year ago (but we’ll talk more about that later).
The most major blow to Adam’s self-esteem was undoubtedly his loss to Chris Jericho in the first-ever AEW title match. Adam showed up on his famous horse, Hunter Horse Hemsley, looking like a tough, rugged outlaw ready for a fight. His wife and parents were in attendance, as well, eager to see Adam become the first champion in AEW.
Adam spent the majority of the match on the offensive, at one point even busting open the forehead of the weary-looking “Painmaker.” As time went on, Adam found himself unable to put Jericho away. After two Buckshot Lariats, and a Deadeye, he set up for another, desperate lariat. He was stopped dead in his tracks when Jericho hit him in the jaw with the Judas Effect, knocking Adam out cold and securing his place in history as AEW’s first-ever champion.
This match marked the beginning of Adam’s downward spiral. Losing this match was a massive, (so far) irrecoverable blow to his confidence that has sent him down a path of insecurity, jealousy, and broken friendships.
(This is part one of what will be a two part series. Stay tuned!)