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This ‘Anxious Millennial Cowboy’ Is the Future of Pro Wrestling

This ‘Anxious Millennial Cowboy’ Is the Future of Pro Wrestling
hangman page

’Hangman’ Adam Page with the AEW World Championship belt on November 3, 2021.

All Elite Wrestling

ON FEBRUARY 29, 2020, “Hangman” Adam Page, All Elite Wrestling’s blond-maned, hazel-eyed, self-styled “anxious millennial cowboy,” strutted into the ring in entrance of a packed dwelling at Chicago’s Windtrust Arena along with his chin held high and his coronary heart leaping out of his chest. Dark vest resting on his sizable shoulders, the 6-foot, 228-pound Hangman yanked his bandana the entire system down to his neck, revealing the style of enraged sport face on the entire old style by men looking out to circulation insecurity off as machismo. A fan in the group threw up a signal: “HANGMAN, Drink MY beer.”

For the uninitiated, AEW is an upstart skilled wrestling company, and Hangman is one in all its biggest stars. He became once anchoring Revolution, one in all AEW’s quarterly pay-per-look astronomical presentations, and dwelling to share the highlight with the three performers who’d hand-picked him for this second: Kenny Omega, his co-AEW World Label Group Champion, and their opponents, the Younger Bucks (aka Matt and Slash Jackson). What none of the ring mates realized at the time became once that their belief in Page had outpaced his bear expectations—no longer ultimate on TV but additionally in proper existence.

For fans who had adopted Hangman’s fable arc in present AEW announces and related webisodes, Page’s once upbeat-character had taken an emotional flip in present weeks, swigging beers and lashing out at the friends with whom he now shared the ring. Like any of the scripted sport’s richest studies, it became once a recital rooted the truth is (excluding for the ingesting).

the young bucks

The Younger Bucks, brothers and AEW executive vice presidents Matt and Slash Jackson.

All Elite Wrestling

“How would possibly per chance it no longer be?” Page instantaneous Men’s Health for the length of a present phone name. “I scenario you or any one studying to imagine that you just were standing in the ring, and your partner is one in all the biggest of all time in Kenny Omega. … and (your opponents are), I would possibly perhaps command, with out quiz, the biggest impress team of all time in the Younger Bucks.

“And then you with out a doubt were standing there.”

That match, almost thirty minutes of wonderful, acrobatic bodily expression, is held up by fans on Twitter and the favored r/SquaredCircle subreddit as one in all the surest examples of wrestling’s singular storytelling capability. Page and Omega won the bout, but biggest after the four men out of date the match as a software to figure out their simmering beefs: Page vs. the Bucks; Page vs. Omega; Page vs. himself. It became once a tour de pressure for Page, who managed to channel his self-flagellation into offense that blurred the traces between fantasy and truth.

Hangman Adam Page – Anxious Millennial Cowboy

Practically two years later, the bout is assumed to be by many to be the most inviting in the company’s short history, serving to to burnish Page’s credentials as a neatly-known one who now has better than 265,000 followers on Twitter and 176,000 on Instagram, and whose “Anxious Millennial Cowboy” T-shirt is on the entire seen on fans in the group. Some assume he’s overdue for an AEW World Championship reign. Nonetheless as any individual grappling with dismay or an inferiority complex knows all too effectively, asserting your psychological effectively being takes work. In explain a replace of settling for the orderly ending to the fable quickly after the Revolution tournament, Page has worked alongside AEW brass to add more chapters to procedure a more human fable, sending his Hangman character on a skedaddle that resulted in months of public combat.

Hangman’s bear career will reach one other crescendo this weekend when he challenges Omega for the AEW World Championship at the Fleshy Instruments pay-per-look tournament in Minneapolis. For Page, it feels esteem a second to share that great of the muse for the anxious section of his millennial cowboy came from deeper interior of him than any individual anticipated.

His hardest opponent has continuously been himself.

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AEW, THE BRAINCHILD of billionaire Tony Khan, launched in early 2019 with the mission of providing a replace for the used-guard WWE, combining unique age, high-flying wrestling with rich storytelling. In Omega, the Bucks and fellow grappler Cody Rhodes (collectively is named the Elite), who on wrestling’s fair scene had generated an remarkable buzz for non-WWE performers, Khan seen four doable cornerstones. The foursome of rising stars had earned a cult following, and no longer ultimate attributable to their in-ring theatrics for promotions esteem Original Japan Pro Wrestling (NJPW) and Ring of Honor (ROH).

Of their common YouTube sequence, Being the Elite, which now has 507,000 subscribers, the wrestlers documented existence on the highway in goofy, semi-scripted skits and over-the-prime storylines that in most cases trickled into the promotions for which they worked. Page became once presented as rather character at the birth, along with his rising prominence in the sequence coinciding along with his rising in-ring reputation.

Khan had co-invested alongside his father Shahid, an immigrant from Pakistan change into an automobile manufacturing magnate (they additionally co-owner of the Jacksonville Jaguars and Fulham FC), and immediate christened Omega, the Bucks and Rhodes executive vice presidents. Currently, the still fledgling, non-publicly traded community has constructed a promotion that looks to characteristic as an implicit rebuke of WWE, the billion dollar global juggernaut flee by billionaire CEO Vince McMahon. As an quite quite loads of of providing staid, family-pleasant and cartoonish caricatures of masculinity, AEW strives to be spontaneous, edgy and, most importantly, legitimate.

“An huge section of AEW,” Khan said, “is to procedure the characters, the wrestlers (feel esteem) proper americans.”

tony khan

AEW founder and CEO Tony Khan.

All Elite Wrestling

Whereas AEW has added more neatly-known particular person strength with ex-WWE Champions CM Punk and Bryan Danielson becoming a member of its roster in present months, AEW executives additionally imagine that the league’s more emotionally resonant and psychological effectively being targeted studies will encourage the next generation of fans.

“For years wrestlers were biggest seen as better than existence, spirited superhero forms. No person ever the truth is explored the basis of a wrestler being esteem a fashioned particular person, struggling with day after day emotions,” said Matt Jackson, one in all the company’s four executive vice presidents. “It’s main to derive sensitive, inclined characters who impress that human facet on fable of more americans staring at can explain to an particular particular person esteem that.”

That’s the set aside Page fits in. Within the 20 months since the Revolution impress match, his character has taken on more depth with each passing week of Dynamite, the 2-hour AEW impress that airs Wednesdays on TNT. The narrative arc is overall but with out grief relatable: Feeling that he didn’t measure up to Omega and the Bucks, the anxious cowboy change into an increasing form of reclusive and brooding, with the friendship exploding when Hangman tag the Bucks an opportunity for a impress championship rematch, cheating on behalf of their opponents.

wrestlers

Hangman with a beer for the length of a Halloween 2021 AEW tournament.

All Elite Wrestling

In retaliation, Omega and the Bucks theatrically dropped him from their on-camera friends community, rendering Hangman—as scripted at the least—a lone wolf in a world the set aside the coolest allies can procedure the entire incompatibility in a wrestler’s success. Originally, he wallowed in self-hatred, finding solace in beer and whiskey while becoming more publicly unhinged. Then, with the abet of some unique friends, he regained his self assurance and his in-ring mojo, ensuing in Saturday’s showdown with Omega.

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PAGE (REAL NAME Stephen Woltz), 30, speaks with the small inflection of his native Virgilina, Va., a city of 154, per the 2010 U.S. census, positioned on the Virginia-North Carolina border. He grew up on a 20-acre farm serving to his “pa” elevate red meat cattle in the iciness and develop tobacco in the summertime. When his classmates went to camp, he’d upward thrust at 6 a.m. and open riding a tractor. In July (or “joo-lie” as Page broadcasts it), he’d hunker down in the field and prime tobacco himself, retiring for the day along with his hands lined in waxy pulp.

“I near from a easy field. Laborious work, but easy, farm existence,” Page said. “There’s something preferrred about the truth in that. That you come up. You work from 6 to 6. You eat your supper. You scurry to mattress. You enact it again. And that’s the system you procedure it.”

Then he repeats himself: “There’s something very extremely efficient in the truth of that.”

In a 30-minute dialog with Men’s Health in early November, 5 days sooner than his showdown with Omega, Page out of date the observe “truth” 12 cases. He spoke, great esteem he does on tv, with an earnest lilt, his affirm rising and falling for emphasis. He is a man dedicated to residing authentically, along with in his art.

“I wouldn’t even command [the story] has borrowed from my proper existence, as great because it’s miles [real life],” Page said. “Every step of the system, I’d demand myself, ‘How enact I secure about this ultimate now?’ And I’d ultimate come up with the truth.”

Page didn’t the truth is fit in in high school, he said, and as an quite quite loads of found his americans at local wrestling presentations, a “unfamiliar world of 40 and 50 year-used chunky used men beating one another up in entrance of 20 americans in an armory.” He started yard wrestling with friends on his trampoline, round which his americans constructed a wooden body. Terry Lambert, a neighborhood fair wrestler who performed below the name Justin Flash, and who became once courting Page’s cousin, taught him some fundamentals and took him on the highway.

hangman page

Hangman for the length of a present episode of Dynamite on TNT.

Lane Walbert

Quickly Page became once making presentations on the North Carolina fair scene, continuing to hone his skills on weekends as he attended Virginia Tech — he graduated in 2011 after two years—after which while working as a journalism and graphic derive instructor at his local Halifax County Excessive College. In Can also 2016, after Page joined the Bullet Club, the villainous NJPW mega-actual of which Omega and the Bucks were participants, he sooner or later stop instructing.

It became once then, as Page’s career started to capture off, that he started to feel the insecurities that would possibly per chance play out on tv. He became once grateful Omega and the Bucks had taken him below their hover, but something felt off.

“I became once the man who became once the closing to hitch the Bullet Club—on the dwelling impress that wasn’t even on TV,” Page said. “I became once the man who became once getting beat in all these multi-man suits in Original Japan. I became once the man who didn’t the truth is derive a winning file in (Original Japan’s G1 Climax match).

“It feels esteem a recent thing in wrestling to be that ultimate about the system you would possibly presumably be feeling in that bid. Nonetheless what other truth would possibly per chance there be than to feel unsuitable on this community?”

When made mindful about Page’s comments about feeling esteem he didn’t measure up, the Jacksons, his opponents at Revolution, were very a lot shocked.

“Here’s the truth is the first I’ve heard of that,” Matt Jackson said. “After we met Hangman all those years prior to now, he became once the truth is ultimate a brand unique, unknown very a lot shocked kid hiding below a baseball cap at ROH. Slash, Kenny and myself were already ideal effectively known, effectively-traveled, established wrestlers. I’m succesful of check those unique emotions he would possibly perhaps additionally’ve had when he firstly set aside met us, be something tough to shake off. It’s on the entire a little imposter’s syndrome, which I’d capture to assert him goes away, but by skills, I don’t assume it ever does. I am hoping he sooner or later can perceive again from the initiating set aside of our friendship and realize we were never competing, or sizing him up. We were welcoming him in to be one in all us.”

“He’s never in my plan instantaneous Matt and I that,” Slash Jackson said. “I secure esteem he’s loopy to assume that plan on fable of he’s one in all the biggest on the earth. I secure esteem the fans assume the same plan about him. He’s change into a neatly-known particular person.”

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PAGE WAS POSITIONED as a doable main man from the company’s onset, but it wasn’t till his character tasted defeat—six months sooner than Revolution —that his saga first developed the roughly nuance that’s helped to assert apart AEW from WWE. On August 31, 2019, in the first tournament of the All Out PPV, Page became once pinned by Chris Jericho in the first-ever AEW Championship match, failing to procedure ideal on some traditional wrestling smack affirm: He’d guaranteed that he would possibly be the promotion’s inaugural champion. That loss dwelling off a crisis of self assurance in Hangman that Page says mirrored how he’s on the entire felt in proper existence.

wrestlers

Adam Page finds himself for the length of the present Halloween tournament.

All Elite Wrestling

Hangman’s dwelling first took a darker flip on the Jan. 1, 2020 episode of Dynamite, about eight weeks sooner than the Revolution impress match, when Omega and the Bucks wrestled PAC, Ray Fenix and Penta El Zero Miedo. When Page joined the commentary team for the match, as is overall observe for wrestlers when friends or foes are engaged in combat, it became once sure that the Hangman’s focal level had shifted. He sipped on whiskey the entire match, and after the Elite won, the cowboy refused to derive a ultimate time with them in the ring.

“In proper existence, you wouldn’t acknowledge up entrance to your mates, face to face, that you just would possibly presumably be feeling that you just don’t bear their sneakers,” Page said. “That you would possibly also flee from the friendship. That you would possibly also flee from the accountability. Nonetheless acknowledging your bear shortcomings is laborious, and the general public wouldn’t enact it.”

With each passing week, as Hangman’s self-self assurance slipped, he lashed out more and more. He became once infrequently seen on TV with out a drink. On conceal, that alcohol consumption change into a symbol of his dismay and moderately actually brought him closer to fans, who handed him beers to chug following victories (sooner than the coronavirus, at the least). The more severe he behaved, the louder fans chanted his capture phrase — “Cowboy shit! Cowboy shit!”—Page’s less G-rated model of Cena’s “It’s most likely you’ll per chance’t check me.”

If Page, along with his bandana and his western-themed entrance song, became once already a plausible “cowboy,” the stress ingesting became once the conclusion of the “anxious millennial” ingredient of his character. The anxious section’s proper for him in my plan, too.

“Someone on this age differ understands, no longer ultimate the bottom-degree dismay, day-to-day, but better anxieties about the system that our world works round us, the system that our world is per chance initiating to fail us, and that we’re no longer rising to the scenario,” said Page, whose myth among the many devoted became once bolstered by a Twitter investigation that found he’d made a dozen cramped donations to Bernie Sanders’ 2020 Presidential campaign (along with one for $4.20) below his proper name, per FEC recordsdata. “I assume that our generation is terribly mindful of each those kinds of dismay, completely myself included.”

wrestler

Adam Page will scenario for the AEW World Championship on November 13, 2021.

All Elite Wrestling

The second that Hangman became once sooner or later kicked out of his unique brotherhood, the Elite, came about in August 2020 after months of teases, each on Dynamite and on Being the Elite. Now no longer long afterwards he and Omega misplaced the impress titles, after which Omega beat Page to create an AEW World Championship opportunity. Omega dethroned then-champion Jon Moxley, and he and the Bucks, beforehand the company’s prime ideal guys, change into heel.

As his out of date friends dominated the company—the Jacksons later won the impress titles—the cowboy persevered to to find refuge in the bottle. Then, in his darkest hour, he found inspiration in an unlikely source: the Darkish Characterize, an circulation-cult-change into-sentimental-favourite after the tragic passing of Jon Huber, who played its fictional lead Mr. Brodie Lee on conceal. (Huber died from a non-COVID-19 lung bid on December 26, 2020 at the age 41.)

In a pointedly emotional section, the Darkish Characterize guys instantaneous Hangman they still believed in him, and that he would possibly perhaps derive to still another time pursue the AEW Championship. Followers entreated the cowboy on too—along with one young supporter named Nolie whose video of encouragement blew up on Wrestling Twitter—and sooner or later he found his self assurance, winning a seven-man ladder match Oct. 6 to create the championship opportunity after coming again from paternity scurry away. The present comeback has supposed even more for the particular person unhurried the character, who had never publicly disclosed the fable arc became once basically basically based the truth is.

“I’ve just about phrases with how I’ve felt, and I assume biggest then enact you affirm heart’s contents to feel otherwise about the dynamic,” Page said of his proper-existence emotions toward Omega and the Bucks. “There’s no quantity of cash you would possibly perhaps be ready to pay for therapy esteem this, to listen to hundreds of americans clamoring for you.”

In present weeks, AEW has persevered to incorporate sensitive topics into announces. Eddie Kingston, a defective-mouthed brawler from ultimate open air Original York Metropolis, effectively-known he takes Zoloft for depression. And in early November, the day after it became once announced Moxley had entered an inpatient alcohol medicines program, the famously straight-edge Punk known as on the Independence, Mo., crowd to chant Moxley’s name, commending the out of date champion for in quest of abet.

Page thinks the values of the company derive created an openness that helps performers too. “Ten, 20 years prior to now, you would possibly never trudge away from a main field, for any reason,” he says about Moxley going into rehab. “That you would possibly let your existence disintegrate round you sooner than you walked away from that prime field. Vivid AEW is a varied roughly field, a varied atmosphere, I assume has helped americans be more ultimate with what they need of their lives.”

red rope

ON A RECENT EPISODE of Dynamite, in an obvious prelude to this weekend’s mega match, Page swaggered to the ring for an interview with announcer Tony Schiavone, grinning as the group sang “Cowboy shit! Cowboy shit!” He wore brown cowboy boots, tight blue denims and a white desolate tract-themed button down peppered with cacti. He did no longer raise a drink.

At Schiavone’s prompting, Page touched on the occasions of the past two years: losing to Jericho; losing his friends; losing himself. Thru it all, Page said, he realized something main. Within the occasion you tumble down, you would possibly per chance dirt yourself off and get back on the horse. That, he insisted, is the meaning of “cowboy shit.” He pivoted to the championship bout.

“I secure esteem you all still imagine in me,” Page said, his eyes scanning the group. “And for the first time in my existence, I enact, too.”

His lips curled into a tender smile. This time, Page stopped in need of guaranteeing victory, but he promised he would give fans his blood, sweat and tears. And something else: “I will come up with COWBOY SHIT!”

He dropped the mic, pointed to the sky and made one closing lap across the ring. “Cowboy shit! Cowboy shit!” the group chanted, and Stephen Woltz closed his eyes, took a deep breath and lived his truth.


Joshua Needelman is a freelance creator basically basically based in Original York who spends plan too great time brooding about skilled wrestling and would possibly perhaps additionally be found on Twitter @JoshNeedelman.

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