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When All Elite Wrestling was first announced in early 2019, a commonly held belief was that “Hangman” Adam Page should be the inaugural AEW World Champion. This was before AEW’s roster was fleshed out, and it appeared it would just be The Elite and some other unsigned talent; nobody was sure if Chris Jericho or Jon Moxley would come aboard or how much star power the company would have.
The idea was that AEW would need Page to be a top guy right away, and while Cody Rhodes and Kenny Omega would come in with more established reputations, Page would be the one who needed the world title to help legitimize him at that level.
AEW ended up going in a different (and better) direction that probably ended up benefiting Page. The first three world champions (Jericho, Moxley and Omega) were all established names who came into the picture with an immense amount of star power. That helped create the image that only really big stars can hold the world title; which gave the world title credibility. Instead of using a world title with no history to try and make a new star, the company was patient in establishing the world title’s credibility, which in turn will truly elevate whoever holds that title.
After teasing Page would be the inaugural champion at the first ALL OUT event, eventually having him lose to Jericho; Page has been sent on a long path that would eventually confirm his status as a true top singles star in the company. The story really took off following the dissolution of Page/Omega tag-team last year, which led to Omega defeating Page at Full Gear to become the #1 contender for the world title, which Omega subsequently won.
With Omega turning heel and winning the title, AEW would tease that Page would be able to get his revenge on Omega throughout the following year. Over the summer, Page actually became the number one contender, only to lose his spot when he lost an elimination tag match after The Elite had suckered him into putting his contendership on the line.
The slow burn was all designed to try and build anticipation for Page finally getting that climactic victory and winning the title he has been rumored to get since the company was first founded. By teasing fans over the summer, AEW attempted to increase the demand for Page’s final victory.
Did it work? It’s hard to tell. Page is certainly more over now than he was a year ago, and with live crowds back it is extremely obvious that he is over enough to be the world champion. Over the summer he was also really over and the time may have been right to pull the trigger on him then; although Page ended up taking time off for the birth of his child so it’s a moot point anyway. It does feel like Page is climaxing as a star over the last several months.
Does Page win at Full Gear? It seems like a forgone conclusion, but with AEW’s booking patterns it’s reasonable to expect that he might not leave with the title. Could this just be another tease? Fans think that they want Page to win the title this Saturday, but it’s possible that by denying them again, AEW could build anticipation even further and elevate the storyline up to another level by having Omega retain the title.
It’s a risky gamble; AEW has shown the ability to coherently execute long running storylines, and if they do deny Page on Saturday, the fanbase may have faith in the process enough that they don’t flat-out revolt on the product. However, each time you deny the fans their salvation, it becomes increasingly more difficult to keep them invested in the storyline. You can only tease them so many times before they begin to check out.
Wrestling is all about time and place; and if a wrestler feels like they are about to break out into superstardom, it’s generally a good idea to push them as such. If you hold back, you need to have a REALLY good idea to make sure the wrestler with star potential doesn’t cool off. Them coming up short is inherently a negative when it comes to their push, and it takes a great angle to justify doing it. AEW has already rolled the dice with Page’s coronation once, do they really want to do it again?
Page has emerged as a fascinating character in AEW. On the surface, he checks all of the boxes that you would want in a typical top babyface. Handsome with a good body, charismatic, has a super-over catchphrase, gets big reactions from the crowd, solid worker; kicks a lot of ass. In that mold he is a pretty common top wrestler; the type of performer who has been headlining shows for decades.
What makes Page different, and I think what has separated him from other performers that check the same boxes, is this particular storyline and the vulnerability that he has shown during it. Page kicks ass, but he also has had notable failures and battled instances of self-doubt that have made his character more humanizing. Page succeeding in his journey isn’t a foregone conclusion, which makes his journey interesting and more relatable for the typical fan.
At this point I don’t think AEW should be thinking about dragging Page’s title win out any further. The storyline has already been executed and while theoretically you could drag it out longer, I think they are at risk of cooling him off if he doesn’t get that big victory, and the time is right for him to take that next step.
I still have some questions for Page; who has never been the world champion before in any other major promotion. I wonder if once the story is complete and he wins the title; if his character will lose focus. I think he is a good (but not great) promo and he will have to up his game if he is feuding with some potential contenders. Can he stay over if he is champion for a year? Will he need to reinvent himself at some point? We don’t the answer to any of those, but I think it’s time to go ahead and give the ball because he is ready to run with it.
In the latest episode of the Gentlemen’s Wrestling Podcast, Jesse Collings (@Jesse Collings) and Jason Ounpraseuth (@JasonOun95) discuss the state of independent wrestling. Jesse and Jason talk about indies rebounding from the pandemic, ROH morphing into more of an indie, WWE and AEW’s relationship with indie wrestling, GCW as the face of indie wrestling and more.