In professional wrestling, the most compelling storylines are the ones that have some element of truth to them.
In their first confrontation, Swerve Strickland said he was ashamed of “Hangman” Adam Page. With every word that followed, it dug further into what the former AEW world champion has become. Swerve questioned how Hangman had gone from a cornerstone of the company to wrestling on the pre-show, and said he’d lost his fire.
That last part, to an extent, was true.
His program with CM Punk ended with Page dropping the AEW title, and rumors swirled on the difficult backstage dynamic between Punk and the Elite (Page, Kenny Omega, and the Young Bucks).
Page spent much of the last year in and out of short-stint rivalries. He found himself in tag and trios bouts with the Dark Order, reunited with the Elite to face off against the Blackpool Combat Club, and eventually landed in the pre-show Over Budget Charity Battle Royal, not making the AEW All Out main card.
One of the faces of the promotion and a beloved wrestler among AEW fans, Page says he was frustrated and considered all of his options, even unrealistic ones like briefly stepping away from the roster to reframe his path forward.
“At my lowest in all of this in the past couple of years, the thing that — I don’t want to say kept me motivated, but kept me going, was that I knew I needed to continue to do this to provide for my family. It was not something that I could walk away from,” an introspective Page tells Uproxx Sports.
“And I kind of found that at the bottom, knowing I was going to continue doing this, knowing that deep down there’s still a part of me who enjoyed it and loved it,” he continues. “I needed to throw myself into it more. Because if I’m going to be here, I damn well better have fun and enjoy it. That’s what all of this, for better or worse — (and it) has been a lot of awful, awful shit that’s happened — but for better or worse has helped me in a lot of ways to really feel something again.”
Now, Hangman is flying again. It’s evident in how he’s talked and carried himself from the moment he squared off in the ring with Strickland, with the payoff coming on Saturday night in a Texas Death Match at AEW Full Gear in Los Angeles.
“I needed to be challenged mentally,” he says. “I needed something to really sink my teeth into and regain some passion and desire that maybe had slipped away to some extent over the past year and a half. (Strickland) said some things that were hard to hear, but I needed to hear them and I’m very glad that I did because it’s motivated me to fix those things. All the things that have happened since then have been even bigger motivators to be the best me that I can be.”
Page’s motivation for Saturday couldn’t be higher, as he takes the words and actions of Swerve — which includes breaking into his home — to this ultimate resolution.
“The first (Texas Death match) I was challenged to, a little terrified of the prospect. But I found my feet in it very quickly. I didn’t sink, I swam, I thrived. Eventually found that it was a tool for me to escape the way that I normally try to conduct myself,” Page continues.
“I think wrestling is a very honorable thing. I think it’s a very sacred thing,” he continues. “And it was difficult for me at first to step away from that for a moment. You know, let there be no rules, let the violence flow. But once I found that I thrived in that and that it was only a moment in time that would come and go and I could set it aside for the rest of my life, I found that I loved it and it was a tool when someone took things too far or someone needed to be dealt with, it was a way that I could deal with them.”
Page’s perspective on wrestling formed a natural bond with The Elite early in his career. While their lives are very different, the group shares the same beliefs in and out of the squared circle.
“(In wrestling) there should be something for everyone and a little bit of everything, and I think we all collectively believe that there’s really no right or wrong way to do this,” Page says. “It’s not science, it’s an art and whatever your art is, you should pursue it and do it the way you want to do it. Ultimately, I think that it’s kind of something that’s drawn us together as wrestlers. The way that we see things, do things, our take on wrestling as an art is different and it’s led us in slightly different directions for right now.
“We all have the same beliefs, morally about people, that regardless of anything that people should be treated with dignity, respect, and you should appreciate what they bring to the table, whatever it is,” he continues. “That’s something that I’ve always appreciated about Matt and Nick and Kenny as well. They’ve always treated people well, treated people kindly.”
Their views on wrestling and life is what led to them collectively to making a decision to stay in AEW. Page says they felt like four voices were louder than one when negotiating their deals. He pointed out that they’ve traveled alongside one another on a journey that has included a number of stops — in New Japan, in Ring of Honor, and the very start of AEW.
“It felt like one big ride, and it wasn’t a ride that we wanted to get off of together,” he says. “So whatever we did next, we knew that we wanted to do it together.”
That ride continues into Saturday, where Hangman says he plans to take care of business against Swerve.
“I fully intend to finish that for good on Saturday,” he says. “Once I can bring closure to that, for me, I feel that now I’m in a very different place than I was for the past year and a half, and I feel extremely motivated and I know that once my current goal is done, (winning the world title again will) be my next one.”
Hangman says winning the championship was a very special time for him. He was the fourth champion in the promotion’s history following Chris Jericho, Jon Moxley, and Omega, and the gravity of being at the very top of the AEW food chain is not something that is lost on him.
But heavy is the head that wears the crown, and even Page admits that the physical and mental strain got overwhelming, going as far as to admit that he was “so deep in it … almost too much.”
As time has gone on, though, he’s been given an opportunity to reflect on his spell as champion. And as he does that, he’s able to look back on what he accomplished and hold his head up high, all while feeling a sense of excitement about what his future holds.
“The whole thing was taxing on my body, on my mind, on every part of life that you can imagine,” he says. “Looking back at it, I can always say… I wish I had done something differently or this or that or had it ended this way or that way. But I’m not going to do that. I’m proud of it. It’s more than most wrestlers ever accomplish in their lifetime. I should be proud of that and I am proud of it. And I’m looking forward to doing it again.”