How “Hangman” Lost
I had a conversation with a friend the other day. For full transparency, that friend was Ryan Smith, another writer here on this site. He mentioned that the AEW World Championship is, at least in storyline, “cursed.” Specifically, he cited the fact that everyone who seems to win the belt becomes the worst version of themselves in trying to defend it. The title inflated Chris Jericho’s ego, it corrupted Kenny Omega and made him lose sight of who he really was, and it made “Hangman” Page arrogant, to the point that he forgot what helped him win the title in the first place. “It’s like the one ring,” Ryan said.
I think people view Page’s reign as a flop because this avenue was never fully explored as an angle for him. In fact, a lot of the outside-the-ring storytelling seemed to be muted during his reign. His matches were, again, absolutely stellar in terms of workrate and quality, but rarely did they ever have that “bite” that you look for in a big pay-per-view main event title match. That was, of course, until CM Punk came calling.
The CM Punk feud started off slow, but built in layers like a modern Japanese wrestling match, rather than an American one. Despite Punk’s claims that this was nothing personal, and his title shot was all business, you always had the feeling that there was a snake in the grass when he said that. Page caught onto this, and it made him paranoid. It made him arrogant. CM Punk, combined with the weight of the AEW crown on his head, made Page act in ways that AEW fans had never seen before. And for a minute there, it looked like it would culminate in a full-on turn to the dark side.
In the closing moments of his title defense against Punk, Page had a choice to make. The referee was knocked down and the title belt was in Page’s hands, ready to knock Punk’s block off with smooth, cold steel, and deliver some justice to the guy who had been subtlety taunting Page this entire time. Page had to make a choice. Do you attempt to win with honor, and live with the results if you lose? Or do you take whatever avenue you can, guarantee the sure thing, but have to live with yourself? And he couldn’t do it. Page decided that he’d come too far to cheat now. He went for the win with honor and got caught sleeping, with a knee under his chin, and a Punk draped over his chest.
It may not seem like it now, but this decision will shape AEW’s main event scene for years to come.