AEW is weaving a phenomenal story between Hangman Page, Kenny Omega, and the Elite, which has been testament to their excellence in long-term storytelling since day one. Recently, they continued to show how effective that method of booking can be, with the latest chapter in the ongoing saga between a down on his luck cowboy, his hated partner turned enemy, and his former friends who abandoned him to chase glory. AEW is building to a conclusion of a story that is over two years in the making and it is going to be well worth the wait.
Instant gratification. In today’s world, we seek it in nearly everything we do. We binge-watch full seasons of shows on streaming services because we don’t want to wait a week for a new episode. We spend our days scrolling through Twitter and Reddit feeds of short-burst messages hoping someone SYAC’d (saved you a click) an article so we don’t have to read the entire, lengthy piece. We read spoilers or rumors on upcoming releases because we absolutely cannot wait for the latest blockbuster to come out in theaters. We pay monthly for services like Amazon Prime, just so we can receive packages the day we order them. We read the last pages of books just to know the ending before even beginning on the literary journey.
With as much access to ways to fulfill the need for instant gratification, the idea of waiting for something you want has become a lost art. Because why wait, when the world, specifically the internet, is out there ready to satisfy your desire for immediacy at every turn? It truly makes sense especially in this day and age, where the average person’s attention span is even shorter than the length of a TikTok video (just eight seconds according to recent market research – that’s less than the attention span of a goldfish). From a marketing standpoint, that means if you want someone to take note of your ad, you’ve got a very short window to do so. And while attention spans are of primary concern on a marketer’s mind, marketing isn’t the only area that has seen an altered presentation due to declining rates of focus.
“One of the reasons why AEW has really gone through the roof and become the coolest wrestling company in the world today is because of our storytelling.”
– Chris Jericho pic.twitter.com/AvZpIivgp5
— WrestlePurists (@WrestlePurists) August 12, 2021
Pro wrestling, like the TV and movie industry, is built on storytelling, both long-term and short-term. If you tell a story that is over before it begins, you run the risk of leaving material on the table. If you tell a story that stretches too long, you run the risk of losing the audience’s investment before you come to a conclusion. Like Goldilocks had to figure out, there is a “just right” length for storytelling. One that keeps viewers engaged but also ensures you have ample time to bring all of the pieces together in a satisfying finale. For pro wrestling, that sweet spot is something where companies can excel. For decades, WWE had mastered the art of long-term storytelling, so much so fans didn’t care if someone was champion for over a year or two. But nowadays, it is easy to see how even pro wrestling has been tempted by the nature of instant gratification. To skip the hard part of the story build and jump right to the end. To wrap up a three-match series in a few months or even a few weeks and move onto the next thing. As Seth Rollins himself said in an interview in 2020, “I think it [long-term storytelling] is kind of a lost art across the board in entertainment. And not that it’s a lost art, just the audience, as we get into this age of instant gratification, they don’t have the patience for long-term storytelling… It’s the difference between watching a full match and just seeing the GIFs of it or the highlights of it. So, I just think people are intaking their entertainment on a different level…That shift, wrestling is not immune to that shift and so we have to do that as well to keep up with our audience.”
Rollins has a point and it’s clear that pro wrestling is adapting to the new intake system. Now, that’s not to say short-term storytelling can’t be effective nor is it to say that kind of storytelling doesn’t have a place in the industry because it does. But what Rollins and others may fail to realize, is when done right, nothing beats the long-term version. When done right, fans will be with you every step of the way, for every twist and turn, for every new shocking development. While WWE continues to weave long-term storytelling here and there, most notably with feuds in NXT and currently with Roman Reigns‘ near yearlong storyline, the overall lack of extended programs and thoughtful booking, has been one of, if not the biggest criticisms of the company of late. When they’ve tried long-term angles, they’ve failed to deliver that sweet spot of not too long, not too short, and it’s left fans questioning why the world’s most notable wrestling company abandoned the tenants that made it so successful.
I feel like AEW is rewiring my wrestling brain and reminding me that yes, you can build to a match for almost four months and keep it interesting; yes, you can have long-term booking; yes, you can care about the outcome of a match. #AEWRevolution https://t.co/pCyhRIuFtL
— Rivenblade: Non-Hot, Reasonable Takes (@Rivenblade2) February 27, 2020
Well, where WWE has proverbially dropped the ball, AEW has picked it up. They have managed to, in just a few short years, find that sweet spot and have effectively used long-term storytelling for just about every major program the company has had. Consider this. In its now two-plus-year history, AEW has only had three world champions: Chris Jericho, Jon Moxley, and Kenny Omega. Of those three, Jericho’s reign is the shortest at 182 days. By that same token, the WWE Championship in the last two-plus years, has seen eight different reigns, two of which were under 30 days. The WWE Universal Championship has been held by six men for a total of nine reigns in the last two-plus years, of which three of them were under 30 days. Of all nine, only the current reign of Reigns, which is approaching a full calendar year, is longer than AEW’s shortest world title reign during the same span.
But it’s not just the length of championship reigns itself that stands out. It’s how those reigns have booked and the stories AEW has been able to tell. Jericho was the inaugural champion, the guy who carried the title for much of AEW’s first year. He only defended his title four times, two on Dynamite, two on PPV. Though the defenses were low, AEW made sure to book their champion strong. Jericho wasn’t losing non-title matches in order to determine his next contender. In fact, after he won the title in August 2019, it wasn’t until December of the same year, that Jericho wrestled his first non-title singles match. Everything in between were tag bouts with the Inner Circle, of which he lost only one. Enter Jon Moxley, the second champion, who won the title from Jericho in February 2020. Moxley’s title reign was certainly COVID-impacted but that didn’t stop him from defending his championship 10 times over his ensuing 277-day reign. Moxley was a little more over-exposed as champ compared to Jericho, but it fit the narrative. Jericho was the heel champion who used his stature and title to avoid non-title matches whenever he could. Moxley was the babyface hero, prepared to defend his title against all comers and under any circumstances. Even still, over the period Moxley was champion, he only wrestled a total of 16 matches, 10 of which were for the championship. While Moxley’s title matches were largely one-offs, the long-term story being told was building Moxley vs Omega, a match that had originally been scheduled for All Out in 2019. AEW turned a real-life injury into a storyline as Omega accused Moxley of ducking him because he was scared to face him. When Moxley returned to the ring later that year, Omega had gone off in a separate direction, pursuing and winning the tag titles with Hangman Page. That didn’t however mean, that Omega wasn’t biding his time. When he and Page lost the titles and their partnership crumbled as a result, the newly-turned-heel was ready for the match he never received. With one storyline bleeding into the next, Omega set his sights on Moxley and in December 2020, became just the third world champion in AEW history.
And here’s where things have really gotten interesting. Omega’s booking has felt like a stroke of genius, largely in part because of the Forbidden Door opening. Omega has become the belt collector, traveling worldwide and picking up titles everywhere he’s gone. In AEW however, he’s not really had a statement title feud. At least not yet. But that doesn’t mean that one isn’t building. That one hasn’t been building since day one and that has only intensified over the recent months. When Omega loses the title, it shouldn’t be to a debuting CM Punk or Bryan Danielson. Though the obvious choices based on popularity and star power, belting either man would seemingly fly in the face of the long-term booking AEW has prided itself on. No, Omega’s challenger is someone already with the company, someone who has been there since the beginning, and more importantly, someone who AEW has been elevating as a future champion for a very, very long time.
That man is Hangman Page, and recently on AEW Dynamite, the ongoing saga between Omega, Page, and the Elite reached its latest chapter.
When AEW first began, Page was presented as the man who would be king. For it wasn’t Omega, it wasn’t Cody challenging for the world title, it was the cowboy. The youngest member of the Elite, Page came into AEW with a full head of steam and really was viewed as a future face of the brand. But Page winning the title wasn’t meant to be, nor really did it make sense at the time. AEW opted to put the belt on the established star in Jericho and continue Page’s story in a different way. Following the title loss, Page began to experience a sense of self-doubt. Among the Elite, he felt himself a liability, the weakest member of the group. No amount of reassurance from his friends was enough and instead of letting them try to help him, Page pulled away, becoming increasingly distant and even suggesting maybe he should leave the group. For Page, he didn’t feel like he fit in anymore. His four Elitemates were all executive vice presidents and he was just, a lonely, insecure cowboy with a festering drinking problem. But despite pulling away from the Young Bucks, Page found a kinship with Omega as the two began tagging together in AEW, doing so for the first time in their careers. And while it may not have been a tag team anyone would have expected, it worked supremely well. Within three months and just six matches under their belt, Page and Omega became the AEW Tag Team Champions. The two had found their niche and meshed together well, holding on to the belts for eight months. But rarely are things so simple as they appear on the surface. Page’s insecurities grew and with it, so did his kayfabe drinking. Despite being a tag team champion, Page was falling apart and wasn’t allowing anyone, not even his partner, to pull him back from the brink.
With tensions quietly simmering and frustration evident, the Page/Omega partnership in AEW continued as the duo kept winning. Page even joined the rest of the Elite twice, in four and six-man tag efforts. Things were good for Omega and Page, until FTR came calling. In September 2020, FTR claimed the tag gold, and not long after, Omega let loose on Page. If his actions weren’t enough, his words made his message perfectly clear. Page was a liability. He was right to doubt himself. He wasn’t on Omega’s level, not even close. And at the end of the day, he was just a sad little boy standing in the way of what Omega really wanted. Page and their tag team had prevented Omega from chasing the AEW gold he believed was meant to be his. And the man who just so happened to be holding that gold was one who Omega believed owed him a match a year in the making. So Omega, with the help of his Invisible Hand and some not-so Good Brothers, eliminated Page in the final of the tournament to crown a new #1 contender before he chased down Moxley and defeated him to win the world championship. Soon after, Omega was joined in his efforts by the Bucks, and together, the reformed Bullet Club took over. Meanwhile, Page drowned his sorrows in his whiskey and beer before finding solace with the Dark Order. Evil Uno, Stu Grayson and co. treated Page like a star. He was their top recruit and they gave him everything, including the respect and validation Page was seeking. But even then, Page still struggled as he watched his greatest fears manifest in front of him. Omega was world champ, the Bucks were tag champs, and Page was just a lonely, insecure cowboy with a fear of failure and a debilitating drinking problem.
But unlike the Elite, Dark Order was there to help bring Page back from the edge, to support him and lift him up, and make him believe he was good enough even if the Elite were saying anything but. With that wind behind his sails, Page started winning matches again, so much so, he became the #1 ranked wrestler, meaning he was in top position to challenge the champ. And that’s exactly what he did, making his intent known at Fyter Fest. Page was laughed off as if his mere asking of a title shot was a joke, but Omega, the “fighting” champ he is, entertained Page’s challenge in the form of a 10-man elimination match. Omega, the Bucks, and the Good Brothers vs Page and the Dark Order. If Page and his friends won, both he as well as Uno and Grayson, would receive title shots. If they lost, that pursuit was over. Page fought hard but in the end, it was 2-on-1 and Omega used his advantage and a distraction, to hit Page with the belt before hitting him with the One Winged Angel. Just like that, Page’s title pursuit was over…for now.
This story is by no means over. The magic to all of this is that Page and Omega haven’t even had a singles match since the contendership bout that started this feud. They haven’t even shared a ring let alone the same peripheral story. And yet, the feud between the two and desire for Page to come out on top, is as strong as it’s ever been. While Page is out of the title picture for now, at the end of the day, he will still most likely be the one to finally dethrone Omega for the AEW World Championship. Perhaps he’ll even do it after Omega has beaten Punk and Danielson, the latter of whom Page is getting comparisons as far as an ultimate underdog story. Imagine the rub that would give Page, to be the one to defeat Omega, when none of AEW’s other top starts could get the job done. Omega can run down all of the major names in AEW, but it will be Page who owns the most important victory of all. That is all assuming AEW follows through on what has been one of the better long-term storylines in pro wrestling in quite some time.
There are so many reasons to love how AEW has booked Page. They could have gone with the instant gratification of giving him the title win right away. They could have had him beat Omega with the #1 contendership on the line. They could have had Page become the #1 contender last week. But…none of that would have been ideal. By not belting Page right away, he’s had the chance to develop into the star that he is. He’s had time to improve as a performer, as a promo, and to refine the details of his character. He is unquestionably a fan favorite and had he won the title right away, that may not have been the case. The timing of the story is that where Page gets to be the one to finally end the tyrannical reign of Omega. He finally, two-plus years later, gets his moment, his redemption. No longer will Page be the weakest member of the Elite, because he’ll simply be Hangman Page, a championship-winning cowboy, who rose to the top of AEW’s mountain. It would be easy to say the story writes itself, but that takes away from all of the work that AEW, Omega, Page, and all of the other cast of characters, have put into building this angle to be the incredible one that it is. AEW stuck with it, choosing long-term storytelling over instant gratification. And one day, whenever that may be, it will all pay off.
Omega/Page II may be the longest build to a World Title Match in recent memory.
All Out 2021 marks 2 years since Hangman lost the first #AEW World Title Match and 1 year since Omega walked out on Page after losing the tag titles.
Just stellar long term booking. #AEWDynamite
— Tru Heel Heat Wrestling (@TruHeelHeat) July 1, 2021