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BLOOD FEUD: Swerve X Hangman, Act I

Updated: 10 minutes ago

Most of this was written months ago. But when Swerve became World Heavyweight Champion without a peep from the man I was asserting was his forever nemesis, the point seemed moot. But now it seems like Hangman is on the cusp of his return and like he hasn't forgotten a thing. So suddenly, it is all relevant once again. This WiP wasn't complete when I shelved it, but it was so long, I've decided I can make it a series! So, welcome to the first of three or maybe more installments of my comprehensive review of the literary symbolism in the story of Adam Page and Swerve Strickland.

 

DRAMATIS PERSONAE

The Hangman ... ... ... ...  ... ... ... ...  ... ... ... ...  ... ... ... ...  ... ... ... ...  ... ... ... ... Adam Page

"Swerve"  ... ... ... ...  ... ... ... ...  ... ... ... ...  ... ... ... ...  ... ... ... ...  ... ... ... ...  ... ... Scott Strickland

The Prince  ... ... ... ...  ... ... ... ...  ... ... ... ...  ... ... ... ...  ... ... ... ...  ... ... ... ...  ... . Nana Bandoh

SCENES

ACT I  ... ... ... ...  ... ... ... ...   AEW wrestling shows in arenas in Indianapolis, Denver, Seattle, and Independence

 ... ... ... ...  ... ... ... ...  ... ... ... ...  ... ... ... ...  ... ... ... ...  ... ... ... ...  ... . from mid-September to mid-October 2023

ACT II  ... ... ... ...  ... ... ... ... ...  ... ...Houston's Graffiti Park, Page's home in Aaron's Creek, a wrestling show in LA

 ... ... ... ...  ... ... ... ...  ... ... ... ...  ... ... ... ...  ... ... ... ...  ... ... ... ...  ... . from mid-October to mid-November 2023

ACT III  ... ... ... ...  ... ... ... ...  ... ...  ... ... ... ... ... One horrific night in LA (or Hell) Nov 18 2023 at the Forum

ACT IV  ... ... ... ...  ... ... ... ...  ... ... ... ...  ... ... ... ...  ... ... ... ...  ... ... ... ...  ... ... ... ???????

The story of “the Hangman” Adam Page and “Swerve” Strickland has taken the phrase “blood feud” unusually literally. But that's not only due to the quantity of hemoglobin spilled (and even drank!) over the course of the feud, but also due to the use of blood as symbolism and metaphor in their ongoing story.

“Symbolism” and “metaphor” might sound a little high-flown for a pro-wrestling story, but it's well known that in AEW a lot of the story ideas come from the wrestlers themselves, and outside of the squared circle, Strickland is known for podcasting and rap. And before gaining fame as the Hangman, Adam Page was known as high-school journalism teacher Steve Woltz. So both men have broader sources to inform their use of words and imagery than only past wrestling interviews.



"Whose Spot...?"

The relationship between the two performers’ respective wrestling personae has developed into possibly the most passionately hate-fueled antagonism in All-Elite Wrestling, but when it first started, it was “just business.”

On the Dynamite episode following the All Out show last September, Adam Page was about to explain his plans for the remainder of 2023 when he was interrupted by the familiar sounds of the Swerve theme song, “Big Pressure”. Strickland interrupted Hangman's interview time to cut the epochal promo of his career so far:

Swerve begins by joking (?) that being in a coffin for the past two weeks (from losing a coffin match to Darby & Sting at All In) had given him clarity, and (despite the fact that he and Adam Page had never really interacted before this) that the first person he had thought of with that clarity was the Hangman.

At first Swerve's purpose seems to be merely to needle Adam to provoke him to anger, but as Swerve goes along a theme to his criticisms becomes clear: that the Hangman has lost his passion and drive, so he should surrender his position and opportunities to Swerve, or else Swerve would take them. A pure-business rationale for targeting a man, but Swerve also gives Hangman a warning that foreshadows how bloody and bloodyminded their antagonism would later get: Page has the option to ride off into the sunset like at the end of a Western movie and simply concede his position to Swerve, but if instead the Hangman should choose to “cowboy up” and fight Swerve to keep his spot?

…but forewarning: I have zero empathy for human life. I have no regard… for anybody. If you choose to do this with me, I will walk you like a DOG. Either way, I’m coming for that spot that you act like you don’t even want.

—Swerve Strickland

Swerve also has no regard for personal space...

It wouldn't be long before Strickland would prove that those chilling words were far from empty.

[Check out what Saul and I each had to say about this segment at the time in #AEWeekly #85]


Signed in Blood

The next couple weeks were a proxy war that Hangman would come out ahead in, first defeating Swerve henchman Brian Cage in their tie-breaking third meeting, and then teaming with his Elite allies to take the ROH six-man titles from Swerve's Mogul Embassy faction in the main event of the annual show at Arthur Ashe stadium. 

But the following week's Dynamite was where it really got interesting, with a contract signing for their one-on-one match at the WrestleDream super-show that would prove truly memorable.


In this segment, Hangman admits that Swerve had had a point when he had highlighted how unmotivated Page had been for over a year and a half. Even though good things had happened in Page's life—like defeating Jon Moxley, and reuniting with his estranged friends in the Elite faction—things that should have made him smile, he felt instead as though, Job-like, he had been stalked by a personal black cloud that rained only on him…

...and at first it annoyed me, and then it pissed me off, because I knew that I couldn’t do anything about it, I knew that I couldn’t say anything about it, I had a little umbrella by my side folded up, and I knew that for as long as God let it rain on me, I didn’t dare open it. 
But that… is over with. That’s over with. I weathered the storm! I’m STILL HERE! And the thing you noticed about me, the thing you made me start to reckon with, is that through that downpour, it washed SOMETHING out of me!

—Adam Page

Page then tries to verbalize what this Something may have been: passion? or perhaps hope? But I have my own theory: for this “Something” to have been washed out of Adam Page’s body by a downpour of rain, it had to have been a fluid in his body. Also, he associated the Something with passion, and with hope. And what is the fluid that pumps harder and more perceptibly through the body when a person’s emotions hit a high-point of joy or anger, etc? And from another perspective: if Hangman feels like he has somehow lost a Something that blurs his core identity, where is it that people metaphorically say that that core identity resides?...

 “...It’s in the blood.” I assert that this is the first of many symbolic references to literal life-blood in this story.

Page then says that he has come to realize that the fans deserve more than this bloodless, washed-out cowboy, and that so does he. And he goes on to claim that Swerve will instead get the best version of Hangman come Sunday, hand-waving the essential middle step: of how, exactly, Page intends to get back whatever Something had been washed out of him? Just by willing it so?

Hangman with the Underpants-Gnome strategy

Swerve responds by emphasizing once again that this is nothing personal, but even so: there is something wrong with Swerve mentally, that he makes a new enemy every day… but that's also what drives him forward, and is currently driving him to take over the position Hangman currently has.

Hangman replies that Swerve should want Hangman's spot, but he isn't man enough to fill his shoes, (referring to Page's perception of Swerve as a coward for attacking him via proxy.) This provokes the first physicality (ever!) between the two men, angering Swerve to the point that he slaps Hangman in the face. Page turns away in reaction to the slap, and then, as Swerve begins to sign the match contract, Hangman turns back toward Swerve again and uses his own pen to stab Strickland in his signing hand, drawing the first—but far from the last—blood of the two men’s feud. Hangman then signs a BINDING contract between the two men in his enemy's blood: that makes it a BLOOD PACT! And perhaps now we begin to see where Hangman intends to get back what had been washed away from him....

Strickland would never again claim (in the present tense, anyhow,) that the issue between the two of them is not personal.

(In a piece about the symbolism in a story, is it too obvious to even point out that a hole in one's hand is a stigmata?—one of the Five Holy Wounds? I’m not saying that either man IS a Christ figure, necessarily, but… They’re not NOT Christ figures, you know?)

Ow! Owie! Ouch!

[Check out what I had to say about the contract signing segment at the time in #AEWeekly #87]


"Uneasy lay the head..."

In the timeframe before Hangman began to be stalked by his personal raincloud, a bit over a year and a half prior, Adam Page had been “King” of AEW—the World Heavyweight Champion (men's singles). And his head was indeed laying uneasy—feeling he needed to protect AEW as a whole from the threat of CM Punk, a contender who he felt was unworthy to be champion…  and moreso, unfit for the moral leadership of AEW inherent in that title. If Punk were to topple “King Hangman”, Page believed that he would set the wrong example for what a champion should be, and that that example would go on to infect the whole AEW “kingdom”. Much like Swerve would later do, Punk also protested that he didn't understand Page's anger, and that his challenge to Hangman wasn't personal, but just business. In a conflict of values presaging the later one between Hangman and Swerve, Punk believed that being champion was simply about being and proving oneself the best competitor. To Hangman, it was far more:

“It’s not just about what happens in this ring…it’s what happens when that red light turns off…those small, quiet moments when you think no one’s watching, that’s what makes a champion.-”

—Adam Page

[Check out what Gareth and I each had to say about the Hangman X Punk segment at the time in #AEWeekly #18]

Near the end of the World Championship match between Hangman and Punk at Double or Nothing 2022, there is a stretch with the officiant incapacitated and Page in control, when, due to the existential importance (in Page's mind, at least,) of preventing Punk from becoming champion, he grabs the World Championship belt from the timekeeper's table with the intent to crack his challenger over the head with it while the ref was out of the equation. But then, on the cusp of successfully warding off the threat to his reign of the insurgent Punk, Page vacillates, Hamlet-like—weapon in hand but unsure whether or not to use it.

Esta indecisión me molesta

And in many ways, the situation is much like Hamlet. Page believes there is something rotten in his kingdom, due to an unworthy pretender to the crown. But his reason for vacillation is completely different. In the play, Hamlet worried that his information about Claudio (not Castagnoli) may have been wrong. Or later worried that he might unjustly send his murderous uncle/stepfather straight to heaven by killing him at prayer. But, rather than Shakespeare, Page has been reading his Nietzsche—”let he who fights monsters beware, lest ye become one…”—because the reason Page hesitates is his worry that if he were to win by these means, rather than stopping a monster from becoming king, he'd instead become the monster-king, who would then go on to infect his AEW kingdom with everything he had meant to protect it from.

But he who hesitates is lost, and Page's hesitation led causally to Punk taking his crown and kingdom after all. And, over the course of the following year, a concatenation of real-world incidents and accidents, (there may have also been hints and allegations,) led to Page never even getting the closure of finding out for certain if he had been right or wrong about the dire consequences he had foreseen of Punk taking leadership of the AEW kingdom. Due to two horribly-timed (non-kayfabe) injuries, Punk's three reigns as champion each ended within days, with only the second of the three ending via a planned storyline. By the time Swerve Strickland came out to challenge the Hangman for his main-event position, it had been a little over a week since the ties between Punk and the AEW troupe had been cut for good, also cutting off any possibility of storyline closure for Page.

Fast-forward to the WrestleDream event, where Swerve has made it very clear that defeating Page that night to take his spot is merely a stepping-stone for him to make history by becoming the first African-American AEW Champion in their (brief) history. As Swerve had warned Page, the 12th man was very much on his side in Seattle—Swerve asks every crowd “whose House?” it is, but in his home-metro of SEATAC, the answer was undeniably “SWERVE'S HOUSE!” regardless of his villainy.

Not a lot of AEW shows in Aarons Creek, huh?

While Page had been reading his Nietzsche when he faced Punk, it was clear by the end of the night that Strickland had instead been reading Malcolm X (or perhaps Sartre) because his evident watchword was “...by any means necessary.” Unlike Page's hesitation to use his golden symbol of leadership in AEW as a weapon in the past, Swerve didn't hesitate a millisecond when his corner-man Nana (Prince of the Ashanti people of Ghana) passed him his LITERAL GOLDEN CROWN symbolizing his hereditary leadership among his people! …for him to strike Hangman in the head with while the official was distracted. This coup didn't lead directly to a Swerve victory, as Hangman had one more dramatic two-count kickout in him. But Swerve kept control from that point, and finished Page off after just a few more moves, so one can't write the crown off as inconsequential, either.

Swerve Triumphant

Post-match, Page had a few words about his loss. The biggest takeaway being his claim that Swerve believes that you don't need to earn a spot, that instead you can just TAKE it. But that, in the long run, shortcuts aren't enough.


From this distance, it's easy to infer that Page, when he looked at a Swerve Strickland—beloved by his hometown fans, at least, (but more and more in every arena in the world,) regardless of any nefarious tactics he may stoop to, and aiming with a laser focus on accumulating gold in AEW—he saw a vision of exactly the future he had already sacrificed so much to try to prevent.

So when Page said that he was headed back to the drawing board, it turns out that this was not so much to make plans to progress his own career, as to prevent Swerve from moving towards his goals at any cost.

[Check out what Gareth had to say about the WrestleDream match at at the time in #AEWeekly #87]

Almost two weeks later on the Title Tuesday edition of Dynamite, we see Swerve with his sights set on gold already, not the Big Gold of the World title yet, but to be #1 contender to challenge Christian Cage for his TNT title later in the week. But first he'd have to get through one of the best in the world in Bryan Danielson. After 15 minutes of back-and-forth action, Swerve and his accomplice Prince Nana go for the steal, with Nana distracting the ref while Swerve grabs for the crown, exactly like the game-plan that had successfully stolen them the "W" at WrestleDream. But then Adam Page suddenly runs up to ringside and grabs the shining weapon out of Swerve’s hands. While Swerve’s attention is aimed outside the ring, Danielson goes for the busaiku knee. Swerve manages to avoid it, but with his split focus, he only lasts a couple more moves before another busaiku attempt connects, leading to his defeat and to losing the TNT-title opportunity.

Actions speak louder than words, and the Hangman's actions tell us that his new focus is on ensuring that crime doesn’t pay for Swerve—one way or another.

 

Really? All that and there is still so much left of the story (so far)? Yep!

Let's tune into AEW programming over the course of this week, and we'll find out together if they are finally going to treat us to starting Act V of this story. Then check back here in a week or so, for my obsessive analysis of Act II!





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