There’s a scene in For A Few Dollars More, a spectacular one if not the movie’s most iconic, where Eastwood’s Manco enters some dilapidated backwater saloon looking for an elusive bounty. Every direction he turns is a long and winding road to some nameless elsewhere, littered with hitches, hurdles and handicaps. His path is muddied, he’s getting nowhere, he becomes frustrated. So, what does our hero do? In short, cowboy shit. Fists fly, guns sling, hell is raised, cigarettes are smoked and justice prevails. ‘Hangman’ Adam Page doesn’t smoke, but you get the idea: with a little bit of cowboy shit, justice prevails.
There’s a scene in Scarface, a tragic one which is somehow hilarious when taken out of context, where Pacino’s Tony Montana slumps face-down in a Kilimanjaro of cocaine. Forgetting the golden rule, he is high off his own supply. Success breeds excess and his surcease lurks behind two ornate doors on which he’s gelded his golden initials in a garish display of fragile masculinity. Montana has sinned more times than we care to count, his paranoia and insecurity have corrupted him to the point where he has become a hideous caricature of hollow success. He may not openly admit it, but he knows his time is up. Kenny Omega doesn’t do (or deal) cocaine, but once again you get the idea: don’t fly too close to the sun, Icarus.
There is something distinctly cinematic about this rivalry, one which contains a rich narrative depth and well-defined character arcs that are rarely seen in modern pro-wrestling storytelling. This isn’t just a case of fans gushing over a long-term booking just because the tale has taken two years to tell, either. Rather, the Kenny Omega and Adam Page story has been told with nuanced stretches of calm, conflict and crisis ever since All Out of 2019 when Page and Omega, at their lowest ebbs, embarked on their respective redemptive journeys. The climax of said story could now be in sight, with many believing the writing is on the wall: Page wins, justice prevails, don’t fly too close to the sun. Of course, the possibility still lingers that this two-pronged tale of corruption and redemption has a few more wrinkles left to unfurl: Omega wins, kill your darlings, sell your soul to Satan and savour the spoils because nice guys finish last.
Of the many reasons why people are crying out for Hangman to have his hand raised as AEW World Champion at All Out 2021, perhaps the most pertinent is the raucous crowd reaction which his victory would elicit. With the pandemic era of wrestling now in the rear-view mirror and slowly receding into oblivion (whether that’s wise is an argument best given the sleeping dog treatment for now), the thunderous ovation of a 10,000-strong crowd would be a wonderful way to signal that happy days are here again. Judging by the nuclear pops for Page’s Morricone-esque entrance theme and the spontaneous outbreaks of ‘cowboy shit’ to hijack segments, the fans in attendance during recent Dynamite episodes are more than ready for it. They’re champing at the bit, even. Listening to fan reaction is one of the industry’s most trusted tenets and the coronation of this everyman is an open-goal opportunity for Tony Khan to give the people what they want, garnering a monstrous pop in the process. The iron is hot and now could be the perfect time to strike. Just imagine the noise inside the erstwhile Sears Centre if we get our happy ending!
Adam Page is also a unique prospect in the AEW World Championship’s lineage in that he is a homegrown talent that represents their investment in youth. Unlike Jericho and Moxley, Page has no prior association with the WWE. It will be impossible to launch allegations of hot-shotting Stamford CT rejects with Page working on top. And unlike Omega, Page did not arrive in All Elite Wrestling with cult hero or megastar status already solidified. The organic rise of Hangman, in terms of popularity with fans as well as his bell-to-bell credibility, has very much been cultivated and nurtured during his time with the fledgling Jacksonville promotion. There is something novel and something admirable about crowning one of your own, something which AEW have yet to do on this scale. It’s also worth noting that Page has only turned 30 this week, so there are less miles on his clock than any of big platinum’s previous custodians. If the company is looking to cement the legacy of tomorrow’s legends, then there are no foundations more solid than making a king of their young prince with an early title-run.
Age and antecedence aside, Adam Page is also a unique championship prospect with respect to the character he has spent the last two years crafting. Mainstream North-American wrestling promotions have been the land of the giants and the playground of the high-school jock ever since Hulkamania ran wild, its top baby face representing either unattainable or undesirable images for the fans who idolised them. Generation X were listening to Nirvana and watching Pulp Fiction, but for some reason they were cursed with Hulk Hogan as their knight in shining armour. More recently, Millennials who raged against the machine and pursued a sense of belonging with woebegone futility were spoon-fed John Cena as their beau idéal. We never saw the flaws and failures of Hogan and Cena, we never saw their humanity and so we could never really relate to them. With Page’s character arc, we have endured every bump and faltered at every roadblock with him. Every time Hangman has fallen off the proverbial horse, we’ve had muck on our knees and mud on our shoes too. In a world that is beginning to forgive weakness and embrace frailty, Page is the perfect posterboy. A championship win for him at All Out would rubber-stamp the death of the alpha-male and usher in the era of the fallible hero.
So, if one goes up, the other must come down. There’s no escaping the fact that for Page to have his hand raised then Kenny Omega will need to fall and to fail. This in turn begs the question: Are we really ready for a beltless Omega? It is said that when Alexander the Great saw the breadth of his domain that he wept, for there were no more worlds left to conquer. For Omega, though, there are still plenty of lands to pillage, skies to soar, belts to collect and doors to blast open. As a heel champion, there is still conquering to be done: a showdown of the terminators with the babyface Brian Cage, taking on Eddie Kingston with a rabid New York faithful roaring him on in September, paying off the teased tête-à-tête between he and Christian Cage, rekindling and flipping the script on the storied rivalry with Chris Jericho. Then, without straying too far into the tired waters of fantasy booking, we could have Cody Rhodes breaking his promise and finally challenging for AEW’s most prestigious prize in an attempt to save the company from Kenny’s maniacal all-conquering warpath.
In addition to these encounters, we also have the pinch-me-am-I-dreaming prospect of Bryan Danielson and CM Punk landing on Omega’s shores very soon. Yes, the fans in Chicago would feel justifiably crushed by Page’s defeat as an isolated event. Yes, Kenny and Callis rubbing salt into these gaping wounds with another braggadocio ‘god of pro wrestling’ sermon would evoke Hadean levels of heat. But what if they were interrupted by a Cult of Personality here? Or a Final Countdown? Or even a Flight of the Valkyries if the budget doesn’t allow? If there is ever to be justification for denying attending fans the happy ending and sacrificing the Page coronation pop, it’s this. Introducing either Punk or Danielson to challenge Kenny Omega is enough to water mouths, tremble knees, ruin underwear and perhaps, judging by Dynamite’s 10-man elimination match, change existing plans.
Irrespective of who stands in the opposite corner, though, boasting Kenny Omega as your World Champion is a delectable prospect. What’s more, having him draped in gold from other promotions like a noodle-haired King Midas just screams ‘this guy is a megastar’. It could even be argued that Omega is the prototypical jewel in the All Elite crown, given that Tony Khan funded and birthed the company off the back of his NJPW program with Chris Jericho, (the precursor to 2021’s opening of the forbidden door). It makes sense, surely, that Khan would always have envisaged the man formerly known as The Cleaner as his centrepiece and his headliner. Kenny is a proven needle-mover, also, setting record pay-per-view buys both for AEW and IMPACT! when working in the main event. The numbers don’t lie, as much as it may pain his vociferous detractors to admit it. If this particular cash cow still has some milk in the udders, why would they be so desperate to drag the poor heifer out to pasture?
However the future shapes itself, wrestling fans can rejoice. A masterful story has been and is being told, and there is plenty of ink left on the quill regardless of how the curtain falls on September 5th. The climax of this saga could drop into our laps in five weeks, we could be kept waiting another five months or further, but it’s a conundrum that fans should approach with a calm smile rather than panicked sweats. When it comes to Kenny Omega and Adam Page, we are swimming for orient pearls. Whichever way the current takes us, we won’t be coming up for air with oysters in our mouths.
Photo Credit: All Elite Wrestling