If this is your first SMF, please read the "Styles Make Fights" introductory post, to be sure you understand our premise, then come right back and join us!
Last week I covered two massive title matches and didn't say anything about who I thought would win, because I genuinely thought that an upset (or two!) might've been brewing. It didn't work out that way, so let's look back at what went wrong for two of the most threatening title challengers we've seen in 2021.
I said that both Hikaru Shida and Tay Conti have a style where they try to control the match and stay completely on the offense from beginning to end, and I expected neither of them to be able to maintain that level of control against one another. I was quite wrong about that last part:
To watch, this seemed like a pretty evenly-contested bout. Conti certainly showed her heart and determination. But offensively, it was a collapse. She simply could not afford to let Shida keep control of the lion's share of the offense, but that's what she did. Tay Conti has been getting progressively better since her debut, and I believed it possible she had leveled up to Shida. If so, this match would've been the proof, but instead, it proves that she isn't quite there, yet.
Regarding Darby Allin vs Jungle Boy, I said that we weren't likely to see Jungle Boy control the offense unless the match brought out a whole new side of him. This was before Darby cut a promo in the cold open of Dark setting out specifically to do just that, to dig underneath JB's smiling persona. In this, Darby clearly succeeded,
Both competitors fought a significantly dirtier fight than typical, though that obviously means something different for each of them. But Jungle Boy overwhelmingly controlled the offense, which was entirely new for him.
(Appreciation to Craig for the lovely flow of offence plot)
The first half of the match was actually quite evenly contested, but as the match went deeper, JB took more and more control. However, this was NOT an unfamiliar position for the network champion, and the actions he took to hold onto his title in spite of this might be characterized as desperate, unsporting, and certainly controversial, but unquestionably as successful.
(A digression--skippable if you do not care about Craig and I's debate over the officiating of this contest... Craig, the master of match statistics, has made the case in a recent post that in a situation such as this one, a foul which would normally merit only a warning should lead to a disqualification if it clearly changes the outcome of the match. In my view, this would undermine AEW's most fundamental guarantee: that almost every match will have a decisive finish.)
Tomorrow night there are once again several singles matches to choose from, but none as momentous as last weeks. The TNT title is on the line once again, but (with apologies) nowhere near as credible a contender this time. The highest profile match, by my estimation, is Hangman Page facing the Machine Brian Cage. What's at stake: possibly the straw of failure that breaks the camel's back of Team Taz. Or possibly the first chink in the armor of the #1 ranked competitor in his division.
Hangman Adam Page vs. The Machine Brian Cage
Adam Page and Brian Cage have some similarities. They are both big and agile hard hitters, and they both have had one shot at singles gold early in their AEW careers that ended in disappointment. But their fighting styles are significantly different.
Cage's style is a lot more aggressive in laying down the offense, and highly focused on his powerful throws and slams, while Page uses an extremely balanced mix of strikes, lariats, dives, counters, and holds. He relies on his specialty lariat to finish most matches, but has a grapple finisher and a submission finisher as backup.
Let's take a look at how their mixes respectively change against an opponent closer to who they face tomorrow night:
Facing a top-level big in Wardlow, Page conceded grapples to him entirely, focused on the other aspects of his own robust game and came out on top. Facing a premier performer on top of their game on a long streak of wins, Cage changed his offense mix hardly at all, and it didn't serve him well.
In theory, based on size and strength and skills, the Hangman and the Wolverine ought to be pretty evenly matched. But based on flexibility and robustness of strategy, this isn't close at all, The only hole in Adam Page's game is emotional. He's on the verge of the opportunity to face his old partner Kenny Omega and finally get another shot at the World title and there are hints he's not feeling ready for that. If that should subconsciously get in his way of taking one more step in that direction this week, Cage could potentially take advantage.
If that should happen, it would portend the beginning of a major collapse for the Hangman. But if Cage is defeated, as I expect, it won't be the beginning of the end for Team Taz-- more like the denouement.