It is important to highlight the distinctives and significance of Adam Page’s championship to AEW and beyond, and how they have been fulfilled in this period, even as criticisms of his championship run have arisen.
Note: Greyson Peltier’s columns feature social analysis and discuss the fight to Change The World, through the lens of kayfabe. Strong language may be used and concepts presented may not represent conventional practices.
Though Adam “Hangman” Page is not presently a leader of a faction, as our World Champion, I view him as the principal ambassador of the AEW movement and the values of its community to the greater public and the new fan base that continues to enter our community as a result of new signings. As such, I believe the framework of values-based leadership can be applied in analyzing the approach taken to his title run.
It is well-known that maintaining power under a values-based framework can be more difficult than seeking it. This article discussing the challenges of values-based leadership refers to Alfred Adler stating “that principles are far easier to fight for than they are to live up to.” One reason for this is the intense level of scrutiny individuals who achieve power in any realm are held to. Further, the pressure to perform and the culture around incumbent leaders may lead to actions that do not align with the values expressed while seeking power. Being in the company of legendary athletes like CM Punk, Bryan Danielson, and Kenny Omega, Page as champion is inevitably measured to the vaulted ceiling upheld by them, and through his defenses, he shows he measures up.
His frequency of matches is designed to work with AEW’s stacked roster of talent, a manifestation of his diplomacy, and allow each match to be a special occasion. The only criticism I will concede slightly to is that I would like to see more of Hangman’s storytelling promo work, even if on additional content such as Being The Elite. I believe that a more thorough and constant reiteration and elucidation of what Page stands for and how that connects to the overall AEW movement may be helpful to our many new fans. In other words, it would help Hangman control his narrative (but certainly not in the EC3/Scherr way).
Values-based leadership can be seen in three dimensions: authentic, ethical, and transformative. Page’s title run has touched on all three dimensions.
In his recent interview on Insight with Chris Van Vliet, he stated that his character as a wrestler was effectively “100%” him. Further, throughout his title run, Page has been authentic to his innovative conceptualization of the Cowboy identity. This is a dual aim: to show extreme strength and courage while promoting social change. His fiery, intense defenses, including his Texas Death Matches and more assertive tone towards Adam Cole, are an extension of his authenticity as a Cowboy, not a departure from values-based leadership as some have posited. Prior to his match against Lance Archer, he asserts that he will not die the way Archer desires, but rather many years later in a likely climate change-induced wildfire with his wife at home. Hence even in pushing a narrative of strength, he shows his authentic relatability and his fears of systemic ecological calamity as something that is over and above his athletic ruggedness, hence leaving the viewer to fill in the blanks with their knowledge of the need for collective action. With Cole, he addresses his former friend not in a stodgy, pedantic manner characteristic of a typical leader but rather with his signature blend of the zealous tone of a Southern Baptist preacher who also knows that “the best lessons in life are lived, not preached” and world-class sportsmanship. His match against Dante Martin was a cleanly fought one where Page’s concern for developing other athletes was evident, and where I even thought he may turn to founding or directing a stable.
His tone on social media has remained primarily fun in nature, even joking in an Instagram story about bidding to acquire Twitter and making the only permitted content “Hangman fan cams” as Elon Musk’s plans to buy the social media platform have faced intense scrutiny. He also responds to implicit criticism of his choice of driving a Tesla by saying “it’s way better at not cooking the planet.” He interestingly and subtly expressed feminism by stating on Twitter he doesn’t want to “bleed once a month” any more, sympathizing with women’s menstrual cycles.
Despite his minimized role in BTE and lack of funny lower thirds, Hangman has continued to respond to major world issues such as climate change and LGBTQ rights. It was speculated that his rainbow-colored gear at Revolution in Orlando, Florida was a reference to that state’s Don’t Say Gay legislation, he has adopted a Tesla with cattle horns rather than a pickup truck as his new car as champion, and a member of a farming family who lived with 100 heads of cattle showed a willingness to perhaps concede to a plant-based diet like his past opponent Bryan Danielson. His website AdamPageWrestling.com as of the time of this writing redirects to Vote.org, a website with voter registration and voting access information, a critical issue as redistricting and voting restriction legislation is rammed through in the states where Page’s base is likely concentrated.
As I wrote about here previously, his feud with Dan Lambert culminating in his first Texas death match against Lance Archer was exquisitely designed to juxtapose his ways and the values of the fans who cheer him against their opponent. Lambert, who depicts an aggressive conservative talk radio personality like Ben Shapiro or Rush Limbaugh and whose stable was aptly termed by Sammy Guevara “American Talk Team,” a great name for a radio show that would more easily enter the Talkers Magazine Heavy Hundred than his team could attain a World Heavyweight Championship in pro wrestling, had to resort to personal attacks and even falsehoods about soy milk while Page held the high ground. This was done while showing an extreme level of strength in the ring by the nature of this match, which has now become part of Page’s repertoire.
Adam Page’s approach and re-definition of the term “Cowboy Shit” is one of the most transformative ideas I have seen vis a vis progressive leadership in the rural and suburban male demographics in my years as a political and activism communication practitioner. As shown in the examples above, he has continued to hold this approach as champion. To maintain this approach attitude and values while succeeding as a champion completes the transformation and validates this example for the wrestling world and allows fans whose lives have been impacted by his story to extend its reach into their communities.
In the ring, the two matches against Bryan Danielson, including a 60 minute time limit draw, served as solid validation to his ways as successful even against a former WWE Superstar. Page’s second match against Cole showed his reluctance to use excessive force, and hence his repudiation of a win at all costs mindset, which is transformative in the narrative how a championship should be maintained. As easy as it would have been, he further did not wade in the mire of body-shaming levied against Cole to assert his strength as an athlete, and Page did not need to.
Challenges of Leadership
As shown by Page’s apparent waning relationship with The Dark Order post-championship, specifically as it relates to his choice of Jurassic Express as tag team partners for his prior tag match, there is a constant tension between working with those who have helped a new leader in the past and those who are potentially stronger in the needed role. The Dark Order could have had potential as a vehicle for furthering Page’s philosophy and allowing him to spread his values, perhaps as direct opposition to typical corporate-type leadership as in the Jericho Appreciation Society or shock-driven leadership as in American Top Team, through fostering fellow athletes, if this was pursued via the storyline. Further, it is possible that those who are in alignment with your values and are perhaps even the ideological predecessor of your ideas may come into conflict with you after you gain power. This is the case with the upcoming title match between Page and CM Punk that was announced for Double or Nothing in May, as Punk stated when that match was announced on Dynamite this Wednesday that he was a “fan of Hangman.”
In my opinion, all indications show that Adam Page is an astute, caring leader who is still today authentically driven by the values that created his movement, and will continue to do so with the effectiveness he has demonstrated.
Greyson Peltier is the host of The Fixerpunk Podcast, a communications consultant specializing in social impact, and founder of Laguna Beach, CA-based consulting firm Off Speed Solutions. He has been on both sides of the political aisle and has worked for multiple organizations. Peltier holds a BA in Political Science from the University of Southern California and has been featured by media outlets like Vice, ESPN Radio KLAA, USA Radio Network, and Street Fight Radio.
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