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The Hangman Cometh | AEWeekly #125


Welcome to the #AEWeekly review discussion where PWM contributors reflect on the highlights of the last week in AEW. The eligibility week always includes the most recent episode of Dynamite, but is more flexible in terms of Collision and Rampage, to account for busy folks not always being 100% caught up, so can include this week OR last week’s episode.



This week’s contributors are Tim [@TimmayMan] covering match of the week, Saul [@SaulKiloh] exploring a key story beat, Sam P. [@BigBadaBruce] with Throwback of the week, Joe [@GoodVsBadGuys] giving us the MVPs of the week, and Sergei [@SergeiAlderman] covering Moment of the Week and Best Interview.


 A page of links to prior installments may be found here: #AEWeekly



Jeff Jarrett X Adam Page


"Whose Tragedy?"


by Tim.



Last week my MOTW focused on the impressive physicality between Ospreay/Swerve. This week we go in a very different direction as it’s the character work and emotional beats between Jeff Jarrett and Adam “Hangman” page that stuck with me. It starts with a backstage interview with Jarrett, days before the match. Jarrett talking about what Owen Hart meant to him and really opening up about his feelings over the past 25 years. A quarter of a century of grief, loss, and also good memories of his long-lost friend. It’s been said that time heals all wounds, but a wound this deep is never fully closed. Looking outside the world of pro-wrestling it could seem exploitative to use real tragedy to get some babyface shine on Jarrett. Yet Owen Hart loved this business and it’s been so long since his passing that Jarrett’s comments come from a genuine place. It also helps that the wrestling landscape is very different in 2024 than in 1999, and knowing that Martha Hart endorses the whole tournament gives it legitimacy.


Leading into the match we didn’t know who Jarrett’s opponent would be, but many of us suspected it would be the Hangman. Entering with ominous new music & video, and with no jokey comment in his lower third, Adam Page’s mood was noticeably darker. He still got a monster pop, but the crowd would quickly settle into backing Jarrett as the match’s babyface. The action was basic, but for a man in his mid-50s Jarrett still looks pretty good. Something as simple as a sunset flip is sufficient to show he still has some gas in the tank. The moment that really got the crowd cheering for Double J was when he locked in a sharpshooter—it was a nice way to call back to Owen and the crowd appreciated it. 


What they didn’t appreciate was Hangman. Maybe they saw his aggression towards Double J as elder abuse, maybe they wanted to play along with the booking and boo the heel. Hard to say what goes on in the minds of fans, regardless, they let him know that they didn’t like what he was bringing to the fight. Taunts of “Whose House?” rang out and Page reacted with visible annoyance. The long-term storytelling here is so good. Hangman was once the primary babyface of AEW. In a way he’s still the main character, but characters in long-form storytelling need growth and change. In Hangman’s own mind, he’s justified all his actions since that first loss to Swerve back at last year’s WrestleDream. I was there live, it wasn’t just Swerve’s House, that was Swerve’s Town that night. Hangman’s turn could have easily been another “because of the fans” promo but Adam Page is going for something deeper and more complex.


Hangman may have been wrestling Jarrett this past Wednesday, but everything comes back to Swerve Strickland. Swerve is the white whale to Hangman’s Ahab, the overarching motivation of revenge. Page can’t let it go and it may be building to a main event match at All In. This madness carried over into the action as Hangman hit Jarrett with a buckshot lariat: AEW fans have been conditioned to expect this to be the end of the match, yet Hangman went immediately into mounted punches on his downed opponent. The crowd responded with boos, due to a combination of Jarrett’s newfound babyface role, Hangman’s betrayal of being a good cowboy, and just the inherent unfairness of the situation. Jarrett tried his best but Hangman, filled with rage and insecurity, couldn’t just hit his finish and win. He had to bring extra pain, and that he did as he hit a second Deadeye for the win. It was a level of pathos that would make ancient Greeks stroke their beards in appreciation.


Jeff Jarrett is a fascinating person in the history of American Pro-Wrestling. He’s been working for so long that it’s easy (but unfair) to forget what he’s contributed. He was the champion during some of the worst of WCW, yet followed that up with creating his own wrestling company that introduced the world to the stars of tomorrow. His knowledge of the nuts and bolts of running a wrestling show is unparalleled. It can be debated about his creative decisions, but as this match showed, he still understands that fans crave stories of good vs. evil taking place in the ring—sometimes simple and basic is all you need. (Having him as the special enforcer for the finals is an intriguing development!) He’s also a decent person, mindful of his own weaknesses and failings, yet a loving husband and father. After almost four decades in this crazy business he’s still smiling and putting on a show. Like a sign in the crowd said, “Bree Whoo Forever”...









MJF redons the (emo) Burberry


"The Devil, all along..."


by Saul.


This was a bumper week of AEW television. For me, I can tell how interesting the programming was by how difficult I find selecting that week’s story-beat, and oh boy, this choice was a doozy. Just missing out by a hair is the exquisite work of “Hangman” Adam Page, who I expect (and quite frankly demand) to write about next week, when he wins the Owen to go on to face Swerve. However, the vengeful cowboy is already getting a lot of coverage this week, so I'm travelling a different path.


I have to imagine that MJF would be infuriated that I just spent the first paragraph discussing someone else. That seems to be partly the source of pain that sent him back to his fully ‘scumbag’ ways. The classic tale of the wrestler feeling somewhat burned by the crowd. Unlike the case of “Hangman”, there isn’t such a clear and outright rejection, more of a general rejectory vibe.


Just a few weeks ago, AEWeekly #121, I wrote a piece about MJF sparked by some mixed reactions to his return in the PWMusings group chat. In said responses, there was a serious ‘meh’ vibe seeping from every message. Even those who were supportive of MJF weren’t feeling particularly good about his time as a face. Considering the personal vulnerability he showed in the promo he played back on Collision, which was one example of many instances, it makes sense that he might feel this way. It’s also possible that this all stems from the pain of Adam Cole’s betrayal. 


I had wondered what was in store for babyface MJF. If he could burn the trail and discover a new persona. Instead, he’s returned to what is comfortable and safe. The devil has re-emerged in full. This makes sense, and is what many people wanted. However, I must admit that part of me is disappointed. There was an aspect of MJF’s promo that played a bit like playing the classic hits. It was well delivered, had some interesting content and the crowd ate it up, but I don’t know. I guess when I go to a concert, I do want the band to play the hits. 


Maybe part of this is the pain felt in any well done heel turn. Despite the setbacks, I’d invested in his character growth, and was hoping to see MJF fight through the adversity. Instead, he backslid into his old self. The persona that helped him reach the top, even if it was a lonely road that nearly destroyed him. At the very least, It’s a very human story.




The Return of Hangman


"... you don't kick a man when he's down..."


by Sergei.


One of the toughest things to do in professional wrestling is to come back from a long absence as a heel. If a returning wrestler wants to rejoin the ongoing story in an antagonist role, the most common strategy is the one that MJF has used over the last few weeks: come in as a returning hero, accept your homecoming pop, set up an alliance or some sort of mutual respect with a beloved character, and then betray that ally viciously to get that longed-for heat. When Hangman returned from his long absence on Wednesday night, everything about his presentation, (other than the entrance tunnel, for whatever reason,) indicated his intention to fill an antagonist role now: from his new, ominous entrance music and tron video to the malicious grimace on his face. And the fans would demonstrate how little those aspects of presentation will generally sway them if they've made up their mind to love a guy: with a delighted cheer when his name first appears on screen, and with a boisterous chant of "Cowboy Shit" once the bell rings on his match with Jeff Jarrett.


Another aspect that really helps if you want heat is to beat up someone who the audience loves. Jarrett is one of those old-school, long-term heels—like Lawler or Flair—who is very adept at turning babyface for a night or two if the story calls for it. And his words about his friendship with Owen Hart—and how much being in the Owen tournament means to him—were genuinely moving. However, this is a man who wrestling fans have been conditioned to despise for decades. (To say nothing of Page's follow-up match on Saturday against full-on heel Jay White.)


But in spite of all of this, the Hangman would get the fans to passionately boo him less than a minute after their chants of "Cowboy Shit," and would continue to get consistent heat throughout the match. In his "Match otW" above, Tim considers this a case of a fickle and unpredictable crowd—but I disagree. I believe that this is a case of Hangman taking advantage of one of the most visceral unwritten rules of sportsmanship in competitive fighting.


Throughout most of the history of pro-wrestling storytelling, the villain was generally defined as simply the rule-breaker. Many fans have the mistaken belief that the first antiheroes who flouted that expectation were from the Attitude Era of the 1990s in the wake of the overwhelming popularity of Stone Cold Steve Austin. But rule-indifferent fan-favorites go back many decades earlier, to grittier heroes like Dick the Bruiser or the Road Warriors. For an anti-hero, almost any foul can be played for cheers or laughs: a thumb to the eye, a low blow, a chair-shot… but there's one thing they don't do and that's kick a man when he's down.


When a wrestler is down, their instinct is to go to their stomach, the prone position, unlike in MMA, because they want to avoid being vulnerable to a pin. But two attacks that this position makes one more vulnerable to are strikes to the back of the head in rear mount or running up for a kick to the ribs.* Unlike those other fouls I mentioned, these are two tactics that are too low for any anti-hero in wrestling and, for that matter, 99% of the villains… And those are exactly the foul tactics Hangman immediately uses against Jarrett to make the audience turn like a dime, and to firmly cement his role as the antagonist in this match, and—I believe—going forward.


It might be one thing if Page had used such indefensible offense against someone he passionately despises for good reason… (as much as we fans love Swerve, anyone can see that he has some karma coming his way.) But, Hangman treating anything that happens to be between himself and Strickland with all of the same hate and contempt that only Swerve (and maybe Nana) have actually earned is a bridge too far for the Chicago audience. A bridge which they then set on fire by pouring salt on Page's raw emotional wounds from his nemesis's home invasion by chanting "Whose House?" at Hanger after he hits the Deadeye on Jarrett.


My Moment of the Week is the portentous return of the Hangman in general, but in specific his use of attacks to a downed opponent to successfully turn the audience instantly from love to hate. To me, that sort of savvy crowd control is peak pro wrestling.



* The roots of the aversion to these sorts of foul tactics specifically run deep in the history of unarmed fighting competition. Common English-language phrases such as "down and dirty" or "a stand up fight" come from this predilection going back to prehistory—a fair, sportmanlike fight was always one between two standing opponents. The few examples of fighting "sports" that allowed "ground and pound" before the mid 19th century—such as Dutch Up-and-Down fighting or North American "rough and tumble"—were considered by most contemporary observers as not legitimate sport, but pure brutality.


Today we associate "wrestling" with ground grappling, but that's an innovation less than two centuries old. Before that almost all sports worldwide that we translate as "wrestling" considered throwing your opponent to the ground the winning condition—that's why it's called a "fall" in the first place! In other fighting sports such as boxing, a fighter off their feet might not be the end, but it meant at least a pause to hostilities.


It was Lancashire catch-as-catch-can and its child freestyle wrestling, and Japan's Jiu-Jitsu and its babies Judo and MMA, which innovated ground fighting as a form of legitimate sport since the 1800s. But, to the extent that some of those disciplines allow striking at all, they never allow completely undefendable strikes.





Daniel Garcia Main Events


"Wrestler...Sports Entertainer…The Dragon Slayer"


by Sam P.


AEW Dynamite - Beach Break was headlined by Will Ospreay defending his International Title against Daniel Garcia. After the match, Garcia was attacked and laid out by a cruel and violent MJF, cementing his return to being the biggest heel in AEW. The current expectation is for Ospreay to defend his title against MJF, but let’s also take a moment to look back at some other tremendous main event performances from Garcia, who has become an integral part of the AEW roster and a future champion. 


Unsurprisingly, we begin with his feud against Bryan Danielson, who had previously referenced Garcia by name when discussing what would become the Blackpool Combat Club with Jon Moxley. Seen as a young student of technical wrestling like Danielson himself, the obvious expectation was for Garcia to become his protege—but instead he saw Danielson as the Dragon to slay.


On 27th July 2022, the Fight For The Fallen iteration of AEW Dynamite was main-evented by Garcia against Danielson, on a night where the Trios Title was announced, Hook defeated Ricky Starks for the FTW Title, and Moxley defended the Interim World Title against RUSH. Despite a two-month absence due to injury, Danielson hit the ground running until an errant Missile Dropkick and a DDT on the concrete floor left him selling a possible head injury. Garcia took advantage with a Piledriver and a Sharpshooter to leave Danielson to pass out and earn Garcia his biggest victory to date.


Several weeks later, a rematch on the 17th August episode of AEW Dynamite featured both men in a thirty-minute Two Out Of Three Falls Match. A technical masterpiece, Garcia’s confidence from his first victory saw him replicate the previous match by locking in a submission and forcing Danielson to pass out, this time to the Dragon Sleeper. One fall up and with all the confidence in the world, Garcia aimed for the kill, but the ‘American Dragon’ persevered to surprise Garcia with a roll-up, tying the match up. In a moment homaging his wars with Nigel McGuinness in Ring of Honor, Danielson used Garcia’s arms to pull him into a ringpost, leaving a bloodied Garcia to struggle, eventually culminating in a Hammer and Anvil combo transition into the LeBell Lock, this time Garcia being the one to refuse to tap and passing out. A devastating loss, but definitive proof that Garcia could hang with one of the best wrestlers in the world.


Just three weeks later, on 7th September 2022, Garcia had a chance to bounce back and faced ROH Pure Champion Wheeler Yuta in the main event of AEW Dynamite. On an infamous night where CM Punk and The Elite were all suspended due to ‘Brawl Out’, the World Title was vacated, MJF appeared after his return at All Out 2022, and Death Triangle won the also-vacated Trios Titles, the focus was on the future as the two youngsters battled it out. A tactical and intelligent battle between two talented technicians, Garcia sacrificed an early rope break yet successfully focused with a multitude of suplexes on weakening the neck of Wheeler, including a Middle-Rope German Suplex. In the end, Wheeler’s weakened neck left him open to the Dragon Tamer, as Garcia won to become ROH Pure Champion for the first time. (On a separate note, for the first time I will recommend a non-AEW or ROH match, as there is a Sixty-Minute Time Limit Draw between Wheeler and Garcia for the IWTV Independent Wrestling World Title that is a banger of a match, featuring on IWTV100 from 8th August 2021.)


Last year, on the 16th December edition of AEW Collision for Winter Is Coming, Garcia took on Eddie Kingston as part of the Continental Classic Blue League. A very physical battle between two tough New York guys, Kingston needed to win to avoid being eliminated from the tournament, while Garcia was aiming to finally earn points in the League. Garcia focused his attack on Kingston’s legs, using multiple Dragon Screws including one on the outside to weaken him for his Sharpshooter, leaving Kingston struggling on one leg. However, Kingston utilized his variety of suplexes and Machine Gun Chops to weaken his opponent, desperate to capitalize on his superior power and strength. Despite Garcia’s best efforts, Kingston’s patented Backfist To The Future vanquished Garcia, to boost Kingston’s continued momentum to win the Continental Classic.


Garcia has had some unfortunate losses in the last year since he last won the ROH Pure Title, but his defeat of Wheeler shows he does have the capability. He continues to impress as a capable challenger, and who knows, the attack by MJF might be the inspiration Garcia needs to once again become… 'The Dragon Slayer'.






The AEW Originals


"The Revival of the Originals..."


by Joe.


PAC:

The BASTARD, dastardly in the Elite promotion since the day one press conference, was here for AEW’s most recent night of glory on this excellent episode of Dynamite, in Chicagoland, where AEW was launched in a sense with ALL IN


PAC launched more often than usual in recent years with a tremendous springboard elbow drop, his more typical springboard ringside moonsault to the floor, and a missed Black Arrow that set up the sequence for his exit from the Owen Hart tournament. Just like he was in the early days of AEW, PAC is still serving as the gatekeeper to the main event, rather than gatecrashing the main event, but his recent motivation to become a big part of Wembley this year, plus his ever-present level of talent, created enough suspension of disbelief to keep fans hooked in until Bryan hooked him for the pin and the win. 


Britt Baker:


A wrestler who performed on ALL IN, and was there for that day-1 press conference, was Dr. Britt Baker, DMD.


Britt is returning after almost a year away, to a women’s division that is receiving much more spotlight, much more focus, and like the Dr. herself, is seeming healthier than ever. 


That promo of Britt detailing her journey was important, and adds weight to her return. Her face-off with Mercedes was important, and adds depth to the ALL IN build. From a 4-way in front of 10,000 fans to launch a movement, to a one-on-one showdown in front of tens of thousands of fans, would make for a very cool then-and-now.



Hangman Adam Page:

Another return that had a much less feel-good vibe than Britt Baker’s, was that of Hangman Adam Page. Hangman has often been my favorite wrestler in AEW when he’s been around, and he had me rooting against him early into his match with Jeff Jarrett. Hangman has been covered already earlier in this issue, so I’ll keep it short. 


Hangman’s return has added a major storyline to the Owen, to the Blood and Guts build, and to the ALL IN build. AEW is at its best with motivated characters participating in stories with stakes and consequences. Hangman’s mission and motivation is babyface, his tactics are heelish. Any father and husband can relate to Hangman’s reaction to Swerve’s evil actions. The fact that I can know that, agree with that, and still root against him, is a testament to the uniquely talented, elite level of performer that is Hangman Adam Page.




MJF:

His name is Maxwell Jacob Friedman, and he's more vindictive than you, and we know it.


The two-faced, scheming, lying, deceiving, heel MJF started with AEW from the days of ALL IN, and the day 1 press conference. In the early days, MJF was taking advantage of Cody Rhodes’ optimistic, and naive, trust in MJF’s character, to secure an advantageous spot on the roster and extra TV time (and YouTube time on BTE). Flash forward to 2024, and MJF has taken advantage of Matt Menard and Danny Garcia’s optimistic, and naive, trust in MJF’s character. MJF went from being a 2-faced protege, to a 2-faced mentor. Whereas in 2019, MJF’s goal was trying to steal Cody’s spotlight and rocket himself up the card, in 2024, MJF’s goal was to inflict pain upon the audience that he felt betrayed him. The MJF we have known before was a proud scumbag who knew he was the villain. The MJF we just met is an emotionally wounded, self-righteous, seeker of revenge (sound familiar to another AEW original), who believes that the AEW fans are the villains. 


This new MJF is resorting to a primitive form of empathy creation. He doesn’t believe we can understand the pain he felt from “our” rejection of him, so he is going to inflict pain upon us so that we truly understand. The first example of that was the underhanded—or rather: underfooted (low blow kick)—violent, brutal, and bloody assault on Danny Garcia. This character sets up for feuds not only with Menard, Garcia, (sometime down the road,) and AEW fandom’s current new favorite Will Ospreay, but with anyone who is beloved by the audience. This sets MJF up for feuds or matches with obvious choices like Orange Cassidy, Swerve Strickland, Adam Copeland and Eddie Kingston whenever they are healthy, and a return to Darby Allin. However, it also logically sets up less obvious choices like Mark Briscoe, Jeff Jarrett, HOOK, Shibata, Dalton Castle, and Samoa Joe (layers there). You now have a heel character that is motivated by more than money or success or a singularly personal vendetta. MJF is coming for everyone and everything that AEW fans like or love. He’s going to be fun to root against in this run.


Isiah Kassidy:

Okay so they might not have been AEW Day 1 originals from All In or the press conference, but Private Party were around from the earliest TV days, most notably upsetting the Young Bucks in the initial tag title tournament. Although their presentation, push, and character alignment has been inconsistent since then, one thing that has not wavered is Isiah Kassidy’s ability to entertain. Whether it is a backstage interview segment, a YouTube series appearance, a squash match, the Hardy Brokenverse, or getting an actual match on TV, Kassidy over-delivers. I believe Kassidy will be talked about on future podcasts from wrestlers the way the Attitude Era cohort speak about Sean X-Pac Waltman. He seems like someone who should be the test for other wrestlers. If you cannot look good in a match with Brother Zay, you need to reassess and try another day. Kassidy makes everyone look their best. From Keith Lee, to RUSH, to Takeshita and Fletcher on this recent episode of Rampage, Kassidy elevates his opponents. The other thing Kassidy does is entertain the fans. I was at the Dynamite / Rampage show in Chicago, and one of the best-received moments of a stacked night was Kassidy putting on the Shark Week hat and wrestling with it on! From a match perspective, that will be one of the things that stays with me the longest, and will likely not escape my memory. 


Something else that has not escaped my memory is that this week’s episode of Dynamite was bolstered by 3 more AEW Originals who played an important role in this episode: Nicholas Jackson, Matthew Jackson, and Jack Perry. However, their contributions (on screen) were in a shorter burst and more limited, they added to this good old days, (with new twists, and exciting future possibilities) episode of AEW Dynamite. They helped to further establish Team AEW as the faces for Blood and Guts and they helped to further develop Hangman Page’s character with their backstage interaction. I am looking very forward to seeing how the Hangman / New Elite dynamic plays out in the coming weeks, as well as how the Team AEW vs Elite feud plays out. I am hoping another AEW “Original”-ish wrestler, Orange Cassidy, joins Team AEW, and feuds with Okada for the Continental Championship at ALL IN. That’s just one of so many exciting possibilities with characters we have grown to know and care about, whether to root for or against, over the past 5 years. That’s why the AEW Originals are this week’s MVPs.






Hangman Adam Page


"Thus Spake the Hangman..."


by Sergei.


By me, the return of the Hangman was clearly the event of an eventful and amazing week in AEW. One of the most beloved of the AEW Originals, and a key driver (as the primary roadblock) of the storytelling of the best ongoing story in AEW since last summer—"the Rise of Swerve"—he had unceremoniously dropped out of sight four months ago, seemingly missing the peak of the story he'd been so instrumental in building. But now he's back with his rage and malice toward Strickland seeming completely undimmed, and at least one reason for those four months away now apparent: to cool Swerve X Hangman just long enough to schedule the climactic moment at Wembley stadium.


Before Hangman's kayfabe suspension, his decisions in pursuit of keeping Swerve from becoming World Champion had grown more and more erratic, leading up to striking referees in the PPV triple-threat, the ostensible justification for the indefinite suspension. Seemingly, the months at home had only led to that rage festering with no outlet, leading to a returned Hangman completely lacking in hinges or screws—a Hangman with crazy eyes, bulging and darting everywhere, and with unchecked aggression toward anyone who might stand between him and his nemesis.


Over the course of Hangman's return week, they put a microphone in front of him twice, but these pre-match interviews were brief and specific to the situation, not a wide-ranging "why am I like this" mission statement monologue like the one that Friedman was scheduled a whole segment for, to kick off Collision. But then Monday morning a blood-soaked back-hallway interview with Hangman from after his main-event Schmozz with the Switchblade was released as a social media exclusive. 


I cursed the social media team, as I often do, for waiting so long to release the good stuff, and for keeping so much good stuff off TV to begin with… But as this promo became the talk of Twitter and reblogged by practically everyone I follow, I began to see—in this case at least—the method to their madness. It's been too long since I've had an office job—I forget that the internet for many people is something to pass the time during the workday—and Monday morning was the perfect time to make Hangman's unhinged rant the center of attention in AEW fandom.


Icymi:



Page begins by shouting about how he had told us all along—specifically about how he was going to win this tournament and that he would sacrifice every drop of his blood to make "him" pay. Page here continues from his other interviews earlier in the week with his unwillingness to speak of Swerve by name. But Hangman leaves no question who "he" is, listing Swerve's crimes against him: that "he" had invaded his home and threatened his family, and had never once paid for it.


Page then goes into a lament that sounds a great deal like the "blame the fans" turn justification that's become something of an overused trope in pro wrestling. But the difference is, it's actually pretty understandable that Hangman would be disappointed that the fans chose to cheer Swerve in spite of all of the unforgivable affronts he's committed. More importantly, unlike with MJF, Page's disappointment over who the fans root for doesn't displace his genuine grievances. While he is disappointed about it, that isn't his new character motivation.


Finally, he briefly addresses his next opponent in the Owen final Bryan Danielson, saying he was never as driven in their previous meetings as he is now, and then lays out that motivation in clear, stark words:

You can call it justice, you can call it hatred, I don't give a FUCK what you call it… but it's all I have left. I'm going to ruin you. You hear me? I'm going to burn you alive. There will be NOTHING left of you. And when I'm done… 
…The biggest stage that we have. I'm coming for you. I'm coming for you.

—Adam Page



Man, why am I trying to explain this? I should've just posted the promo and said: this is the winner, duh. Because it gave me goosebumps, and I can't wait for Wembley, and building that anticipation: that's the job.


Styx can play us out…



…Hangman is coming down from the gallows, and I don't have very long…

—Styx, "Renegade"

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