Health & Medical

This ‘Anxious Millennial Cowboy’ Is the Future of Pro Wrestling

hangman page

’Hangman’ Adam Net page with the AEW World Championship belt on November 3, 2021.

All Elite Wrestling

ON FEBRUARY 29, 2020, “Hangman” Adam Net page, All Elite Wrestling’s blond-maned, hazel-eyed, self-styled “anxious millennial cowboy,” strutted into the ring in entrance of a packed condominium at Chicago’s Windtrust Area along with his chin held high and his coronary heart leaping out of his chest. Sad vest resting on his big shoulders, the 6-foot, 228-pound Hangman yanked his bandana down to his neck, revealing the style of enraged game face continuously outdated by men trying to hump insecurity off as machismo. A fan within the crew threw up a effect: “HANGMAN, Drink MY beer.”

For the uninitiated, AEW is an upstart reliable wrestling company, and Hangman is one in every of its ideal stars. He was once anchoring Revolution, one in every of AEW’s quarterly pay-per-leer great reveals, and placement to fragment the spotlight with the three performers who’d hand-picked him for this 2nd: Kenny Omega, his co-AEW World Tag Crew Champion, and their opponents, the Young Bucks (aka Matt and Carve Jackson). What no longer one in every of the ring mates realized on the time was once that their perception in Net page had outpaced his fill expectations—no longer fair on TV however furthermore in staunch existence.

For fans who had followed Hangman’s chronicle arc in recent AEW proclaims and related webisodes, Net page’s once upbeat-persona had taken an emotional turn in recent weeks, swigging beers and lashing out on the chums with whom he now shared the ring. Cherish the total scripted sport’s richest reviews, it was once a recital rooted if fact be told (apart from the sexy).

the young bucks

The Young Bucks, brothers and AEW executive vice presidents Matt and Carve Jackson.

All Elite Wrestling

“How would possibly perhaps perchance perchance it no longer be?” Net page suggested Men’s Health during a recent phone name. “I direct of affairs you or any one finding out to mediate that you just were standing within the ring, and your partner is one in every of the ideal of all time in Kenny Omega. … and (your opponents are), I would impart, without ask, the ideal effect personnel of all time within the Young Bucks.

“After which you were standing there.”

That match, almost thirty minutes of stunning, acrobatic bodily expression, is held up by fans on Twitter and the typical r/SquaredCircle subreddit as one in every of the surest examples of wrestling’s singular storytelling skill. Net page and Omega won the bout, however simplest after the four men outmoded the match as a machine to work out their simmering beefs: Net page vs. the Bucks; Net page vs. Omega; Net page vs. himself. It was once a tour de force for Net page, who managed to channel his self-flagellation into offense that blurred the lines between fantasy and actuality.

Hangman Adam Net page – Anxious Millennial Cowboy

Nearly two years later, the bout is believed to be by many to be the finest within the company’s instant historical previous, helping to burnish Net page’s credentials as a star who now has bigger than 265,000 followers on Twitter and 176,000 on Instagram, and whose “Anxious Millennial Cowboy” T-shirt is regularly seen on fans within the crew. Some deem he’s late for an AEW World Championship reign. But as anyone grappling with fright or an inferiority complex knows all too smartly, inserting forward your psychological health takes work. So in location of settling for the natty ending to the chronicle quickly after the Revolution match, Net page has labored alongside AEW brass to add more chapters to make a more human chronicle, sending his Hangman persona on a hump that resulted in months of public fight.

Hangman’s fill career will reach one other crescendo this weekend when he challenges Omega for the AEW World Championship on the Fleshy Gear pay-per-leer match in Minneapolis. For Net page, it appears to be like to be like a 2nd to fragment that considerable of the foundation for the anxious a part of his millennial cowboy got right here from deeper within him than anyone anticipated.

His hardest opponent has continually been himself.

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AEW, THE BRAINCHILD of billionaire Tony Khan, launched in early 2019 with the mission of offering an alternate to the oldschool-guard WWE, combining contemporary age, high-flying wrestling with rich storytelling. In Omega, the Bucks and fellow grappler Cody Rhodes (collectively identified as the Elite), who on wrestling’s self sustaining scene had generated an unheard of buzz for non-WWE performers, Khan observed four likely cornerstones. The foursome of rising stars had earned a cult following, and no longer fair thanks to their in-ring theatrics for promotions like Unique Japan Pro Wrestling (NJPW) and Ring of Honor (ROH).

In their standard YouTube series, Being the Elite, which now has 507,000 subscribers, the wrestlers documented existence on the boulevard in goofy, semi-scripted skits and over-the-high storylines that normally trickled into the promotions for which they labored. Net page was once introduced as pretty persona originally, along with his rising prominence within the series coinciding along with his rising in-ring repute.

Khan had co-invested alongside his father Shahid, an immigrant from Pakistan grew to become an automobile manufacturing magnate (they furthermore co-proprietor of the Jacksonville Jaguars and Fulham FC), and instant christened Omega, the Bucks and Rhodes executive vice presidents. These days, the peaceful fledgling, non-publicly traded crew has built a promotion that appears to be like to be to characteristic as an implicit rebuke of WWE, the billion buck global juggernaut run by billionaire CEO Vince McMahon. As an alternate of offering staid, household-friendly and cartoonish caricatures of masculinity, AEW strives to be spontaneous, edgy and, most importantly, reliable.

“A substantial a part of AEW,” Khan acknowledged, “is to operate the characters, the wrestlers (feel like) staunch individuals.”

tony khan

AEW founder and CEO Tony Khan.

All Elite Wrestling

Whereas AEW has added more star energy with ex-WWE Champions CM Punk and Bryan Danielson becoming a member of its roster in recent months, AEW executives furthermore consider that the league’s more emotionally resonant and psychological health focused reviews will inspire the next generation of fans.

“For years wrestlers were simplest seen as elevated than existence, shimmering superhero kinds. No person ever basically explored the postulate of a wrestler being like a normal individual, combating day to day emotions,” acknowledged Matt Jackson, one in every of the company’s four executive vice presidents. “It’s vital to have sensitive, vulnerable characters who command that human facet resulting from more individuals watching can portray to a individual like that.”

That’s the build Net page suits in. In the 20 months for the reason that Revolution effect match, his persona has taken on more depth with each passing week of Dynamite, the 2-hour AEW command that airs Wednesdays on TNT. The chronicle arc is normal however without anxiety relatable: Feeling that he didn’t measure up to Omega and the Bucks, the anxious cowboy grew to become an increasing number of reclusive and brooding, with the friendship exploding when Hangman mark the Bucks an alternate for a effect championship rematch, dishonest on behalf of their opponents.

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Hangman with a beer during a Halloween 2021 AEW match.

All Elite Wrestling

In retaliation, Omega and the Bucks theatrically dropped him from their on-camera friends crew, rendering Hangman—as scripted no longer much less than—a lone wolf in a world the build the staunch allies can operate all the adaptation in a wrestler’s success. Before every little thing, he wallowed in self-hatred, finding solace in beer and whiskey while changing into more publicly unhinged. Then, with the abet of some contemporary friends, he regained his self perception and his in-ring mojo, main to Saturday’s showdown with Omega.

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PAGE (REAL NAME Stephen Woltz), 30, speaks with the runt inflection of his native Virgilina, Va., a town of 154, in response to the 2010 U.S. census, located on the Virginia-North Carolina border. He grew up on a 20-acre farm helping his “pa” elevate crimson meat cattle within the frosty climate and grow tobacco within the summer season. When his classmates went to camp, he’d upward push at 6 a.m. and originate riding a tractor. In July (or “joo-lie” as Net page proclaims it), he’d hunker down within the sector and high tobacco himself, retiring for the day along with his fingers lined in waxy pulp.

“I approach from a easy location. Labor, however easy, farm existence,” Net page acknowledged. “There’s something unbelievable about the truth in that. That you just rise up. You work from 6 to 6. You indulge in your supper. You hump to bed. You enact it again. And that’s how you operate it.”

Then he repeats himself: “There’s something very considerable within the truth of that.”

In a 30-minute conversation with Men’s Health in early November, 5 days earlier than his showdown with Omega, Net page outmoded the note “fact” 12 times. He spoke, very corresponding to he does on tv, with an earnest lilt, his declare rising and falling for emphasis. He’s a individual committed to residing authentically, along with in his artwork.

“I wouldn’t even impart [the story] has borrowed from my staunch existence, as considerable because it’s miles [real life],” Net page acknowledged. “Each and every step of the style, I’d quiz myself, ‘How enact I consider this correct now?’ And I’d fair come up with the truth.”

Net page didn’t basically match in in high faculty, he acknowledged, and as a substitute stumbled on his individuals at native wrestling reveals, a “outlandish world of 40 and 50 12 months-oldschool tubby oldschool men beating each thoroughly different up in entrance of 20 individuals in an armory.” He began backyard wrestling with friends on his trampoline, round which his fogeys built a wooden frame. Terry Lambert, a native self sustaining wrestler who performed under the identify Justin Flash, and who was once dating Net page’s cousin, taught him some fundamentals and took him on the boulevard.

hangman page

Hangman during a recent episode of Dynamite on TNT.

Lane Walbert

Quickly Net page was once making reveals on the North Carolina self sustaining scene, continuing to hone his abilities on weekends as he attended Virginia Tech — he graduated in 2011 after two years—after which while working as a journalism and graphic develop trainer at his native Halifax County High College. In Could perhaps well fair 2016, after Net page joined the Bullet Membership, the villainous NJPW mega-stable of which Omega and the Bucks were individuals, he finally quit teaching.

It was once then, as Net page’s career began to have interplay off, that he began to feel the insecurities that would possibly perhaps perchance perchance well play out on tv. He was once grateful Omega and the Bucks had taken him under their wing, however something felt off.

“I was once the man who was once the ideally suited to affix the Bullet Membership—on the condominium command that wasn’t even on TV,” Net page acknowledged. “I was once the man who was once getting beat in all these multi-man matches in Unique Japan. I was once the man who didn’t even have a winning anecdote in (Unique Japan’s G1 Climax match).

“It appears to be like to be like a contemporary thing in wrestling to be that correct about how that you just would possibly perhaps very smartly be feeling in that arena. But what thoroughly different fact would possibly perhaps perchance perchance there be than to feel notorious in this crew?”

When made aware of Net page’s comments about feeling like he didn’t measure up, the Jacksons, his opponents at Revolution, were vastly shocked.

“Here’s basically the first I’ve heard of that,” Matt Jackson acknowledged. “When we met Hangman all these years within the past, he was once basically only a contemporary, unknown shy runt one hiding under a baseball cap at ROH. Carve, Kenny and myself were already moderately smartly identified, smartly-traveled, established wrestlers. I’m in a position to see these customary feelings he would possibly perhaps perchance perchance’ve had when he originally met us, be something tricky to shake off. It’s miles regularly a runt imposter’s syndrome, which I’d like to command him goes away, however by expertise, I don’t deem it ever does. I hope he in some unspecified time in the future can survey abet from the initiating build of our friendship and realize we were by no approach competing, or sizing him up. We were welcoming him in to be one in every of us.”

“He’s by no approach in my view suggested Matt and I that,” Carve Jackson acknowledged. “I have confidence like he’s crazy to deem that plot resulting from he’s one in every of the finest on the planet. I have confidence like the fans deem the a related plot about him. He’s become a celeb.”

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PAGE WAS POSITIONED as a doable main man from the company’s onset, however it completely wasn’t except his persona tasted defeat—six months earlier than Revolution —that his saga first developed the more or much less nuance that’s helped to command apart AEW from WWE. On August 31, 2019, within the fundamental match of the All Out PPV, Net page was once pinned by Chris Jericho within the first-ever AEW Championship match, failing to operate correct on some classic wrestling smack talk: He’d guaranteed that he would possibly perhaps perchance perchance well be the promotion’s inaugural champion. That loss spark off a disaster of self perception in Hangman that Net page says mirrored how he’s continuously felt in staunch existence.

wrestlers

Adam Net page finds himself during the contemporary Halloween match.

All Elite Wrestling

Hangman’s location first took a darker set off the Jan. 1, 2020 episode of Dynamite, about eight weeks earlier than the Revolution effect match, when Omega and the Bucks wrestled PAC, Ray Fenix and Penta El Zero Miedo. When Net page joined the commentary personnel for the match, as is general note for wrestlers when friends or foes are engaged in fight, it was once clear that the Hangman’s focal point had shifted. He sipped on whiskey all the match, and after the Elite won, the cowboy refused to celebrate with them within the ring.

“In staunch existence, you wouldn’t acknowledge up entrance to your buddies, face to face, that you just would possibly perhaps very smartly be feeling that you just don’t fill their sneakers,” Net page acknowledged. “That that you just would possibly perhaps perhaps run from the friendship. That that you just would possibly perhaps perhaps run from the responsibility. But acknowledging your fill shortcomings is never any longer easy, and most folks wouldn’t enact it.”

With each passing week, as Hangman’s self-self perception slipped, he lashed out an increasing number of. He was once rarely seen on TV without a drink. On show conceal, that alcohol consumption became a image of his fright and rather actually brought him closer to fans, who handed him beers to chug following victories (earlier than the coronavirus, no longer much less than). The more serious he behaved, the louder fans chanted his purchase phrase — “Cowboy shit! Cowboy shit!”—Net page’s much less G-rated version of Cena’s “You will be ready to’t see me.”

If Net page, along with his bandana and his western-themed entrance song, was once already a plausible “cowboy,” the stress appealing was once the perception of the “anxious millennial” factor of his persona. The anxious part’s staunch for him in my view, too.

“Anyone in this age range understands, no longer fair the ground-level fright, day-to-day, however elevated anxieties about the style that our world works round us, the style that our world is perchance initiating to fail us, and that we’re no longer rising to the direct of affairs,” acknowledged Net page, whose epic among the faithful was once bolstered by a Twitter investigation that stumbled on he’d made a dozen small donations to Bernie Sanders’ 2020 Presidential marketing and marketing and marketing campaign (along with one for $4.20) under his staunch identify, per FEC recordsdata. “I deem that our generation is terribly accustomed to each these forms of fright, completely myself incorporated.”

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Adam Net page will direct of affairs for the AEW World Championship on November 13, 2021.

All Elite Wrestling

The 2nd that Hangman was once finally kicked out of his customary brotherhood, the Elite, occurred in August 2020 after months of teases, each on Dynamite and on Being the Elite. Now no longer long afterwards he and Omega lost the effect titles, after which Omega beat Net page to discover an AEW World Championship alternative. Omega dethroned then-champion Jon Moxley, and he and the Bucks, previously the company’s high correct guys, grew to become heel.

As his outdated friends dominated the company—the Jacksons later won the effect titles—the cowboy persisted to search out refuge within the bottle. Then, in his darkest hour, he stumbled on inspiration in an no longer doubtless provide: the Darkish Characterize, an unhealthy-cult-grew to become-sentimental-current after the tragic passing of Jon Huber, who played its fictional lead Mr. Brodie Lee on show conceal. (Huber died from a non-COVID-19 lung arena on December 26, 2020 on the age 41.)

In a pointedly emotional phase, the Darkish Characterize guys suggested Hangman they peaceful believed in him, and that he would possibly perhaps perchance perchance peaceful yet again pursue the AEW Championship. Fans urged the cowboy on too—along with one younger supporter named Nolie whose video of encouragement blew up on Wrestling Twitter—and finally he stumbled on his self perception, winning a seven-man ladder match Oct. 6 to discover the championship alternative after strolling back from paternity hump away. The hot comeback has intended considerable more for the person late the persona, who had by no approach publicly disclosed the chronicle arc was once based if fact be told.

“I’ve plot to phrases with how I’ve felt, and I deem simplest then enact you delivery to feel otherwise about the dynamic,” Net page acknowledged of his staunch-existence feelings in opposition to Omega and the Bucks. “There’s no amount of cash that you just would possibly perhaps pay for remedy like this, to hear thousands of oldsters clamoring for you.”

In recent weeks, AEW has persisted to incorporate sensitive topics into proclaims. Eddie Kingston, a imperfect-mouthed brawler from fair open air Unique York Metropolis, famed he takes Zoloft for despair. And in early November, the day after it was once announced Moxley had entered an inpatient alcohol medications program, the famously straight-edge Punk known as on the Independence, Mo., crowd to chant Moxley’s identify, commending the outdated champion for attempting for abet.

Net page thinks the values of the company have created an openness that helps performers too. “Ten, 20 years within the past, you would possibly perhaps perhaps by no approach traipse remote from a high location, for any reason,” he says about Moxley going into rehab. “You can let your existence fall apart round you earlier than you walked remote from that high location. Luminous AEW is a thoroughly different more or much less location, a thoroughly different atmosphere, I deem has helped individuals be more correct with what they need of their lives.”

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ON A RECENT EPISODE of Dynamite, in an glaring prelude to this weekend’s mega match, Net page swaggered to the ring for an interview with announcer Tony Schiavone, grinning as the crew sang “Cowboy shit! Cowboy shit!” He wore brown cowboy boots, tight blue jeans and a white desolate tract-themed button down peppered with cacti. He didn’t carry a drink.

At Schiavone’s prompting, Net page touched on the events of the previous two years: losing to Jericho; losing his friends; losing himself. Through all of it, Net page acknowledged, he realized something vital. In the event you cave in, it’s essential dust your self off and ranking abet on the horse. That, he insisted, is the that approach of “cowboy shit.” He pivoted to the championship bout.

“I have confidence like you all peaceful consider in me,” Net page acknowledged, his eyes scanning the crew. “And for the first time in my existence, I enact, too.”

His lips curled into a soft smile. This time, Net page stopped instant of guaranteeing victory, however he promised he would give fans his blood, sweat and tears. And something else: “I will come up with COWBOY SHIT!”

He dropped the mic, pointed to the sky and made one ideally suited lap all over the ring. “Cowboy shit! Cowboy shit!” the crew chanted, and Stephen Woltz closed his eyes, took a deep breath and lived his fact.

Joshua Needelman is a freelance writer based in Unique York who spends plot too considerable time severe about reliable wrestling and would possibly perhaps perchance perchance well be stumbled on on Twitter @JoshNeedelman.

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