WWE
Michael Wonsover 38d

The breakthrough of teacher turned wrestler, 'Hangman' Adam Page

Wrestling

Adam "Hangman" Page has long been hyped as the next in a long line of Ring of Honor breakout stars. Diehard fans could see it as far back as his days as a young boy in the "Decade" under the tutelage of BJ Whitmer and Jimmy Jacobs in 2014. Others sensed his star potential when he joined the new-look Bullet Club in May 2016, allowing the 26-year-old to stop mysteriously calling out sick every Friday and finally quit his high school teaching gig. Now, punctuated by a career-defining past four months, you don't need to be a hardcore fan to see it -- Page is already a star.

In March, the matchup of former young boys between Page and Jay White at Strong Style Evolved for the IWGP United States title showed just how far both competitors have come and how much further they're willing to go. In April, Page's show-stealing match against the dynamic Kota Ibushi at Supercard of Honor proved his ability to seamlessly adapt to different styles on the fly. In May, Page's Bullet Club battle against Kenny Omega at Dontaku showcased a ruthless side to his in-ring approach in an old-fashioned, bloody brawl. That aggression came in handy when Page brought out the thumbtacks in a hardcore battle with Punishment Martinez for the ROH TV title at Best in the World in June. And on Saturday, Page will have plenty more opportunities to add to his singles resume when he competes in his first match at the 28th edition of the G1 Climax -- widely regarded as the top tournament in all of wrestling.

Why then did it take ten years for a performer who seemingly has it all -- Hollywood lead-man looks, an ability and willingness to pull off acrobatic moves that shouldn't be possible at his still growing 6-foot, 215-plus pound frame -- to finally have the chance to show what he can do in marquee singles matches? First, he needed an identity. Beyond acting as the Bullet Club's young, up-and-coming lacky he didn't have one. He needed an answer to the question: Who's "Hangman" Page? The Bullet Club happened to have just the right platform to find it out.

"The 'Where's Hangman?' thing was really cool for me," said Matt Jackson, one-half of the creative masterminds behind "Being the Elite" in an interview with ESPN in March.

"That was fun because it was like, 'Now it's Adam Page's turn to step up,'" Nick Jackson added.

Being the Elite was in need of a memorable storyline when Adam Cole, the Bullet Club's leader stateside, left for WWE in May of 2017. Coincidentally, Page started going by the "Hangman" moniker, a nickname he adopted from Luke Gallows, to differentiate his shared first name from the more proven and well known Cole. Losing a talent with the reputation of Cole -- the only three-time ROH world champion and a performer with a mic presence and natural charisma well beyond his years -- was a major setback for the Bullet Club.

The Young Bucks, ever the opportunists, knew they had something special in Page, they just needed to unearth the personality hidden behind his naturally soft-spoken demeanor. So the Bucks used Cole leaving to their advantage and in story killed him off the show, paving the way for the most over-the-top angle in the show's history -- the kidnapping and disappearance of "Hangman" Page. Almost instantly, Page went from a wallflower to the focal point of the show.

"They're mad men. They're geniuses," Page said of the Bucks' creative process in an interview with ESPN. "They are passionate about what they do. They're always invested, no matter what we're doing."

Page's sudden disappearance lead to a manhunt, with the Bullet Club handing out missing posters saying "#WHERESHANGMAN" as they tried to locate their kidnapped friend. War Machine, Hurricane, X-Pac, Ricochet, and even Glacier were among those making cameos posing the question, "Where's Hangman?" The mystery was answered when Nick Jackson's psychic powers (anything is possible in the world of Being the Elite) revealed that Page was being held hostage in a dark room tied up to a chair in front of a TV playing WWE programming on  loop -- ala "A Clockwork Orange". Even though this was all part of "Being the Elite" storyline, the Bullet Club were close to the vest about Page's whereabouts. ROH played their part by keeping Page off television and turning down interview requests to further the angle.

"I couldn't tell you how many people emailed me while I was missing," Page laughed.

After weeks of being AWOL, Page escaped and ran out to the ring with duct tape over his mouth midmatch at Death Before Dishonor in September of 2017. He was able to pull off a diving moonsault to the outside onto the Briscoes with his hands tied while wearing jeans and cowboy boots. The moment elicited the loudest reaction of the night from the many ROH fans who keep up with "Being the Elite", something ROH capitalizes on by crossing over angles into their own storylines. Page was no longer just the Young Bucks' tag-team partner -- he was now the most popular character on Being the Elite.

"We knew all of [the other Bullet Club members] are there, Page is new. Lets get Page over," Matt Jackson said. "To hear the reaction he gets now, it blows my mind."

"It's unbelievable," Nick agreed.

"It's night and day," said Marty Scurll.

"That was great. That was one of my favorite bits," Page said. "I'd been on Being the Elite before that, but it wasn't anything more than being a background character. This was my first thing on the show. It was about me.

"Being the Elite I would say has been the No. 1 thing in terms of getting me more recognition and getting people to like me. I like to think I've always been a good wrestler. It wasn't until I had a platform and an opportunity like Being the Elite to show people that I'm a real human being. Show people I have a personality. I think that's helped more than anything in my career."

In a lot of ways, Page was destined to succeed on "Being the Elite" before he even started wrestling.

Page was a naturally gifted student growing up -- a kid who could study on his way to school and ace tests others couldn't after pulling all-nighters. He finished fourth in a class of about 500 students in high school, giving him enough credits to enter college with junior standing. Page attended Virginia Tech as a communication major with the aspirations of one day working in the film industry, a passion that was sparked after making two full-length films with his friends in high school. However, he realized after his first year of learning more about the industry that working in Hollywood didn't have the same appeal as making movies with his closest buddies. He then decided to finish school after his sophomore year, earning his degree two years early and walking at his college graduation at just 19-years old. Little did he know that several years later those skills would bolster his wrestling career.

"I didn't realize that [making Hollywood movies] didn't just mean messing around with your friends and making jokes and filming them and putting together little videos," Page said. "Somehow, in wrestling, that's what I ended up doing. Making these stupid little 10-minute videos and joking around and it's worked."

Page's background in film has been an asset to Nick Jackson, who shoots and edits every "Being the Elite" episode while on the road. Nick does most of the heavy-lifting, but Page edits the "complex" scenes on the show, such as Scurll's highly entertaining "Complicated" montage. Lately, Page has been more focused on his on-screen persona as he's front and center in another high-profile storyline with controversial indy wrestler Joey Ryan.

You'll have to watch the show to find out what led to this unique feud (trust me, it's worth it), but the end result left Ryan dead in his hotel room in Japan, opening up an investigation into his murder that has been full of twists and turns. The rivalry reached its breaking point when the "Being the Elite" crew showed up unannounced at Ryan's Bar Wrestling promotion in Baldwin Park, California before ROH's 16th Anniversary show in Las Vegas in March. The Bucks, who live in California, were only a short drive away, but Page had to rent a car in Las Vegas and make the 250-plus mile drive. Cody booked his own flight to LAX and took a $300 cab ride to make the show. The gang arrived a couple matches into the Bar Wrestling show and filmed the encounter between Page and Ryan for Being the Elite.

"This thing we did with Joey Ryan recently was wild. It was real cowboy stuff. This was as cowboy as the RAW invasion," Paige said. "We have a history in Being the Elite of telling people we're going to do something and literally no one believed it. No one believed we were gonna do it and we did it. It was wild. I had the megaphone and you couldn't hear anything. It stayed loud for five minutes."

The Bullet Club dashed to a car parked outside the building after they filmed the segment, with a hoard of fans running after them asking for autographs. The fact that the Bucks and Cody, who was wielding a boom mic, were willing to go out of their way to make the moment possible shows the level of respect Page has earned from the rest of the group.

"The credit goes to him for his acting. He wants it. He's passionate," Matt Jackson said. "We'll be like, 'Hangman, we need you for this scene,' and he'll knock out a perfect scene. He'll do a great edit shot for Nick. Just a talented kid."

The respect for Page goes well beyond his work on "Being the Elite." Page has always been a bright spot in his tag-team matches alongside the Bucks, Cody, and Scurll, but as singles competitor he's proven to be on another level. His peers have taken notice.

"It all clicked for me that Adam could go to even higher heights than most imagined when you could begin to notice him having fun in Bullet Club," ROH play-by-play announcer Ian Riccaboni said. "For me, that's when Adam went from Mr. Woltz, the accomplished teacher to Adam Page, future World Champion."

"I see him as a future champion," Matt Jackson said.

"For sure," Nick agreed. "[Adam Page and Flip Gordon] are two guys that Ring of Honor needs to sign for a long-term deal because those two are the future of the company. If they're listening, guys, sign them to a long-term deal because they will leave us."

"Adam Page is making a run, unbeknownst to us all, he's making a run for best wrestler in the world long before he should be," Cody said. "He's got Kenny Omega right there by him to help him along. He's got Matt and Nick to help him along. He has me. He has Marty. He's a sponge to all of that, and then he's a sponge to the wrestling he grew up on."

Perhaps the highest praise of all came from someone Page has watched for most of his life.

"Chris Jericho saw Adam Page at Dominion and he jokingly said, 'What is this guy, 6-5, 265 pounds, a Texan doing a shooting star press?'. Adam Page isn't any of those things except the shooting star press," Cody said. "The presence of him is what made Jericho turn his head. Everything in wrestling is about turning your head. I can't sing his praises enough. He's just the man."

Just don't tell that to Page.

"I guess I don't take compliments well," Page laughs, before his confidence returns. "But I'm one of those guys at this point. I'm one of those top guys. I'm not Ring of Honor world champion yet, but that's something that's right in front of me. Very soon I'd like to think."

Page is on on his way to joining CM Punk, Daniel Bryan, Seth Rollins, Kevin Owens, Adam Cole and many others who have gone from ROH blue chippers to global stars. He knows where that journey has led for many -- becoming a top star in WWE. For a long time that was Page's goal, too, but not anymore. Not when he can star in "Being the Elite", continue to grow at ROH, and compete at the G1 Climax without the support of the "machine".

"Going to WWE doesn't feel important to me anymore. It's not something I'm interested in," Page said. "I really feel like in the past few years my goals have shifted from, 'I want to accomplish X, Y, Z,' to I want to make a good living for my family. I want to have fun and I want to bring something new and fresh to fan's eyes and have it be something they enjoy, no matter where it is, no matter what capacity. To have an outlet for creativity. That's been my goal."

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