Picture this: It’s Tuesday, December 14th, pundits and fans alike are buzzing about the upcoming match on AEW Dynamite: Winter is Coming. Newly crowned champion ‘Hangman’ Adam Page defends against ‘The American Dragon’ Bryan Danielson. However, not all of that buzz was positive. Who was going to win? It was almost certainly going to Page, right? He’s barely been champion for a month. They can’t take the belt off him this early, but can Bryan Danielson really afford to lose? Will Page get back to back wins over Omega and Danielson to start his run?
A myriad of questions with a number of potentially bad answers. Some critics have even mentioned Hangman being a dud champion and that the championship chase was better than the championship reign. Sure, this was only a few weeks into his reign, and yes, it’s early to make any claims regarding his run, but could you say that Page as a champion was on or near the same level as Roman Reigns or Kenny Omega? Momentum was lost, but little did we know that this was just the calm before the storm.
So, what do they do? They make Hangman a bonafide champion by putting him in a brutal 60-minute “Match of The Year” contender with Bryan Danielson to elevate him to the heights of a real champion in just one night.
Let’s back up. Winter Is Coming opens and we start with Danielson’s entrance. No way, they’re actually going to open with the championship match. Like many of you, my expectation was that Page was going to win this match. They’ve built his championship win for years, dating back to the first All Out show in 2019. He just got it so they certainly can’t take it away. However, I didn’t see a way that could be done that wouldn’t feel real or satisfying. I was buying into the narrative that the journey was better than the destination for Hangman. Boy, was I wrong.
The match opens and the crowd is hot. Bryan plays the crowd and he quickly builds even more heat, poking Hangman, slapping him and then backing under the top rope. This will build through the entire 60 minutes as the crowd refuses to let up as they cheer on Page and boo Danielson harder and harder as the match goes on.
Danielson stays largely in control and puts on an absolute clinic and the longer this goes on, the more comfortable I felt as a viewer with whatever ending I’m about to get. The rollercoaster this match took you on was the exact kind of thing that made me fall back in love with wrestling again. I questioned myself and my predictions. Right when I think Danielson is perhaps going to pull this out, Page survives and the match continues.
Brilliantly though, they stay true to who these two competitors are; Danielson is relentless and one of the best to ever do it, and Hangman is all heart and finally believes in himself, so won’t be put down easily. Despite some flurries from Page, Bryan dominates, until he gets a little too carried away. He’s trying to punish Hangman, but he swings those kicks one too many times and he ends up kicking the ring post when Hangman ducks out of the way.
Now, Hangman slowly builds his momentum. He’s targeting the leg and ankle of Danielson, taking one of his favorite weapons away. However, Danielson has many weapons in his arsenal and the back and forth starts as we approach the end. Despite some earlier failed attempts, Page finally hits his patented “Buckshot Lariat” that he won the AEW World Championship with and as he makes the crawl towards Danielson for the cover. DING, DING, DING! We’ve hit the 60 minute time limit and Hangman retains his belt in a draw.
Every part of this match was entertaining, including the finish, and it immediately established Adam Page as a “real” World Champion. With this match, not only did Page and AEW silence anyone with doubts about this reign, they won them over with a “Match of The Year” contender. Did you think Omega vs Danielson was great? They just gave us that again, with twice the time, and on free TV no less.
There was some immediate pushback online and in the crowd that there was no “clear winner,” but this is where we should stop and reflect. Did we need that winner? I don’t think so. If you really care about that, you can say that Hangman effectively had him beat with that lariat at the end. However, by ending the match in a draw, you open yourself up to a world of more interesting stories and possibilities.
Most sports have overtime or a best of seven playoff series. In wrestling, we don’t have that. If we’re going for a more real and competitive vibe, how many professional fights have had to go to the judge’s scorecards for a decision? In the absence of those judges, we get draws. To their credit too, AEW has rarely used this finish.
Let’s stop and consider the alternatives, though. Despite a valiant effort, Adam Page comes up short and loses to Danielson after going through a two year run to win a belt he only held for a month. That hurts Page. If Page wins, you answer questions now that you can answer in a more interesting way later. Page bests Omega and Bryan, two of the greatest in the business, and definitely shows he’s better than both.
By ending this in a draw, neither Page or Omega could beat Danielson, but Danielson couldn’t beat them either. That makes the viewer hungry to see those matches again, and ultimately makes for more than just a story about a loser wanting their second shot to prove themselves. We now have three of the absolute best in the world and they’ve all got compelling reasons why they’re better than each other.
We’ve grown accustom to quick stories in wrestling and there’s a sense of instant gratification. In many ways, we’ve been trained to expect that. AEW has shown us the benefit of our patience and a long build when Adam Page finally won that belt. Shame on me for wondering if the chase might’ve been better than the reign. In his first title defense, Adam Page gave us a MOTY contender and showed that he can hang with the best technical wrestler in the world for an hour. He showed us that the journey is far from over and that we need to trust the process.
We watched a cowboy and a dragon go to war for 60 minutes last night and when the dust settled and the smoke cleared, there was an undeniable World Champion standing tall.
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