At All Elite Wresting's Full Gear event Saturday night, "Hangman" Adam Page and Kenny Omega etched a classic in the most important match in the young promotion's history.
Page, as expected, walked out of the main event as the AEW world champion. But it was so much more than that—it was a testament to the fact that pro wrestling can and should implement long-term booking to reward loyal fans and to perhaps even turn casual onlookers into hardcore types too.
The prolonged ascent of Page, as well as the careful storytelling Saturday night around the jaw-dropping wrestling performances of those two, is precisely where WWE stumbles so often with its own main event scene. AEW leaning into these strengths where the big company on the block struggles is exactly why it has ascended so far so quickly.
Saturday night was, after all, the culmination of two years of storytelling aimed at building Page as a homegrown top guy. He started as the fast-riser, fell out with his friends as they earned championships and success without him, weaved in betrayal, revenge, millennial-style musings and anxiety, if not depression.
And in the match that tied a bow on the entire story that started alongside AEW itself, Page even got the nod of approval from The Young Bucks—not interference from bitter friends—before he pulled off the finisher that won it. It was a nod that this is Page's time after an incredible journey.
It's an epic, 5-star lesson that this sort of long-term storytelling is possible today. Were AEW not even a thing, though, fans might think otherwise.
WWE just can't pull off something like this because it doesn't often even try with its main event scene. Look at, say, the anointing of Drew McIntyre as a top guy in recent years. WWE accomplished something special by bringing in Brock Lesnar at the Royal Rumble to help prop him up. That was especially cool because McIntyre was the guy who was once Vince McMahon's chosen top guy, only to leave the company and remake himself in other promotions before returning.
The payoff after beating Lesnar? A year or so title reign, but he never got a special 'Mania moment as champion in front of fans.
Even now, Big E's reign as WWE champ seems to shy away from the long-term storytelling that could be had with his New Day counterparts. And Roman Reigns' universal title has been hot-potato'd to an embarrassing degree, with the likes of Goldberg derailing full-timers such as Bray Wyatt's Fiend in the process. There's a similar feel on the women's side, where Charlotte Flair has held the Raw and Smackdown women's belts six times apiece.
Seeing the above compared, is it so hard to wonder why WWE has a hard time creating new main event stars? Or why a competitor like AEW has been able to explode out of a niche into the mainstream faster than anyone would have dared predict?
It's not just about the inevitable thrilling end of the ride like Saturday night, either. It's about what comes next. While Big E's list of potential challengers looks shrug-worthy at the same time it's clear that no challenger will dethrone Reigns for more than a year until WWE can set up a possible match with The Rock, the possibilities are endless with Page.
It's just layers upon layers. How is Omega going to react to the Bucks signing off on Page's win? What about the Bucks and their relationship with Page? Or does Omega evolve and everyone reunites?
And as for Page specifically, the specter of a rematch with Omega looms large. But so does the fact that Bryan Danielson just got the best of Miro, securing a title match. That's a feud worth building for a year or more should AEW want to slow-burn it.
Keep in mind plenty of others could emerge as contenders. There's a guy named CM Punk who only has so many years left. A heel like Adam Cole could enter the conversation at any moment. So could a beloved babyface, homegrown AEW talent like Darby Allin. Speaking of homegrown, what about MJF. Don't forget about Jon Moxley.
Because that's the point: It feels limitless (yes, that's a nod to free agent Keith Lee) because this wasn't random. Page didn't spend years toiling in tag team purgatory and running through all of these matches already. He was meticulously booked and positioned for this endpoint. And now, with a classic, historic moment achieved, AEW is free to set sights on its next batch of long-term booking.
In a way, it feels like AEW is heading into its second act. Chris Jericho was the first champion and veteran presence necessary to lure in fans. Moxley was the second, the first major crossover star to make it work. Omega was the third, a nod to the hardcore fans and a hell of an introduction to those who previously only watched WWE.
Now there's Page, the fourth champion—a testament to the fact that long-term booking can work. And frankly, it should make WWE squirm. Not that AEW cares much. It has just pulled off what pro wrestling is all about, reaffirming a historical blueprint can work in 2021 and beyond to unforgettable results.