Featured image by Scott Lesh

I’ll be the first to admit I’m a Swerve skeptic.

To be clear, I don’t think that he’s bad at all. He’s clearly shown himself capable to be in great matches like the TV bout against Danielson last month. He’s also put in some really good performances that I’ve enjoyed in the past such as holding Nick Wayne’s hand through a long bout in DEFY the year before. But when I compare my experiences of Swerve’s work to the effusive praise that he gets online, I find a disconnect. There’s often a ceiling to my enjoyment of Swerve’s matches, some of his signature offense suffers from the kind of airy weightlessness that I especially don’t care for in modern wrestling. His much heralded heel work doesn’t always manifest in interesting ways in ring, and outside of the ring he has a tendency to veer into the silly instead of the menacing.

All these misgivings are what make this Texas Death match against Hangman Page all the more impressive. I’d say that, on the whole, this might be one of Swerve’s finest in-ring performances in AEW yet. It’s such a dynamic thing he puts out there. His early bumping and selling for Hangman’s initial babyface shine is such a delight, and he’s able to carry a lot of that through into the later stages of the match where he’s able to put over the cumulative effects that the match has had on him. I also just have to give him credit for the ridiculous amounts of shit he’s willing to eat during this match. Those staples are real as hell, and the spot with Hangman ripping his child’s drawing out of Swerve’s cheek fucking rules. There’s a lot wrestlers can do to maximize their own safety in settings like this, but the simple reality is that shit hurts and it rocks how much Swerve endured throughout this whole thing.

But I do want to give credit to Swerve’s greatest contribution to the bout: his very own blood. What a fucking gusher that Swerve achieves here, that blood is pouring out of his face does so for long enough in the match to be one of the most gruesome visuals in AEW all year. Even amidst other blood freaks like Danielson and Moxley on the roster, Swerve pulls out a late contender for bladejob of the year and probably seals the deal for it if we’re being honest. The blood loss combines too with Swerve’s selling to really express the pain and brutality of the fight.

Swerve also has a sneaky clever tactic halfway through the match too. When he pours the water on himself to clear out his eyes, and does the same to Hangman, it actually does the opposite. The water instead mixes with the red and really cakes both men from head to chest, making for even more dramatic bloody visuals than previously. Whether this was an intentional move or just serendipity, we’ll never know, but the visuals speak for themselves.

Something about the setting of the Texas Death match burnt away all the aspects of Swerve’s act I didn’t care for, and instead left something more raw and elemental in its wake–a bad man trying desperately to survive an ass kicking he’s earned.

If I’m being honest though, the star of the show is Hangman Page.

I’ve not been one to shy from praising Hangman’s matches in the past. The two Danielson bouts and the Moxley series are among the very best matches that AEW’s ever hosted. At his best, Hangman Page is everything that the company wants him to be–the heart and soul of the promotion, the shining beacon of the homegrown generation of talent that AEW champions. In those previous matches I’d mentioned, it was easy to say that while Hangman was great in them, perhaps he only rose to the occasion with the help of much more experienced all-time great veterans to guide him.

You can’t make any such concessions here against Swerve.

Hangman’s a house of fucking fire in this. He comes out swinging and for the entirety of the first act, he feels untouchable and cool, really just everything you want from a top babyface. He wrestles like this is personal, and he wrestles like he hates Swerve and I love that. Few moments in wrestling this year have been quite as viscerally moving as Hangman Page letting Swerve’s blood drip into his mouth and spewing it into the air in absolute ecstasy. Holy fucking shit, that’s pro wrestling, that’s the art form I love.

Hanger’s abilities come through in smaller ways here as well. I don’t recall ever being quite as impressed with his sense of timing and ring presence. Watch the ways that he’s able to get himself into position to get cut off by Swerve without ever looking like he missed a beat. It’s often a problem in gimmick matches like these that big spots telegraph themselves a mile away, and while this isn’t entirely free of that problem, Hanger keeps them at an impressive minimum.

Scott Lesh

Much like Swerve too, he absorbs a real scary amount of punishment here too. The piledriver on the barricade obviously stands out, but there’s a grotesque nastiness to how the loose ends of the barbed wire wrapped around a chair fishhook Hangman when Swerve whacks him with it. It’s the kind of spontaneous, likely unplanned, moment of violence that adds a layer of danger and reality to all of this.

Given all those positives though, this match could have used some editing. Many online have already pointed to the outside interference as a near miss moment for the match, but I think the problems began setting in much sooner than that. Somewhere around the splash onto the broken shards of glass, multiple exit points presented themselves that the match just seemed to ignore. The outside interference honestly felt like a bit of a reprieve from the match’s excesses because it at least offered a new wrinkle to what was on offer: Hangman could whoop Cage and Nana’s asses too before going down.

The finish is decent, but one gets the impression that they maybe missed their peak. The same finish perhaps five or ten minutes earlier might have greatly improved the effect of the whole. It’s difficult too because we have something to directly compare this against in the Moxley/Hangman Texas Death match, and that’s a finish that’s been burned into my brain since it happened in March. Obviously, Hangman couldn’t do that here (I don’t even want to get into the optics of a heroic white man “hanging” a Black wrestler), but if he was set to lose anyway, something a little more emphatic might have been the way to go.

Much like a lot of modern wrestling, this ironically limits itself by overreaching. Just a little more tightening of the screws, and there are some truly dizzying heights these two might have reached.

That said, ambition is an easy sin to forgive when this much blood has been spilled.

IS IT BETTER THAN 6/3/94? I’ve always had my complaints about Misawa/Kawada despite how great it is, but one thing I can never take away from them is that match really does ramp up. It may sag just a little in the early portions of the match, but once it starts kicking, it never really stops. By contrast, Swerve/Hangman only just avoids overextending themselves into something much worse. It’s a delicate thing here with them just ending up on the side that allows them to still be one of the best matches of the year. King’s Road wins this time.

Rating: ****1/2

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