The match had a simple, yet effective, build. It made All Elite Wrestling’s fan base excited because of the easy-to-spot ramifications. AEW World Champion Jon Moxley put his belt on the line against former champion Hangman Page in a first-time matchup, a dream clash for fans — on television for free. The winner would be the top guy heading into the company’s next quarterly pay-per-view, Full Gear, and the other would be pushed aside. Except ending the epic encounter with a clean result didn’t happen. And it was absolutely the right decision.
Professional wrestling has predetermined results. The best wrestlers can communicate on the fly and pull off their enticing-looking arsenal without risking their own safety or the health of whoever they’re in the ring with. Page and Moxley are great examples of grapplers who can make their moves look devastatingly painful but have the respect of the locker room to get out of the squared circle unscathed most of the time, no matter if CM Punk doesn’t like Cowboy Shit. In the real-life crash test dummy world of pro wrestling, accidents happen, as evidenced by Moxley’s mid-match lariat that connected with Page’s head and sent him spiraling to the canvas without a clean landing. It’s unclear if Page was dazed before impact or if the odd bump caused the head or neck injury. Either way, it’s obvious Page wasn’t alright moments after hitting the mat.
AEW referee Paul Turner recognized Page’s distressed state immediately. After checking on Hangman, he called in Michael Sampson, the company’s ringside doctor, to check on him. At that point, longtime wrestling fans know the protocol: The show comes to a halt. Everything is secondary to caring for Page. A similar situation happened with former WWE star Enzo Amore, ending a tag team championship bout at Payback in 2016 because of a head injury. Turner called for the bell to end the match shortly after Sampson entered the ring. It led to a spine board being brought onto the mat to support Page getting onto a stretcher with minimal movement. AEW officials also loosened the bottom rope to make sure Page’s escort out of the arena was as smooth as possible.
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Page was taken to a local hospital, diagnosed with a concussion, and subsequently released. Things could have been so much worse if not for the awareness of Turner, Sampson, and Moxley, who all made sure to tend to Hangman in their own ways before the show could move on. And it did with Moxley and MJF cutting a great impromptu promo setting up their main-event match for Full Gear. By the time Moxley had a microphone to start the dialogue, Page was nowhere in sight. Hangman tweeted Wednesday night that he was in good spirits. There has been no timetable set for Page’s return to the ring, but he was placed in AEW’s concussion protocols.
AEW has now given us a pristine example of how to handle signs of head injuries and concussions amid the NFL’s investigation into how badly it failed Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa. If Page took that lariat, was checked on by Turner and Sampson, continued to wrestle the match, and then strapped up his boots again to fight in a few more days willing to be dropped on his head with a vicious piledriver, that would be the equivalent of how the NFL’s medical practices harmed Tua. Under the circumstances, the NFL has as much time to react to concussions as AEW had. One company’s safeguards clearly saved one of its employees from further damage. It also shows how AEW learned from putting Matt Hardy back in harm’s way two years ago after hitting his head onto concrete.
There’s a direct route for how AEW can help the NFL. Tony Khan, AEW’s CEO and president, is the son of Shad Khan, who owns the Jacksonville Jaguars. Not all concussion cases are the same, obviously, but several measures to prevent maximizing the damage of head injuries, are. The NFL could learn a thing or two from how AEW handled this situation, like letting Colts’ running back Nyheim Hines walk to the locker room under his own power after showing gross motor instability. What a disgusting showing that was. And you can bet based on how delicately it handled Hangman’s injury, letting an athlete trot off the field wouldn’t have happened on an AEW show.