Fueled by video games and revenge, WWE grappler Xavier Woods is climbing to the top of the sports entertainment world
No one in World Wrestling Entertainment is having more fun than the New Day. And no one in the New Day is having more fun than Xavier Woods.
Woods is the driving force in the three-man clique, who portray unicorn-loving, gospel-preaching bad guys in the ongoing sports entertainment soap opera. Every week, the trio — which also includes fellow matsmen Big E and Kofi Kingston — bombards WWE’s “Raw” broadcast and makes fun of their opponents, the audience, or anyone else in their path, taunting them with such playful, juvenile glee that it’s impossible not to smile along with them.
Oh, and they dance, too, bumping and grinding like 1990s R&B Lotharios, which they’ll no doubt be doing as part of tonight’s WWE live event at Joe Louis Arena.
Woods is the New Day’s ringleader, marching to the ring with what has become his signature prop: A trombone, which he uses to jab and jeer with the crowd or his foes. The trombone has become an extension of his over-the-top personality, a colossally silly symbol of Woods’ rise to ring glory.
“It became its own beast,” says Woods, on the phone last week from his home in Atlanta. He played the trombone through middle school, high school and intro college, and one day earlier this year he proposed bringing it with him to the ring. He insists there was no greater plan before the trombone took on a life of its own. “That’s the beauty of it,” he says. “People don’t realize it, but some of the best stuff comes from not having a plan.”
Woods always had a plan to become a professional wrestler. Born Austin Watson in Columbus, Georgia, he started training for a pro wrestling career the month after he graduated from high school. “It’s the only thing I’ve ever known,” he says.
The 29-year-old bounced around promotions in the South before linking up with TNA, a rival promotion to WWE, in 2007. He was there until 2010, wrestling as a character based on the Apollo Creed character from the “Rocky” films. When he left TNA, he joined the WWE’s developmental program and made his TV debut with WWE three years later.
On screen, Woods displays boundless charisma, but he wasn’t always so outgoing and carefree. He says he was a quiet, shy child who was bullied by his peers until video games brought him out of his shell.
“My mom would set up play dates for me, and she saw me playing video games with other kids,” Woods says. “She told me when she saw me holding a controller and another kid holding a controller, it was almost like the circuit was completed, because that was the only time I would really talk to kids in a comfortable manner.
“I made friends playing video games. Those kids brought the social activity out of me and helped make me less awkward,” he says. “It made me realize I had some things to bring to the table, too.”
Woods, whose first gaming system was a Sega Genesis, calls video games his “safe place” and is still an avid gamer; on his YouTube channel Up Up Down Down, he plays video games with his fellow WWE Superstars while casually interviewing them.
Outside the ring, Woods holds a master’s degree in psychology and a bachelor’s degree in philosophy, and is currently working on his Ph.D. in educational psychology.
And inside the ring he’s soaring to new heights. The New Day, which was formed just over a year ago, is one of WWE’s most popular stables and is still climbing the ranks, and Woods would be the first person to rub his doubters’ noses in it.
“I like proving people wrong,” he says. “The best revenge is success, and I’m a very vengeful, grudge-keeping person. So when someone says I can’t do something and I prove them wrong, I don’t have to say I told you so, because they see me on TV doing it.
“Those people that disregarded me and made fun of me? I fulfilled my lifelong dream becoming a WWE champion,” says Woods, who won the Tag Team Championship with New Day in April. “The fact that I navigated life in a way to reach those goals makes me feel good.”
WWE Live Holiday Tour
7:30 p.m. Saturday
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