Xavier Woods never realized just how much fun pro wrestling could be.
“When you go to work, you want to have fun, because when you’re having fun you’re not really working. And I’ve never had this much fun in my career. I can’t imagine something being a step up,” says Woods.
As one third of the wildly popular New Day with teammates Kofi Kingston and Big E, Woods has helped spread that fun throughout the WWE Universe for the past several years. One of the most entertaining acts in WWE, New Day have become a fan favorite and brought a revolution to tag-team wrestling.
Woods and his fellow unicorn-loving purveyors of positivity and fun, who made their tag-team debut on Nov. 28, 2014, have since released their own Booty-O’s cereal, hosted Wrestlemania and held a slew of tag-team titles.
Their in-ring accomplishments are noteworthy: two-time WWE Raw tag-team champions; three-time WWE Smackdown tag-team champions; and longest reigning tag-team champions in WWE history (483 days), breaking Demolition’s 28-year-old record of 478 consecutive days with the belts.
Born Austin Watson 32 years ago, the amicable Woods is a big part of the stable’s success. His route to the big time has come through dogged determination, hard work and a passion for sports entertainment.
Woods, whose New Day crew will be at the North Charleston Coliseum on Jan. 7 as part of a Smackdown Live show, says although he was a huge wrestling fan growing up, there was no “special moment or match” that made him want to become a professional wrestler.
“I didn’t have one of those, it’s just the first thing that I ever wanted to do. I remember the first time I got asked what I wanted to do. Clearly I wanted to be a pro wrestler, but I got laughed at. I was kind of the runt. I was never the tallest kid or the biggest kid or the strongest kid, so I would get laughed at when I’d say it.”
Later on, though, Woods realized it was possible to pursue his passion, and maybe even be successful at it.
“I can have a job where I get paid to travel around the world in shiny pants. Why would anyone want to do anything else? That sounded awesome. It was really a no-brainer for me after I realized that.”
Woods has strong ties to the state of South Carolina. As a student at Furman University in Greenville, he earned bachelor’s degrees in psychology and philosophy.
That he attended Furman in the first place was strictly by happenstance.
Shortly after he was born in Columbus, Ga., Woods’ family moved to Inglewood, Calif., returning to Georgia a couple years later.
“I wanted to go back to California because I had always dreamed of going to school at UCLA. But it was clear across the country. I was also looking at the University of Miami … the same kind of climate pretty much, a good education and pretty good sports teams.
Woods was well on his way to Miami, where he was accepted, when he got a similar letter from Furman the next day. Perplexed, he recalls, he asked his mother, “What is this?”
“This is from another school you applied to,” she answered.
“No, I didn’t apply to this school,” Woods replied.
His mother then explained. “I took your stuff from Miami and changed some of the words so it would also make sense for Furman, and sent that off too.”
“Some of her friends told her that Furman was an amazing school with great educational programs. So she suggested I just give them a shot,” says Woods.
His mother’s intuition turned out to be a blessing in disguise.
“I went to Miami for a week, literally just partied the whole time I was there,” Woods recalls. “I knew if I went there, I would be getting nothing done. But I ended up going to Furman. The campus was beautiful. It was like one of the top 10 college campuses on the planet. And they had dropped a ton of money into their psychology program, and I already knew that’s what I wanted to major in. I loved the people there; I very much felt at home. I loved being in the South. It’s where I’m most comfortable.”
It’s also where the goal-oriented Woods would get his feet wet in the wrestling business.
“I was on the independent scene the day after I graduated from high school. I started training and had my first match two months later, right before I actually went to college.”
While Woods studied hard and did well in the classroom, he also was “one hundred percent” committed to wrestling.
“I wrestled five times a week. I found a place on Tuesday nights, so right after class I would go there. And then after Friday class, I would drive to Georgia or Virginia or wherever I was wrestling, and I’d wrestle Friday night, Saturday night, Sunday morning and Sunday afternoon, and then drive back to school for class at sometimes 8 a.m. on Monday.”
“I obviously missed out some of the social things in college, like fraternities and parties,” adds Woods. “I wasn’t there on the weekends when people were hanging out. But I was lucky enough to have a solid group of guys that I lived with who were incredible and with whom I am still friends to this day. They’d come to the matches with me and were always supportive. I was very lucky to have them, and if I hadn’t gotten the chance to go to Furman, I would have never met those guys.”
Woods would later earn his master’s degree from Walden University while working for WWE in its FCW developmental system (later NXT). He is currently working on a doctorate in educational psychology.
“Through that process, they actually allowed the talent to further continue their education through a yearly stipend,” Woods explains. “It’s been a huge help being a part of WWE and being able to do something that I love so much. As a company, I think they fully understand the importance of that. The smarter and more well-rounded their athletes, the better off they will be after their WWE life.”
Wrestling as Austin Creed, a moniker influenced by the Rocky series character Apollo Creed, Woods made a name for himself on the independent circuit working for NWA Anarchy before getting his first big break on national TV with TNA in 2007.
Adopting the ring name Consequences Creed, he paired with R-Truth (Ron Killings) as a team known as Truth and Consequences.
After three years in TNA and a stint with New Japan Pro Wrestling, Woods signed a developmental deal with WWE in July 2010. In WWE, he originally used his real name for his ring moniker before coming up with Xavier Woods.
“(TNA referee) Earl Hebner used to call me ‘Tiger,’ so I went with the last name Woods because I thought it was funny,” says Woods. “I’m a huge fan of X-Men, and just intelligence in general, and the leader in charge is named Prof. Charles Xavier. I took Xavier from him, and put together the two names. Luckily it got through creative and everything, and my name is now Xavier Woods.”
The concept of “New Day” was a collaborative effort, says Woods. At the time, Woods, Kingston and Big E were simply trying to have fun and hold on to their jobs. While all possessed talent, forming a new act combining the three was a leap of faith.
“It (the concept) was mine from a standpoint of wanting to come together, and then it’s been stuff from everybody as we’ve gone along. That’s nice because we have very similar, but very different, trains of thought. Where I lack, E picks up. Where E lacks, Kofi picks up. It’s become a very well-rounded group. We just know each other so well.”
But it took some convincing and proving to WWE head honcho Vince McMahon that the act could work.
“Obviously you never know, you can only hope, but that was always the goal that I wanted to attain,” says Woods. “You have these goals and you set them. You know what you want to do. You know what people have done before you in similar positions, such as a three-man group. You’ve only seen it be able to be taken so far before the group has to call it quits or they can’t do anything interesting anymore. So that was always not the fear, but the thought in the back of our minds. What all could we really do with this?”
The threesome spent six months working house shows and barnstorming ideas as they attempted to get their chemistry down. Billled as gospel singers preaching the “power of positivity” in their in-ring TV debut in late 2014, a gimmick pitched by McMahon, the team initially was met by a chorus of jeers from the audience.
But with some fine-tuning, New Day shook off their rocky start. Once the act was allowed to improvise and tweak the gimmick, they won over the audience with antics that included making unicorn gestures and wearing plastic horns during their entrance, using the word “booty” as their catchphrase and introducing Booty-O’s cereal as they danced and gyrated in the ring.
When he wasn’t in a match, Woods would be at ringside playing a trombone he dubbed “Francesca” and getting the crowd involved. They soon became one of the hottest acts in WWE.
“Being able to spend the time together before we actually debuted on TV really helped us,” says Woods. “By the time we debuted on TV, the sky was the limit. It was solely based on our chemistry that we were going to make something happen. And then that turned into we’re going to make everything happen.”
Hosting Wrestlemania 33 at Orlando’s Camping World Stadium was a pinnacle for the popular triumvirate.
“That’s something a child might dream of … hosting Wrestlemania someday,” says Woods. “When we got the call about doing it, of course we wanted to host Wrestlemania. They thought that we might be averse to it because we wanted to have a match. That would be awesome to have a match, but who’s gotten to host Wrestlemania? It’s a very short list.”
Their improvisational skills have also endeared the fan base to New Day.
“We have a great team of writers who are amazing. If we’re having trouble thinking of something, they’ve got ideas on deck. It’s all a big family, group effort. A lot of what we do is improv. We just always want to be in touch. We talk about stuff that’s funny to us. We feel like if it’s funny to us, hopefully it’s funny to other people. If not, at least it’s funny to us.”
Having a firm grasp and understanding what their role is has helped New Day become well-rounded and stay the course for the past four years.
“I think the three of us are very lucky to be able to be where we currently are,” says Woods. “But I think we are there because we’ve put the work in. We try to understand everything we possibly can outside wrestling. WWE is not just a wrestling company. It’s an entertainment industry. There’s a lot more than the wrestling. We do a lot more than what you see in the ring.”
While there’s always rumors of teams breaking up and individuals going their separate ways, Woods doesn’t envision that happening to New Day. In fact, he’s almost sure that’s not in the cards for his teammates, and says he would even retire before that happens.
“More importantly, it’s the best career move for all three of us (to stay together),” says Woods, noting the fate of others who have gone their separate ways.
“New Day’s staying together forever. In the easiest terms, it’s the most fun option for us.”
Close friends outside the ring, the three have developed a tight relationship and bond, and Woods says they complement one another.
“Obviously Kofi was killing it already. E was doing well. I wasn’t really doing much,” Woods said. “The group has helped me become more recognized and things like that. But you also think about the things that Kofi and me were doing. They’ve gotten way more opportunities as well because of being part of the group.
“It’s helped all three of us make sure that we’re on TV, make sure that we get microphones in our hands, and possibly the most important thing in the company, it’s helped us with opportunities to have amazing matches with other teams that are just as amazing. So when you get to have a Hell in a Cell match, none of us had ever been in that position before. By having this group effort and being able to attack this as a group, we’ve been able to do a lot more than if we were just doing this alone.”
Woods has also made a name for himself in the gaming world. It’s not only a passion for Woods. It’s part of who he is.
“I’m sitting in front of my computer right now setting up to do a live stream,” he says. “I was on last night for about three hours. Honestly it’s the other side of my life that I’m just kind of obsessed with. It’s my wind-down, it’s where I get my head right.”
Unlike the social aspect of heavy drinking and partying of past generations, Woods has created an atmosphere where wrestlers can bond by playing video games in locker rooms and hotel rooms after the show.
The lifelong video game aficionado’s YouTube gaming channel UpUpDownDown, which regularly sees him and friends including other WWE stars playing games, has nearly two million subscribers.
“I’ve been playing games all my life, but as far as doing the YouTubes, it’s been three years that I’ve had UpUpDownDown. Then I just started up the Twitch channel to have more of a live-stream experience with people.”
For Xavier Woods, the most enjoyable part of being a WWE Superstar is bringing joy and laughter to fans.
“Just seeing the smiles on people’s faces, whether it’s at a show or a signing, because that was me. I know how that feels. To know we now have the ability to do that for people … that’s insane for me.”
Recently while Woods was in Kuala Lampur, Malaysia, on a media tour, he was approached by a young fan who immediately recognized the wrestler.
“To have a seven-year-old kid on the other side of the world know my name is a very humbling thing. I’m just a regular dude from Georgia who likes wrestling. How do you know me? That’s awesome. The reach that WWE has is amazing.”
As for memorable experiences in the Lowcountry, Woods smiles when he thinks about a particular one.
“This is going to sound very weird, but I had really good (Krispy Kreme) donuts there one time. They’re so good. I was at a friend’s house, and they had a bowl of donuts. We sat down and ate all of them.”
As for Woods’ trusty trombone, which he plays as part of New Day’s ring entrance, it comes quite naturally.
“I’ve been playing trombone since the sixth grade. People always ask me if I just tried to learn trombone so I could use it in the act. I actually was a concert-level trombonist,” says Woods, who was featured playing trombone and tambourine as well as dancing and singing on the Postmodern Jukebox cover of “What is Love” music video.
“I play every once in a while. I’m obviously nowhere as good as I was when I was younger. But I can still play something by ear, which is nice.”
And he’s good enough to play in front of 20,000 people.
“My old band teacher told me he didn’t know this for a fact, but he was pretty sure I had done more for trombones than anyone in the history of this school.”
Xavier Woods will be at the North Charleston Coliseum as part of WWE’s Smackdown Live event Monday night, joining forces with New Day partners Big E and Kofi Kingston in a three-way tag bout with The Usos and defending Smackdown tag-team champs The Bar (Sheamus and Cesaro).
In other matches on the show: AJ Styles will defend his WWE championship against Daniel Bryan in the main event, while Shinsuke Nakamura, Jeff Hardy and Samoa Joe will meet in a three-way match.
New Smackdown women’s champion Asuka will join Charlotte Flair and Becky Lynch in a special Miz TV segment. Also featured will be Luke Gallows and Karl Anderson, Carmella, Naomi and more.