From obnoxiously blaring his trombone, to slinging witty microphoner banter and owning an intricate skill set of moves in the ring, Xavier Woods has good reason to feel like he's on the top of the pro-wrestling world as the smartest Superstar the WWE has ever seen.
As one-third of the WWE tag-team champions, The New Day, Woods takes being cerebral to another level. When he's not putting down opponents in the squared circle with his verbal insults and slew of maneuvers, Woods is hitting the books, working hard on his Ph.D. ... and that's after he already owns two Bachelor's degrees (psychology and philosophy) and a Master's (psychology).
Woods also spends a chunk of his time playing video games, even hosting a popular YouTube gaming channel called UpUpDownDown, which has amassed millions of views, regularly featuring some of his WWE peers. Although, Woods wants to make its intentions clear.
"I want people to understand, it's not a wrestling channel," Woods tells Tech Times. "It's a gaming channel and my friends that are on it, happen to be wrestlers."
We caught up with Woods just three days before the Royal Rumble on Sunday night. Here, the tag-team champ talks The New Day's title defense against The Usos, UpUpDownDown's booming popularity, his anticipation for Unchartered 4 and Pokemon Go, developing his own RPG ... and that damn trombone. (Well, what's left of it, after Chris Jericho cracked the instrument over his knee days ago). Time to get lost in the Woods!
The New Day is putting its tag-team titles on the line against The Usos at Royal Rumble on Sunday night. What challenge do The Usos present for The New Day?
Xavier Woods: The Usos have been gunning for our tag-team championships for a hot minute, but the thing is they don't seem to understand that they can't beat us. So, this is like the third, fourth, fifth, whatever number of times that we're going to beat them. They could come with the whole dance. They're cool guys. I could understand why people might like them, but The New Day is just better in every aspect. While they are a great tag team, it is exciting to beat them every time we're in the ring with them and it just shows how much better of a tag team we are.
Did you have a favorite Royal Rumble moment growing up?
I went to the Royal Rumble once when it was in Atlanta. I'm not sure what year. [Editor's Note: The 2002 and 2010 Royal Rumble were held in Atlanta]. I'm horrible with years and numbers. But that was my favorite experience. [Growing up] I genuinely enjoyed everything that occurred in wrestling.
As good as The New Day is in the ring, you guys are some of the best that the WWE has on the mic, able to put down your opponents with confidence and humor. How much of what you guys come up with is planned and how much is on the fly?
A good bit of it is on the fly — about 80 percent of it. We have a general idea of what we want to say to somebody, but we have been riding together for over a year now, so we're on the road a minimum five days a week. We're riding together, we're working out together, we have our shows together, so I see these guys more than I see anybody else in my life. So, down to the music we listen to, the podcasts we listen to, the radio stuff we listen to, the shows that we watch ... we're all very, very in tune with each other because we're around each other so much.
Yes, it sounds very cliché, but we could finish each other's sentences, finish each other thoughts. You know what you want to say, your friends also know what you want to say, so it makes it very difficult for someone to attack us from any angles because we have not one, but three brains on the same wavelength. It makes for exciting, funny stuff to us because we're all friends, we're making each other laugh and then we're able to denounce our opponent live on television [laughing].
Your YouTube gaming channel UpUpDownDown has taken on a life of its own online, outside of wrestling. Obviously, you're a big-time gamer, but what made you start it and can you believe the way it has taken off?
It's cool because it's like my baby, as far as people will come up and say, 'Watched Raw, watched SmackDown, enjoyed it.' I'm a part of that show, but I didn't create it. So, it's cool and it feels good to be able to have achieved the life goal or life dream to be on TV wrestling, but when people come up to me and they're wearing the UpUpDownDown t-shirt like, 'I love when X and X that happened,' this is my creation, so it's very a humbling experience when people tell me they enjoy it, that they actually watch it, that they actually are foaming at the mouth waiting for certain episodes.
Every time, we're in a different town, I always try to find a Barcade that's around, so I wanted to do a show where I was traveling from Barcade to Barcade, actually highlighting them and highlighting the town. 'Hey, if you're in Portland, go to Ground Kontrol. If you're in Charlotte, go to Boxcar.' Meeting up with someone else, they kind of wanted to do a YouTube channel, so I was like, 'Oh, why don't we combine them?' It was like, 'It might be weird to do the travel channel thing on YouTube, so why don't we do a gaming channel since it's essentially the same concept?'
I started working on it, hashing out ideas, and like a year later, we got the green light to start doing it. Since then, it has kind of taken off. It's huge from what I imagined it to be. I thought people might enjoy it, but my fear was that only wrestling fans would watch it. While I love wrestling fans, I wanted to get the gamer crowd, too, that doesn't necessarily watch wrestling and possibly pull them into wrestling if they're open to it.
I want people to understand, it's not a wrestling channel. It's a gaming channel and my friends that are on it, happen to be wrestlers. That's why we'll play Street Fighter, Mortal Kombat, whatever it is, but then I'll do independent games and stuff that I'm really into and Final Fantasy stuff. That's what I do in my free time — I play video games and I want people to understand, no, I'm not trying to encroach into a world that I don't know anything about. Games are my venue.
There's a really big crossover between wrestling and video games, so I don't feel like I have to treat separate things or be talking to different audiences because I feel like those people are all going to be into that sort of stuff.
Tech Times caught the Madden tournament that you hosted on UpUpDownDown backstage with the WWE roster. How prevalent is gaming in the WWE locker room?
It has grown a lot since I started doing this because even before the channel started up, I had this thing called the Gaems Case that holds your PS2, your PS4 or your Xbox One inside. It's literally a briefcase with a built in TV and we can travel with it and it goes through security just fine and I've got it at every show. So, if anyone has down time, I can set it up, plug it into the wall and we can play.
It's cool because at any job, there's people you like, there's people you don't like. So, my whole thought has been like what brought me together with people as a child growing up was video games, so even if I'm not close buddies with guy X, we can sit down and play video games and it's totally cool. We can geek out about stuff. It's not that we're not friends. We just don't hang in the same circles, but this is something that brings us together and I feel like it has brought the whole locker room closer together and upped the morale. It has been a really good time.
Who would you say is one of the more tougher gamers out there on the WWE roster, besides yourself?
Definitely [The New Day teammate] Kofi [Kingston]. I don't think I've met another person who's my equal as much in so many games, so it makes for actual good competition and good rivalries. Even games like ... we went bowling the other day and it was a cut-throat game of bowling, so he's probably the other biggest gamer there.
What was the first game that you fell in love with?
Well, I've played games generally over the course of my life. Probably, Sonic [the Hedgehog] 2 was the one that lack for a better term like changed my life because it was the first game that I sat down and beat continuously, but couldn't stop playing it. The first time I got to the main boss, I ran and got my parents and my sister. We lived in an apartment and Sega [Genesis] was in my sister's room, so I ran and got all of them and I made them watch me as I beat Doctor Robotnik for the first time way out in space. I was like losing my mind.
It's funny because my parents and my sister are very encouraging, so even when I talk about the story and it seems very ridiculous, they were like cheering for me. There was a huge pop when I beat him and everybody's like high-fiving and stuff. I really enjoyed my house growing up because even the smallest thing, my parents made me feel like I was changing the world. Now, I'm in the position where I could use that same mentality to actually change the world and help some kids out.
Sure. Are you playing a game right now that's challenging and sort of giving you a run for your money?
I mean, I'm constantly playing Final Fantasy XIV. I'm on Final Fantasy Explorers right now on [Nintendo] 3DS and that's kind of taken my life. But I'm also making an RPG (role-playing game) with this program called RPG Maker MV, so that's pretty intense because it's a lot of half coding and figuring out where you want to put things, how you want to build levels, how you want to create characters, how you want to create bad guys, the story that's involved. That's kind of, as you said, giving me a run for my money, because I have to take the time and figure out how to do X, Y, and Z for this game to work.
Did you previously have coding experience or are you learning as you go?
I'm learning on the fly. The program I'm using has the most minimal amount of coding possible that you could use to make video games, so these people made it really easy for you in that sense. But even with that, it's still pretty complex in the things you have to do. But no, zero coding experience, beforehand.
Can you shed any light on the theme?
I don't know if I can at this point. It's still in the very early stages, but it's hopefully coming by December.
How do you find the time to squeeze that in, given the WWE's grueling schedule and school?
Sleep is something that I don't really do a lot. School started back last Monday, so just wrestling, homework, games and the gaming channel.
You mentioned the Gaems case. What other devices do you always have with you on the road that you can't do without?
I've got my iPhone 6 Plus, my MacBook and my Asus laptop. So, I run with two laptops as I travel, my PS4, and my cell phone. [Laughs].
Is the PS4 your favorite system of them all?
Right now? Yeah. It's [the console] I travel with the most and then Unchartered [4: A Thief's End] is coming out on it [in April], so by default, I'm going to go with PlayStation. [Laughing]. Unchartered is the best. I love those games.
Any other games that you're eagerly anticipating?
Pokemon Go. That's going to be sick! I'm going to waste all money — well, not waste, but spend all my money in that game. It's going to be a huge part of my life I feel like.
Are you into sports games as well?
No, I never really liked sports growing up. I was more into fantasy stuff like Nights into Dreams, Final Fantasy, those type of games.
The New Day easily has some of the best personalities in wrestling with Kofi, Big E and yourself. Who backstage is as entertaining that fans at home might not realize?
Neville. He's absolutely hilarious. Probably one of the funnier people in the locker room, especially when we're playing games like Rocket League. He'll beat you and just harass you for hours. It's hilarious, but lots of people don't know about it. If they saw it, it'd be over because he's so funny.
The trombone has become one of the most significant props in WWE history. How did it originally come into play and become part of your repertoire?
Well, there was one day that we were going to sing a song and I was like, 'I could sing this song, while you guys sing the words ... oh no, wait. I know how to play the trombone. If you guys give me a trombone, then I could probably learn how to play it.' We got one and things kind of took off from there. It became a huge part of The New Day. I'm super thankful that we got the chance to do it.
Did you immediately know the first time that you had something that resonated with the WWE Universe with the trombone?
Oh, 100 percent. We do stuff that's funny to us and if it's funny to other people, then we get excited about it. I just did it because it was making me laugh. Then it was like, 'Other people dig this, too. Perfect. This works out.' Everybody wins.