NATICK, MASS. – Xavier Woods has accomplished a lot in his brief WWE career, but his greatest achievement may very well have occurred outside the squared circle.
“I out-ate Big E the other day,” said Woods. “We were at Waffle House, and my go-to meal is ten eggs scrambled, cheese, grits, bacon, and wheat toast dried. I had that the other day, and he ate an egg sandwich. But he wasn’t even hungry at the time. Big E could eat an entire side of the menu if he felt like it.”
Woods explained there is a very specific reason why his New Day partner is referred to as “Big” E.
“He’s a very large man,” said Woods. “He is constantly eating and constantly in the gym. He’s our muscle, so we need to keep him fed and keep him happy.”
The 29-year-old Woods–whose real name is Austin Watson–is extremely talented, but his skillset far transcends the wrestling ring. He is the creator and host of UpUpDownDown, a YouTube gaming web site.
“I sacrifice sleep to do it,” said a smiling Woods. “Originally, I wanted to do a Travel Channel show. Normally, if we’re staying in a town before a show, I’ll go to a barcade. Those are dive bars that have tons of arcades, since there aren’t a ton of arcades where kids can put quarters in games and actually have that kind of arcade experience. Barcades are for those people who lived through that generation, and I pitched a show for the [WWE] Network where I’d go to these different places each week.”
Although WWE was interested, the thought became a reality when the idea was pitched to Woods as a weekly online gaming site.
“We merged the ideas and came up with a YouTube gaming channel,” said Woods. “I always have my carrying case–it’s called a GAEMS case, and has my PS4 in it and a built-in TV–and so we put together a gaming channel. The first couple episodes where me and Kofi [Kingston] playing FIFA, and the loser had to eat hot peppers. It was stuff that we were already doing, but now we’re filming it and putting on a little punishment at the end. We’ve been branching out and connecting with other YouTubers, other arcades, and other gaming people. We’re learning what’s good, what’s bad, the connections to use with the systems and TVs, and it’s been a very eye-opening experience.”
Wrestling is known for its treacherous travel schedule, but video games are a way for the newer generation of wrestlers to relax and remain connected.
“Every generation of guys has their thing that brings them together,” said Woods. “I’m very much about the camaraderie of what we do. When I got on the main roster [in 2013], I wanted to find something to bring us all together. We all love wrestling, and that’s a given, but we’re all from different places, and to find something else outside of work that brings us together and finds common ground is really nice. It may seem trivial, but to have everyone sitting in a room–and, like any job, there are guys who don’t like each other and some guys that love each other–cheering and freaking out over two guys playing Madden. Getting hyped with friends playing a game that you all enjoy is a lot of fun.”
As for WWE superstars who lack talent in gaming, Woods said to look no further than the host of “Miz TV.”
“Miz thinks he’s the best at every game ever, and he’s not,” said Woods. “It’s hilarious. He’s constantly yapping, like a Chihuahua, but then we beat him and he’ll chill out for a few minutes, and then he ramps back up again. He isn’t horrible at Street Fighter II, but he can’t touch me. I’m on another level.”
While Vince McMahon and Paul “Triple H” Levesque have not joined in on the games just yet, Woods explained that those plans are in the works.
“There are so many different types of games, so it helps bring people closer together,” said Woods. “Madden and Street Fighter are two very different things, but everybody can pretty much hold their own. Kofi games a ton, and most of the guys play sports game like Madden. There are guys playing who you wouldn’t think of as, quote-unquote, gamers.”
One of the wrestlers who loves to game is the “Bulgarian Brute” Rusev.
“Rusev will come out every once and a while with us at a barcade,” said Woods. “Rusev is very good at Street Fighter and very good at Mortal Kombat. We got Mortal Kombat X, and we’ve sat and played for hours in the building before a show.”
Woods, whose “UpUpDownDown” site is in the midst of “Star Wars Week,” was in Boston over the weekend for the TLC pay-per-view, and he hosted and participated in a Smash Melee tournament at Game Underground on Saturday. Woods revealed that he struggled as a child to connect socially with friends, and it was video games that allowed him to create some lasting friendships.
“I didn’t have very many friends growing up,” said Woods. “I was very much a nerd, I read comic books, and I wanted to do well in school. I didn’t have any social skills at all, but my mom noticed I was way more vocal when I had a Nintendo controller in my hand. So she’d set up play dates with other kids to come over and play video games. She said I was like a circuit that was finally completed because I was holding a controller, and another kid was holding a controller, and I finally connected with somebody else and opened up my doors of social activity.”
Woods favorite game as a child was Goldeneye on N64.
“That was a four-player James Bond game and I would sit in a dark room with friends and just play,” said Woods. “Winner holds the controller and the other three guys pass, and we’d have a room of eight people constantly losing our minds.”
“UpUpDownDown” has built a following of over 276,000 subscribers, and Woods is extremely grateful for the support and shared enthusiasm.
“It’s very humbling, and it’s different from wrestling,” said Woods. “Wrestling is this living, breathing thing, but I didn’t birth it. So being a part of Raw and Smackdown is amazing, and it’s my life dream to be able to do it, but my creativity and hard work has created the ‘UpUpDownDown’ channel. When people tell me they appreciate it, that really means a lot to me. It’s essentially been built by a gamer for gamers.”
Woods has wrestled all over the globe. He particularly enjoyed his time with New Japan Pro Wrestling because of his proximity to what he calls “the gaming capital of the world.”
“When I’m in Japan, I go to Akihabara,” said Woods. “That’s a district of Tokyo that has tons of arcades–like, five story Sega arcades, and I lose my mind there. It is my favorite area of the world. There’s a Gundam game, which is essentially guys flying robots, and I sit down and play that game for hours. Without fail, there is always a crew of Japanese male teenagers that walk in, and I can always hear them snickering, probably saying, ‘Look at the American guy trying to play video games!’ It’s happened to me every time I’ve been there. And then one of the kids will play with me, and I’ll end up destroying him.”
Woods was profiled on ESPN’s “E:60,” and he revealed on the program that he is pursuing his PhD. He recently transferred programs to study general psychology instead of educational psychology, and is now enrolled in Capella University’s PhD program.
“It’s intense,” said Woods. “I’m actually transferring schools right now. I had 135 credits and was doing my dissertation in educational psychology, but now I’m transferring to Capella University and start on January 11. They’re taking 25 of my 135 credits, and it will probably take me another three-and-a-half years to finish.”
The trombone-playing Woods also divulged the long-term goal for his hair.
“The goal is always for it to not fall out of my head,” said Woods. “I’ve got it, so I may as well do something with it. I’m really liking doing stuff to it, and that gave me the idea to do something wild once a month at pay-per-views.”
Regardless of the subject–education, wrestling, gaming, or his hair–Woods puts deep thought about the collective psyche of the people around him.
“I’m trying to use my psychology degree to understand the nuances of people that watch sports entertainment,” explained Woods. “I’m trying to do the same thing with my gaming channel, and figure out what wrestling fans would like, as well as what non-wrestling fans would like.
“Wrestling fans are going to watch wrestling, so the thing with my hair is a way to try to incorporate non-wrestling fans. Dads send us pictures with their daughters wearing New Day shirts, and the little girls don’t always love wrestling, but they say, ‘I love the unicorn guys!’ So they can bond over that. Giving people the opportunity to share a moment with their child they couldn’t do before is extremely meaningful to me.”
As for a favorite skit with the New Day, Woods would not allow himself to choose one he particularly enjoyed, nor would he reveal one that he would prefer to do over.
“Every time I go out with Kofi and Big E, I feel like it was our best one,” said Woods. “I feel like we’re exponentially having a good time, and it increases every single time we do something. Since we’ve been doing New Day stuff, I’ve felt good about everything we’ve done. And that tells me, from a very critical standpoint, that I’m really enjoying myself. Those two guys are genuinely my friends, and they’re amazing human beings. It’s pure bliss going out there and being us.”
Woods is full of ambition, but not always for himself. His ultimate goal in wrestling, in fact, is to help someone else claim the top spot in the company.
“‘Stone Cold’ [Steve Austin] explained that if you’re not trying to be heavyweight champion, then you’re in the wrong business,” said Woods. “That’s interesting to me because my goal is to make sure Kofi becomes heavyweight champion. He is the guy who absolutely deserves it over anyone else in the company. My long-term goal is to help, in whatever way I can, Kofi become heavyweight champion.”
As for personal goals in WWE, Woods envisions a lot of gold in his future.
“Long-term, I want to win a Slammy every year for the next fifteen years,” said Woods. “I don’t have any yet, but they’re coming up next week.”
In addition to wrestling, Woods plans to put all of his heart into growing “UpUpDownDown”.
“The goal is to keep getting tons more games and tons more subscribers,” said Woods. “I want to bring video games to people that might not be as interested as they used to be. It’s really about showing people that everybody plays games.”
Woods is also a big proponent of allowing children to be themselves, and he wants then to dream big to get big.
“I’m a full-fledged nerd, but nerd isn’t a dirty word any more,” said Woods. “I sit and watch anime constantly, I play video games constantly, and I have my nose in comic books constantly. I’m part of a group called the NPC Collective. It’s the Nerdy People of Color Collective. It’s me and a rapper by the name of Mega Ran, the only rapper licensed by Capcom, and a bunch of other people who do nerd rap. We rap about video games and electronics, and our goal is to show young black kids that it’s OK to be nerdy.
“I grew up in Inglewood, California for the first couple years of my life, and growing up in the ‘hood is difficult as a kid. We want to show kids there are people like you in the positions in life you want to be in. Showing kids they can do what they want to do and be great at it, that’s the stuff that means the most to me.”
Youth-based activities are an integral piece of Woods’ life, and after wrestling, he plans to work with autistic children.
“My goal is to eventually work with children with autism,” said Woods. “When I was in college finishing up my psychology degree, I took a seminar course in autism and it was eye-opening to me. There are so many people in need and the help isn’t available.”
Woods has fought to reach success in the WWE Universe, and he is thankful for the opportunities that wrestling has provided him.
“With wrestling, I just want to keep increasing and going in the direction it’s going,” said Woods. “I’m very happy with things right now, but I know the entertainment business is very fickle. Things could change tomorrow, so I keep hoping in my heart that things stay positive, we get to keep having fun doing what we’re doing, and that’s the goal right now.”
Justin Barrasso can be reached at JBarrasso@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter @JustinBarrasso.