”The Doc” Chad Matthews has been a featured writer for LOP since 2004. Initially offering detailed recaps and reviews for WWE’s top programs, he transitioned to writing columns in 2010. In addition to his discussion-provoking current event pieces, he has written many acclaimed series about WrestleMania, as well as a popular short story chronicle. The Doc has also penned a book, The WrestleMania Era: The Book of Sports Entertainment, published in 2013. It has been called “the best wrestling book I have ever read” and holds a worldwide 5-star rating on Amazon, where it peaked at #3 on the wrestling charts.
QUESTION OF THE DAY: Who has the higher upside in WWE – Xavier Woods or Big E?
Admittedly, the manner in which wrestlers climb the hierarchical ladder in WWE today confuses me when I compare it to the formula utilized across the vast majority of the WrestleMania Era. Nevertheless, when I look at the 2018 Money in the Bank pay-per-view card, I see a Ladder Match for the WWE or Universal Championship opportunity essentially pioneered in practice, briefcase carrying, and cash-in executing by my second favorite wrestler of all-time, Edge, and perfected in the modern era by my current favorite wrestler, Seth Rollins, and I see a chance for someone who has the potential to channel qualities of both The Architect and The Rated R Superstar and use the June 17th PPV as the springboard to a very special career. I’m talking about Xavier Woods.
In a year that had not featured so many frustrating creative decisions that fans across the internet borderline reviled, Woods might have been the recipient of the award for most surprising story of 2017. New Day was fading from its historically underrated peak, labeled so only because the trio of merchandise selling machines never really advanced, up until that point, further than their place firmly in the center of the mid-card, relevant enough to host WrestleMania, make grandiose entrances, break tag title-reigning records, and collaborate with celebrities, but never considered a marquee attraction responsible for selling a show (only to greatly enhance the experience for the show that others were entrusted to primarily attract). Woods breathed new life into the faction with his role in taking the matches between New Day, typically in the past having featured Kofi Kingston and Big E with Xavier tooting his horn on the outside, and The Usos to the next level. He was revealed through that classic tag rivalry to have an extra gear or three in the ring, with athleticism that made his pairing with Kofi exhilarating and with his impressive improvements as a wrestling psychologist and physical storyteller making his work alongside Big E good enough to surpass the very best previous match in the New Day library.
Xavier’s breakout year gave way to what I honestly believe needs to start getting more appreciation for being the generational classic that it was: New Day vs. The Shield at Survivor Series 2017. It ranked right up there alongside The Shield’s previous classics with The Wyatts and Evolution in 2014 at least in terms of the entertainment value, but a weak WrestleMania Season and a muted 5-minute triple threat loss at The Show of Shows after two straight years of being in a unique spotlight quieted what might have otherwise been, if backed by a show with a better creative reputation and a little bit of ‘Mania momentum, a lengthy conversation to be had about Woods being the guy who took a leap forward in the aftermath of the Shake-Up. Instead, tag team wrestling has been deemphasized heavily since the November Classic and nobody has talked about Xavier Woods for months.
Woods is primed, though, and the time is right for WWE to make a move with him. He is young and he is highly intelligent; he is a gifted orator; he is very creative (remember The New Day is his baby, his original idea); and he proved last year that he could be a major player between the ropes. Since The New Day still has some equity left, now would be a good time to initiate Xavier being the one from the group that benefits most from three straight years of legendary merch pushing (one of the hottest selling items two years ago at WrestleMania 32 was a Booty-Os cereal box with a shirt in it for crying out loud). Xavier could simply represent New Day if he were to win the Money in the Bank briefcase at the upcoming PPV, the act challenged to find a blend between their modern day iconic comedy segments and what made that more serious side of them creep out from behind the laughter opposite Jimmy and Jey; that is certainly one popular theory.
The upper limits of his value would be better tested – and this is the kind of test I can more readily accept as an old school thinker who appreciates logic in the narrative direction of the product – if he were to follow the leads of Edge and Rollins and split away from the pack. It can be an amicable split or maybe Kingston and/or Big E could become jealous of him, painting Woods as the good guy in the break-up. He could also be the one who turns on them, channeling the destruction of The Shield. Heels are well-known to offer better character building opportunities for the wrestlers who portray them, so maybe the strategy to maximize Woods would be to let him surprisingly turn on them in a sink or swim situation akin to The Architect’s four years ago. Rollins exemplified carpe diem; it would sure be intriguing to find out if Woods could too.
Honestly, it is something that I would personally love to see. What Woods accomplished these past few years – coming to a veteran like Kofi who had already had a decent amount of success and a highly touted prospect like Big E (endorsed by John Cena) and asking them if they wanted to be part of the group he had dreamed up, then turning that dream realized into one of the most successful mid-card acts of the decade, and more recently rounding into a performer with a lot of upside – is all pretty amazing. Again, forgive my lack of understanding for what constitutes the necessary credentials earned before getting to the tippy top in today’s WWE, but I would surely think that both Woods and Big E have qualified for that short list of next-man-up headliners. They have each done everything that any mid-card act could ever be asked to do before climbing higher up the proverbial ladder; if they have not, then I’ve got two words for today’s upward mobility cycle.
At this point in American history, I also do not want to shy away from the fact that Woods is black and that elevating him to the next level in his career makes sense for reasons related to his race as well as his talents. WWE has not had a consistent black headliner in over a decade. In the WrestleMania Era, not once has a black wrestler consistently been one of the top five main-event acts most integral to the product in a given year; some would obviously challenge that statement, citing The Rock particularly, but if I may borrow from an engaging Netflix show called “Dear White People,” Rock is far more Rashida Jones on the blackness perception scale than, say, Gabrielle Union. It is one of the strangest oddities across WWE-related sociology, the striking lack of black representation in the Top 30 of the past 30-plus years in mainstream pro wrestling lore, regardless of how one feels about Dwayne Johnson’s perception. In this day and age, it is rather surprising that WWE has not taken advantage of its good fortune; three wildly successful black mid-carders, two of which are not even in their wrestling primes yet, with a brand split and a societal conversation about institutional racism offering WWE the time/space and the opportunity to become more progressive and get some good P.R. simultaneously.
I am invested in the “Xavier Woods to the top” narrative from multiple perspectives, that much is crystal clear in mind.
Because of his burgeoning skill set, I think that Woods has overtaken Big E as the top potential prospect to emerge as a singles star out of New Day; and that is, by the way, coming from someone who has routinely stated in recent years that Big E had Top 5 in WWE caliber upside. Like Edge and Rollins before him, I see Woods as the type that is going to rise to the occasion, finding a way to thrive as one of the top stars in the game. I say give Woods a shot…