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Keepin’ It Kayfabe: The New Day and the power of personality

The New Day is arguably the most successful WWE tag team in history, but it took a lot of soul searching to get there.

When you look at The New Day now, you see one of the most successful trios in wrestling history. They’re the longest reigning WWE Tag Team Champions of all time, they star in a popular gaming channel and hilarious podcast, they even have their own cereal. They are loved.

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But they weren’t always successful, and that love was once hatred — or worse, apathy.

Today, let’s dive into the individual New Day members’ histories and explain why, though the talent was always there, their success sky-rocketed once they really let their true personalities shine.

Before The New Day

In NXT, Xavier Woods constantly referenced Dragon Ball Z, Power Rangers, Pogs, and anything else ’90s kids will remember from their youth. Woods saw a lot of success as “The ’90s Guy,” picking up wins over El Local, Jake Carter, and future Revival member Scott Dawson.

One of his last TV matches in NXT was an eight man tag team contest where he — alongside Adrian Neville, Corey Graves, and CJ Parker — defeated Tyler Breeze, Leo “Serious Adam Rose” Kruger, and the most feared team in that era of NXT, The Ascension. Woods was working with the big boys, but the big boys weren’t ready for the limelight.

A month earlier, a smaller team of Woods, Graves, and Neville lost a six man bout to The Shield. There’s no shame in losing to The Shield — all of the cool kids on the main roster were doing it — but it is an example of how small-time the top stars in this era of NXT would go on to be.

Graves retired in NXT. Parker left and became a Young Lion in New Japan. Breeze and Neville would make the smallest of marks upon their main roster debuts. The Ascension got beat up by old timers. Bo Dallas’ main roster run lacked the fire of his NXT Championship run. Sami Zayn never won a championship on the main roster until 2020, four years after his debut.

New Day
CJ Parker, Xavier Woods, Corey Graves, and Adrian Neville celebrate their victory over Tyler Breeze and company on the Sept. 19, 2013 edition of WWE NXT. WWE

Woods debuted on the main roster without his ’90s pop culture references, instead becoming a dancer with R-Truth and trying to steal the lifestyle of Brodus Clay for some reason. Though Woods and Truth were able to defeat Drew McIntyre and Jinder Mahal in Woods’ debut, and Woods defeated Heath Slater in his own singles debut the following week, Clay and tag partner Tensai defeated them the first time they clashed. In Woods’ second singles outing, Clay beat him in 37 seconds.

Woods was a victim of the 2012-2014 NXT era of wrestlers, folks who were stars in their own brand but would be hampered as soon as they made it up. This was also true of the women, with Paige acting as the Seth Rollins to Emma and Summer Rae’s Breeze and Dallas.

Big E Langston, however, was one man who seemed almost immune to whatever disease was affecting his comrades on the main roster.

Like Paige and Rollins, Langston debuted in WWE while still champion in NXT, and unlike these other NXT guys, E was a constant winner. In fact, Langston only lost one match in his entire NXT run: his championship loss to Bo Dallas. Even after this loss, Langston still never lost again in NXT, his last match being a DQ win in an Intercontinental Championship match with main roster rival and defending champion Curtis Axel.

Big E’s loss to Dallas was on May 23, 2013, but this was not his first loss in WWE. E actually lost in his main roster debut, a Tag Team Championship match alongside Dolph Ziggler against Team Hell No at WrestleMania 29. Now, unlike The Ascension with The New Age Outlaws or Xavier Woods with Brodus Clay, Langston should have no shame in losing to Daniel Bryan or Kane early in his career. But again, this was an example of how unprepared this class of NXT stars were for the main roster, because an undefeated monster on one brand losing in his debut in another didn’t bode well for his peers in the NXT.

Langston did well after this, finally winning the Intercontinental Championship in November 2013, but his path was far from perfect. After he and AJ Lee lost to Ziggler and Kaitlyn at SummerSlam, Langston found his role as a guy who couldn’t beat the bigger names. He beat Justin Gabriel and Zack Ryder all right, but he lost matches to the likes of CM Punk, Christian, and this guy named Kofi Kingston. By the time he beat Axel, who was Big E to fans other than someone to chant offensive things like “Choc Lesnar” and “Soulberg” at? His 5-count was gone, and with it, a lot of his charisma.

Big E would sneak things in from time to time, though, and it always kept me a fan. Go back and watch Royal Rumble 2013 and listen to E and Ziggler’s interview segment with Matt Striker. While not gut-busting, E’s annoying reporter voice was at least amusing, and it made him more than just a silent monster. Then there was the WrestleMania Diary episode a few months later where he showed off the custom My Little Pony figure a fan brought him.

These little things stuck with me as a fan, and for the next two years, I wondered why the bundle of fun and charisma that was Big E came off as so boring on TV.

The third and arguably most important piece to the New Day puzzle was Kofi Kingston, and unlike his two NXT peers, Kingston was actually pretty successful on his own. And not just “a little” successful: Kingston was a 4-time Intercontinental Champion, 3-time United States Champion, and 3-time Tag Team Champion with CM Punk, Evan Bourne and R-Truth.

I’ve heard people liken Kingston to a modern-day Ricky “The Dragon” Steamboat as a guy who was always beloved by the fans, and that’s because, also unlike Woods and E, Kingston really was being his truest self. Kingston is a good guy at heart, and his mean streak only came out when he fought despicable foes like 2010 Randy Orton.

Kofi’s problems just before The New Day were less about his personality and more about the roster passing him by. By the summer of 2014, when Kingston and Langston were starting to team up, the guys from Kingston’s time had already reached their heights.

The Miz, Ziggler, and Sheamus had all been WWE Champion, World Heavyweight Champion, or both by then, and these were the same guys he was battling for the midcard championships in the early 2010s. Guys like Bourne and John Morrison were gone, and with The Shield and Wyatt Family already on the scene and a much deeper NXT crop coming up at any moment, Kingston’s days may have been numbered.

Kingston and Langston weren’t on a winning streak by any means. They mostly inherited Langston’s singles role, mixing it up with lesser teams like Slater Gator and RybAxel, until Xavier Woods greeted them on the July 21 edition of Monday Night Raw, telling them enough was enough and it was time for a change. Or, you know, something like that.

Keepin’ It Kayfabe: The New Day and the power of personality
The New Day, still yet to discover their direction, attack Heath Slater and Titus O’Neil after a match on the July 22, 2014 edition of WWE Main Event. WWE

Before “The” New Day

For the next few months, fans wondered what would come of the team. Some figured that they were going to take over the Nation of Domination role of militant black men. Others, such as myself, heard rumblings of the “Smart Athletic Friends” wrestling on the house show circuit and hoped that these three would come back as something a little lighter, with my little black kid heart hoping to get a good black WWE Champion out of it. (The Rock beat my boy CM Punk, so he was #NotMyChampion.)

Then they debuted, and my monkey’s paw curled a finger.

The New Day sucked, or at least they weren’t what I wanted them to be. All three of them admittedly did well in their preacher roles, but nobody wanted a preacher role on WWE TV, not even D-Von Dudley. Match-wise, they were more successful than before, but at what cost? The fans were booing Kofi Kingston of all people. Big E was a bad guy for a year, and Xavier Woods was painfully uncool upon his debut, but Kofi Kingston, clapping and smiling for the world like he always was, was booed out of the building to chants of “New Day sucks.”

The problem was that no one was buying into their “Power of Positivity” schtick, not even themselves. On the April 6, 2015, edition of Monday Night Raw, Kingston made it clear: “We clap, or we snap.” See, he clapped and danced for those first five years in WWE because he was genuinely having a good time, but by April 2015, Kingston was fed-up, as were Langston and Woods. They tried to create an air of positivity to keep themselves in line, but it didn’t garner them success, and the fans did little to help them maintain this level of happiness.

This episode of Raw was important, because it’s the same episode where they won their first Tag Team Championship as a group and the first time The New Day took their frustrations out on the crowd. And as much as it hurt at the time to admit it, turning on us was really what they needed.

At separate times — Woods and E upon entering the main roster and Kingston early on in the New Day’s run — all three of these men were failing to be themselves. But once they began berating the crowd and challenging children to fights, The New Day were finally being true their characters at the time: they were angry, and they didn’t want anything to do with the fans.

The fans started wanting something to do with The New Day, though, and by the time The New Day fought The League of Nations at WrestleMania 32, everyone’s actions had changed. The New Day ironically became a lot more fan friendly during the “We Will Fight Your Kids” era, creating Booty O’s cereal and all of the catchphrases that come with it, bringing out Francesca the Trombone, and taking on everyone’s least favorite stable in LoN.

And during this time, they got back to using their personalities a bit more. Big E’s 5-count and last name were still gone, but the mocking voice was back (as seen in the “clap or snap” video) and his hip swivels spoke for themselves. Kingston was back to being cheered, with none of his jeers getting anything other than resounding applause from fans. As for Woods, well, we all saw the team coming out in Saiyan armor at WrestleMania 32 and dressing up like Final Fantasy characters at WrestleMania 33. He had made his mark.

New Day
Big E and Xavier Woods lift up Kofi Kingston to celebrate his first-ever WWE Championship win at WrestleMania 36. WWE

Be Yourself

The New Day are the longest reigning WWE Tag Team Champions in history because they dropped all of the baggage that came with faking it until they made it. By being their truest selves and doing it together, they found their way to the top. Look at KofiMania last year: that was the same Kofi Kingston from 2014, only now he had years of success to get him the title shot that always eluded him.

There are a lot of people who shed their old skin and really find their voice. Apollo Crews recently realized, “I’m big, athletic, and angry,” and won the United States Championship on Raw. Finn Balor recently reverted back into being “The Prince” on NXT and took over the whole show. Becky Lynch became “The Man” and main evented WrestleMania.

Does finding success mean that you have to become an angry ball of fire for a spell? Not entirely — Johnny Gargano has never won the NXT Championship while playing the bad guy, and while Daniel Bryan has always been successful and pretty consistent in character (something we’ll dive deeper into at a later date), his biggest moment came when he let the fans propel him. But The New Day are proof that your mom was right when she told you as a kid that all you had to do was be yourself, and things will work out in your favor.


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