|“It’s a New Day! Yes it is!!”
Those three words ring out every time the WWE tag team champions make their entrance at a live show. Big E, Xavier Woods and Kofi Kingston were initially conceived as pro wrestling’s version of a gospel music parody, something that’s still evident from the verbiage and sound of their entrance music, complete with a church organ and harmonized choir. Make no mistake about it — the original gimmick for this threesome was not only awful but patently offensive. It’s not hard to find their original promos online — WWE rolls out so much content on YouTube that their debut was just a four word search away.
Everything about this screamed that it was a mockery of the black church, black pastors, and black religious life in general. It made me cringe. As a wrestling fan I’m used to cringe-worthy WWE gimmicks. This is the same company that once implied legendary announcer Jim Ross (who they later inducted into their own Hall of Fame) had his head up his own posterior during an ill-conceived skit mocking his surgery for diverticulitis. You’ll think I’m making this up unless you’re a wrestling fan and/or look it up yourself. If you like professional wrestling you learn to suffer through the bad times and bad gimmicks and hope for (ironically enough) a new day when things will get better.
While most bad gimmicks will eventually die out due to a lack of crowd response (and the subsequent lack of merchandise sales promoters crave), The New Day did what seemed impossible at the time – THEY EVOLVED. At first they preached the power of positivity in a cartoonish manner while encouraging fans to clap their hands to the phrase “New, Day rocks.” The audiences at live events had other ideas and chanted “New, Day sucks.” Instead of pretending the idea hadn’t backfired (a common WWE mistake) the threesome improvised and incorporated it into their story.
From that day forward The New Day were reborn as heels (wrestling parlance for “bad guys”) who would insult their opponents, insult the local sports team in whatever city they were in, and goof off at all opportunities for their own amusement. What really made The New Day take off though is that instead of “sticking to the script” the threesome were suddenly allowed to showcase their own personalities. Example – Xavier Woods (a/k/a Austin Creed) is a hardcore video game player who would go on to launch his own YouTube channel called UpUpDownDown, named after a famous code you could enter into video games made by Konami. Xavier would annoy The New Day’s opponents and the crowd by playing a trombone during matches, but he also used the opportunity to sneak in a reference to Final Fantasy! (It comes at 32 seconds into the clip below.)
In what may seem entirely backward to a casual viewer, The New Day goofing off, messing around, and being obnoxious actually turned them into fan favorites. Now instead of chanting “New, Day sucks” the fans genuinely chanted “New, DAY ROCKS” because they were entertained by the group’s antics. The reason The New Day matters (even if you don’t watch WWE) is that the company they work for (and so many other wrestling companies) seem completely clueless and brazenly ignorant when it comes the roles they have black wrestlers portray, but for once and almost entirely by accident WWE got it RIGHT. It’s fun to watch The New Day make a mockery of their opponents, such as their current feud with an ill-conceived international group called the League of Nations (not kidding) and it has the same natural feel as emcees laying down their funniest comebacks and diss lines during a battle.
Some outlets and pundits have called the success of The New Day (and the success of Xavier Woods) surprising, but the only reason it’s a surprise is we expect so little from wrestling. I can’t even count on both hands (no pun intended) that Mark Henry, legitimately able to be called “The World’s Strongest Man,” was made the butt of a joke for the amusement of Vince McMahon. The point is not that The New Day is now getting even for a litany of buffoonery like “Sexual Chocolate,” it’s that they are getting over (i.e. well liked) by being THEMSELVES instead of a cartoon caricature. It may be too early to say this is a trend that will hold in wrestling, but it’s a lesson that should have been learned long ago in the 1990’s when The Rock (Dwayne Johnson) did THE SAME THING. Somehow WWE forgot that the best wrestling characters are real life people with the volume turned up. The New Day have served notice – just go out there and be yourself and people will love it. It really is a new day for professional wrestling and hopefully WWE won’t forget this time.
The bottom line? No matter what field of “sports” or “entertainment” you’re in, no parody of black life or hip-hop culture is ever greater than innate talent being allowed to rise to its fullest potential to shine.