Heel to Face: A Love Letter to The New Day

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Time flies when life is meaningless at its core. We have settled into week six of my wrestling fandom and I’m slowly gaining confidence, using words like “kayfabe” and “Brock” in everyday conversation with a relative certainty of what I’m talking about. Wrestlemania is just about six months away and I—

Wait. We’re not here today to talk about me, though. Believe it or not, we’re not even here to talk about the Big MF’in Show. Today, we’re talking about the best act going in the WWE today: The New Day.

WWE Creative stumbled with this stable at the outset, but the guys have now hit their stride as one of the only guaranteed good times on the WWE Network in recent months with. If John Cena’s recent Raw matches with Xavier Woods and Big E are any indication, or their end-of-show beatdown of like four guys, there are no signs of the New Day slowing down yet.

A BRIEF HISTORY

Ain’t nothing like an underdog story, especially when it includes a trombone.

Kofi Kingston, Xavier Woods and Big E were not a likely group to cobble together, and an even less likely one to succeed. Born in Ghana and raised outside Boston, Kingston came up in ECW as a happy-go-lucky Jamaican. The younger Big E and Woods came out of the South and rose to notoriety in NXT, becoming names in their own right. Eventually all three started to scuffle a bit on WWE TV, popping up more on secondary shows instead of Raw, before being bundled together as a more serious and militant stable, with Woods playing a wrestling version of Cornel West. After the events of Ferguson, and over fear of potentially ever having a storyline with real-world social relevance, the gimmick was quickly dropped in favor of The New Day, babyfaced motivational speakers with the power of positivity on their side. It was the exact kind of act that Dr. Xavier Woods preached against—an ill-conceived pass at the same kid’s crowd that had school supplies touting hustle, loyalty and respect, and it couldn’t have gone over worse.

The team debuted in late 2014 and weren’t accepted as faces even a little. It was a catastrophic failure, chased by allegations of racism. They were too grating, too obnoxious, too much like your overachieving cousin who needs everyone to congratulate her on what an amazing job she’s doing at every family gathering.

Then they did what Big Show would do in a moment of doubt—no, The New Day did not vape (although Big Show vapes guys, you better believe it). They turned heel.

Without scrapping the name or the god-awful outfits, Woods, Big E and Kingston pushed what had made them so unlikeable as faces and turned it up to eleven. Suddenly, “the power of positivity” was all we heard about from the group, but louder and with less sensical words in between. They’d yell over opponents, scoff at the audience’s distaste of them, squish poor JoJo out of an interview even though that poor girl has been through enough.

In other words, they were unapologetic and didn’t need to justify their misguided attitudes—sometimes, it’s effective enough to be a band of assholes, and former toughies like Big E and Kingston proved they had the comedic chops to keep up with the hype.

DAD ENTRANCE:

As their popularity grew, there were a few hitches in the road including some fan speculation that the heel turn accompanied with a lack of any championship was taking the group for fools, and continued calls that having almost every black wrestler either team or feud with each other was somewhat racist. Even other wrestlers shared some of those sentiments.Triple H responded in April of this year:

“When they first started this thing, it was like two or three weeks that they did it where Xavier would come out and be like a Malcolm X type of thing. He was preaching black power without saying black power, which I think is fantastic because you don’t offend anyone. But when you’ve got three black guys singing and dancing, stereotypes get fed too much and I hate it.”

Creative heard the fans (wait wut) and The New Day started to find more success without sacrificing any of the silliness that was winning crowds over. They eventually won the Tag Team Titles and remain the top team in the division. AND THEY DID THIS:

new day gif.gif

Giving the three talented guys more cred in the ring doesn’t completely solve the racial problems that some fans brought up—namely, three black men being portrayed as incompetent, dancing constantly, etc.—but it does sell them as braggarts much like Rollins, and not buffoons with their talents unrecognized.

Which brings us to today, on the other side of a creative risk that Woods, Big E and Kingston seem to have won. They’re the supreme heels, and god-dammit if everyone doesn’t love them.

THE POWER OF POSITIVITY (FOR REAL)

They’re especially important after hard-to-watch matches like the one between Rollins and Sting where the viewer is taken out of the fun by the genuine physical risks. That’s not to say that this side of the drama isn’t important, but sometimes we need some reprieve from the heavy storylines and broken bodies. The New Day has become that love-to-hate relief.

They provide a particularly fun counterpoint to the current roster of heels, who tend to the more serious. And when the WWE tries to make them serious, as in the end of last week’s Raw, there’s genuine menace in the choreographed clapping and stomping. There’s a throwback, unabashed confidence that might have flown in the ‘80’s for these guys, but it’s too politically incorrect to fly with the hustle, loyalty and respect of today’s faces. Seth Rollins cops a similar attitude, but The New Day has a unique energy that feeds off each other and doesn’t really look like a performance at all sometimes—they’re genuinely having fun, and the improvised dialogue flows easily.

Though it’s mostly ridiculousness, The New Day manages to squeak in a bit of cultural commentary into their characters as well, taking the gung-ho motivational speaker personas and showing its darker side. Is it dumb luck in the writer’s room or a little bit of poking fun at the clueless camp counselor personality that fools middle aged ladies into buying DVDs on how to love themselves? Possibly a little bit of both.

The big star of The New Day gimmick (though Kingston’s got him on wrestling skill) is Xavier Woods, the leader of the pack who’s eating up the opportunity to be an asshole on a global stage. Who can blame him? So begins a crush of mine deeply rooted in daddy issues. They’ve got a comedic sensibility as a group that none possessed individually, and every fan is wishing on the blood moon that creative delivers them with a storyline that fits their abilities.

In a few-week stretch that’s been characterized by grudges, aggression and old dogs getting hurt (please let’s remake Old Dogs with Sting, Kane and Triple H), The New Day are having fun and playing the game. Love you, guys. Call me, Xavier. And give me Show’s number.

THOUGHTS FROM THIS WEEK (catching up from the Night of Champions):

-Poor Sting. With injuries like this sustained by him, Undertaker in the Wrestlemania match with Lesnar a few years back and others, maybe it’s time for the WWE to stop falling back on old stars and focus on the storylines and wrestlers in development. Continuing to bring back the old guard for headlining events will get old fans to tune in, but falling back on a bygone era seems to indicate a fundamental insecurity in their ability to turn out a decent storyline today. Which they can, it turns out. Which brings me to:

-The Charlotte and Nikki title match, which I really enjoyed. Looks like writers are inching toward what the Divas Revolution was supposed to be about with a match that had stakes, legacy and actual emotion all at play. Thanks for the realness!

-I’m so on board with Seth Rollins. I’m more on board with his storyline. I’m most, 1000%, jumping on my weird used brown couch on board with Seth Rollins getting dragged to hell:

rollins dragged to hell.gif

-Big Show was ON FIRE ON THE MIC at Raw last week. He said “bubbe” and I experienced a full-body tremor. Too bad about that Lesnar match on Saturday. #SHOWVAPES

-Will this be the week I cave and buy the Show action figure at my local Walmart? I don’t know how much longer my weak heart can hold out.

Hours of Pro Wrestling Consumed: 92 hours
Days Until Wrestlemania: Uh…
State of Union: moving funds from savings to checking to accommodate Big Show action figure purchase

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