For the entirety of his pro wrestling career, Xavier Woods—one third of WWE's reigning tag team champions, The New Day—has had to balance hitting the books with the hitting the mat.
While working his way up from wrestling student to splashy Apollo Creed-inspired TNA standout to trombone-playing WWE star, Woods (real name: Austin Watson) balanced his life in the squared circle with one in the classroom. He was busy earning a master's degree in psychology while first learning the art of wrestling.
And today, when he's not competing on Raw, revving up WWE crowds with partners Kofi Kingston and Big E, he chips away at a PhD.
His journey has certainly not been marked by hard parties and indulged vices like so many wrestlers before him. Speaking on The One Sided Ring podcast (h/t the Sun), after TNA released him in 2010, Woods said, "I don't live that rock star lifestyle that people see wrestlers living. After the shows I head back to the hotel and either play video games or do homework."
He first began to balance academics and wrestling in 2005, when he was training with Rob Adonis at Ultimate Christian Wrestling while working toward his master's at Furman University in South Carolina.
During these early days, the distance between wrestling school and the university had him unknowingly preparing for the grind of the WWE schedule by wearing out the tires on his car.
"On the weekends, I would drive back down to Georgia to train and do the shows with Rob. My girlfriend helped a lot with that and was really supportive during some rough spots that I went through," Woods told Slam! Wrestling's Richard Kamchen in 2007.
The independent circuit soon played home for him.
He called himself Austin Creed back then. His gimmick was a clear tribute to Apollo Creed from the Rocky movie series, a smack-talking, bouncy fighter decked out in stars and stripes.
Woods wrestled for the World Wrestling Council in Greenville, South Carolina, and NWA Anarchy in Georgia. As part of the latter promotion, he began teaming with Hayden Young as The Awesome Attraction.
Flashes of the personality that has won over fans as part of The New Day emerged. He was goofy and exuberant, getting the crowd to clap along with him.
His stay on the indys wouldn't last long. After a run as the Deep South Wrestling heavyweight champ in 2007, TNA came calling.
The young wrestler leaped onto the TNA stage by debuting on its biggest show of the year—Bound for Glory.
Ron Killings (WWE's R-Truth) was supposed to team with Adam "Pacman" Jones against AJ Styles and Tomko. TNA couldn't work out a deal with the Tennessee Titans (Jones' NFL squad at the time) to have Pacman actually compete, so a rookie served as his replacement.
Woods, now known as Consequences Creed, lost his 2007 debut.
TNA fans saw two sides of the man who would become Xavier Woods. In the ring, he was a cartoon character, donning oversized boxing gloves and a ridiculous Uncle Sam-esque hat. Beneath that over-the-top exterior lay the real Austin Watson, which TNA spotlighted in a video interview.
Woods talked about his degree in psychology, that he played trombone and his love for video games. Years later, he would be blasting a trombone at ringside to accompany Big E and Kingston's ring work. And WWE would have him host his own YouTube video game channel.
Before that, though, he chased both the X-Division Championship and Tag Team Championship (he and R-Truth were known as Truth and Consequences) as a member of TNA. He and Jay Lethal won the tag titles in 2008, holding on to the gold for less than a month.
Consequences Creed was seemingly always in contention, always in some multiman match with a championship or No. 1 contender's spot up for grabs. But unfortunately, his most famous moment with TNA was when he vomited in the ring following a hurricanrana.
He spent less than three years with the company.
His time on TV faded. Rivalries came less often. So when, at just 23, TNA cut him, Woods expected it.
When WorldWrestlingInsanity.com interviewed Woods in 2010 (h/t PWInsider.com), he explained, "They weren't using me. They didn't have anything for me storyline-wise. So it's better for them to let me go."
After a brief return to the indys and a short tour with New Japan Pro Wrestling in 2010, WWE welcomed Woods to its developmental system—Florida Championship Wrestling.
He began wrestling under his real name but soon adopted the "Xavier Woods" moniker.
Teaming with Wes Brisco, he won the FCW tag titles in 2010. That reign didn't exactly catapult him, though. Talent filled FCW at the time. Woods struggled to make his way out of the WWE equivalent of Triple-A.
Competition was fierce. The wrestlers who would become Tyler Breeze, Bray Wyatt and Cesaro all fought alongside him to move up the ladder.
The Woods character was still a work in progress, not yet the vibrant loudmouth fans see on TV today. At first, he was just a toned-down version of Consequences Creed. And then he began to infuse his love for video games and pop culture.
Woods threw out '90s references such as "It's morphin' time" and worked in movie-style kung fu into his move set.
When WWE rebranded FCW, turning it into NXT, Woods remained at the developmental level. He would end up staying there longer than he did at TNA, not making his debut on the main roster until November 2013.
At NXT, Woods hadn't yet had a chance to show off his full personality. Yes, he was energetic and affable, but nothing like what he would become as part of The New Day.
Still, the company must have seen his potential bubbling under the surface when it decided to pair him with R-Truth.
In his Raw debut, Woods partnered with R-Truth to take down 3MB. It at first looked as if WWE was simply rehashing the Truth and Consequences team. But Woods soon moved into a solo role where he usurped much of Brodus Clay's gimmick.
The Funkasaurus shimmied to the ring accompanied by the dancing Funkadactyls. Funk music played as a disco ball spun.
As part of a brief feud between Woods and Clay, the former won the right to use the latter's entrance music and commandeered his dancing women.
The gimmick failed to gain traction.
That's a feeling Woods would soon know again. WWE later introduced Woods, Kingston and Big E as clapping, chanting sellers of positivity. The act bombed.
The New Day was corny and lacked depth. What was supposed to garner cheers was met with scorn.
Woods and company, though, adapted the shtick.
The trio began to insult the crowd rather than try to gain its approval and, more importantly, began to get creative. Woods started playing his trombone to annoy foes. The group dismissed enemies as being "booty." They talked about the history of tables.
Like Edge and Christian before them, the team gained momentum by being flat-out ridiculous.
About the group's creative process, Woods told Scott Fishman of the Miami Herald, "When we go out, we have an idea and our music hits, then it's like we just go and do whatever pops in our head. Then stuff happens to stick. That's why we keep doing it."
It's worked better than anyone would have guessed. The New Day has been the tag team division's hottest act for over a year now.
WWE has rewarded the trio with two tag team title reigns and a spectacular entrance at WrestleMania 32.
Never a top in-ring performer, Woods has been leaning on his sense of humor, energy and charisma. He often plays manager to Big E and Kingston, masterfully irritating their foes from ringside.
And while he now works on a bigger stage with brighter lights, Woods has not halted his academic journey. He's still working on a PhD in educational psychology. And the finish line isn't close just yet.
In a 2015 interview with Sports Illustrated's Justin Barrasso, Woods said:
It's intense. 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.
Much like when he entered the wrestling business, Woods follows his performances in the ring with study sessions. Only at this point, he has to unstrap his tag team championship from his waist before he flips open his books.
Championship history courtesy of CageMatch.net.