The crossover in fandom between professional wrestling and video games is blatantly apparent, and there is arguably no person in either realm who does more to foster and encourage it than Xavier Woods.
Woods is not only a 10-time Tag Team champion in WWE as part of New Day, but he is also the founder of the UpUpDownDown gaming YouTube channel. Considering his massive presence in both wrestling and video games, it is fitting that he and New Day teammates Kofi Kingston and Big E were added to the Gears 5 video game as playable characters last week.
As part of the highly anticipated collaboration, a special episode of UpUpDownDown will be available on Thanksgiving Day at 10 a.m. ET, offering a behind-the-scenes look at how New Day became part of the Gears universe.
Since Woods has been playing the Gears of War franchise for years, he called New Day's inclusion an "at least top three" moment in his career as a wrestler and gaming YouTuber.
Woods explained that he first got on Gears' radar several years ago when he was asked to be part of a documentary. At that point, he was able to get into contact with Microsoft and floated the idea of being included in the franchise on multiple occasions.
It finally came to fruition after the success of WWE Hall of Famer Batista being revealed as a playable character in Gears 5, and Woods discussed why New Day getting added as downloadable content is such a big deal to him.
"It's something that's been cooking for quite a while and I'm beyond happy that we get to talk about it now because it's literally like a dream come true to be a part of a franchise that is as deep with lore as Gears is," Woods said. "To be a part of a game universe that has such a rich history is really cool."
Woods also noted that having a spot in a video game franchise that means so much to him is essentially a dream come true and something of an emotional experience:
"It's very humbling because as a kid, for me at least, I always wanted to be a pro wrestler and I always wanted to work in video games somehow, so I feel extremely lucky to be able to be doing both. But actually physically being in a game that I'm so emotionally invested in, it's hard to explain. Not that I was like crying when I saw the character model, but I may have dropped a tear or two out of happiness."
While Woods is the foremost gamer in New Day, he is thrilled to be joined by Kofi and Big E given all they have accomplished as a collective unit since first joining forces in 2014.
Woods indicated that being in Gears 5 with his two closest friends makes it feel even more special, particularly since it is another case of New Day being trailblazers in the world of sports entertainment:
"Those are my real-life brothers. No, we're not related by blood, but our bond is thicker than that. So, the fact that we all three get to be in it and all three get to be represented and just another piece of the puzzle to our journey that we're going through together, it's awesome that we constantly get to keep pushing the boundaries for what sports entertainers, pro wrestlers—whatever you want to call us—continue to push the boundaries for what people believe we should be and the box we should be in.
"On that level it's absolutely incredible, and I just hope it keeps creating opportunities for us and for other wrestlers out there because I want everyone to know the skills professional wrestlers have, the skills they evolve, the skills they gain, no other form of entertainment can teach a person those skills. The fact that so many people are branching out into other verticals of entertainment is something that makes me very happy because it means there's another generation of wrestlers coming after us that will see the work that we're doing and they will hopefully push to be more than what people think that they currently are as well."
New Day have long been hugely popular in the world of professional wrestling, but they have gained such a big following that they have managed to transcend it and become crossover stars.
Much of that crossover appeal is a case of wrestling and video game fans coming together to embrace New Day, and Woods' UpUpDownDown YouTube channel has had a significant hand in it.
Wresting fans and gamers have seemingly intersected for years dating back to well before UpUpDownDown was conceived, and Woods has a theory for why the two worlds complement each other so well:
"It's the same kind of nerd. We're all the same kind of nerd. I know there's people who are reading this who were made fun of in high school or that time in adolescence for watching wrestling and they went past it and they still love wrestling. They went through that process of feeling like a nerd and they got made fun of for it. People who love video games went through that same exact process and they came out better for it on the other end. I feel like holding up a mirror to wrestling fans and holding up a mirror to video game fans, showing that we're the same person so we all should band together because we love the same things.
"The reason I play video games is because I love the escape, I love going to a different world and being a different character. ... I think people watch wrestling for the same exact reason—to suspend their reality, that disbelief. In wrestling we're larger-than-life characters, we're like a live-action Marvel movie. I feel like the same part of your brain lights up when you're watching wrestling and playing video games and your engagement comes from the same place. You want that fantasy world that you are comfortable with that you know that you love where anything can happen, and it's just interesting 24/7."
The announcement of New Day being in Gears 5 came at an ideal time for both WWE and Microsoft since it occurred in the same week as Survivor Series, which is one of the biggest pay-per-views on the WWE calendar.
As a result, WWE and New Day were able to hype up the collaboration not only by talking about it, but by offering a visual representation in the form of New Day wearing Gears armor ahead of their match against The Street Profits at Survivor Series.
New Day has worn video game-inspired gear before, specifically at WrestleMania, but the timing now is such that New Day wore the Gears attire while the game is still fresh and at the forefront of the gaming community.
As a result, Woods believes wearing the Gears armor at Survivor Series is something that could aid in the further intertwining of wrestling and gaming fans:
"As far as video game collaborations go, the fact that this is out right now and we get to wear the gear live and in person, I think the cool draw for it will be wrestling fans will go, 'OK, New Day is doing their New Day thing. Cool, New Day is in a different world, I might pick up Gears and play it,' if they haven't played it yet.
"Then people who like Gears and they might not watch wrestling, they see these things on Twitter and they go, 'Who are these guys?' Then a few days later they'll see the screen shots of us in real life wearing this stuff, and I feel like that itself is a draw for them because they'll go, 'Oh, these guys are really about this, maybe I should check out wrestling.'
"I feel like on one hand it has the potential to bring wrestling fans to games, and it has the potential to bring game fans to wrestling, which is just creating more stitches in that cloth of trying to bring wrestling and video games closer together."
The spotlight shone brightly on New Day at Survivor Series not only because of the Gears tie-in, but also because Woods and Kofi faced The Street Profits in a dream match that had never been seen before.
Woods called the SmackDown Tag Team champions "awesome" and added that he was "giddy like a schoolgirl" to lock up with Angelo Dawkins for the first time.
Xavier explained that he and Dawkins have quite a bit of history, which added to how special Sunday's match was for him:
"Angelo Dawkins, I've known him for a very long time. We were in developmental back in the day together, so I've been able to see him grow from someone who knew absolutely nothing about this industry to someone who is now SmackDown Tag Team champion. Between him and I, I think there's a lot of history, a lot of meaningful emotional history to the point that when I got to the main roster and I moved back to Atlanta, he moved into my room in the house that I was living in. So for us to be able to wrestle each other [I was] very excited because when I would always come back down to developmental he would always want me to wrestle and I said, 'No. We will not lock up until we're supposed to lock up.'"
Things came full circle for Woods on Sunday in more ways than one. Not only did he finally get to wrestle his longtime friend, but he made his in-ring return to the pay-per-view stage for the first time in 14 months.
Woods was out for one year after tearing his Achilles in October 2019 before making his triumphant return on the Oct. 9 episode of SmackDown when he and Kofi beat Cesaro and Shinsuke Nakamura for the SmackDown Tag Team Championships in Xavier's first match back.
The usually upbeat Woods admitted that he went through a "weird downward spiral of depression" after the Achilles injury and couldn't watch WWE programming for a long period of time because "it hurt too bad."
Woods had concerns about whether he would ever wrestle again, and if he did, he was uncertain if he would be the same wrestler he once was.
Things changed for Woods the closer he got to returning, and winning the tag titles again made the long journey worth it, although he wishes he could have shared the moment with fans:
"Once I started feeling better and was able to jog and jump and stuff, I was getting back into the show and I was just kind of chomping at the bit. I'm loving staying at home and getting this time to rest my body, but I'm so ready to come back, and so it was incredible being able to come right back and win the tag titles again. The only thing that I wish we could have had was people there, but obviously quarantine and all that stuff going on, not the safest thing to do. That would've been the only thing that would've made it sweeter was having that emotional reaction, those endorphins, that energy."
The same night Woods returned and won the SmackDown Tag Team Championships with Kofi, his world was turned upside down when the decision was made to move him and Kingston to Raw, while keeping fellow New Day member Big E on SmackDown as part of the WWE draft.
Woods admitted that the transition has been difficult in a lot of ways, but he also sees some positives in having New Day members on both Raw and SmackDown:
"You got New Day on Raw, you got New Day on SmackDown, so it's a double dose. Obviously we want that physical closeness to E because that's how we thrive is actually being together, so that's been very weird. The adjustment has been very strange because we've been together for so long. It's interesting because Kofi and I will find ourselves laughing about something and then automatically feeling sad because we're not there laughing with E. And then we're double sad because we know E doesn't have anybody to laugh with—I mean, he does obviously in the locker room with friends and stuff, but it's a different kind of bond with us. It's been very weird, but we're doing our best to adjust and I hope that the fans are enjoying what we're trying to do while we're split for this moment in time."
Fans have grown so accustomed to seeing all three New Day members together on a regular basis that there will be an adjustment period, but if the goal is to make Big E a major singles star on SmackDown, a temporary break from the three-man unit could ultimately be good for everyone.
New Day is such an iconic group that it is likely only a matter of time before they are together again, but until that happens, wrestling and video game fans can enjoy New Day as a triumvirate in Gears 5.