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WWE's Xavier Woods Embraces Inner Media Maven As Achilles Heals

(CBSNY/CBS Local) -- WWE Superstar Xavier Woods is expected to be out of action for the foreseeable future after rupturing the Achilles tendon in his left ankle in October. And while he is unable to hone his craft in the ring, he is picking up a new skill — the ability to write with his toes. It may sound strange, but the peculiar task is part of a grueling rehabilitation regimen the popular wrestler must perform to strengthen the damaged heel, as he eyes a return to the ring that could still be as much as nine months away.

Oddities are kind of Woods' strength. He's a 33-year-old man pursuing a Ph.D. in educational psychology who proudly boasts of an affinity for unicorns, pancakes, breakfast cereals and video games. He also carries a trombone with him to the ring that he's named Francesca. Actually, it's Francesca II since the original instrument died a painful death at the hands of an in-ring rival.

Crowds spring to life whenever they hear the quick bursts of the new brass and begin chanting "New Day rocks" in unison. The audible display is almost as colorful as the attire worn by Woods and his stablemates in The New Day, Kofi Kingston and Big E. The group's threads are often inspired by characters in video games, which is the tight-knit group has bonded over. Gaming also happens to be an arena where Woods' popularity rivals that of his status in WWE.

In an effort to duel-brand himself, he created the UpUpDownDown YouTube channel in 2015 which "explores the worlds of video gaming and nerdom." The channel has become one of the most popular on the streaming platform, amassing more than 2 million subscribers eager to watch WWE Superstars battle it out with controllers rather than clotheslines. There's even a championship belt for the gamers, and competition to win it is as cutthroat as any WrestleMania main event.

The versatile Woods is continuing to expand his horizons by tapping into the exploding podcast market. THE NEW DAY: FEEL THE POWER is the second offering from the Official WWE Podcast Network following the successful launch of After The Bell with Corey Graves. Woods serves as co-host alongside Kingston and Big E.

The trio are as good of friends outside the ring as they are in it. Their unique blend of chemistry and quirky charisma are what captivates audiences and enables them to develop such a massive loyal following. Listening to their show is like eves dropping in on a barber shop conversation where each story is told with more enthusiasm than the last.

How popular is their brand of humor? The debut episode of the show reached No. 2 on the Apple Podcast charts among sports podcasts. Unwilling to settle for the penultimate position, Woods is promising to eat a habanero pepper on camera if the show reaches the top spot.

He's insanely busy, a bit peculiar, living life on his terms and successful in doing so. You have to respect that.

I had the opportunity to catch up with Woods to get an update on his rehab process, the new podcast, the genesis of The New Day, becoming a video game guru and the surging popularity of WWE's NXT brand.

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How's the rehab coming along?

Oh, it's good. I'm bouncing around the world still. Doing all my stuff for my YouTube channel, UpUpDownDown, all budget gaming stuff. Recently did a quick live stream with a group called Rooster Teeth. We helped raise over a million dollars for children's hospitals. So that's been cool. But other than that just kind of working out, keeping mobility in the Achilles area and waiting to come back to wrestling at some point.

Walk me through the rehab process since you're still out and about and not just becoming a hermit.

That is the scary part, because by a lot of times, especially with professional wrestling, with being on the road as much as we are and having that live experience with crowds, you can fall into a weird dark place when you get injured. Like same thing with any pro athlete or anybody in general. But the rehab process for me currently is just kind of doing all my exercises, writing out my ABCs with my feet. And like I said, making sure that I can kind of increase the mobility in the area, break through that scar tissue.

I just got the cast off (two weeks ago) and got into a walking boot so I can put like 25 pounds of pressure on it and as I go along that'll hopefully increase as it should. So hopefully in the next 43 days, I'm out of the walking boot and in an actual shoe and then everything's going from there. But I'll probably do PT two, three times a week to keep on it. But then constantly while I'm by myself, just doing everything I can to kind of heal it up as fast as possible.

Hold on. You said you're doing your ABCs with your feet. What does that entail?

[laughs] That's like if you take your big toe and you use that as your base, and you just draw out the ABCs in the air, because that's giving your foot a lot of mobility, a lot of different shapes and just do them as big as you can. And then hopefully your ankle in the back Achilles area just continues to get more and more mobile every day that you're doing that.

So you're getting adjusted now to life outside of the ring, and the big thing now is that you guys have this new podcast. Are you guys all getting together in a studio to do this, or is it being done remotely?

Everywhere is a studio, my good friend. We are essentially still traveling. We're traveling around the world doing this, so Kofi and E, my partners, part of the New Day, they're still traveling, doing all of the wrestling shows that we normally would be doing. So when we need to record, I'll normally jump on a plane and then come out to whatever show they're at, because on one hand we've got to record this podcast, which is entitled "THE NEW DAY: FEEL THE POWER."

But then I'm also up there filming stuff for my YouTube channel UpUpDownDown. So it's two birds, one stone. But being able to do this podcast with two guys who I consider my brothers is awesome.

Essentially the first couple of episodes are about the origin of New Day, how we got together, how we got started on TV and essentially getting us caught up to where we are now. Just kind of giving some stories that people don't know and just really letting people in on things that happened that really haven't seen the light of day.

You guys really do have a lot of fun together. It comes across that you guys aren't just really good friends in the ring, but genuinely outside of the ring as well. Chemistry is so rare in any industry and even in life sometimes. Do you remember the first time that you met Kofi and you met E and what your first impressions of them were?

I think the first time that I met E was when I got signed to WWE and I went to train at FCW. So before it was NXT, it was FCW, which was Florida Championship Wrestling. And I think my first introduction to E was through Norman Smiley, a fantastic wrestler, one of the teachers down there. And he just explained to me that they're billing E as like the strongest man in Florida. So have a wrestling match with him, and I think that was the first time that I actually met him and wrestled against him.

Our friendship really didn't blossom to the degree that it is now until years later, when we started kind of talking about trying to create The New Day. And that's where we really bonded and got this level of friendship that we currently have.

Then with Kofi, I'd met him multiple times before I signed with the company. There are multiple stories of me finding where the training facilities are and just going in and giving my resume, because I'm just essentially begging for a job. When I was 19, when I was 20, like whatever it was, I'd find where they trained, and I just walk in and talk to somebody. And both times I did that, Kofi happened to be there training. So he saw my physical grind. I'm trying to get a job. And so it's always interesting. But he was there for those parts of my journey, because I consider them very important parts of my journey in getting to WWE, because you can actually see the sacrifice of telling my teachers, "Hey, so I'm in college, and they all know I want to be a pro wrestler."

They know that I wrestle around the South Carolina and Georgia area and say, "Hey, I found out where the WWE facilities are. I think that I want to go down there and give them my resume." It's like a Thursday, and we've got class, and my teacher's giving me their blessing to go and pursue my dreams. I've been very, very lucky in that. So Kofi seeing those things occur really is really cool. Just for the memory banks.

You are building a brand both in and out of the ring. You were an early adopter of new media with the UpUpDownDown show. How important is it that you are on multiple channels now, given the fact that media consumption is so splintered? You have somebody watching over here but not necessarily over there and vice versa.

It's extremely important to be able to diversify your time and resources. So as far as UpUpDownDown is concerned, yeah, we are a YouTube channel, which I do everything that we can video game-wise, interview-wise. It's kind of just like a what-interests-me-at-the-time channel. But as far as different platforms, I do stream on Twitch regularly. Then we take some of those clips, cut them up, and then we put them on UpUpDownDown. And then I have a bunch of people in my life who, like I said, they're on YouTube, they're on Twitch, they're on Twitter, on Instagram.

So being able to go and do collaborations with them and make sure that my face is on the other platforms, too. Maybe it's not my main source of doing stuff, but being able to have the ability to go and show what little skills I have in these other places in hopes that they then decide to follow me and come to my line of work, whether that's wrestling, whether that's YouTube stuff with UpUpDownDown. That's super important to me and especially during this time where I'm injured.

There's no real time frame on when I'll be back, because Achilles tears are so different. It could be five months, it could be nine months. There's a lot of wiggle room in there. So to be able to stay relevant is extremely important in this day and age because the news cycle is so incredibly fast. So if you're not constantly doing something new, then soon it's going to be out of sight, out of mind.

So my line of thought is that as long as I can stay visible doing something, then I'm in a good spot. I'm lucky that that's something is a thing that I'm also extremely passionate about in the world of video games.

We're seeing a lot now with NXT, and we were talking about building a brand. As a talent, what would your expectations be for building brand awareness for NXT, with all of this exposure that we've seen in recent weeks with that build to Survivor Series? Obviously, in the wrestling business, hardcore wrestling fans are very familiar with all three brands. But the majority of people are still only watching Raw and SmackDown. So how important is this time for NXT in your opinion?

It's very important, especially having the show debut on USA. That's the first time that NXT has been live on TV with their own spot, prime-time. It's nice because, like you said, there are the hardcore wrestling fans who have been watching NXT. Now they're watching it on USA and there's still that section of wrestling fans that don't know about NXT. They're not familiar with the talent, they don't know the story lines that are going on. There's so much good talent down there. It's almost absurd. It's like they're overflowing with talent, male and female, trainers, coaches, all types.

So the fact that they were able to work in all of the stuff they've worked in for Survivor Series. For instance, Adam Cole had the greatest week that anybody could have in wrestling, what, last week, two weeks ago. Being able to main event all three shows and show, "Hey, this is the guy down in NXT, and this is what he can do." So, for me, that says, if I like what this guy's doing, I should check out NXT to see more of this, because maybe there are more people down here who can do awesome stuff like this. And there are.

I think that Survivor Series, in particular, is a great, there has been a great build for the NXT brand and all of the talent that's down there.

Chuck Carroll is former pro wrestling announcer and referee turned sports media personality. He once appeared on Monday Night RAW when he presented Robert Griffin III with a WWE title belt in the Redskins locker room.

Follow him on Twitter @ChuckCarrollWLC.

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