“Everybody listen, I need you to pay attention to what I’m about to say. This is exactly what I have been talking about: you cannot move ahead by shaking hands, kissing babies, singing and dancing like a puppet. You cannot move ahead by always doing what you’re told. Now, this is our time. This is our place. It is time for us to find focus, it is up to us to find order. Together, it is our time to find purpose because we do not ask any longer. Now, we take.”
With those words, the foundations had been laid. Speaking with a now familiar confidence and conviction, Xavier Woods had transformed the result of a filler tag match into something undeniably interesting. Kofi Kingston and Big E had only just suffered a loss to ‘RybAxel’ but within minutes, Woods had given both men a character hook worth paying attention to. The direction was still unclear but an alliance between the three talents was certainly exciting nonetheless. Combine that with the wrestling fan’s love for historical comparisons and all of a sudden, immense buzz had emerged almost out of nowhere.
Woods’ words were relatively vague but with them came an unsurprising onslaught of Nation of Domination comparisons. Woods’ Malcom X-esque browline glasses perhaps added to that element but regardless of race, this was an angle with real promise. With Xavier in the role of a disillusioned leader, this potential faction offered the opportunity to alter Kofi and E’s career trajectories. Though still in his athletic prime, Kingston was seemingly on a decline creatively. After years as one of the company’s perennial babyface contenders, Kingston had slowly stagnated, somewhat stalling on the WWE totem pole.
Big E’s journey had been a different one. He’d arrived on the main roster just 18 months prior, originally as Dolph Ziggler’s enforcer before transitioning into a singles run. As a babyface, E had some success including a pretty lengthy, even if forgettable, Intercontinental title run. However, though it may seem bizarre in hindsight, E had yet to show the personality necessary to take the next step and instead began to falter, quickly becoming quite aimless after losing the famed white strap. Just as it did for Kingston though, this trio represented a chance for change.
For all of the speculation and hype though, any intrigue was rapidly dismissed. Within weeks, Kingston and E had wrestled singles matches without any reference to the other and just like so many other ideas before it, this angle had seemingly been scrapped. Nonetheless on November 3rd 2014, after three months of zero progression, this once fascinating faction concept took a quite dramatic turn. Why? Well it was on that episode of RAW that the group’s first official vignette aired. Now named The New Day, this wasn't quite the edgy, daring gimmick that some had originally envisioned.
The quite simple concept of frustrated wrestlers looking to make a change had now been…altered with the trio instead becoming gospel-inspired preachers of positivity. It’s very easy to sit from a far and dismiss ideas as being ‘out of touch’ but in this case, that description couldn't have been more apt. All of the elements just failed to add up, it was old-fashioned and silly and a complete contrast to what we’d seen so briefly just months prior. Combine that with the black gospel element and it’s fair to say that the result was a quite disastrous entertainment package.
Rightly or wrongly, one of the most well-established critiques of WWE’s creative process is their handling of African American talents and this latest presentation couldn't have fueled that more. It was all rather tone-deaf and understandably received mass criticism, with many immediately dismissing the new characterization before the trio had even wrestled a match together. The racial aspect was an important one but even purely from a pro wrestling standpoint, this gimmick seemed doomed to fail in front of modern crowds. At times, this latest generation of fans seems to enter with a disgruntled hesitation, and considering that, three men smiling, clapping and dancing wasn't likely to incite anything but negativity.
Unsurprisingly, The New Day wasn't exactly a home run upon arrival but they were initially pushed on TV nonetheless. After failing to capture the tag titles, The New Day had very much just become another WWE tag team and at WrestleMania, took part in a pre-show fatal 4-way for the belts. Though it probably seemed unlikely at that time though, that week in California proved to be a pivotal one for the struggling stable. On the always anticipated post-WrestleMania edition of RAW, all of the criticism surrounding New Day would come to a head.
Taking part in what looked like a harmless 8-man tag, New Day performed as usual but this time, received loud ‘New Day Sucks’ chants that were pretty much the icing on the cake. This whole thing had been a failure, it looked like a bad idea and had since proved to be exactly that. The issue was never the talents involved, even if the trio wasn't quite as individually revered back in 2015. On paper, this act had everything necessary both in the ring and on the microphone but none of that mattered because the audience had made their minds up and unsurprisingly, simply refused to cheer them.
I previously mentioned a “well-established” critique of WWE’s creative process but another one that proved relevant here was their often cited caution when embracing the audience’s natural reaction. The complaint that beloved villains never welcome the cheers and turn babyface or on the other hand, that unpopular heroes don’t embrace the hate and transition into being heels. Whether that common critique is fair or not, it’s certainly proved the opposite for New Day and in hindsight, vitally so. Leaning into the crowd’s disdain with ‘New Day Rocks’ as their smug rally cry, the trio’s presentation took a subtle shift.
Taking shortcuts to victory whilst still pushing the message of positivity, The New Day became self-righteous, disingenuous villains. At core, they were now a traditional heel tandem, cheating to win and using their numbers advantage consistently. But then on the microphone, they’d almost goad the audience with their obscene positivity, increasingly aware of the audience’s sheer hatred for it. It would’ve been easy to simply strip their babyface characters away completely but in reality, this was actually far more effective as they instead embraced their initial presentation’s flaws.
With renewed momentum on their side, New Day finally won the tag titles and in their first six week reign, began to truly find the form that would soon make them a quite beloved WWE act. However, it was in their hunt to regain the belts that this emerging trio fully caught fire. That chase culminated at SummerSlam and before the bell had even rung, New Day elevated themselves to a whole new level. Now this is of course just one man’s recollection of their rise but to me, New Day’s rendition of ‘Empire State of Mind’ was a moment that very much solidified their ascent.
Sadly, that’s a rare lost moment on the WWE Network but The New Day’s title win that night remains. This reign wouldn't be nearly as short-lived as the other either as the increasingly popular group hit an absolute purple patch in what quickly became an all-time tag run. After celebrating the victory with their own take on some Frank Sinatra, New Day entered a feud with the returning Dudley Boyz. In reality though, whilst the champs rarely disappointed in-ring, that wasn't really the focus as their act quickly went from strength to strength.
As New Day successfully fought off The Dudley Boyz, The Usos and The Lucha Dragons, their popularity rose rapidly, mostly due to all the antics that took place along the way. Whether it be their campaign to “save the tables,” their proclamation of Seth Rollins as ‘THE CAPTAIN’ or even a musical battle opposite Edge and Christian, The New Day had become as consistently entertaining as any act the WWE had seen in years. Their progression was so undeniable in fact that by January of 2016, they didn't look out of place trading barbs with The Rock.
New Day had transformed within months, first from failing babyfaces to brilliant heels and they’d now become merchandise machines. Their popularity had grown so emphatically that a babyface turn was simply inevitable and once again, that transition was made in refreshingly organic fashion. Still champions, The New Day entered a programme with The League of Nations and whilst their opponents shifted them by default, their beloved shtick thankfully remained the same. From a creative standpoint, the champs’ WrestleMania 32 moment wasn't their most fitting but on the wider scale, that was a weekend to be proud of for the charismatic group.
Their merchandise was everywhere and the biggest show of the year proved what most already knew: this was the most popular WWE team in well over a decade. More than that though, this was symbolic of all they’d achieved. Just one year prior, The New Day were failures, booed heavily for reasons almost completely out of their control. In 12 months though, they’d slowly taken that presentation and made it their own, gradually creating an act that somehow appealed to everyone, a feat much more achievable due to their often underappreciated in-ring consistency.
That was an element that, as time went by, became more apparent. It’s impossible to stay fresh forever but as The New Day’s tag title run carried into the summer and fall of 2016, their ability to have exciting matches was key to keeping things interesting, even if their list of opponents began to run thin. The truth was though, The New Day were set to earn an achievement they very much deserved and nothing was changing that this deep into their run. On December 12th, they’d finally reach that goal too, becoming the owners of the longest tag title reign in WWE history.
However, with that success came an inevitable problem. Once The New Day lost their titles, they had to find a new position on the roster. Historically, sub-divisions are tough in that sense with time often only being dedicated to the title programmes. Whilst they certainly remained entertaining, it’s probably fair to say that at that time, the former champs took a slightly lesser role on the flagship show. Their value was still obvious though and that was shown again when they were announced as the official hosts of WrestleMania 33.
Following ‘the grandest stage of them all’, The New Day took around 6 weeks off of WWE television. A major part of that break was due to an ankle injury sustained by Kofi but in hindsight, it was probably a blessing in disguise. Either way, once they returned, fans witnessed a perfect storm of events. Immediately entering a feud with the now villainous Usos, it was quickly clear that the dynamic here was quite special, a programme built on contrasting personalities with shared intentions: reigniting tag team wrestling.
It began with a no-finish at Money in the Bank but soon escalated, first verbally with a memorable rap battle segment and then physically with a tremendous tag team affair at Battleground. Though it probably seemed unlikely at the time though, these two teams were just getting started. They stole a 6 hour super-show on the pre-show, they told a violent tale in Las Vegas and then inside Hell in a Cell, they made a magic that I hope will stay in the memory for years to come.
It all felt quite unique in that sense. Two teams almost certain to go down as iconic tandems, both at the absolute peak of their powers. It was a feud that encapsulated The Usos’ brilliance whilst also once again proving that The New Day are far, far more than just a fun comedy act. The fire those teams wrestled with will likely be their combined legacies but if not, The New Day have left quite the impression on their own. With Money in the Bank looming though, it’s unclear how much longer this shared journey can go on.
On the other hand, one thing is for sure: The New Day are truly one of wrestling’s great success stories. Not long ago, this was an act quite blatantly headed for failure. And let’s be honest, it certainly did stumble but in the end, the talent, determination and creativity of the men involved shined through, creating a hall of fame level act. Individually, this is a team of three talents that frankly, can do it all. Together though, they’ve gone on a journey almost unfathomable. Tomorrow may be a new day but regardless of what happens next, this team’s climb should be celebrated as even within WWE’s unmatched history, this is an almost unparalleled tale.
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