The home of Cleveland Cavaliers basketball will explode in a rash of turnbuckle thrusts, arm-bar takedowns and sleeper holds on January 27th when WWE wrestling returns on for an historic Monday Night RAW event.
No one’s more excited by the prospect of watching a few choke lifts, clotheslines, and power-slams up-close and in-person than our 9-year old, who was bitten by the wrestling bug last spring and has been delirious with DDTs (a common takedown move) ever since. His evenings are consumed by carefully-executed neck-breakers, suplexes, and spine-busters on the X-Box (after homework, mind you). His weekends are devoted to chop-blocks, knee-drops, and hammerlocks on sofa cushions.
And his big sister.
Monday night’s card is still undecided, as a majority of the RAW lineup hinges on the outcome of Sunday’s Royal Rumble pay-per view event at Consol Energy Center in Pittsburgh. But wrestling superstars already confirmed for Q appearances include John Cena, CM Punk, Randy Orton, Big Show, Dean Ambrose, Roman Reigns, and Alberto Del Rio. Backwoods miscreants The Wyatt Family will also be on hand, along with a few of WWE’s dazzling-but-deadly Divas. And wrestlers-turned-administrators Kane (Director of Operations) and Triple-H (Chief Operating Officer) will likely stir up some trouble from behind the microphone, if not on the canvas.
WWE is still owned and operated by President Vince McMahon, whose grandfather founded the Connecticut-based organization in the early 1950s. The firm was incorporated in 1980 under Vincent, Sr. and saw rapid expansion over subsequent decades, with flamboyant superstars Hulk Hogan, Randy “Macho Man” Savage, Jesse “The Body” Ventura, Andre the Giant, “Rowdy” Roddy Piper, and “Stone Cold” Steve Austin riveting audiences to television screens and selling gazillions of action figures, trading cards, magazines, and wrestling-related ephemera. Then known as the World Wrestling Federation, McMahon’s massive syndicate switched names and logs at the turn of the century, eventually gobbling up competitors WCW (World Wrestling Conference) and ECW (Extreme Championship Wrestling).
The conquest continues for 2014. Next month, WWE will consolidate its television assets (old and new) into a network of its very own. For $9.99 a month, viewers will have access to every event live, onscreen, at home. They’ll also be able to stream archive episodes of RAW and Smackdown on demand. For more information, check out their web promotion: http://www.wwe.com/wwenetwork
Modern-day wrestling marvels include The Edge, Chris Jericho, Dolph Ziggler, Undertaker, and Rey Mysterio. Contemporary fan favorite Cena will take on Randy “The Viper” Orton at Sunday’s Rumble. Currently engaged in a bitter rivalry that saw Orton hospitalize Cena’s spectator father earlier this month, both men are booked for Cleveland the following night. Dave Batista (aka “Animal) will make his long-awaited return, and Brock Lesnar will enter the ring for the first time since last August. The Cleveland action culminates in a contest for the WWE World Heavyweight Championship in April at Wrestlemania XXX in New Orleans.
Watch the WWE Monday Night Raw in Cleveland trailer here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=mfJ8sketH_M
Xavier Woods is one of thirty combatants slated for Sunday’s Royal Rumble. The fast-rising superstar turned heads in WWE’s Florida farm system by combining his formidable strength and infectious charisma with elements of 90’s nerd culture—like Mighty Morphin Power Rangers and Dragonball Z.
But Woods isn’t your average muscle-bound gladiator. At 27, he already holds two bachelors degrees (in psychology and philosophy) and is pursuing his doctorate in between bouts with the WWE.
We had a chance to speak with Woods when he called from the decidedly warmer climes down south. Cognizant of his role-model status as a professional wrestler, the affable Atlanta native offered advice for youngsters and talked about the hard work it takes to climb the WWE ladder—before you’re allowed to smack others with one in a no-holds barred disqualification match.
CLEVELAND MUSIC EXAMINER: Hello, Xavier! How’s it going?
XAVIER WOODS: I’m good, Pete. How are you?
CME: Mind f I ask where you’re calling from?
XAVIER: I’m in Orlando, Florida.
CME: Is that home for you?
XAVIER: Yeah. At the moment I’m in Orlando, but I’m from Atlanta, Georgia.
CME: We’re gearing up for WWE RAW on Monday night in Cleveland and wanted to get a peek inside from a pro. How did you become involved in wrestling?
XAVIER: I’ve just always been interested in it, from the time I was a kid. And I found a wrestling school in Atlanta when I graduated from high school in 2004. So it started like, a week after graduation. My parents told me if I wanted to do it, I’d have to pay for it myself. So I got a job at a day care—the one I went to when I was little, actually—and used my paychecks to pay my way through wrestling school, pay for gas, to get me around to shows. I started doing it throughout college and everything, and luckily I got some eyes on me and was able to travel around the world and do some things. And now I’m here with WWE!
CME: You’ve been on board for a couple years now, right?
XAVIER: Yeah, I’ve been here a little over three and a half years. Almost four years, now.
CME: Is there anyone you pair up with regularly, like for tag teams? Or “enemies” you scrap with a lot?
XAVIER: Yeah, I’m usually with a guy named R-Truth, my partner. He’s also my mentor, essentially. And I’m fighting a guy by the name of Brodus Clay, and another named Fandango.
CME: I remember watching wrestling on TV in the old days. The storylines and rivalries were always fascinating and funny. And the characters—their costumes and personas—were colorful.
XAVIER: Yeah, it’s awesome, man!
CME: Can you tell us about some of your signature moves, or “finishing” moves for taking guys down for the pin?
XAVIER: Well, I’m currently working on getting my Ph. D., and I’m doing my dissertation right now. So I try to add that into things that I do, so I have a move called the “Honor Roll,” where I jump up and clothesline guys in the face. And that leads into my finishing maneuver, called “Lost in the Woods.” Which is just a play on my name.
CME: People always debate on how much is real and how much is scripted in wrestling, but there’s no faking the physicality and athleticism involved. There’s a real risk of injury. Can you tell us how you prep yourself and stay in peak shape to minimize the danger?
XAVIER: I relate it to guys who do sparring to get ready for matches—but it’s on a much more frequent bases. And with anything like that, injuries are possible. I had my two front teeth knocked out. I tore my PCL in my right now. Let’s see…I’ve got two broken discs in my neck from injuries I had before. It’s rough. You just try to keep yourself as safe as possible, to prevent additional injuries. And obviously, if you get to the point where you can’t continue or need some time to heal, you take some time off, so you can return and perform to your maximum ability. So it’s just like any other physical sport or fighting activity. There are going to be injuries. And you learn to known the difference between a real injury, and just a little bit of pain [laughs]!
CME: Any words of advice for kids out there—like my 9-year old son—who might be reluctant to eat right and get enough exercise and sleep? Or who isn’t paying enough attention to his or her studies?
XAVIER: Oh, yeah. because I was that little kid! I watched wrestling and didn’t want to do other stuff. But once I got into sports, I learned how important all of that was, especially if you have goals as an adult later in life where you need to perform—whether that be as CEO of a multimillion dollar company, a football player, astronaut, whatever. I learned you have to be healthy, mentally and physically. So I’m a big proponent of staying in school. My dad always burned it into my brain. People can beat you down, they can spit on you and take everything from you—all the material things. But they can never take your brain, your knowledge. So I’m huge for staying in school and learning as much as you can for as long as you can, and not let interfere with other things you want to do. And you can do both work and stay in school—which I’m doing now, although I’m now on the main roster. I’m showing that by performing while still doing my dissertation for my Ph. D. It’s all about time management. If you can learn that early in life, it’ll stick with you later in life. It’s something you can really benefit from.
CME: One of your movie heroes—Apollo Creed from the “Rocky” films—was a big advocate for education. I think he said something like, “Don’t be a fool. Stay in school. Use your brain and carry a briefcase!”
CME: Now, next month the WWE will be launching its own network and pulling some of its programming all together in one place, for 24/7 wrestling action. Can you tell fans what they might expect with the new channel?
XAVIER: It’s something that’s really cool, especially from a fan’s perspective. They’ve been paying “X” amount of dollars a month to watch, whereas with the network they’ll pay something like ten dollars a month for everything, including our back catalog. So you get any pay-per-view from history that you want, plus the new events that’ll be on throughout the year. So you get access to everything you want, plus it’ll be a lot cheaper! A lot more stuff. And there will be original programming. Like “Legends House,” which is this show where we take legendary wrestlers and stick ‘em in a house together, like a reality show. So the possibilities are endless. So they’ll always be updating. It’s not like this, “Oh, pay us ten dollars,” and you just get this stagnant programming. WWE Network will be more like a living, breathing, organic thing that grows, and that you can always benefit from. So it’s a really good thing for the world of wrestling!
CME: I watched back in the old days, when Hulk Hogan and Andre the Giant were big stars. I lost track of wrestling in high school and college, but now I’m a father to a kid who is huge into it—and I’ve come to realize that WWE is bigger than ever. The brand has done some massive expansion over the last twenty years, and the stars of wrestling today are as big as they ever were. You’ve got different TV shows, the tours….
XAVIER: Oh, it’s huge. I believe…I’ll have to check on this, but I heard someone say that it’s the second-largest traveling show on the planet. It’s second only to like, Barnum & Bailey Circus.
CME: What’s next on your schedule?
XAVIER: I’ll be at the Rumble, and then I’ll be at RAW the next day. That’s the cool thing—it all hinges on what happens on Sunday night. So everybody’s always on their toes, ready to do anything at any time. Something could happen, and might not be wrestling, and then they’ll come and say, “You’ve got to go do this now,” and I’ll have to get ready for a fight. So it’s cool. That’s the life you sign up for! It’s always exciting. There’s never a dull moment. And there’s nothing else I’d rather be doing in the world. You’ve got a new story everyday. It reminds me of working at the day care, because you might come home stressed and beat up every night, but something hilarious happened everyday with those kids! That’s kind of like what this is. It’s madness and it’s crazy, but it’s fun and exciting, and I love it. It’s a huge family. A huge, traveling family!
CME: So you’ll be in Cleveland on Monday with the whole gang?
XAVIER: Yeah! I’ll be there.
CME: Before I let you go, I wanted to ask what kind of music you listen to. Are there any particular songs or style of music you put on to get pumped up for matches?
XAVIER: Yeah, when I work I’ll listen to a guy called Mega Ran. I’m huge into video games, and he’s a rapper who uses video game sounds and music in his beats. It’s cool. We’re like-minded, so we hit home on those two subjects! But I really listen to a lot of his stuff, whether I’m working out or driving, or whatever. But for matches, it really hypes me up!
CME: Well, thanks so much for talking with us, Xavier! Hope to catch you at Monday Night RAW in Cleveland. Bring some of the warm weather up here with you—it’s freezing here up north!
XAVIER: Ah, we’ll try to do that! Thank you very much! Good talking with you!
WWE Monday Night RAW in Cleveland, January 27, 2014 at 7:30pm. Tickets $20 / $30 / $45 / $65 / $95 still available here: http://www8.ticketingcentral.com/V2/Quantity.aspx?t=76D916618D0E7041D7F6…
Monday Night RAW in Cleveland information: http://www.theqarena.com/events/detail/wwe-140127