It's not often that a WWE talent can be handed a lemon of a gimmick and turn it into lemonade. But The New Day -- the trio comprised of Big E, Kofi Kingston and Xavier Woods -- managed to transform a borderline-racist tag team concept into an irreverent and truly entertaining phenomenon. In the ring, on the microphone and in the merchandise booth, The New Day struck gold by making its characters unique, ones reflective of the real personalities of the three men and their very real -- and quite hilarious -- friendship.
The New Day first debuted as a three-man tag team in November 2014 with a gospel-centric theme that preached "the power of positivity" that was rooted in the "dance and be happy" racial stereotyping the WWE has regularly employed for its black performers. It did not go over well: In fact, fans wholesale rejected The New Day for nearly five months before Woods, Big E and Kingston found a way to tweak the group's message before overhauling it entirely into the iteration with which we are most familiar.
It began with an attempt at crowd engagement, via a "New Day Rocks" chant led by the three as they headed to the ring. The fans caught on quickly with the then-heels, opting instead for their own spin: "New Day Sucks." While not the ideal reaction, it worked -- The New Day was at least getting a reaction, which was far preferable to the complete disengagement of the previous months.
Striking gold, though, came as a result of spinning the "positivity" angle into something more magical. References to unicorns led to glittery, unicorn-themed ring gear for the trio. Video game references, led mostly by Woods (host of popular YouTube show UpUpDownDown) further endeared them to their audiences. Once unicorn-centric merchandise hit the shelves, The New Day had won over wrestling critics and fans. Light-up unicorn horns and brightly-colored t-shirts were selling like crazy and WWE fans decided The New Day did, in fact, rock.
Woods started bringing a trombone to the ring he named Francesca. The three wrestlers employed elaborate comedic bits and transfixed fans any time microphones were in their hands. The WWE had no choice: The New Day needed to be a main face of the company.
Ultimately, The New Day won the tag championship in May 2015. It incorporated the concept of "booty" into its in-ring banter as a way to mock opponents, a phenomenon that evolved into a real-life breakfast cereal called "Booty-O's," a giant box from which the team emerged at Wrestlemania 32.
Though billed as villains, The New Day received some of the most positive crowd responses in the entire organization and was named the Best Gimmick of 2015 by Wrestling Observer. And throughout it all, The New Day remained WWE Tag Team Champions (later the "Raw" Tag Team Champions after the 2016 brand split between it and "Smackdown Live"), eventually holding the belts of 483 days, breaking a 28-year old record held by Demolition. The New Day lost the titles late in 2016 to Cesaro and Sheamus.
By then, something had changed: The New Day's schtick started going stale. The jokes seemed repetitive and, worst of all, predictable, especially for a trio that struck gold by surprising fans, evolving and innovating. But Kingston, Woods and Big E aren't only to blame for The New Day's stagnation; the climate of the WWE itself also played a major factor in the team's water-treading.
For one, it appears the WWE didn't have more in mind for The New Day beyond its breaking of the tag championship record. There was very little in the way of answering the "and then what?" question after the trio was finally defeated. As such, The New Day has been thrown into what feels like a makeshift feud against the recently-minted tag team of Rusev and Jinder Mahal that centers around retreading old jokes, a "top secret" ice cream blueprints that Rusev's manager-slash-real-life-wife Lana has managed to acquire (via special Russian hacking skills, of course) that includes ingredients such as "three hairs of a unicorn," and "two drops of booty juice," practically ensuring there will be no real-life ice cream product to buy, unlike "Booty O's."
The other is the brand split that saw a majority of WWE's tag teams head to the Blue Team at "Smackdown Live." Before the establishment of Rusev and Mahal, "Raw" had just four non-New Day tag teams: Sheamus and Cesaro, the complete afterthoughts that are the Shining Stars, Enzo Amore and Big Cass and the current champions, Gallows and Anderson. The New Day had few options but to simply pivot from one team to the next and back again. There were no incentive to tell stories around these title defenses beyond The New Day having to defend titles. Suddenly, there were no belts, only ice cream and a feud that seems to have no concrete motivation.
There's also no concrete path to The New Day vs. Rusev and Mahal rivalry paying off. On March 5, the "Raw" brand will have a WWE Network special "Fastlane," and as of now the company has no plans for The New Day to face off against Rusev and Mahal unless something is announced for the pre-show in the next few days.
That could give the WWE a path to closing this chapter at April's "Wrestlemania," but even that is still a question mark. The New Day has been announced as the show's hosts, but whether or not that will also include actually appearing in a match is to be determined. The New Day is quickly coasting into that dreaded purgatory zone, where the creative team has nothing innovative up its sleeve for the former champions -- a dismaying development given that The New Day was the very definition of WWE innovation for nearly two years.
Indeed, it's as though there's little incentive for The New Day to concern itself with breaking new ground now that the WWE has essentially left it twisting in the wind, navigating a weak storyline that Woods', Kingston's and Big E's strong comedic senses cannot improve upon. The New Day being cast out of the title picture in a division with such meager competition, just months after setting the record for holding the belts borders on an insult. But that's how the WWE often operates, with a lack of rhyme, reason or respect, and writing stories that come from and ultimately go nowhere.