Interview: WWE's Xavier Woods Talks G4's Arena & More

Last week, G4 dropped the news of a show making a comeback in a new way as Arena returns with Gina Darling and Xavier Woods (AKA: Austin Creed) hosting. The monthly show will put two gaming celebrities at odds with each other to settle a score as they are cornered by two WWE superstars as their coaches to see who comes out on top in a series of challenges. The inaugural episode kicks off tonight at 4pm PT as QTCinderella (with Kofi Kingston in her corner) faces off against Myth (with Liv Morgan at his side). Before all the shenanigans get underway, we got a chance to chat with Woods about the show, what people can expect, and some awesome questions we were curious about on the side.

Interview: WWE's Xavier Woods Talks G4's Arena & More
Photo provided courtesy of G4/WWE

BC: Obviously you're a G4 fan, you watched it back in the day. What were your initial thoughts of the original show?

Woods: It's fun. Obviously, what we're doing now is going to be a bit different, updated, and a bit more wrestling involved. So it's been a very interesting space because obviously back in the day there weren't as many people out doing gaming stuff like when G4 was hot before. But now you look at the landscape, people are all over YouTube, all over Twitch. There's a ton of different personalities. There's like celebrities and athletes that are jumping into the space, too. So it's very flooded with a lot of content. I've always wanted to incorporate wrestling into esports. I feel like [that's] one thing that esports has been missing, in my opinion, as esports is incredible and it's grown so much over the past ten years. Even in the past two years, esports has grown even more, even through the pandemic. But I feel like one thing in wrestling that we bring to the table that makes things really interesting is the arguments, the promos, the emotion between the athletes before the fight. A very Don King type of energy. I wanted to always do that, and that's why I started UpUpDownDown is to show people that it's the same kind of nerd.

There's wrestling fans and video game fans, and there's a Venn diagram, and that middle part is almost bigger than both sides. If you hold up a mirror to a video game nerd and go like, "Hey, the stuff that you went through in your very in your high school years of being made fun of because you might still be playing games. Hey, wrestling fans went through that same thing for watching wrestling!" Now we're all adults and now all this stuff is popular. Look at that! Now we don't get made fun of anymore. So I just want everybody to realize we're we're in the same group. We're in the same category. And it would be awesome if I saw a bunch of video game heads that didn't know anything about wrestling start coming to wrestling shows and a bunch of wrestling nerds who don't know anything about video games start coming to conventions and things like that. And that's why I made UpUpDownDown and that's what led us to being able to create Arena where we'll essentially do just that.

We'll have two streamers, someone like a Myth, someone like a QTCinderella, seconded by a WWE superstar, maybe like a Becky Lynch or Kofi Kingston or Street Profits, someone like that. And then they'll engage in multiple challenges. Some mental challenges, some physical challenges, and then obviously video game challenges to see who will prevail. Because I feel like if you hear the name Kofi Kingston and you're a wrestling fan, you go, "I want to watch that!" And you might not know who Myth is in the gaming space, but by the end of it, you know exactly who he is. Or you might love Myth and you don't know who Kofi is. So you come in for Myth and then you see Kofi and you go, "Oh man, I love this guy! I should watch wrestling too!" So it's very much a show where I want to breed a new environment for everyone in both spaces. Something that feels fresh, new fun, and just has really good energy for everybody.

Interview: WWE's Xavier Woods Talks G4's Arena & More
Photo provided courtesy of G4

So I take it then you were the one that kind of pitched bringing the show back. It wasn't like a thing where G4 was like, "We were thinking of bringing this up," like dusting it off and seeing how it worked. You had an idea of what you wanted to do with it, right?

Yeah, definitely had an idea. It was definitely a joint process with my energy for wanting to go the route of calling it Arena and kind of diving back into the older IP. But the cool thing about it is the fact that we get to see this actually come to fruition, come to life. We've got a set, we've got like CO2 blasts going out, we've got music, we've got lights! And G4 has just been so awesome in allowing us to use the Arena name to make all this happen. Then all the WWE superstars that are involved have been awesome working with everybody and the streamers that are involved have been so awesome. So it's just it's really cool to see all of that kind of come together.

You bring up physical challenges in there. Are we talking Double Dare level challenges or are we talking American Ninja level?

Oh, not American Ninja level! No, no, we're not. We don't have any climbing rock walls, nothing like that. I don't want anybody to get hurt because my wrestling buddies, they got to still go to work the next day. And then I don't want the streamers to end up with a broken leg or something. So it's safe to a point, but still very dangerous. But things like obstacle courses [like] being wheeled around the office or something like that. And the fact that it's also once a month gives everybody a lot of time to kind of map out what we want to do in the most creative way possible. And I think one of the interesting things that we've come across is: how do we make content that is specifically for wrestling fans and gaming fans? Because I think it's very easy to lean in one direction and have anyone feel like, "Oh, well, this is just wrestling stuff," or "This is just gaming stuff." But no, it's a very, very even mix of both. And so when we say physical challenges, there'll be things that are difficult for wrestlers and streamers alike.

Interview: WWE's Xavier Woods Talks G4's Arena & More
Photo provided courtesy of G4

You brought up that doing it just once a month, which I was kind of curious about, because normally being on TV, people tend to want see weekly episodic stuff. I was kind of surprised that you hadn't planned for a 13-episode run or something like that would just be in a solid, contained season. So was the idea behind it to coordinate everybody's schedules or is that more of a thing where you don't want to do this thing and then burn everybody out on the show so quickly?

Definitely. Schedules definitely had a piece to do with it, but I think the bigger idea was we have so much content on G4 and I've got so much content on UpUpDownDown, that making this a once-a-month event and making it something that's an extravaganza, it feels like it's almost like one of our premium live events with WWE. We get those once a month they're the bigger activations, they have a big fight feel almost. I want to create something where we are leading up to the episode throughout the month so that everybody can kind of get hyped for it and get ready. And then when it's time, it's not just like, "Oh, the show is on this week." It's like, "Oh man, Arena is coming on. I know who's up from the streamer world. I know who's up for wrestling. Oh, this is going to be so sick!" Now you've got like three weeks to build all of that stuff. Another thing that I love about wrestling, when you know there's going to be a big match, there's a build to it when it's done correctly. When you get there, it's not just, "this is another weekly show." Nothing wrong with having weekly shows, obviously. I love Raw, I love SmackDown. We use those weekly shows to build to our premium live events. That's kind of the skeleton of what I wanted to use for building out Arena. So there's some of the wrestling aspects. Wrestling can really help inject something fun into something that's already fun. I think that everything is wrestling. The way that we think about it will matter, how we introduce people on the show, the manner that we build the show up for three weeks until week four, now it's on again. You can watch if you're a UpUpDownDown fan and haven't jumped into G4 yet and hopefully, the show brings you into G4. Or if you're a G4 fan and you don't know about UpUpDownDown, hopefully, G4 brings you into UpUpDownDown. Now, again, the army grows.

You bring up pro wrestling, and I am a huge pro wrestling nerd. So a question that I have had for the longest time… Ever since Kenny Omega got injured, there's been a lot of people that have been hopeful that in his time off, we'd eventually see Omega Vs. Creed: Part Three. And when Arena got announced, there was a little glimmer of hope until we saw the WWE logo on the floor. And no disrespect to WWE, but we know they don't usually play with other wrestling companies. So I'm just curious if there's any way, not to use the term "forbidden door" repetitiously, to knock that last remaining door open. At least in a video game sense, kind of the way you did back in 2019 at E3?

So it's funny because I hear people talk about things like that, and I'm like "Man! We knocked that door down a long time ago! What are they talking about it?" They feel like, "Oh, they open it," but bro, we kicked that thing open! I was there, it was great.

I was there live watching it! That was a fun thing to watch!

It was so sick! Again, what we did at that event, having people from different worlds, come to E3, playing Street Fighter with a huge audience. They said that's the largest public audience they've ever had on the E3 floor. They almost shut us down. But that's kind of the vision that I want. I want everybody to have a space that is essentially a neutral ground where we can do things like this because they're fun. People want to see them. Why keep things from people? Let's just enjoy life and have a good time. So I'm not saying that will never happen, but I will say that the reason I created UpUpDownDown and one of the reasons that I'm so incredibly happy that I'm at G4 is because I see G4 as a space where anything can happen. More than what someone thinks can happen, can always happen. So it's a never say never situation. But we will do battle again at some point in time, because that is a rivalry that will literally never die. He is my arch nemesis and he always will be.

Interview: WWE's Xavier Woods Talks G4's Arena & More
Photo provided courtesy of G4

I remember once upon a time on your Twitter account, it said "Future host of Nick Arcade." I know that's not going to happen at the moment. But you're now at a network where, as far as I know, you have some say and a little bit of creative freedom to a degree to ask "Hey, is this possible?" I know Nick Arcade probably isn't a thing that you can get, but are there any ideas in your head of shows that you want to create like a video game-game show or any other programming that you don't necessarily create on your own already through UpUpDownDown that you would like to put on G4?

One thing that I pride myself on is I have [throughout] my entire career tried to figure out ways to do weird stuff that no one else is doing. It might not be the greatest thing at the time, but I heard this quote, I think it's from Donald Glover. It was like, "I know my fan base, I know my audience. I could make the same exact product until the day that I die and I'll have money, I'll have fans, I'll be able to do shows, but I won't be an artist anymore." An artist creates. The fanbase, might not like it. It's something new, something different. But it's more important that I try to create something new to give them, because that's the point of being an artist. And for me, I've constantly wanted to bridge the gap between places that don't have a bridge. So like WWE to G4, I feel like I've done a solid job in creating that bridge. And then the next bridge that I want to build is G4 to Nickelodeon. Now, just like we're doing Arena on UpUp and G4, maybe we do Nick Arcade on Nickelodeon AND G4.

That would be dope!

Yeah! Right? It's the time for mashups, right? That's what we do all the time, consistently. There's definitely shows that I would be interested in making. I would really, really, really love to have a show that's fully focused on the fighting game community, because there's so many dope events, especially that are coming back out of COVID. So Evo coming up, they just had Combo Breaker up in Chicago a couple of weeks ago. I think highlighting those and streaming them and having our own commentators or having Tasty Steve and [the crew] do commentary is something that I think people would really enjoy. They just haven't been exposed to it yet. So bringing somebody like that to light on G4 and making some sort of show out of it would be so incredibly dope to me.

G4 Is Officially Bringing Back Arena To The Channel
Credit: G4

Yeah! I would really love to see G4 kind of become more of the ESPN for esports, because you have a network with programing blocks that are not dedicated to gaming, that could be filled with esports tournaments that are happening around the globe. I would love to see like more live tournaments being played there, or at least covering championship rounds.

Yeah, I think the thing I've been talking about a little bit, that we haven't done already, I assume that they'll do a like a big run-through of like the technical aspects of the studio, because it's so cool and so incredible. There's an area [in the G4 studio] when you walk in where it's kind of a two-way little area with a bunch of computers, almost feels like an arcade bar minus the bar part. Maybe 20 setups of computers. This is me just speaking! This is not G4 official anything! But it'd be dope if we did kid's tournaments and games. Like we've got a 13-16 Street Fighter tournament and we stream that stuff, because I'm all about building the next generation. I really fully believe that every generation of whatever it is that you do, the current one is supposed to be the best because the previous generation teaches them and guides them to not make the mistakes that they made so they can stand on their shoulders and be better. I feel like embracing video games in that sense, especially with children. Because 60 or 70% of kids now when you ask what they want to be when they grow up and say, "Oh, I want to be a YouTuber, I want to be a streamer, I want to be on Twitch, I want to be an Internet personality, I want to play video games." We do have spaces that are safe for kids and safe for people to come in comfortably and play these games so they can get better. They can get that community vibe, which I think people don't really understand how much the community is of importance to all of us playing video games.

We're not just playing games, we're playing games with people that also like playing games and that creates what we have. So having that little space to have tournaments for kids, you know, hopefully, have an esports group come in and look at people, almost like a scouting situation. That can lead us to people being able to engage more with esports content and a situation, like you were saying, of us becoming ESPN. So I think it's something that can happen little by little, in the next year or so. The world will look very different. But I think that there's going to be a lot of things popping up on G4 that people have wanted for a really long time, and I think they're going to be really, really satisfied with them. And if not, please tell us so that we can adjust and pivot. There's a lot of really good things on the way.

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About Gavin Sheehan

Gavin is the current Games Editor for Bleeding Cool. He has been a lifelong geek who can chat with you about comics, television, video games, and even pro wrestling. He can also teach you how to play Star Trek chess, be your Mercy on Overwatch, recommend random cool music, and goes rogue in D&D. He also enjoys hundreds of other geeky things that can't be covered in a single paragraph. Follow @TheGavinSheehan on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Vero, for random pictures and musings.
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