The New Day’s ‘Book of Booty’ is colorful and funny but lacks depth
Book falls short of presenting the true, authentic selves of wrestling trio — and that’s no joke
On the Dec. 12, 2016, edition of Monday Night Raw, the weekly live cable television program of professional wrestling behemoth WWE, the company’s all-black trio The New Day defeated four sets of two-man teams across two matches over the course of three hours. By the end of that night’s broadcast — which also included a large man avenging the hotel beatdown of his short, loudmouthed sidekick and the daughter of the chief executive of WWE receiving a champagne shower next to a punch bowl full of derriere-inspired cereal — The New Day became the longest-reigning tag team champions in WWE history at a staggering 478 days.
And while the matches were choreographed and the finish was scripted ahead of time, thus making the “record” all but meaningless, the win by the three men — Kofi Kingston (real name Kofi Sarkodie-Mensah), Xavier Woods (Austin Watson) and Big E (Ettore Ewen) — felt significant. Be it the longtime wrestling fans who pine for WWE to give black performers a chance, the boys and girls yearning for on-screen characters who look like them, or The New Day themselves (a day after Raw, the three men posed for a photo with two other black wrestling champions with the caption “#BlackExcellence”), the moment felt important. It was important.
“The fact that we [got to this point] is quite remarkable when you consider the origins,” Big E says in the book about that night. “It was quite rough.”
Those “origins” are the basis of The Book of Booty: Shake It. Love It. Never Be It., The New Day’s new book (alongside co-writers Greg Adkins and Ryan Murphy) about their rise from stereotypical afterthought to marquee attraction in professional wrestling.
The Book of Booty is about not only The New Day’s yearlong title reign (it reached 483 days before they lost) but also their years in the dreaded midcard of wrestling (think the lower-card boxing matches before the main event) that led to three smart, funny and unrepentant black men taking control of their destiny. They became “the most made-for-TV act in WWE since the days of ‘Stone Cold’ Steve Austin and Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson.”
The New Day, in its original incarnation in summer 2014, was a semi-militant offshoot of the 1990s black nationalist Nation of Domination, known for black power fists and costumes adorned with the Pan-African colors. Woods, wearing a white suit and adopting a Malcolm X tone, told Kingston and Big E that they would never find success in the WWE “by kissing babies and shaking hands.” That gimmick was scrapped within weeks, coincidentally around the same time black teenager Michael Brown was killed by a police officer in Ferguson, Missouri, setting off weeks of protests and clashes between (mostly black) demonstrators and law enforcement. Months later, the three were christened The New Day and reintroduced to fans as dancing and smiling preachers.
Fans booed. Wrestling journalists questioned the direction WWE was going with the three men. Behind the curtains, New Day also struggled with the “scalding criticism” they received from fans, most of whom would yell, “New Day sucks!” during televised matches when they were instructed to chant, “New Day rocks!”
Several sections of The Book of Booty are dedicated to The New Day’s fight to prove to those fans and the Entourage-like “company suits” behind the curtains that they weren’t another run-of-the-mill wrestling stable. Winning the championship titles, which in wrestling is more about how marketable executives believe you can be and less about physically outmatching your opponents, felt like conquering “seemingly insurmountable odds” for The New Day.
This idea of triumphing over the doubters and haters has been the crux of The New Day’s gimmick since they debuted nearly four years ago and also what fuels the real-life performers. What they call the power of positivity (or “P.O.P, hold it down,” based on the popular internet meme) is a lemons-into-lemonade mantra about making the most of life and all of its curveballs, whether in scripted competition or in the real world. It’s about being three intelligent black men and, when presented with a borderline racist gimmick (black wrestlers are normally dancers, Africans or angry), flipping that characterization on its head, and within two years having thousands of children and adults eating WWE Booty O’s cereal (like Lucky Charms but more questionable), wearing Popsicle-colored T-shirts and unicorn horns — or “plastic protrusions,” as The New Day calls them — on their heads.
While The Book of Booty is about overcoming adversity and never giving up, it’s mostly about getting these jokes off. And that’s The New Day at its collective best. The book jumps between fiction and nonfiction (a long-held trait of professional wrestling) and dabbles in an assortment of genres: satire, self-help (how to dress to impress: tracksuits), biography and fantasy (there’s an entire chapter dedicated to mythical creatures such as C. Moore Buttz the unicorn). At one point, The Book of Booty even turns into a coloring book.
It opens with a dedication not to the wrestlers’ families and friends or their millions of fans, as most books would, but to Woods’ two “deceased” trombones, Francesca I and Francesca II. “Please stop destroying our trombones,” the obituary reads. On the book’s final page, there’s an acknowledgment to acclaimed author Malcolm Gladwell, “without whom The Book of Booty would not be possible.” It goes without saying that Gladwell “didn’t actually have anything to do with the publication, per se, but just knowing he was out there writing books was kind of inspiring.”
Readers who don’t watch wrestling are quickly brought up to speed. Big E, the nearly 300-pound heavyweight, has “insatiable wit and the most infectious dance moves since MC Hammer.” There’s a dance tutorial for Big E’s “Hip Swivel Shimmy” for the uninitiated. Kingston, aka the “Dreadlocked Dynamo,” is possibly the most athletic performer in all of WWE, no doubt in part because of an extensive shoe collection that includes a pair of the much-maligned Under Armor Curry 2 Low “Chefs” by NBA superstar Stephen Curry and custom Nike Zoom LeBron Soldier 10s with unicorn horns attached to the toe cap, two entries in his top 10 list of best kicks. And with Woods, the mouthpiece of the group (especially when toting one of his trombones), it’s difficult to tell if his biggest strength is his hair or his gaming experience.
On one hand, Woods’ YouTube gaming channel UpUpDownDown boasts nearly 1.5 million subscribers, but his patented hairstyles are nearly as popular as the group. There’s the “Michelle Obama,” a flat-ironed do with more edges than a cliff that was inspired by the “First Lady and Katt Williams,” and also the “Rufio” and “Gaston,” with Woods making the case that neither Disney character was actually a villain. (Beauty and the Beast’s Belle was “essentially garbage considering she brought nothing of worth to her community,” he argues.)
But where The Book of Booty leaves much to be desired is presenting the true, authentic selves of Kingston, Woods and Big E as it pertains to, in 2014, being told that they’d have to become Baptist preachers. There’s a long history of racism within professional wrestling, specifically directed at African-Americans, yet The Book of Booty doesn’t examine what the three men went through to transcend that original gimmick. That can mostly be chalked up to this being an obvious WWE-sanctioned book, from the company logo on the cover to the numerous references to the branded “WWE Universe” of fans, and the fact that both co-writers are WWE employees. Regardless, the most the three have said in the past about WWE chairman Vince McMahon’s original idea for The New Day was “Oh, my God, this man is crazy” on another wrestler’s podcast.
The Book of Booty is unlike any other book written about a professional wrestler, which is both a pro and a con. It’s colorful and fun, but it isn’t as revealing and forthcoming as Daniel Bryan’s Yes!: My Improbable Journey to the Main Event of WrestleMania or as brutally raw as Mick Foley’s Have A Nice Day: A Tale of Blood and Sweatsocks. And for Kingston (who is of Ghanaian descent but debuted in 2008 as a Jamaican Rastafarian), Woods and Big E to have so much crossover appeal, one yearns for an explanation of how three black men manage the racial politics of wrestling and its majority-white (and older and conservative) fan base, much the way retired wrestler Booker T dealt with the racism he faced early in his career in his 2015 memoir Booker T: My Rise to Wrestling Royalty.
But that sort of honesty is absent from The Book of Booty, although that could have been gleaned from the book’s ironically non-flatulent title in the first place.