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X-raying Xavier

We break down ‘Fastlane’ footage of the Bludgeon Brothers beating down New Day’s flamboyant trombonist like it was Dallas, November ’63

WWE/Ringer illustration

After all that buildup, the concluding chapter in New Day and the Usos’ grudgingly respectful rivalry turned out to be a glorified showcase for the Bludgeon Brothers’ WrestleMania push. On Sunday, in the midst of Fastlane’s tag-title tussle — featuring New Day’s Kofi Kingston and Xavier Woods vying for Jimmy and Jey Uso’s belts — Luke Harper and Erick Rowan ran interference on the lot of them, prompting a no-contest and culminating in a vicious powerbomb thudding Woods atop the ringside steel stairs.

Woods subsequently lay prone where he was executed, eyes rolling back and upper body seizing, immediately prompting concern from all corners of the internet (i.e., Twitter).

There were also those quick with a clever riff on Woods’s gamer shtick, or convinced that his performance wasn’t merely Slammy-worthy, but merited Emmy consideration.

Somewhere in between were the skeptics and cynics who took Woods’s condition as foregone story line fodder and skipped straight to speculation about what’s next for New Day. WWE’s near-immediate divulgence that a “preliminary diagnosis” showed “multiple thoracic contusions” didn’t exactly lend credence to the notion that Woods was truly hurt. (Think about it — how often do they announce injuries that serious that quickly in football games?)

But it did add fuel to the fire of a favorite wrestling-fan pastime, one that’s revealing about the depths to which viewers — and in this day and age, online communities especially — still want to be one step behind what’s happening onscreen. Only instead of, “Wait, did the Undertaker really just kill Paul Bearer?” that suspension of disbelief applies to the fine line between scripted bumps and an occasional ghastly botch, with the odd real slug thrown in for good measure. On some level it’s our coping mechanism for tuning out the horrifying reality of paralyzing and fatal injuries sustained mid-match to folks including Steve Austin, Droz, and the late Owen Hart; on another, it’s the manifestation of a desire for wrestling to (still) be, on some level, real. Though in the viral era, dissecting, freeze-framing, GIF-ing, and comparatively analyzing moments of impact like Woods’s head bouncing off that relatively forgiving step has become a kind of amateur investigative rite in itself (something WWE, ever conscious of social-media buzz, is almost obliged to encourage).

In that spirit, we’ve endeavored to conduct as serviceable a Zapruder-film-esque, scene-by-scene breakdown of Woods’s bludgeoning as we could muster. Our hope is this will offer some semblance of clarity to those bedeviled by whether Xavier is being scanned in some undisclosed medical facility or hiding out in a discrete WWE safe house for character rehabilitation. Either way, to paraphrase Woods’s former kayfabe mentor Brodus Clay, somebody better have called his mama.

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Having laid waste to all five adversaries (two Usos and three New Dayers), Harper (the dark-haired, dead-eyed gentleman) and Rowan (the bald, redheaded would-be assassin) head back toward the backstage area before seizing upon a chance to satisfy WWE crowds’ craving for overkill. But Woods grabs the cuff of Harper’s shaggy pants, and they pause dramatically. This connotes that Woods is set to endure extraordinary, predetermined punishment.

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Take a special look at the two dudes in the crowd on the left of the screen. The guy in the red shirt yells a solitary, “NOOOO,” and the guy in the light-blue New Day tee points tellingly at Woods. Do they know what’s about to happen? “Please tell me they’re done,” implores color commentator Corey Graves. Spoiler: They’re not.

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Here, Harper and Rowan appear to be rescuing Woods from a coal mine. But this is not a volunteer effort. As the fans’ collective gasp indicates, the duo is positioning its foe for an elaborately staged moment of destruction, despite having demonstrated the swift efficiency of their stadium-concession mallets. “You won’t do it!” yells the man in red, either egging them on or enunciating his own denial.

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Woods is now at the apex of his perilous journey. It can only get worse from here.

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As Woods begins his assisted free fall, Rowan appears not so much to be adding force behind the powerbomb as he is carefully guiding Xavier’s descent, copiloting a choreographed landing as Harper contends with the elements.

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Rowan removes his hand from Woods’s chest just as Xavier stiffens his shoulders to absorb the brunt of the impact, (potentially) sparing his back and the back of his head from bruising and concussive consequences. The moment when his head — or his hair, you make the call — hits the metal steps is indeed grizzly, but the degree of impact is unclear. “You guys did it,” admits the man in red.

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While many onlookers observed that Woods seemed to be having an epileptic fit, it should be noted that neither Harper nor Rowan signal that anything has gone awry. So either (1) this went as planned, (2) Woods is really hurt but they assumed he was acting, or (3) Harper and Rowan are, in reality, wild, sadistic ogres.

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Note the referee, who emits a half-hearted “Get out of here” to the assailants and then signals to the back for help. He is conspicuously not using the “secret” signal for a real injury.

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Harper and Rowan celebrate their maiming.

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Harper and Rowan lock eyes with Columbus’s least-capable-looking EMTs, who may in fact be appealing to the giant, leather-clad heathens for a refresher on official emergency procedure.

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As the medics approach, Woods’s convulsions, combined with the sight of his head hitting steel, are the most compelling evidence for a real injury. However:

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Generally, when one shows symptoms of upper- and middle-back trauma, they’re at least outfitted with a neck brace to limit mobility, but in this instance, Woods is transferred to the stretcher as if he were already deceased. There’s another wrestling rule worth considering — when you’re seeing something happen on your TV screen, you’re supposed to be seeing it. If some watching at home might still believe Woods is hurt, then he — and WWE — did exactly what they intended to do. This was, without a doubt, the plan, as there’s plenty of heat heading into the Bludgeon Brothers’ assumed faceoff against frenemies New Day and the Usos at WrestleMania. Not only does sidelining Woods allow for the bigger New Day lineup (of Kofi and Big E) to take center stage, but memory serves that the trio did mighty fine trudging through after Big E went down with a groinal injury. Whatever the payoff, and regardless of what this all means for Woods, at least we’ll always have his high-pitched yelp in our heads reminding us that someone got hurt. And that’s the stuff great wrestling moments are made of.