It was as far as you could be from his native Scotland and still be in the United Kingdom, a journey 12 hours in total by train.
His mother had said no at first, then said it again and again and again. And who could really blame her? Pro wrestling seemed like a pipe dream for a wiry, fifteen-year-old from a country whose last famous wrestler, George Kidd, was already a distant memory.
“I had actually started trying to convince my mother since I was about 11,” WWE champion Drew McIntyre told Wrestle Joy in an exclusive interview. “I sent away to America for the Inside Secrets of How to Enter Pro Wrestling Volume One and Two by Dennis Brent and Percy Pringle. And I kind of learned all the inside terms. I’d go to school and I played along with everybody when they were talking about wrestling being a hundred percent legit. In my head I knew I had to keep kah-fahbee. That’s what I called kayfabe, because I didn’t know how to pronounce the words. I was a very, very, very strange kid.
“I would say, ‘There’s this guy in Newcastle training people.’ My mother said, ‘No, you’re 11 years old. You’re absolutely not doing that.’ The next year I’d find somebody else who was offering wrestling training in a little ad in a magazine. ‘Drew, you’re absolutely not doing it.'”
But McIntyre had wrestling in his heart—and a teenager’s heart can be resilient. Eventually he wore her down and took the long ride to Frontier Wrestling Alliance to train with Mark Sloan and learn the business of grunting and groaning as the old timers called it.
“The school was in Portsmouth,” McIntyre said. “You’re pretty much falling off the end of England. If you keep going you’ll start swimming and you’ll end up in France. It’s really as far as you can possibly go. Eventually she spoke to him on the phone, thought, ‘Okay, this is a nice guy. You’re going with your friends, I think it will be okay.’ I’d travel down with my best friend and we both had our cell phones with us. We kept in constant contact with my mother. But it took literally years of harassment before she said yes. I was just so driven and I literally just couldn’t imagine doing anything else. As a kid it was such a big dream. As I got older, I started trying to focus on, how do I make this a reality?”
Portsmouth, obviously, couldn’t be a long term solution. A 24-hour commute there and back didn’t leave much time for training, the expense was significant and, by the way, he was still a full-time student. Instead, Drew and his friends, including Wolfgang from NXT UK, started what would become the modern day Scottish wrestling scene.
“I’d show them what I was learning in my training sessions,” he said. “We’d work together. We’d get better. Eventually I met Sheamus. Him and I were very, very driven to get to America together. So we worked together in what was a big feud at the time all across Europe—in Scotland, England, and Ireland. We’d videotape the matches. We’d critique ourselves. I worked for Brian Dixon’s All-Star Wrestling during my summer holidays, which was the only other full-time company outside of WWE. Whatever I could to pursue this insane dream to make it a reality.”I was doing it around my schooling. I was working hard in the gym because obviously I watched the screen and thought, ‘These guys are pretty big. I’ve got to get pretty big.’ Thankfully I’m tall, but every area I could possibly work on to make this a reality, I did it. I kept believing. People thought it was insane the whole time but I just had that tunnel vision, no matter what. I’ve got to make it.”
The WWE Journey
By 20, McIntyre was already a veteran of sorts and on WWE’s radar. He aced a tryout, a bittersweet moment because John Laurinaitis, then the head of talent relations, wasn’t present and no one there had the authority to hire him that day. Instead he’d have to wait an endless six months before getting his chance to impress the promotion’s main recruiter.
“He saw me in the ring, told me, ‘Come on, walk with me.’ He looked me in the eye and said, ‘I’m thinking about signing you, kid,'” McIntyre remembered. “I looked at him back in the eye and said, ‘I’m thinking about letting you.’ That’s how I signed.”
McIntyre’s potential was obvious. He was elevated quickly to the main roster, with no less than Vince McMahon himself proclaiming live on SmackDown that the young Scotsman would be a future world champion, the first ever from his native land (“it was like finding out Santa Claus wasn’t real to find out Roddy Piper wasn’t from Scotland,” he says). But his career faltered, as he eventually descended from “future champion” to supporting cog in an undercard comedy act. His dream was tantalizingly within reach while simultaneously being further away than ever.
“Towards the end of my first run, I can’t say that I had a positive attitude,” McIntyre said. “Looking back, I wasn’t exactly making some of the best decisions. I had a lot going on in my personal life and then my mother got sick during that period and eventually passed. I really didn’t realize how much it affected me at the time. So besides letting work get to me, I also had that going on at the same time and I didn’t realize the mental effect it had on me.
“I probably should have taken some time off. I was in a pretty bad place at the time. I wasn’t giving it my all when it came to my work outside the ring, I wasn’t working hard or any better in the ring. Working on my verbalization or on my body. If anything it was the exact opposite.
“When I got released, that was the first time I sat there and kind of looked myself in the mirror was like, ‘Okay, this is on you and you’ve got a few things you need to deal with.’ Thankfully, my girlfriend at the time and now wife was there and helped me get through a lot of things I needed to get through and also supported me when on the inside I was like, ‘Okay, it’s now or never Drew, it’s time to show the world what you can truly do.'”
Return to the Independents
McIntyre, back to performing as Drew Galloway, had a tough choice to make. He could resign himself, at the age of 29, to being a nostalgia act and attempt to make a living as one of dozens of wrestlers working on the independent circuit as “formerly WWE’s (insert name here).” Or he could get on with the hard work of rebuilding his name, his act and his reputation.
In interviews at the time, he confidently asserted that he’d make them sorry they’d ever slighted him, that he’d show WWE and the world the Drew Galloway McMahon had once crowed about. But inside, it was a different matter all together.
“I’d like to say I was so confident it was going to work,” McIntyre said. “But we’ve been filming a lot of these documentaries, with WWE, especially the Chronicle right before WrestleMania, and my wife reminded me, ‘Drew, you weren’t so confident at the time. You were actually quite the opposite. A lot of these worries and you basically had to fake it until you made it.’ All I knew was I don’t want to be like everybody else that gets released. I wanted to set a new template.
“When someone gets released from WWE the usual model is to travel around as the same character. One time around you get paid X amount. The second time around, you get a little less and eventually you you’re playing the same character you played in WWE television for way less money. The one thing I knew was that’s not good business. I had to figure out a way to be better than that.
“I started putting together a plan to reinvent myself and get bigger than I was before and show everybody that I truly could be a man of banner. But like my wife pointed out, there was a lot of self doubt. Even though you may have seen me doing interviews telling the world ‘this guy from 3MB is going to show you that I could be like a future main event player’ and companies like ICW in Scotland and Evolve in America, ‘we’re really going to show you we get some of the top talent in the world,’ I was very, very nervous backstage.”
What followed is storybook stuff—a successful run on the independent circuit in Europe, an Impact Wrestling world championship and an eventual return to WWE. In 2020, he’s elevated his game to the point he’s at the pinnacle of the entire sport, reigning over the wrestling world as WWE champion after winning the Royal Rumble and dispatching the nigh-unstoppable Brock Lesnar at WrestleMania.
Along the way, he’s fallen in love again with wrestling, adapting his approach so it works equally well with big bruisers (like his Backlash opponent Bobby Lashley) or more mobile modern wrestlers like his last opponent Seth Rollins.
“I sit and look at the situation and come up with a mental game plan,” McIntyre said. “Different kinds of opponents equal a different match, but rather than thinking of the match itself and the moves themselves these days, I more think, ‘Okay, what’s the story we’re trying to achieve here and what are going to be the special moments in this match?’ That’s a big thing I learned working with Shawn Michaels when I was with NXT, is to think about what are those moments of the match? So I sit down initially before I think of any moves to figure out ‘What’s the story we’re trying to tell here, what are we trying to get across and what are going to be the moments that are remembered from this match?’
“On top of that, I always hear people saying the moves don’t matter. The moves do matter. You can have the story, you can have the moments and you can have the good match on top of it. To me, that’s the perfect combination.
“There’s been a few times where I came out thinking, ‘I know that was good.’ I don’t need somebody to tell me. That’s how generally I feel these days when I know we got something right. I remember this one tag match in particular (Hell in the Cell 2018), myself and Dolph Ziggler against Seth and Dean Ambrose where I felt like I was really figuring it out.
“The finish was Seth was going for his roll through Falcon Arrow and I caught him with a Claymore halfway around. I just remember the ride we took the crowd on during that match, with the ups and downs and the action itself. It was excellent. But more importantly, the crowd were so invested. I guess that’s why it comes to mind. When I think about it, that felt as good as it could be from everybody pulling their weight, from the story of the match, from the crowd reaction. That’s one I really did love.”
His title reign, now in its 72nd day, is one of the most unique in WWE history. Despite two defenses of his belt and multiple television appearances, McIntyre has yet to step in the ring as champion in front of a single fan.
“I can’t wait for that moment until everybody can get back together,” he said. “I want to be the first one that walks out there. I don’t want any dark matches. I don’t want any match prior. I want to walk down there as champion and see how the crowd responds.”
For McIntyre, success or failure will ultimately be judged based on how the WWE Universe responds to his elevation into the top spot. He should be on top of the world right now. But, with no audience to render a judgement, it’s hard to say for certain if he’s merely a placeholder champion or whether he’s truly asserted himself as a permanent fixture of the main event scene. No one wants to find out for certain where Drew McIntyre stands than the man himself.
“Obviously that crowd reaction is what we generally go by,” he said. “But we live in 2020. Social media is huge. We can get a feel of how people are reacting right now by social media. I see what I see on mine. I’m not obsessed with it, but we do have our team that inform me people are feeling very positive about things, which is cool.
“I will have some butterflies,” he admitted. “They’re butterflies of excitement. There’ll be some nerves. But I really do hope that we don’t have that dark match and I do get the opportunity to walk out there with the title and raise it up there and say, ‘I didn’t quite get my WrestleMania moment but this is our fricking wrestling moment.'”
Jonathan Snowden is Wrestle Joy’s Minister of Propaganda and the author of Shamrock: The World’s Most Dangerous Man. Drew McIntyre defends his WWE Championship Sunday against Bobby Lashley at Backlash, available on the WWE Network.