HOUSTON — It took more than ten years and two stints with the company, but Drew McIntyre has finally earned his first shot at world championship gold after winning the epic men's 2020 Royal Rumble.
McIntyre, the sixteenth of 30 into the ring at the yearly spectacular, lasted more than 34 minutes and sent six wrestlers toppling over the ropes to win both the match and an opportunity to challenge a champion of his choice at WrestleMania 36 in Tampa, Florida, this April.
"It's the biggest deal. I've been struggling to find the words, but the only way I can do it is to say that this is simply a dream come true," McIntyre told Bleacher Report in an exclusive interview backstage in the moments after his big win. "This is my life's work. I've always wanted to be a wrestler since I was four years old. I sent away to America for something called 'The Secrets of Pro Wrestling' when I was 11 years old and kept them in a briefcase because I had to keep the secrets from everybody as I trained. When I was 14, everyone told me, 'Wrestling is an American thing.' Well, I was the first-ever Scotsman signed at 21, and then, I went through some incredible ups, incredible downs, got released.
"And finally the pieces came together. I've found what was missing, which was just being my freaking self and letting everybody in and showing them the real Drew Galloway, which is the real Drew McIntyre. And the pieces are coming together. The perfect time—Rumble season. I've won the freaking Rumble. We're on the road to WrestleMania, and I've got Brock Lesnar chasing me."
While Roman Reigns was the last man McIntyre eliminated, the most important may have been Lesnar, the WWE's universal champion. Lesnar was the first wrestler in the Rumble and spent most of the first half of the match destroying everyone else who walked the long aisle to the ring. The next 13 wrestlers were all eliminated by his hand, tying a WWE record.
Just as fans started to wonder if anything could stop him, McIntyre did just that with a thunderous Claymore Kick that sent the enormous Lesnar flying off his feet and over the top rope. Not one to hit and run, McIntyre lingered over the fallen champion, showing no fear of a man who has dominated WWE over the last several years as the crowd unleashed a roar that literally shook the stadium.
"I hope the camera caught my face. That probably said everything, because I have no idea how I reacted," McIntyre said. "But I was in that moment, and just the idea of walking up to the ring and climbing up on the apron and looking at Brock Lesnar, getting in that ring slowly and in my head I was like, 'I can beat Brock Lesnar, I can take Brock Lesnar no matter what happens. If he shoots at me and comes and tries to take me down, I can beat this man.' And when he took off those gloves, goosebumps on my arm went up. I was ready to go no matter what happened. And to kick him out of there, that reaction, you just have to watch the footage. That was exactly how I felt in the moment because it was very bloody real."
Earlier in the day, McIntyre had no inkling he'd be winning the event. He knew he'd be in consideration, but the show was being scripted right up until the final moments. The last three men in the ring with him—Edge, Randy Orton and Reigns—were all viable winners, making for a particularly exciting final few minutes before McIntyre ended all doubt that this is now his time to seek gold and glory.
"I didn't know anything yesterday," he said. "I'm talking about today late. I've learned through my experience just to go with the flow. And when you get information, you take it and you perform it to the best of your ability. That's why I always say sports entertainers, wrestlers, don't get the credit we deserve. You got to be thinking on your feet, you've got to be ready to improve, and you're doing your own stunts. You've got to pull the emotions of the crowd in the direction you want them to go. And there is no business like this. We literally think on our feet."
As McIntyre soaked in the win, still in his gear and waiting for a shower, the emotion of the moment started to hit home. He talked about his wife Kaitlyn, a soon-to-be nurse practitioner who helped him find his footing in life and help him manage the unique challenges of a lifer in pro wrestling.
"This is our journey, together. We got together towards the end of my first run I had with WWE," McIntyre said. "She didn't watch wrestling and didn't follow it and doesn't necessarily to this day. That's why I love her opinion as an outsider. But she saw that I wasn't making the best decisions always in life. Obviously, a lot of people saw my potential in me in the ring and what I could do in wrestling. She saw more potential in me as a person, and she was a big part of me growing up. I wanted to be more grown-up for her. I wasn't always making the best decisions outside the ring. Maybe partying a little too much, just hurting myself. And she helped me proceed straight and grow up outside the ring while I started perfecting my craft inside the ring, and together, we created who I am today."
As we sat in the back talking, dozens of WWE wrestlers walked by, all wearing the signs of battle. But they each took a moment to congratulate McIntyre on his accomplishment, something that says a lot about his popularity backstage with his peers. Orton, a veteran former champion, put it all into perspective.
"That's why we do this," he told McIntyre. "To make people and stars. And you just became a made man."
While it's a lot to take in, McIntyre better process the win quickly. While winning the Rumble is an enormous accomplishment, it's as much a beginning as an ending, leading directly to the even brighter lights of WrestleMania.
Is McIntyre ready?
"Damn right I am," he said. "This is when you've got to turn up to a 100. I generally work around a 100, so this is probably where I turn up to 110. I know I've got a beast breathing down my neck. There's nobody in the world like Brock at any sport. And I know he's coming for me.
"Some people get upset like, 'Oh, Brock Lesnar, he doesn't show up to work and blah blah blah blah.' I mean, to be fair, he signed a contract where he doesn't have to. We can't hold that against him. What I hold against him is the fact he's got our title. We need that title on TV. We need it in the live events. That's a very important part of RAW, and I want it back.
"And I think he's seen me coming. I think Paul [Heyman, Brock's advocate] has been keeping them away from me because he's seen me coming. There's nobody that really wants to get in the ring with him. But I match him for size, I match him for speed, and not only that, I match him for experience—and I'm not sitting at home all the time, chilling out.
"Once-in-a-lifetime athlete that he is, I've got a few tricks up my sleeve, and I can match up in every other area. And as soon as he makes a mistake, which he does, just not very often, I will exploit it, and I'll win that title if I get that opportunity."
Jonathan Snowden covers combat sports for Bleacher Report.