In his thrilling, no-holds-barred memoir, “A Chosen Destiny: My Story,” WWE Champion Drew McIntyre tells the incredible roller-coaster story of his life, from a small village in Ayrshire, Scotland, to the bright lights of WWE. Get your copy at Simon & Schuster.
PROLOGUE: COME ON, MAN, DON’T ARREST ME
APRIL 5, 2020
The dishes are washed. Cats fed. The trash taken out.
We’ve pulled the bamboo blinds across the big sliding doors that look out across a cluster of palm trees and the lake and switched on some dim lighting. With a large bowl of popcorn, we are now sitting in one of our favorite spots in the world—the big cream leather wraparound sofa that is the heart of our living room. To my left, Kaitlyn is huddled in a huge blanket (she is cold, as usual). On my lap sits a twenty-pound black cat (all the males in our household fall into the heavyweight category). We are not the most outgoing of people. We like to stay inside, happy in our own company, hanging out with our cats, Chaz and Hunter.
It could have been any old evening in front of Netflix. But this was not any old evening. It is fast approaching 7 p.m. on Sunday… the second night of WrestleMania 36.
With a casual flick of the remote, and a stomach full of butterflies, I am preparing for a surreal but freaking cool out-of-body experience. I am going to watch myself fulfill my destiny “live” on a sixty-inch TV screen.
It counts as an out-of-body experience because I am two distinct selves. One self is me, here, sitting very comfortably, stroking Chaz and picking at popcorn next to my wife, who is not the biggest fan of wrestling, at home in St. Petersburg, in the Tampa Bay area of Florida; my other self is about a hundred miles down the road at the Performance Center in Orlando, where I am about to stalk menacingly into the ring to beat up Brock Lesnar, the most dominant champion in the history of WWE. I am hovering between two dimensions: I am here, but not here. I am happily sitting here in jeans and a black T-shirt, and I am the spray-tanned, hairy Scottish Terminator from Claymore Country, restlessly pacing up the locker room, hauling my trademark leather duster over my trunks, soon to be embroiled in the most physically and mentally demanding form of competitive combat known on the planet: a heavyweight world championship match against the evil-chuckling muscle mountain known as the Beast Incarnate.
Crazy, right? Paranormal, even. Which is kind of fitting, as I’ve always had an interest in supernatural phenomena. Images of my grandmothers flash across my mind: my nana, who showed me the power of the other dimension with a glass whizzing across her Ouija board and who made me promise never to toy with her tarot cards; and Gran, Dad’s mum, who would read tea leaves to divine the future, but gave up when she started foreseeing awful things happening to her friends. “Can’t you see it? Can’t you see it?” she would say, showing us the leaves in the bottom of a cup. No, we never could! Over the years, I have learned that when you compound the hard commercial requirements of WWE with the strange reality that television imposes on the world, the results can often be paranormal in ways that would have amazed both of my grandmothers. But this was a situation even more bizarre.
For nineteen years I’ve been imagining exactly how I would one day wrench the WWE Title from a storied Superstar and shake the title above my head with a roar of triumph, reveling in being the main event of the annual laser-lit, firework spectacle that is WrestleMania. I have a whole back catalogue of dream-scenario montages in my head: me taking the big falls, being slammed down onto the canvas, surviving an incredible onslaught before flipping the momentum, powering out of a face-buster and sensationally overcoming my opponent. I drop to one knee to contemplate my victory, then clamber up, climb through the ropes out of the ring, and work my way through the frenzied crowd to find Kaitlyn. I lay the belt on her hands, to acknowledge that the title is something we have achieved together. Maybe get a kiss. The crowd would leap to their feet, the atmosphere is electric… And then I wake up.
Never in my overcharged imagination did I think I would experience the biggest match of my life in a time warp, one degree removed, with no fans present.
My sofa-bound self is trying hard to block out the what-could-have-been dream montage: the magical interactive intensity of the fans’ surround-sound egging me on to beat the hell out of Brock Lesnar. My audience numbers three: my wife and two cats.
These are surreal times, however, and to be world champion you must stand tall against all challenges. I do—266 pounds and six feet, seven inches with my boots on. People say that few can match Brock Lesnar’s imposing, bodybuilder physique, but squaring up to him, eyeball to eyeball, let me tell you: I look down on him.
And six feet, three inches Brock Lesnar is nothing compared to some of the challenges I have had to overcome. My journey in wrestling has been . . . complicated, a series of struggles and disappointments, like a giant game of Snakes and Ladders. Ever since I was fifteen years old, I’ve heard a word repeated, “potential, potential, potential,” ringing in my years. When I was twenty-four, I was branded the Chosen One by Vince McMahon, the big cheese who made WWE the global phenomenon it is today. I climbed the ranks and had the ultimate goal in wrestling in sight, only to slide back down to the bottom of the reckoning. Let me tell you—this period, personally, professionally, psychologically, was the lowest of the lows. But here I am now on the cusp of converting years of pent-up potential into blockbuster achievement. Thanks to winning a sensational Royal Rumble in January, I have earned my shot at the heavyweight title. If I win—and I sense that is what the fans really, really want—I will be the first ever British-born WWE World Champion.
After kicking down every door—as well as a number of my opponents’ teeth—I am back near the top of the board. It has been a long, purposeful climb up the rungs of every ladder in the wrestling business around the world, and the ultimate prize is once again within reach . . . And then, just as I ready myself to grasp it, a new snake slithers across my path, breathing a deadly cloud of invisible virus particles. The question was, how to bypass it to get to the top? None of the classic escape moves would rescue me from this situation. Nor was it something that I could finish off by running at full speed and booting it smack in the face. I couldn’t just pick up a microphone and cut a brilliant promo to inspire a U-turn in the mood of the people.
With the spread of COVID-19 confirmed as a global pandemic, WWE decided the only solution was to follow World Health Organization protocols. So an empty-arena match it would be. It was an irony not lost on some of us that a sport as technically dangerous as wrestling was forced to fall in line with social distancing precautions.
On Planet WWE, we larger-than-life super-strong combatants pride ourselves on prevailing against any objectionable threats that stand in our way, but we were powerless in the face of a global pandemic. The timing was such that those evil spikes of COVID contagion killed off the participatory element of our annual extravaganza, the fans who flock in for WrestleMania week, the very lifeblood of WWE. When there are tens of thousands in the arena, the stories in the ring take on their own compelling momentum. For a wrestler, it is absolutely the best feeling in the world: you are improvising in the ring, the crowd is reacting to every move, pulling its collective strings to will the action on. Everyone is on board and strapped in for the emotional roller coaster. And, thanks to COVID-19, I was going to be denied that euphoria, that moment in the sun of the screaming adulation of seventy-five thousand fans? You have got to be freaking kidding me.
Owing to the ban on public gatherings, and the introduction of social distancing rules to keep performers safe, we were informed that WrestleMania 36 was to be prerecorded behind closed doors at the WWE Performance Center in late March and packaged for pay-per-view and live streaming on April 5 and 6. The dream walk-out at the Raymond James Stadium—home of NFL’s Tampa Bay Buccaneers, a host venue for the Super Bowl—was not to be. My big moment was to be staged in a self-contained bubble at WWE’s training and developmental facility, the place where wannabe wrestlers train to see if they’ve got what it takes, not in front of a raucous capacity crowd in the legend-making showcase venue of the “Ray Jay.”
My initial reaction—and I am not proud of it—was anger and disappointment, a woe-is-me attitude. After nineteen years of wrestling, of which thirteen were spent away from home, working toward my ambition in America, after turning everything around so that my dream was going to happen and happen on my terms . . .
WrestleMania was going to be played out in front of nobody? I re-membered so clearly coming back into the locker room after my segment on Raw, and Ricochet drew my attention to the screen, pointing at it and saying, “Oh that’s cool.” On the screen I saw Brock Lesnar v Drew McIntyre for the WWE Championship at WrestleMania and I had to sit down for a second to stay calm. When I heard that Tampa, my American hometown, would be host city for Mania, I was grinning from ear to ear. I had earned my heavyweight title shot, in a stadium fifteen minutes from home. Everything had come full circle. It was absolutely perfect. Nothing could possibly go wrong.
Of course it could. The situation made complete sense. It was a typical McIntyre curveball. I have always joked I could be a comic-strip character called Bad Luck Drew. What has ever gone to plan in my life? An unprecedented full-blown global pandemic was the only logical setting in which this Mania would ever have happened for me.
But then I dropped the selfish outlook and started to look at the bigger picture. The situation was more significant than my own personal moment in an arena full of screaming people. I was not going to let it faze me. I was going to work hard to make the event unique, a year no one would ever forget. Wrestling is all about unifying people in a collective catharsis. I wanted to flip the negativity and make people feel happy at a time when there was so much suffering and anxiety. How could we be a force for good? Well, we could keep going, stick to the schedule, and give the world an incredible WrestleMania, with two days of madness, hilarity, and entertainment, the best sort of escapism during the most difficult time our generation has ever faced.
I may look like Goliath, but mine is a David story. It is about overcoming the odds, doing the impossible, proving a point. We could give everybody a feel-good ending to the event, put smiles on faces . . .
First, I had to win.
ELEVEN DAYS EARLIER.
MARCH 25, 2020
Returning to the Performance Center, where I’d spent so many days during my time in WWE’s third brand, NXT—and realizing this was where WrestleMania was going to take place—was weird, just weird. For a start, the taping of the main event (usually the last match on an evening show) was scheduled for midday. No-body was there, bar a skeleton crew, in accordance with health and safety restrictions. I had the locker room to myself. Instead of the clouds of aroma from self-tan spray, there was a stale smell in the air. The room was so silent and echoey, I played music on my phone to pump me up. I was sitting there trying to remind myself what was going on, what was at stake. In the training room, it was just me, Brian the trainer, and a camera operator at a distance. I stretched and moved around. Not as much as I would have liked, but I remember looking at the clock as I was tying my boots and thinking, I am on the main event of WrestleMania in ten minutes and I had better snap into it.
Come on, Drew! This is your life’s work. You are potentially minutes from your destiny, you are nearly there!
The call came that we were going to start a little late. That gave me time to stretch more, pack in some push-ups, and get mentally primed. When I finally got backstage, which is a very narrow hallway, I saw Brock in the distance and immediately the buildup became real. There is no mistaking the ripped silhouette of Brock Lesnar, the trained fighter who ended Undertaker’s streak; he’s one of the most feared, ferocious athletes ever to walk the earth. When my music hit—a tune I love, despite its not so catchy title of “Gallantry (Defining Moment Remix)” by CFO$—I slipped right into that moment, fully aware of what this was all about. I was walking into an empty arena, but I carry so much in my head I could sense a crowd willing me on, reacting to my entrance of intent. From the kid who didn’t even know where the “hard camera” was in his first match on SmackDown, I was now a man fully aware that millions of fans around the world were watching down this fixed lens, and I was going to let everyone in. I was going to emote to them as much as I could. I was going to spellbind them with the next chapter of my story and give them a happy ending, my happy ending… And that was all that went through my head during my walk into the ring.
Brock swaggered out to take up my challenge, and I saw the manic look in his eyes. You know when Brock’s into it. You can feel it. The air bristles with electricity. He generates a force field of malevolent energy, and he was bringing that into that ring like he was about to have a brawl in the Ultimate Fighting Championship. If you could have read my mind, you’d have known I was thinking, If you pull a funny one out here, Brock, if you pull a fast one, I’ll drop you in a second. That was the stuff that was going through my head. I worked myself into such a frenzy of aggression that we could have done that match in a bar, no cameras there. I was so focused and fired up, like I was going into a real fight.
Our match was brief, but he is an absolute beast of a human. He manhandled me at the beginning and went for his German Suplex. The rope was there, and I grabbed it, which he did not expect, and when I felt the jerk, I thought, Wow, there is a reason why this guy’s known as The Beast. After I blocked his move, he made sure when he beat me down that I was going over in that German, and I was fully aware, This is a dangerous, dangerous guy. But I was so in the zone, my attitude was: Whatever you do, Brock, I’m getting out of it, I don’t care who you are, I don’t care how much of a monster you are. And after that trademark Lesnar F-5 when I kicked out of the hold on the count of one, that is a legit look of surprise on his face. I was out there to prove a point. I was out there to have a star-making moment. I wasn’t just out there to go along with Mr. Brock, I was going out there for Drew McIntyre.
I have long envisioned these dreams of triumph, but it is in-sane and overwhelming when they play out and come true. When I won the NXT title in 2017, I remember taking the title out in the hotel room in New York in the quiet of the night, alone, and having a private moment of contemplation. I felt the weight of the title in my hands and thought, Wow, I really did this. If the world had had a sneak peek at me then, that private moment would not have had the same poignancy.
But 2020 was different. If there had been seventy-five thousand people at WrestleMania 36 in 2020, the adrenaline would have been through the roof. I would have come backstage after my match to find everyone there, talking, shaking hands, doing high fives, and giving interviews to the media in the locker room. I would have been enjoying every second of it and almost certainly have been the last to leave. The levels of adrenaline coursing around my body would still have been through the roof…
After I dethroned Brock Lesnar in the empty Performance Center, I decided to let the world in to see my personal emotions up close. After all, Drew McIntyre is Drew Galloway with the volume switched up high. My victory was the result of overcoming my personal struggles. I was down on my knees, looking at the title, thinking about everything I’d been through on the journey: the sacrifices my wife and family had made, my inspirational mother, whose spirit I carry at every one of my matches, all the torturous grind I’ve put in to recover from the depths. Here we are, we have done it. And I know I am not dreaming, because Brock Lesnar’s prone body is right there.
So much was going through my head. When I snapped to, I saw the floor camera and crawled toward it. Traditionally, it is a very big no-no to turn to that camera and break the fourth wall, but I couldn’t help myself. I was alone in the empty Performance Center having won the biggest prize of all and I needed to share my emotions, to tell everybody how I felt. Welling up, I reached out to the camera and said, “Thank you. Thank you for supporting Drew McIntyre, thank you for choosing WWE during this difficult time, it really means the world to me.”
My words came straight from my heart.
And that was my WrestleMania moment.
After the match, I changed, packed my ring gear into my bag, and drove home. I had brought a smart suit in case I would be asked to do post-match interviews, but due to the unique circumstances and the need to minimize numbers in the Performance Center filming bubble, I had to scurry out hastily so that the subsequent matches could be filmed. I arrived home, showered, and hid the title belt upstairs. With one last look at the glint of prize gold on leather, I put it away in a cupboard in my office and forgot about it.
In the real world, I hadn’t officially won the title and I wasn’t officially the WWE Champion because our match hadn’t yet been streamed, and if it hadn’t yet been broadcast, then it hadn’t happened. If I’d learned anything from being in this job my entire life, it was this—until it’s official, it isn’t official. So, the title—that Holy Grail of my life—went into hiding in the back of a cupboard, like a present you put away to bring out for someone at Christmas. Kaitlyn was the only person who knew I had won it. I had conversations with my dad on the phone where he would say over and over, “I know you’re not going to tell me, so I’m not going to ask.” He’d say that at least six or seven times, and I would keep saying, “Then stop asking, Dad, because I’m not going to tell you! Nothing is official until it is official.” Besides, I wanted everyone to enjoy watching the show in “real time.”
I did a lot of socially distanced media in the ten days or so between the filming and the streaming of WrestleMania, and I had done such an effective job of convincing myself the fight hadn’t yet taken place, that I reckon I could have breezed a lie detector test.
Ten days passed in normal lockdown routine. Kaitlyn and I would wake up, eat breakfast, sit on the porch, and have some coffee in the sunshine. I would work through a couple of hours of media work, then go and stretch, do some yoga, have a workout in the gym we had set up in our garage. We would watch a movie, hang out with the cats, and do the household chores. I had been learning to do domestic stuff I should already have known how to do—like laundry and the dishes—which a life on the road had always sort of excused me from. I had started reading a bit. Kaitlyn was trying to coach me to live more in the moment, and not be the serious, driven wrestler 24/7. As a couple, we are well suited to a pandemic lockdown lifestyle, but were those the longest ten days of my entire life? You bet.
APRIL 5, 2020
On the day of WrestleMania Sunday I wake up with some flutters of nerves, not to the same degree as if I were preparing for the day of the fight itself, but enough to alert me that today is my day of destiny. I am aware of the buzz on social media triggered by the previous night’s show—the first half of this year’s “Too Big for Just One Night” edition. Everyone around the world had tuned into Mania at home, chatting and commenting online, and the response is unparalleled. My cell phone is popping.
Kaitlyn and I decide to honor the day as if it were in non-COVID times, to get a feel of what it could have been like, so that morning we set off to look at Raymond James Stadium—just a short drive from our house. The whole scenario is odd. The sky is gray and overcast. Rain starts to fall, darkening the deserted streets. We cannot get close to the stadium because it has been closed off and converted into a drive-through COVID-19 testing site. So we head toward Tampa International Airport, which lies on a slight elevation a few blocks to the west. I know from the thousands of times I have landed back home after my three hundred plus days on the road per year that you get a great view of the stadium from there, and Kaitlyn wants to film me with the original Mania venue in the background. The airport is eerie too, with flights grounded and no arrival or departure bustle. We drive into the vast, empty multi-story parking lot. There is nobody around. We head to the top level, and I stand gazing over the wall at the stadium wondering what is going on down there. This is at the very beginning of the pandemic and everything is still a big unknown. Are there lines of sick people? Are people going to turn into zombies? We have no idea. I take a little time to let the significance of the day sink in. I’m enjoying a montage of images from my life whirling in my head when the cops start showing up like they do in the movies, cars swooping in across the parking lot toward us. Kaitlyn and I jump straight back into our car, and the cops pull up behind us, lights flashing, and I’m like, “Come on, man, don’t arrest me! I’ve got to get home and watch WrestleMania.”
We get away, no problem.
So the clock is counting down, and here I am on the sofa, about to flick the remote, anticipating the climactic moment when the two versions of me align, when Drew Galloway, the man, the husband, the obsessively passionate wrestling fan from a modest apartment in a small town in Scotland, rightfully becomes Drew McIntyre, WWE Champion, the first ever from the United Kingdom to hold the title. My family and friends will watch like the millions of viewers who are also tuning in to Night 2 from all over the world, edgy with anticipation about how things will pan out between me and Brock Lesnar.
I was happy with the way things went when we filmed the match, but until the world has witnessed me become the champion, I cannot let myself believe it is real. And it isn’t… Unsettling images occasionally barge into my head—I see the ring and hear the referee count “One, two” and I see Roman Reigns or Seth Rollins with the long hair, and “three,” and it is Brock who is raising the title. It makes no sense for me to think this way, but we are in un-charted territory. I am so wound up about finally achieving my goal. The outcome is still under wraps, and I have certainly experienced results that changed in the dying seconds when I was winning big matches earlier in my career. Has my longed-for main event match really ended as I remember? Was the finish edited? I sound insane even to myself, but I have been around for a long time.
Until I see my championship match play out against Brock Lesnar on my very own TV screen, nothing is real.
Three hours, four minutes, and thirty-five seconds into the show: the shrill wail of the bagpipes starts and the war drums kick in. My entrance music fires me up. It’s a Braveheart cry that signals we’re going to see a battle, and it was kind of cool to watch Brock Lesnar stalk in under his flaming letters and pace around me with his psycho stare while his advocate Paul Heyman started his wind-up banter on the mic. My sofa-bound self struggles to watch me in the ring—I’m such a perfectionist, I am always thinking I should have done this or that better, but I hold my breath and keep my normal tendency to self-critique at bay.
I see myself take the initiative with a Claymore Kick, but Brock kicks out of the hold. The audacity of my early strike sends him into a frenzy. Three times The Beast tries to finish me off with his trademark fireman’s carry face-buster, the F-5. Each one hurts like hell, but I kick out of each hold. From several feet away on the sofa, I see pain wrought on my face; register the heaving of my breath. All the while I am hearing Heyman babbling away with his taunts—“He can’t keep kicking out”—and I am physically reacting to every move on TV, shadowing on the sofa my actions in the ring, limbs twitching out of pure instinct. Kaitlyn has to move away fast; she is in danger of catching a flying elbow.
And then I see myself plant a final Claymore right between Brock Lesnar’s eyes, and my destiny is fulfilled. Kaitlyn whoops and throws the bowl of popcorn in the air and we sit with corn kernel confetti cascading around us.
I finally exhale. Nothing was official until that three count. It is awesome, just incredible. I really am the WWE Champion.
Winning the title is so good, I get to receive it twice. In the ring at the Performance Center, on TV, Shawn Bennett, the referee, hands me the title belt. I hold it high in the time-honored way of brandishing the spoils of victory. At home, we took it out of the cupboard and stashed it under the sofa before settling down to our Mania viewing. In my moment of triumph, Kaitlyn picks up the belt and ceremoniously presents it to me, which is very special because, without her, there is no Drew McIntyre, World Champion.
By now all the family from Scotland have tuned in on Zoom. We had a little chat beforehand. My dad; his wife, Jane; my brother, John; his wife, Felicity; my aunt Beverley, uncle Neil, cousin Michelle, and her boyfriend, Gordon, were going to watch it together on a group Zoom call to keep each other awake. In Scotland, given the time difference, WrestleMania runs from midnight to just after 3 a.m.
We rejoin the family Zoom call. Everybody is celebrating, looking emotional. Dad and Jane are wearing their special edition Drew McIntyre T-shirts. Dad, of course, is in tears.
I hold the title up to the computer screen and say, “What do you think of that?”
“Absolutely brilliant, son,” Dad says. “Absolutely brilliant.”
I am still trying to take it all in. My brother, my original training partner when we were kids, who I had woken up in the small hours for the important stuff on the many Manias we had watched in our shared bedroom, who has my name tattooed over his heart, rarely shows emotion. His wife, Felicity, secretly recorded his re-action on video, with me as Drew McIntyre WWE Champion in the background on TV, and his face was a picture. He looked so shocked and so very, very happy. He was convinced Brock Lesnar was going to win.
I am crying now… this is my dad’s side coming out… My family’s reaction means more to me than I can say.
Because that’s where it all started.