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Reinventing “The Chosen One”: How Drew McIntyre became wrestling’s most in-demand player
After being released by WWE in June 2014, Drew McIntyre easily could have bemoaned the hand he was dealt. A lesser man, confronted with the setback of losing his dream job, could be forgiven for licking his wounds.
Not McIntyre, though. Instead, the 6-foot-5 slayer from Ayr, Scotland, embarked on a worldwide wrestling odyssey that transformed him into sports-entertainment’s most in-demand franchise player.
Before announcing that he had signed with NXT earlier this month, McIntyre spent the better part of three years collecting championships and reminding everybody why Mr. McMahon had called him “The Chosen One” in 2009. Along the way, he raised the profile of every organization he competed for.
As McIntyre prepares to wind down that part of his journey — he wrestles his final matches for EVOLVE Wrestling, the home of some of McIntyre’s most acclaimed battles, in New York on April 22 and 23 — the newest blockbuster Superstar reveals how his pilgrimage changed him, why his last matches in EVOLVE are so important, and why he views NXT’s brand expansion with tunnel vision.
WWE.COM: What was your mindset entering the Amway Center on the night of TakeOver: Orlando?
DREW McINTYRE: I was very tired because I had the craziest week of my life. On that day, I had been on the move since 8 a.m., and I actually was at the EVOLVE Wrestling show 45 minutes before I appeared on-screen at TakeOver. Once I got through the traffic, my mindset was, “Wow, this is really happening.”
NXT is where I always envisioned myself going. I’ve been traveling and doing so many great things, but in my head, the next logical step was NXT. I genuinely believe it has the strongest roster of anywhere in the world.
Obviously, in the back of my mind, I wondered how the fans were going to respond. One, would they remember me, and two, would they know who I am these days and what I’m about? Would they care? You always have those doubts, but when I appeared on-screen and heard that response, you saw the smile that came across my face. I can’t put that feeling into words.
WWE.COM: For many members of the WWE Universe, TakeOver was their first time seeing you in almost three years. During your time away from WWE, you became the busiest man in independent wrestling. How is the Drew McIntyre of 2017 different than the Drew McIntyre of 2014?
McINTYRE: I was 21 years old when I first signed with WWE. I finished my university degree and came straight to America. I grew up in America and became a man in WWE. I went through ups and downs in this business and in life, and when I was released by WWE in 2014, I knew I had a wealth of knowledge and an opportunity.
I’ve wrestled since I was 15 years old, and it’s the one thing that I know I do very well. I knew that I could go around the world and, in this age of social media, allow the fans to come with me on the journey as I rebuilt myself and created a new image, a new reputation.
I put myself out there and people responded. Promoters believed in me and gave me a platform, and then the fans started believing in me. It went from me trying to show the fans what I was all about to growing companies around the world. I got to be the face of so many companies, like EVOLVE and Insane Championship Wrestling in Scotland. I became a reliable franchise player in those companies. That’s my legacy worldwide now.
WWE.COM: You took a negative situation and turned it into a positive one. A lot of other people might have gone in a different direction. Instead, you raised the bar.
McINTYRE: That’s exactly what I wanted. A lot of guys, when they leave the company, they fall under the radar and are happy just to keep plugging along, hoping one day that they will get picked up again. That’s not me. I’m not that kind of guy. I never go for second best. I want to show everybody that if you do your best job, if you believe in yourself and work your a** off, you can do anything.
WWE.COM: Was there anybody who provided guidance during that time?
McINTYRE: William Regal. Along with Fit Finlay, he is one of my mentors, and we have always kept in touch. He gave me advice when I needed it, and it’s awesome to be working with him again.
WWE.COM: From the start, EVOLVE played a pivotal role in your career outside WWE. In your first match after your release, you won the EVOLVE Heavyweight Championship from the Superstar now known as Kassius Ohno.
McINTYRE: That’s correct, the very first match. The first thing I did, three weeks after I was released, was go to Scotland for ICW. I hid at my dad’s house for three days with the blinds closed, because I didn’t want anybody to know I was there. I did a surprise appearance and put out my mission statement, which was to put ICW on the map and raise the profile of U.K. wrestling. [Promoter] Gabe Sapolsky of EVOLVE saw my mission statement, which went viral, and contacted me.
When my originally scheduled opponent, Trent Barreta, got injured, Gabe asked if I’d like to fight Ohno for the title, and I said, ”Absolutely.” I became EVOLVE Champion in my very first match, which is pretty crazy, but exactly the start I needed as I began my mission.
WWE.COM: Almost immediately, you turned into a cornerstone of EVOLVE.
McINTYRE: When I won that title, I told everybody that the company and its roster deserved to be seen. Nobody really knew who Ricochet was, or Timothy Thatcher, or Zack Sabre Jr. When I saw how good the talent was, I said, “OK, I want to put eyes on this company.” I defended the title all across the world, on TV in the U.K., in multiple countries, including Australia. I knew that the company had no choice but to grow, and it was very rewarding to play a part in it.
WWE.COM: You’re about to wrap up your final non-WWE booking commitments with EVOLVE. First, you face reigning EVOLVE Champion Zack Sabre Jr. on Saturday, April 22, in a non-title match in Queens, N.Y. Then, you take on former UFC fighter and WWN Champion Matt Riddle in a non-title “I Quit” Match on Sunday, April 23, in Brooklyn. What are your expectations for those events?
McINTYRE: Zack Sabre Jr. is somebody who has built a reputation for himself over these past few years. He wasn’t around when I first started [in the U.K.]. I was there for six years before WWE signed me, and there was practically no scene there whatsoever. We were building the scene back then. Then I went to America and suddenly there’s this influx of such great talent, and Zack’s at the top of that list. This is our first time wrestling, ever, and I guarantee everybody a show with that one.
The second match is against Matt Riddle. He is my arch-nemesis. Here’s a guy who has been wrestling for barely a year and he gets comparisons to Kurt Angle – and rightly so. Matt Riddle, like me, is one of the hardest-hitting men on the entire planet. His kicks and strikes are deadly, and I love to get in the ring with him. We have our differences outside the ring and we’re one match apiece so far, so this is the rubber match.
This is the definitive ending. He’s got the WWN Title right now, and I plan to make an example of him on my way out the door. I’m going to force Riddle, the former UFC fighter, to say “I quit.” “Fight” isn’t even the word to describe it. We’re going to need the crowd to take a few steps back, because it’s going to get crazy. It won’t be contained by the ring.
WWE.COM: After that, you’re NXT full-time, and you’ve already stated your intention of winning the NXT Title. Coincidently, you were in the tournament to crown the inaugural NXT Champion in 2012. What stands out to you most about NXT’s growth since then?
McINTYRE: I came from [NXT predecessor] Florida Championship Wrestling, so I witnessed the humble beginnings of NXT and watched it grow into the monster it is today. I wrestled Seth Rollins in that first NXT Title Tournament, like you said. I remember that as a fun match. He’s a guy I’d definitely want to lock horns with again.
Since then, seeing Triple H’s vision come to fruition, going from where [NXT] was then to where it is now, has been incredible. It’s a brand I very much wanted to be a part of. I was lucky enough that my work and my fan base had earned me the opportunity to sign pretty much anywhere in the world I desired, but I only had eyes for one place, NXT.
The fact that Hunter contacted me to be part of his passion project means the world to me. It’s an honor to become part of something that means so much to him, and I guarantee I am going to give you absolutely everything, and then some more, to do what I’ve done for every other company in the world: That’s to build it to the next level.
A lot of people perceive going to Raw or SmackDown as a step up from NXT. I don't want it to be seen that way anymore. I want NXT to be on the same playing field, if not even higher.
WWE.COM: The roster is much different now than it was then. Many of today’s NXT Superstars are familiar faces from your time competing around the globe, including in EVOLVE.
McINTYRE: Like I said, NXT is the strongest roster going today. The funny thing is, you were referring to the last time I was in NXT. I’d been on the road for a few years, I knew a few of the guys, but I didn’t know that many people in the NXT locker room.
When I walked into the locker room this time, I knew literally everybody — guys I had wrestled in America or Germany or Denmark or Scotland. There were a few guys I haven’t wrestled but am a big fan of, so I just hung out in the corner and thought, “Oh man, I’m coming for you one day.”
WWE.COM: Besides the NXT Champion, Bobby Roode, who do you consider your toughest competition in NXT?
McINTYRE: I’m looking forward to getting in the ring with Aleister Black and with the big Irishman, Killian Dain. Roderick Strong is one, if not my top opponent over the past few years; when we get in there, we don’t mess about.
When I look around, I realize NXT is something special already. Hopefully, I can add to it and help grow the product. The way I see it, we have an opportunity to rival Raw and SmackDown, and that’s not even where I want to be right now.
A lot of people perceive going to Raw or SmackDown as a step up from NXT. I don’t want it to be seen that way anymore. I want NXT to be on the same playing field, if not even higher. I have complete tunnel vision. NXT is going to be the No. 1 brand, and I believe that with our roster, if we work our a**es off, we will get more people talking about NXT than Raw, SmackDown or any other show on the planet.
Drew McIntyre’s final weekend with EVOLVE Wrestling begins Saturday, April 22, at EVOLVE 82 in Queens, N.Y., where he will take on EVOLVE Champion Zack Sabre Jr. in a non-title match. Then, McIntyre competes in his last EVOLVE match Sunday, April 23, at EVOLVE 83 in an “I Quit” Match against WWN Champion Matt Riddle in Brooklyn. Tickets are available now at Ticketfly.com.