10 days out from the biggest moment in his career, everything seems normal for Drew Galloway. It’s a Wednesday morning, he’s just finished breakfast and is setting up to do media calls ahead of his WWE championship match against Brock Lesnar at WrestleMania.
It would be business as usual for the 34-year-old Scottish wrestler — except, due to the global COVID-19 pandemic, nothing is normal about this year’s WrestleMania. In the wake of the coronavirus outbreak, WWE took the unprecedented step to move it’s largest event from Raymond James Stadium in Tampa to the WWE Performance Center in Orlando, Florida.
As has been the case for WWE programming for the past few weeks, no fans will be in attendance at WrestleMania.
“It’s obviously something that neither myself nor the world have dealt with in the modern era,” Galloway told Yahoo Sports. “I’m happy and proud that WWE is pushing forward to give everybody an escape from everything that is going on right now, that we’re creating some original content, something to look forward to under the CDC guidelines and with closed sets. It’s a very interesting time for the world.”
Planting the seeds for a WrestleMania storyline
Galloway, whose WWE moniker is Drew McIntyre, has watched for nearly three months as his career has reached new heights with Vince McMahon’s company. It’s common in professional wrestling to hear the phrase “having the rocket strapped to your back” when an athlete is getting a significant push in a storyline. Galloway’s journey took off back in January, where he ignited the crowd at the Royal Rumble at Minute Maid Park in Houston and laid the groundwork for one of the unique builds in recent memory.
“I was listening to the crowd and at this stage in my career I can feel what they are feeling. It got to the point with Brock where he was dominating so much, eliminating superstars that they love, they were starting to get frustrated as a crowd,” Galloway said. “I thought, ‘OK, [me eliminating Brock] could be a really cool moment.’ I knew they would react, but I don’t think I knew how big they would react. I felt like the way the story was told, that was going to be a key moment.”
The Royal Rumble — one of WWE’s “big four” events of the year — traditionally sets up the main event of WrestleMania, with the winner of the men’s or women’s Royal Rumble earning a championship opportunity. It’s also a moment where making the wrong decision can turn a crowd against a star.
“They could have turned. Edge made his surprise return for the first time in nine years,” Galloway said, referencing arguably the biggest moment of that night. “Once that died down, they’d pick a superstar to get behind. I was in the ring when Edge’s music hit and the reaction was just as big as when Brock was eliminated. Towards the end, it did cross my mind that they would turn on me. The fact that the fans were cheering behind me the whole time was incredible.”
‘I may look like Goliath, but I have more of a David story’
Take one look at Galloway, who is billed at 6-foot-5 and 265 pounds, and it would seem obvious that he should be headlining WrestleMania across from Lesnar, but it’s the polar opposite of where he found himself during his first stint with WWE.
Signed as a 21-year-old in 2007, Galloway was essentially christened as the company’s next big star. After moving through Florida Championship Wrestling — WWE’s developmental system at the time — Galloway earned praise from McMahon himself before eventually flaming out and becoming a comedy act instead of a top champion.
“I have always kind of been in position for big things,” Galloway said. “People saw a lot in me and it didn’t pan out. I became the comedy character and then was fired. I’ve had to work so hard to build myself back up to get to this point. I may look like Goliath, but I have more of a David story of overcoming the odds. The fact that I overcame that — and we’re talking about some serious, serious downs — to the main event of WrestleMania, hopefully that will inspire a lot of people that if you work hard enough, you can achieve anything.”
After being fired from WWE in 2014, Galloway worked for various promotions, most notably Evolve Wrestling, where he once again became a “top guy.” Despite having been in the industry for more than a decade, Galloway desperately needed an overhaul, both as a performer and as a person.
“There was no way to transition me from the character I was in WWE at the time into something serious,” Galloway said. “I also had to get away to separate from the audience and grow as a person outside of the ring, I was very immature at the time and I needed the big lights off of me for a second.
“That was when I started applying the lessons that I had gotten over the years from guys like [Fit] Finlay, the Undertaker, Mr. McMahon, Triple H. They would give me so much advice over the years that wouldn’t always register. Outside the company, I really got to take a step back, start from scratch, apply the lessons that I learned, be humble and at the same time grow outside the ring. It was such an important period for me.”
A real-life advocate — and also an on-screen rival
Since coming back into the WWE fold in 2017, Galloway’s Drew McIntyre character has hovered near the top of the card, but hadn’t fully broken through until this year. While the physical aspect has always been there for Galloway, he needed to get the crowd to buy into him as an overall performer.
“When I was younger, I was so tense and worried all of the time, thinking all of the time,” Galloway said. “If you zoomed in on my face at the time you would see that and know I was thinking too much, not being the part but acting the part. The crowd can tell when someone is relaxed and having a good time, which I am now, I’m confident now. If I feel something in the moment, the crowd can lead me in a direction with how they react and if it works, it works, if it doesn’t, it doesn’t. When I was younger something like that would bother me for a long time.”
This more complete version of Galloway’s character was something that Paul Heyman — executive director of WWE’s “Raw” program — had seen in the star for years, dating back to his first run with the company.
“There aren’t many minds like Paul Heyman’s,” Galloway said. “Paul Heyman has always been someone who has believed in me, ever since I was a comedy character in 3MB, he always saw something in me, maybe more than the company did or I saw in myself at the time. When Paul saw the opportunity to present to the world the real Drew Galloway, the real Drew McIntyre, and allowed me to be myself, the fans got behind it and it led to this moment.”
Ironically, Heyman is working against Galloway in this current storyline. Heyman serves as the manager and mouthpiece for Lesnar, who is another believer in Galloway. Although a certain segment of fans exists that complains about Lesnar being a part-time wrestler and champion, he is one of the most consistent and professional performers on the WWE roster.
“I’ve always wanted to work with Brock Lesnar,” Galloway said. “There’s nobody more convincing than Brock, nobody who can sell a story like Brock, no one who can make you believe like Brock. He’s made you believe that I am a bad-ass and can take him on. I have to thank him and Paul Heyman for that. Hopefully, I have been holding up my end of the bargain.”
The payoff for Galloway and fans will come in less than a week, in a setting no one could have predicted at the beginning of the road to WrestleMania. Should Galloway win his match with Lesnar, there won’t be a raucous celebration, no fans to cheer his conquest, to commemorate a moment that destined to happen, albeit a decade later.
Instead, the moment is likely to provide a glimpse into the world of professional wrestling that fans wouldn’t normally see.
“I don’t know how it will go, I have ideas in my head of how it will go, being in the ring alone with the title, The way it happens with the crowd is you win, you celebrate, you go to the back and see everyone and then that private moment with ourselves or our significant others comes later in the hotel room, when you’re alone. In this case, I envision it as fans getting to see that private moment where the real emotions come out. I hope the world can feel it and share it with me through the camera.”
Regardless of how it all plays out, Galloway is certain of one thing: This particular WrestleMania moment will be one that the world won’t soon forget.
“I am older, wiser, and I am very grateful that we are giving everybody an escape. It’s still WrestleMania. People will remember this WrestleMania. Moments and remembered in the moment but as time passes they are forgotten. This will never be forgotten.”
WrestleMania will air on Saturday, April 4 and Sunday, April 5 as part of a two-night event on the WWE Network.
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