One year ago, Drew McIntyre’s ceiling finally felt defined. After a decade of high hopes and expectations, the Scotsman’s ascent to headline heights had seemingly stalled. Though he’d become a featured figure since returning to WWE, McIntyre had still not cemented the position he once seemed destined for. Instead, McIntyre entered last year’s WrestleMania placed firmly on the tier below, taking on Roman Reigns in his first singles match since battling leukemia. In many ways, that prominent role spoke to McIntyre’s skill and status but once the bell rung, those circumstances told a different tale.
For obvious reasons, the finish never seemed in doubt and as a result, the match itself failed to capture fans’ imaginations. As expected, Reigns was indeed the definitive victor, finishing things after a relatively forgettable affair. Clearly, that was the logical choice but as the dust settled, it was hard not to ponder McIntyre’s current trajectory. In the modern WWE landscape, it’s always an achievement to earn a singles match at WrestleMania but after one full year back on the main roster, that feat felt more damning for McIntyre than it did encouraging.
In hindsight, that perception was hurried but in the months that followed, it only felt more accurate. Before WrestleMania, McIntyre found himself grouped with other heels and that trend continued afterwards, now standing alongside Shane McMahon as his conflict with Roman Reigns continued in an almost supporting role. In many ways, that position felt like McIntyre’s future, the versatile muscle that could bolster any heel’s major program. McIntyre was talented enough to deliver inside the ropes and physically imposing enough to bring credibility but as a package, he still felt without a true identity.
Just a few months ago, that belief remained the consensus too. McIntyre still needed that unexplainable jolt, the missing ingredient which at long last, would restart his route to the industry’s peak. Ironically, the answers were actually rather simple. With Royal Rumble fast approaching, McIntyre’s character shifted, becoming an energetic babyface rather than the brooding villain that after eighteen months, had very much reached its ceiling. Though similar to his presentation as NXT Champion, McIntyre suddenly felt more outwardly charismatic, capturing live crowds in a way that projected vehemently through the screen.
Almost immediately, the adjustment altered fans’ perception of McIntyre too, making him a genuine contender after months of meandering. In terms of the Rumble, that felt optimistic but in the most emphatic fashion, it’d incredibly come to fruition. McIntyre not only won the Royal Rumble but conquered Brock Lesnar along the way, receiving the ultimate seal of approval and confirming his place on the upcoming WrestleMania card. That decision was a uniquely daring, trusting the talent of a performer that for one reason or another, had yet to establish himself at this level.
Almost two months later though, that choice has seldom felt safer. If McIntyre was building momentum before Royal Rumble, he’s maintained it since, swiftly silencing the immediate doubters. McIntyre’s “missing ingredient” wasn’t a complex flaw after all, he simply required creative commitment, the final push that’d catapult him among the elite. This Royal Rumble win was exactly that, with its memorable execution cementing McIntyre at the level he seemed destined to reach all those years ago. Now he stands opposite Lesnar on the WrestleMania marquee and thus far, he’s belonged too.
It’d be hyperbolic to suggest that as a character, McIntyre has made dramatic strides. In fact, the Drew McIntyre persona is only slightly more detailed than before, that element simply isn’t the driving force here though. Though extra layers will likely be required in the end, McIntyre rides this wave as an incredibly simple character. In 2020 though, that certainly hasn’t stopped fans from caring. People are genuinely enjoying this ascent, some feeding off McIntyre’s energy while others simply respecting his path to this point.
That’s not unique to McIntyre of course, it’s easy to be a hero when entering this particular puzzle. The true challenge is remaining a piece though, and that’s never been a more challenging task than it is right now. If McIntyre is indeed a centerpiece in the making, a demanding road awaits but it must be said, this opening chapter has gone smoother than almost anyone could’ve anticipated. Though he’s almost totally unchanged, McIntyre feels firmly distanced from the man that entered last year’s WrestleMania. Not in look or style though, instead in position and perception.
Last year, McIntyre was an interchangeable antagonist, a villain that for all his talent, filled a simple role and nothing more. Last year, McIntyre could be seamlessly grouped with others, a performer that felt as defined when in the supporting cast as he was in the lead role. This year, McIntyre’s presence provides a stark contrast to that though, entering WrestleMania as a rare rising star within a field of established headliners. There’s a sense of sustainability here too, a sense that beyond the initial excitement, McIntyre can be a focal figure for years to come.
When someone reaches a stage as grand as this, it often carries an almost fairy-tale feel. On paper, that element is rich in McIntyre’s story too. This is a true success story, a redemption arc that speaks volumes about McIntyre’s sheer determination and work ethic. Even still, McIntyre doesn’t seem like an underdog here, he doesn’t feel like a stunning benefactor of circumstance and support. I don’t mean that as an indictment either, McIntyre simply appears different in this spot as from the outside looking in, it’s one he’s always seemed destined to fill.
Drew McIntyre’s story is rooted in this destination, dating back to his “chosen one” roots over a decade ago. The upcoming moment is glaring in that sense. It feels so sudden and bold but yet, McIntyre couldn’t look more at home on this stage. I suppose in some ways, that makes sense though. We all knew that McIntyre was capable, we just didn’t know what final touches were necessary to propel him into this position. Well, these past few months, we’ve finally seen those elusive touches added.
This year, WrestleMania may not provide the storybook ending to McIntyre’s journey. Not visually at least, with circumstances unlike any other in the event’s history. However, if the cards fall as you’d hope, McIntyre has many matches of this ilk in his future. After all, McIntyre isn’t in the midst of a miracle here, far from it. Instead, we are currently witnessing the steps that McIntyre waited years to take, those final, almost unexplainable steps towards superstardom.