the skinny Scot who wrestled his way to global stardom3 min read
Angela suffered from cerebellar ataxia, a degenerative neurological disorder that impaired her sense of balance. To move around the flat she had to hold on to walls and furniture. But she brushed off her problems and prioritised supporting McIntyre’s dreams of becoming a pro wrestler.
While at school, McIntyre, John and a friend devised their own ‘tournament’ –Xtreme Scottish Backyard Wrestling. An old double mattress served as the ring. He trained by running on Ayr beach and using plastic bottles filled with stones as dumb-bells. At 10, he joined the Frontier Wrestling Alliance in Portsmouth, 450 miles from Ayr, going as often as he could, staying for the weekend or for week-long training camps. He learnt holds, counter-holds, joint manipulation, footwork, how to fall safely and how to hit the ropes.
His fledgling years sound more like a low-budget comedy. At his public debut at 16 in Linwood, Renfrewshire, just outside Glasgow, he wore the ‘most horrible outfit – skin-tight electric-blue PVC trousers and a black fishnet vest’.
McIntyre was involved with setting up British Championship Wrestling (BCW). Unabashed by the heckling in draughty village halls throughout the UK, he found that doing what he loved in front of a crowd, ‘even 10 men and a dog’, brought him alive like never before.
But his parents were appalled when they saw him somersaulting over the ropes and crashing out of the ring. In order to placate them, McIntyre applied for university. A ‘big fan’ of The X-Files and documentaries about serial killers, he got a degree in criminology from Glasgow Caledonian University. He found that his student loan paid for gym membership as well as protein supplements. Meanwhile, he says, ‘Dad wanted a university diploma to put on the wall and say it was his son’s.’
An essential part of wrestling is the role-play. McIntyre’s early ring persona, ‘Thee’ Drew Galloway was a full-of-himself ladies’ man who cruised into the ring to Chesney Hawkes’ I Am the One and Only. After wrestling at a Butlins Holiday camp as a summer job, McIntyre attended a WWE try-out in London in 2007. He was signed up and invited to America. He was ecstatic.
Two weeks later, after McIntyre arrived at the WWE development centre in Louisville, Kentucky, WWE sent him ‘on the road for television’, a potentially transformational moment. Having only ever wrestled in front of 100 people max, he was being asked to leapfrog the queue of aspirants and walk out on a prime-time television slot watched by millions. After his winning debut, he spent two hours accepting friend requests on social media.
He submitted to a weekly sleep-eat-gym-wrestle regime. Every match was followed by ‘skull sessions’ – de-briefings. ‘The comments were never about the execution of moves,’ says McIntyre. ‘They were about how to best project the drama of the story.
‘Wrestlers are sportsmen, improv actors, stuntmen and entertainers wrapped up in one charismatic package,’ he says. ‘It’s soap opera in spandex.’ You not only have to learn the moves, you also have to stay ‘in character’.
What does it take to be a top-flight pro wrestler? The ideal candidate has world-class athletic abilities based on strength, flexibility, agility, telegenic charisma, a coachable temperament, and an immense work ethic. It probably helps that McIntyre comes from a part of Scotland where ‘the people, including myself, are unafraid to make a fool of ourselves – traits that are very useful in my job’.