ORLANDO, Fla. - On April 5th, fans around the world watched as a 6-foot, 5-inch tall Scotsman lined up across the ring from then-WWE Champion Brock Lesnar and hurled one final Claymore Kick to his face to put him on his back for the count.
One…two…three! Drew McIntyre had realized his boyhood dream, a dream he’d been training for since he was 15. He had won the WWE Championship to close Wrestlemania.
“It's still not real to me,” said McIntyre holding up the Championship belt in his home in the Tampa area Friday. "I was so into the match, when it was over I forgot that there was millions of people watching, when I won the title, I was staring at the title like, 'this is it, I've done it, I can't believe I've done it...but oh wait, there's millions of people watching.'"
It's understandable that McIntyre would forget in that moment though, as his "Wrestlemania moment" was unlike any other before: his was in front of a live audience of zero.
Where there should have been a crowd of 80,000 including McIntyre’s family, cheering on his first heavyweight title win, there was just a referee, some crew members, and the empty WWE Performance Center in Orlando.
"There was nobody there,” said McIntyre.
The title only changed hands in front of an empty arena on one other occasion that FOX 35 News could find: a special match during the half-time of the Superbowl in 1999 when Mankind Mick Foley beat Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson in an empty arena match. That match was held that way as a special feature though, McIntyre’s was out of necessity as the COVID-19 pandemic forced events to shut down or follow social distancing rules nationwide. So for now, all of WWE’s events are being held without crowds; including Wrestlemania.
McIntyre said the empty arena setup is starting to get less weird, but in the lead up to that big night, it was a tough pill to swallow. However, he said as he entered the Performance Center for that match, having the match and the moment in that way took on its own special meaning.
"This is bigger than my selfish reasons,” he said. "That's what keeps me going is knowing that there's millions of people out there relying on us to take their minds off these current circumstances and it's an absolute privilege."
As he held up the title after the win, McIntyre said he couldn’t help but break the pro-wrestling tradition of ‘not speaking directly to the camera’ as he brought the title directly to the closest lens he could find to share the moment with all of his fans at home.
In the lead up to Wrestlemania, McIntyre had grown as a fan favorite, often receiving thunderous cheers from live crowds as he starred on WWE Monday Night Raw. McIntyre said he couldn’t quite remember the moment where his character shifted from a ruthless "bad-guy" to being cheered heavily by the crowd, but said he’s really embraced it and taken the opportunity to really be himself in the ring.
McIntyre said he grew up in a small town in Scotland and dreamt of becoming a WWE Superstar.
This is actually his second run with the company after famously being released from his first WWE contract in 2014, going on to travel the world to hone his craft and grow as a professional wrestler, and eventually returning to the company.
McIntyre’s WWE Championship win also signals a first from the growing pro-wrestling scene in the United Kingdom as he is the first person from there to hold the prestigious title.
"When I first came to America my goal was, ya know, first British champion. I couldn't believe the William Regal, or Wade Barrett, or even the British Bulldog had never won the heavyweight championship before,” said McIntyre.
As for next steps: McIntyre defends the WWE title next weekend against Seth Rollins at the Money in the Bank event; which will also be held in front of an empty arena.McIntyre said he plans to retain his title though and hold onto it, definitely long enough to finally hold it up in front of a crowded arena of WWE fans, he hopes.
"I want to be the first person that walks out on [that] Raw,” he said. “I wanna hold up the title....hold up the title and say this is our wrestling moment right here!"
As for dream future opponents, McIntyre said he’d love to defend his title against long-time friend, WWE Smackdown Superstar Sheamus, or against a former champion who he said he’s never had a chance to face off against: the Phenomenal A.J. Styles.