It isn’t a 700th anniversary by any means, nor is it a great political happening. But it is something illustrative of Scotland’s centuries-long struggle to make our collective mark upon the world.
I’ve spoken before about the wrestling, that weird and wonderful form of entertainment which is full of surprising nuances alongside the most brazen lowest-common-denominator nonsense. This video gives an excellent primer on the unlikely appeal of this most lowbrow of artforms:
It’s easy for me to remember which Wrestlemania it is, since I was born in the same year as the first. Accordingly, Wrestlemania 36 will take place later tonight. It promises to be a Wrestlemania unlike any other.
Wrestlemania gathers the largest crows in wrestling events by a substantial margin. The very first Wrestlemania in 1984 – an enormous gamble that could have sank the World Wrestling Federation – gathered some 19,000 attendees. Wrestlemania 32 in 2016 recorded 101,763 attendees at the AT&T Stadium.
Wrestlemania 36 will not have a crowd of thousands, or hundreds, or even scores for the WWE Championship headline match. The pantomime boos and cheers, the gasps and cries, will be replaced with silence broken only by the impact of flesh on canvas, the groans and exertions of athletic performance. When a contender becomes a champion, there will be no swell of applause, no roar of the crows – just the eerie silence of an empty theatre.
And this could be the year the WWE crown its first ever Scottish WWE Champion.
51 men have been crowned as World Champion in the WWE since the inaugural reign of Buddy Rogers on the 25th of April 1963, when it was known as the WWWF World Heavyweight Championship. The vast majority of champions have been North Americans, with only a select few born in the rest of the world – Italy’s Bruno Sammartino, Japan’s Antonio Inoki, Iran’s Iron Sheik, France’s Andre the Giant, Ireland’s Sheamus, and Ghana’s Kofi Kingston.
Drew McIntyre, born Galloway, was born in Ayr in 1985 – making him a year younger than Wrestlemania (and me). Before he embarked on his wrestling career, he achieved a Master’s Degree in Criminology from Glasgow Caledonian University. His wrestling odyssey started 19 years ago, training and honing his craft with the many UK-wide wrestling federations of the time – WILD, FWA, BCW, IWW, PBW, & the now notorious ICW. He got his big break to the WWE in 2007, and after a short time in development, he made his proper debut in 2009 as “the Chosen One.”
Despite the huge promise and potential of his character, his natural charisma, and athletic talents, McIntyre’s first WWE run was beset with difficulties. His first two years saw his win-loss ratio (important as even in a predetermined sport, someone who’s constantly losing their battles is hardly taken seriously) largely in his favour, peaking in 2009 with two victories for every loss. He also became the first ever Scottish-born WWE Intercontinental Champion, finally stepping out of the shadow of Scots-descended but Canada-born “Rowdy” Roddy Piper, up to now the most successful “Scot” in wrestling history.
But those were dark times for the WWE for a variety of reasons, and McIntyre was one of their victims of terrible booking. He started to lose more often than win, and he never so much as scraped near a title opportunity after his first WWE Tag Team Championship victory with Cody Rhodes in 2010. This bad streak reached a nadir in 2013, where poor Drew only won 1 match out of every 10. The man hailed as “The Chosen One” and future world champion in 2009 was reduced to the status of a jobber to comedy acts like El Torito, the tiniest luchador in WWE.
On the 12 of June 2014 – a year which will no doubt be of significance to all Scots – Drew was released from his WWE contract. A lesser worker would view that as the end of their dream: they had their chance, and blew it. Drew did not. That very year, he returned to ICW, elevating it to an international force with events held throughout the world: he sought challenges in new federations like EVOLVE, WCPW, PWG, ROH, and TNA. He built himself up to become one of the hottest free agents in the wrestling world, wandering the continents, winning championships nearly everywhere he went. Within 3 years, Drew’s star ascended to the point that the WWE saw fit to sign a new contract – this time with NXT, its “developmental” program which is considered by many fans to be the superior brand. There he became the first Scottish NXT Champion, and the 4th non-American in the title’s brief history. “If at first, you don’t succeed…”
Drew’s return to the WWE was borne on a tide of good fortune. He was a different man: while never scrawny or out of shape by any means, this new Drew looks like he’s hewn from Aberdeen granite. He has grown in his hair where once he was youthfully clean-shaven; his entire demeanour has evolved from arrogant entitled brat to confident, seasoned warrior.
Upon his victory in the 33rd Royal Rumble – he was the first Scot, and only the third non-American to win such an illustrious honour – he was acclaimed by thousands of fans, chanting “you deserve it.” Wrestling fans, by now well aware of the predetermined nature of the sport, are not just congratulating Drew McIntyre, the larger-than-life fictional character who overcame 29 other larger-than-life fictional characters in a fantasy battle. They were congratulating Andrew Galloway, the man, who faced so many challenges to finally achieve a chance at the premiere accolade in his field.
There’s no guarantee that Drew is going to win the title. Brock Lesnar, the current champion, has been written as a near-invulnerable demigod, a veritable Hercules who could only be defeated by fellow immortals. He defeated the previous champion, the well-loved Kingston, in a matter of seconds; he has conquered even the most legendary of wrestling figures over the course of his career. There is a horrible possibility that Vince McMahon, the same man who proclaimed Drew as “The Chosen One,” will chicken out of awarding Drew the big gold belt, and prefer to play it safe. Lesnar has cross-brand appeal, after all, as a former MMA champion, bringing the glamour of “real” fighting prestige.
But every Scot, and likely every WWE fan sick of Lesnar’s reign for behind-the-scenes choices, will be in Drew McIntyre’s corner tonight. He may not hear the cheers thundering their acclaim for their hero in person, but one hopes that it will carry through the aether. The cheers for their Ayrshire countryman, the chants in support for his struggle, the countdown to his finishing maneuver, will ring in his ears in mind if not in actuality.
A man once said “The Dream Shall Never Die.” Drew McIntyre’s most memorable entrance theme was “Broken Dreams,” performed by Shaman’s Harvest. While many fans long to hear him bring that music back, Drew is proud to have his current theme, “Gallantry,” complete with thundering drums and bagpipes – because he’s proud of who he is. In his own words, he will be not just the first UK, not just the first British, but the first Scottish-born WWE Champion.
It may be the height of pretentiousness to equate the struggle of a nation’s independence and its very identity to a single man, and a wrestler at that. But it isn’t about reducing Scotland’s history to the status of a wrestling feud – it’s about all Scots’ stories being intertwined and echoed on the grander scale of the nation. Drew Galloway is just a man, working in a profession that is still sneered and and looked down upon, much in the way Scotland and her people are. He has worked hard to maintain his identity and excel at his craft, just as many Scots had to and have to throughout our history. He is neither beholden to his homeland – Wrestlemania takes place in Florida, after all – nor is he ashamed of it. He at once himself alone, yet all of us together. And, even if he is unsuccessful tonight, he will remain Drew McIntyre – just as Scotland remains Scotland even after 1305, and 1707, and 2014.
Goan yersel, Drew.