The Drew McIntyre era continues to gain momentum.
McIntyre, the reigning WWE Champion, defeated Bobby Lashley on Sunday at Backlash in a very physical presentation of pro wrestling.
“That’s the way I like it and that’s the way Lashley likes it,” said McIntyre, who also retained the belt Monday night on Raw. “The WWE universe got a different taste of what Bobby Lashley is capable of, and that is my job as champion—bring my opponent up. Every time I have a big pay-per-view match, it’s my responsibility to have people talking about it the next day.”
The 6'5" McIntyre is an action figure come to life, but that image presents challenges in his current role. WWE has long positioned its babyface champion as an underdog. Though McIntyre’s backstory is far more David than Goliath, his massive size instantly makes him the favorite, which is why the monstrous Lashley is such a realistic opponent.
“Bobby is a once-in-a-lifetime athlete,” said McIntyre. “He’s not built for show, he’s built to go. He has such an impressive MMA and wrestling background outside of the company, and it’s so important for him to be presented in the right manner. I always thought Bobby could talk, too, but now he has MVP by his side, one of the best talkers in the game.
“Being so big and physical, it’s so perfect working with Bobby. When he’s presented the right way, it is believable that he can take down anyone.”
Along with his match against Seth Rollins last month at Money in the Bank, McIntyre has now delivered outstanding title defenses in back-to-back pay-per-views. Next on his agenda is to defend the belt in the main event, and he already has the opponents in mind.
McIntyre’s goal is to be a fighting champion. The notion of wrestling across the globe is moot during a pandemic, but he is operating in a field where the challenges also present opportunity.
Since WWE is operating entirely out of Orlando for the time being, there is the potential for some unexpected title matches this summer. McIntyre discussed his wish list of opponents with Sports Illustrated, naming a dozen different matches he would like to have as WWE Champion, beginning with “The Phenomenal One” AJ Styles.
“The top of my wish list is AJ,” said McIntyre. “We’re two ships in the night. When I was gone from the company and headed toward Impact Wrestling, he was on the way out and I just missed him. He went to Japan and even though a lot of independent shows tried to get us together, it never worked out. AJ went to WWE, I returned to WWE, but we were both bad guys on Raw. I thought it was finally about to happen, and then he went to SmackDown. Eventually, it’s going to happen.”
McIntyre relished the idea of creating his own wish list, and quickly added Sheamus, who would bring a real-life feel to the program. Sheamus, who has the size and strength to feud with McIntyre, served as the best man in McIntyre’s wedding.
“We were the top feud in Europe before we both signed with WWE in 2007,” said McIntyre. “We wrestled all across Scotland, England, and Ireland, and we were the top title feud on the only television show that existed for wrestling in Europe. I used to always joke that I was only 19 at the time but he looked 47.
“We came to America together, wrestled in Florida Championship Wrestling together, and we were both heavyweight champions there. The night I won the Intercontinental title, he won the heavyweight title. Obviously, his career took off and mine took a downward spiral, but I just ended up taking the long way around. We could include so many parts of our past in that feud that have never been featured on television.”
Another opponent that immediately sprung to mind was Jinder Mahal, a former WWE Champion who partnered with McIntyre in 3MB.
“Having that real background and that history with Sheamus, it’s the same with Jinder,” said McIntyre. “He’s another guy I want to wrestle. People universally praised my title win, but that wasn’t the case for Jinder. We’ve been through so much together, and it would make for some very interesting television.”
Although he is currently focused on the SmackDown tag division, former WWE Champion Kofi Kingston is a star that McIntyre noted is on the short list of opponents with whom he wants to share the ring.
A decade ago, McIntyre and Kingston wrestled for the Intercontinental title, and a continuation of that story would make even more sense with WWE’s brand-to-brand initiative, especially considering Kingston has still yet to receive a rematch for the world title after dropping it in October.
“We tangled a lot during my first run in the company, and those were my favorite matches during that period,” said McIntyre. “Ten years later, we’re older and wiser, and that would come through in our matches. Kofi and I would have something way more special now than we did before.”
Kingston was in the midst of a tremendous world title reign a year ago at this time, but someone still seeking that opportunity is Big E. McIntyre believes that once Big E is placed in the world title program, he will immediately show why he belongs.
“I’d be so excited to work with Big E,” said McIntyre. “His work is so believable. He’s also incredibly strong. I’ve seen him warm up in the gym with four plates on each side on the bar before he even starts his workout. This is a real story, somebody pointed out to him once in FCW that he should try some strong man competitions. So he did, and he then won all the competitions. Big E’s not just strong, he’s the strongest. We’d have a really entertaining story together.”
Following his outstanding performance and surprise victory against Edge at Backlash, Randy Orton looms as a threat for the world title. McIntyre has previously noted that Orton is his Joker, and any wish list of opponents includes the former 13-time world champion.
“Look at what Orton did with Edge, it was just on another level,” said McIntyre. “He’s so dialed in with his promos and his work. I mentioned that it’s my job as champion to bring everyone up, but Randy Orton is someone that could bring me up. Randy is just that good, we have very parallel stories, and I would learn a lot from working with him.”
No wish list would be complete without Daniel Bryan, an opponent that McIntyre has somehow only wrestled twice in his career.
“One took place on Superstars when we were both trying to prove ourselves, and then the other was on a dark match of a pay-per-view,” said McIntyre. “Bryan is someone that just operates on another level. I’d be so excited to do something with him if the opportunity presented itself.”
The Undisputed Era’s Adam Cole and Roderick Strong also made McIntyre’s list for desired opponents.
“Adam Cole stole my moment in NXT during his debut, so we have some history,” said McIntyre. “We did have one match [in 2017] that looking back still makes me laugh. Shawn Michaels was the referee, and all of us had long hair and beards. It looked like it was the dad refereeing his two arguing sons.
“Adam is so talented and knows how to get good heat. And Roddy Strong, he is legitimately one of my favorite opponents in the world. The entire Undisputed Era is phenomenal. I’d love to work with them.”
The travel ban prevents McIntyre from taking a flight to Japan, but he still chose to include two stars on his list that wrestle for a different promotion on another continent.
“Before Hunter called me to come back to WWE, the place I was going next was Japan,” revealed McIntyre. “My style would be perfect there and I could learn so much. The two opponents on the top of my list were Tanahashi and Okada. Ospreay would be great, as well. I wrestled him outside of WWE in a couple of my favorite matches. But still, I have to go with Tanahashi and Okada.”
The twelfth and final member on McIntyre’s wish list is a talent that is continually overlooked for title matches and programs. But Cesaro remains one of the world’s most talented wrestlers, and McIntyre believes their styles would complement each other perfectly—despite the fact that their next match together will be their first.
“That’s a match that’s never happened,” said McIntyre. “We were just having this discussion with the writers. Cesaro and I were saying that we’ve never had a match together, but they wouldn’t believe us. Nowhere, not even the indies. So we said, ‘Please, let’s come up with an idea and make this happen.’
“My idea is that, during some pay-per-view, I won’t have an opponent. But I want to be a fighting champion and so I’d have an open challenge, and Cesaro would come out. You’re telling me that we wouldn’t tear the house down? There is nobody like Cesaro in the ring, and the prospect alone gets me excited just thinking about it. That’s a match I want.”
Out of the 12 talents mentioned, some matches are far more likely than others, beginning with Orton. WWE has a chance to capitalize upon the close operating quarters of the pandemic by highlighting their champion while also elevating a showcase of opponents.
Matches with only a fraction of his wish list of opponents would fulfill one of McIntyre’s top priorities as champ, which is making sure the WWE Championship returns to the main event, a spot he has not had on pay per view since winning the belt.
“My goal is to knock every match out of the park and connect with the crowd until it becomes undeniable that the title should be on last,” said McIntyre. “The title wasn’t on the show very much with the previous champion, so this is an opportunity to build up myself and the title. I’ll work as hard as I can to put this title last, like it should be, on every single pay per view moving forward.”