World Wrestling Entertainment returns to Alabama this week, as “WWE Friday Night SmackDown” makes its way to Legacy Arena in Birmingham, with a cavalcade of superstars set to entertain the crowd.
The show airs every Friday at 7 p.m. on Fox. The Birmingham show will begin at 6:45 p.m. Purchase tickets online.
Scheduled to appear are Brock Lesnar, Roman Reigns, Ronda Rousey, Charlotte Flair, Sasha Banks and Drew McIntyre.
AL.com caught up with the Scottish-born McIntyre to talk about performing in front of live audiences again, eating “clean” on the road and looking back on his “unique” WrestleMania 36 main event during the height of the pandemic.
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You’re in Alabama for SmackDown this Friday. What do you think the Friday night TV crowds bring to the atmosphere, and how do Southern crowds maybe take it up a notch?
Drew McIntyre: The live TV experience certainly gets our WWE Universe very, very excited. You can feel a certain electricity in the air when you’re on live TV, and the crowd feels exactly the same every single week. Regarding the Southern crowds, wrestling has always been such a huge part of the South. You can talk to literally anybody on the street or in any restaurant, and they’ll tell you about how they used to go to the armories back in the day and watch wrestlers like [Ric] Flair and Dusty Rhodes, and it’s one of my favorite things to do in somewhere like Birmingham.
I guarantee when I go to the gym or a restaurant before I head to the building, somebody will come over and tell me about how they used to go back in the day. And this includes elderly people, our grandparents’ age. Our product and wrestling in general is for everyone, from the youngest kid to the oldest adult, and it’s so fun. When the older generation come up and tell me how much they love wrestling, how much they still love it today and how they get to go along with their family’s, and that live experience how there’s absolutely nothing like it. And for me, I live in Nashville now, so it’s drivable distance. So I’m very, very excited to drive along to the show today. I’ll consider myself somewhat of a hometown boy since I’m within three hours driving.
I know you’ve been performing in front of crowds for a while now, but looking back on the ThunderDome days, what was the readjustment like with people back in the building? Was it easy, or did you have to remind yourself how to do certain things with thousands of people screaming at you, and has anything from performing in that format carried over into what you do now?
It’s obviously a lot more difficult without our live fans there. They’re such an important part of our product. We’re such an interactive product, and we thrive on that real-time feedback. If something’s not working, we can hear it as we’re performing, be it on the microphone or in the ring, and we can adjust to give the crowd what they want. So it was a bigger adjustment losing the crowd. So getting them back, it was awesome to have that energy back, that real-time feedback. The biggest thing would be not to get too overexcited. I know for myself having the fans back and walking out with my sword for the entrance I do where I raise my sword and scream at the top of my voice with the fire around me, I got myself so amped up knowing the crowd were out there. There were a couple of times I legitimately almost passed out. I saw blackness in front of my eyes. If you’ve ever passed out before, you know what it’s like right before you go down. That happened to me about three or four times initially when we had the audience back. It was just overwhelming, just how loud and excited they were to be back. It’s amazing, since we came back all the way until now, I think everybody remembers what it was like not having live entertainment and have carried that energy on. I feel like they don’t any shows for granted. Our WWE superstars certainly don’t either. I guess relaxing is the big thing for superstars with the live fans back.
Things that have carried on from the ThunderDome, I can speak for myself personally. I guess when it comes to the microphone work and speaking to the crowd, I try to remain as much myself as I was during that time in the ThunderDome. I really learned to relax without the fans being there and feeling the urge to play to them every two seconds, which I like to do. I’m a very interactive superstar. I was constantly looking at them every two seconds for approval rather than just relaxing, being in the moment, being present, focus on what I’m saying and then involving the fans when it was the right time. I’m very conscious of that now, and I’m so much more relaxed on the microphone because of my experience in the ThunderDome.
Before you walk down the ramp and get inside the ring, what is it you hope to accomplish each time, whether it’s TV, a pay-per-view or a house show? What goal do you set for yourself with each individual performance where if you hit that, you’re satisfied with that night’s work?
I want people leaving my segment, whatever I happen to do, feeling like “OK, that felt a little bit different.” I’m a sight, visually. When I come out, I’ve always got a gigantic sword and I’m a lot bigger than a lot of other superstars, and I look like I’ve fallen out of “Game of Thrones” or “Braveheart” or something, so hopefully they’ll go away passing the visual test of “My goodness, he was huge! Waving about that giant sword and the fire, that was cool as hell!” But also, I want to do something significant on the show that makes them feel something as well rather than just visually being impressed. I want them to go away going, “Wow, when Drew was in that match, it felt different than the other matches. He was hitting them. He was really laying it in. I could see the marks when they were hitting him.”
Whenever I get a chance on that microphone, I want them to feel like I’m one of them, especially where I’m at character-wise. Things started working for me when I started being myself, and I think the fans have come to learn that over the past few years. The more I’ve opened up, the more the real Drew comes out, the more I’ve been able to relate to the fans. In the past, I was just this big, angry Scottish guy talking about eviscerating people and eating their rotten carcass. Nobody talks like that. Maybe one guy in Scotland who’s gigantic and hairy and angry all the time and says those things, and is pointing at the screen every time I’d come on. I can relate to that guy, but it was only that one guy. These days, the more I’ve opened up, the more the fans have said, “OK, Drew might be from Scotland and look the way he looks, but he’s overcome a lot and is out there having a good time doing what he loves.” And hopefully that can inspire whatever it is they love, and no matter how many times they get knocked down, they’ll pick themselves up and achieve their goals.
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I want to ask you a question about your work ethic regarding nutrition and mental toughness. The story of your return to WWE is amazing, especially considering the adversity you faced when you tore your bicep and the recovery you made to reach the top of the business again. But something I’ve heard performers talk about before is the challenge of eating clean on the road. When you travel city to city all over the world, when you work to maintain the level of strength and conditioning you do, how do you avoid pitfalls that the rest of us would likely succumb to?
These days and for the past few years, it’s been made a little bit easier because of — I wish I thought of this idea myself — meal prep companies. There’s a lot of companies out there now that will help prepare the food you need. I’m not an expert in nutrition, but I’ve got a lot of friends who know a lot about it and figured out what I should be eating. Based on that information, you can work with a meal prep company who will design a plan for you, these ready-made meals, however many you need a day — I personally eat about five meals a day — and they will send food in the mail to you, you can pick them up in the store. They’re literally all over America. They’re more affordable than they used to be, and you can take those on the road. I’ll have my big bag of clothes — especially for the weekend, live events and television — I’ll have my little bag with my gear to take on the plane, because you always take your gear on the plane in case your bag gets lost, and I’ll have the additional bag with the food in there to ensure to 1) stick to the diet, and 2) it’s way more affordable than eating out all the time like we used to do in the past. So that’s been an absolute game-changer for everybody in the industry. Nutritional-wise, it’s a lot easier and convenient these days than it used to be, and cheaper.
You’ll face Happy Corbin at WrestleMania in April. What’s it like to main event WrestleMania, and how do you look back at WrestleMania 36 now?
My main event in WrestleMania was a very unique situation, and I know if the future there will be times when it’s more traditional like with actual fans in attendance like I always envisioned when I was a kid. But the reality is WrestleMania comes and goes every year. Every year it’s spectacular, and then it loves on on the WWE Network and Peacock. You get access to the WWE events, you can look back on them and people will remember certain ‘Manias and certain moments. Our industry is all about those moments.
But the truth is no matter how much time passes, everybody’s going to remember the WrestleMania when the world stood still at the height of the pandemic. And hopefully they’ll remember when Drew McIntyre beat Brock Lesnar for the WWE Championship in the main event of that WrestleMania because I will always remember it myself. But also, I remember all the feedback afterwards, be it the social media numbers, up 60 percent from the year prior because so many people were watching WrestleMania. It was their only escape at the time since every other form of entertainment and sports had shut down. We pushed ahead for the first-ever two days of WrestleMania to give everyone a weekend escape. So hopefully everyone will look back and remember how they were feeling during those times and remember that WWE gave them that escape for the weekend. And hopefully my story gave them a little smile. By the end I was able to pull off the big one, even if it wasn’t in the traditional sense.
WWE Friday Night SmackDown will broadcast at Legacy Arena. The show starts at 6:45 p.m. Purchase tickets online.