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When WWE planned to elevate Drew McIntyre to be the new top babyface in the company, the move was applauded. McIntyre had all of the traits one would desire in a top star; great size, athleticism, charisma and in-ring ability. He was well-spoken, marketable and as a bonus, was a veteran of the industry who had experienced the highs and the lows of the business. Any promoter in any time period would have loved to get the chance to push McIntyre as a top star.
A year removed from McIntyre getting the win at the Royal Rumble that set him on the path to “face of the company” status, McIntyre finds himself in an awkward position. His first year as THE star on Monday Night RAW has been unpredictable and complicated, with the pandemic removing live fans and their reactions from the equation and giving McIntyre the impossible task of trying to get over with an audience that wasn’t physically present.
If you look at it from a pure numbers perspective, McIntyre’s time on top has been a failure. RAW’s ratings are way down from the previous year despite his best efforts. The sad reality is that McIntyre has been on top for a bunch of record-setting or near-record-setting lows for WWE television. Now, almost none of that blame can really be placed on McIntyre himself, but it’s hard to build a credible argument that he has been a success on RAW when the numbers on paper look so bad for him.
Why haven’t things worked out for McIntyre? Obviously WWE was counting on him being over with the live fans when they first started pushing him; and if McIntyre did win the world title at WrestleMania in front of 70,000 fans, and was performing in front of fans every week on RAW, he might feel like a completely different performer and it would be incredibly obvious he has turned into a gigantic star. However, everyone in wrestling is dealing with the pandemic and the lack of natural crowd reactions. Is there anything else we can look at and see why McIntyre hasn’t been as successful as he could be, and how he or WWE can make that happen?
McIntyre certainly hasn’t lacked effort, especially when it comes to working big matches on PPV. Since winning the title at WrestleMania, I have rated every Drew McIntyre match at *** or better; he can always be counted on to have an above-average performance. He hasn’t come out and laid an egg on the big stage. He has been very consistent and works hard every time he is on television.
Normally when it comes babyfaces in WWE, the company does a poor job maintaining their credibility and often books them to look incompetent or stupid. You can’t say that about McIntyre, he has been consistently protected, he’s booked to look strong and intelligent and he almost always wins by using his finishing move. He has avoided being unintentionally buried or made to look foolish in an angle. WWE botches it a lot with promising babyfaces, but from a booking standpoint they have done a very good job maintaining McIntyre’s credibility.
So if McIntyre has had good matches, been well-booked, and still possess all the traits that you would want in a top star, why hasn’t he clicked the way people expected? I think there the answer is that there is a WWE institutional issue that has also hamstrung characters in the past.
McIntyre lacks the kind of over-the-top presentable character that would give him a connection with the audience. McIntyre’s character and personality is not that developed; he is presented as being just a regular, nice guy that can kick some ass. I haven’t seen anything out of him that resembles a real, compelling personality. He is just a generic good guy. The most WWE has really done with him is give him a sword, which is fine and all, but I don’t really see a ton of character depth that makes him an intriguing personality.
A lot of this comes down to WWE’s poor scripted promos. McIntyre is a very good talker with poise and a strong delivery, but he is given Babyface 101 content to deliver week-after-week, and I don’t think anyone is compelled by his promos right now. This isn’t McIntyre’s fault, it’s an institutional problem with WWE. The babyfaces are often given lame, generic verbiage about fighting with heart and never giving up and being the best, etc. which leads to none of them coming across as intriguing characters that fans have an emotional investment in.
In this regard, the McIntyre push over the past year reminds me of Roman Reigns’ years as a babyface. The dynamic is completely different because there was so much fan hostility towards Reigns as a babyface that doesn’t exist for McIntyre, but the way Reigns was pushed was very similar. He was a generic babyface character that did not come across as a dynamic personality and the fans really failed to get behind him. You could probably compare the promos from Reigns and McIntyre and they would be very similar.
I believe that if Reigns had come out with a dynamic character that was instantly intriguing, fans would have forgotten that WWE was pushing him ahead of Daniel Bryan and got behind him. Instead, he was Generic Good Guy and that was a constant reminder that WWE was pushing this guy regardless of fan support.
Flash forward to 2020, Reigns turns heel and all of a sudden he IS a dynamic personality that fans are intrigued by and he becomes a much more successful top star, even subsidizing the loss of viewers on SmackDown that had occurred during the pandemic. Once Reigns got away from the generic babyface verbiage and character WWE foists on all current talent; he became much more successful.
Can McIntyre find that extra gear without turning heel? There is no reason for him to have to turn heel to become entertaining; but he does need to shake things up a bit with his personality to reach his ceiling. McIntyre himself ultimately has very little control over this; it will come down to decisions made by the creative team and Vince McMahon. If McIntyre could get some more leeway on his promos and be more adventurous in his material, I think we could see a big change in how he is able to connect and resonate with fans.
Part of this also comes back to who he is feuding with. McIntyre has yet to really take part in a feud that really helped his character get over since he won the title at WrestleMania. A strong feud and storyline is another way to get McIntyre’s personality over, since he is interacting with the heel on a week-to-week basis. If fans are entertained by their interactions, they will tune in each week.
Bobby Lashley and Dolph Ziggler didn’t really get it done. For all the talk about how 2020 was the best year of Randy Orton’s career; his long feud with McIntyre did not really help McIntyre get any more over than he was when it started. That feud, which I think WWE was banking on to really elevate McIntyre to a new level; never really clicked despite the fact that they had good matches on PPV. McIntyre and Orton did not have the right kind of personality clash to make that feud feel worthwhile.
The only time I really felt like McIntyre was reaching a new level was his short feud with Reigns, which isn’t surprising since Reigns is the one guy on the roster who is protected and promoted at the same level as McIntyre. Reigns also has a dynamic personality and thus his interactions with McIntyre felt like they had real momentum and the match between the two felt big. Unfortunately, that feud was short-lived and since then McIntyre hasn’t flashed the same kind of momentum.
McIntyre is a very talented performer, and WWE hasn’t blown it with him at all. They have kept him strong and there is no real damage they need to undo. What needs to happen is he needs to take that extra step as a character and not be just a vanilla babyface. Whether or not that is possible without having serious creative control remains to be seen. If he doesn’t, and he remains the same, he will likely never reach his sizable potential as a major star in WWE.
In latest episode of the Gentlemen’s Wrestling Podcast, Jesse Collings (@Jesse Collings) and Jason Ounpraseuth (@JasonOun95) discuss the relationship between AEW and NJPW; they go over some potential dream matches, possible talent exchanges, look at how each company can benefit from working with the other, as well as some potential pitfalls that could come from the new relationship.