McIntyre's long journey home and Flair's family legacy realized at Royal Rumble

Drew McIntyre won the 2020 WWE men's Royal Rumble match. WWE

Drew McIntyre's career renaissance has hit a new level. A historic one.

Six years after being released by WWE, McIntyre has clawed his way back to not only main-roster relevance, but a spot in a marquee title match at WrestleMania 36.

McIntyre won the 2020 men's Royal Rumble by eliminating Roman Reigns at the 60-minute mark of the match on Sunday at Minute Maid Park in Houston. It was the possibility of moments like these that motivated him to push through some of the darker times after being cut by WWE in 2014.

"I'd be a liar if I said I hadn't imagined it," McIntyre told ESPN on Sunday night, minutes after the show ended. "When I was away, I worked very hard. I was the busiest professional wrestler in the entire world. And I did that intentionally to get as good as I possibly could, to get every experience I possibly could -- to come back to WWE one day and fulfill that potential.

"I'd be lying if I said I didn't have the images in my head. But pulling it off is a whole different story."

McIntyre didn't just win the Rumble. He eliminated WWE champion Brock Lesnar, who McIntyre appears likely to meet at WrestleMania 36 on April 5 in Tampa, Florida. Lesnar was dominant, starting the match first at No. 1 and eliminating 13 men, tying a Rumble record with Braun Strowman. McIntyre knocked Lesnar out of the ring with his claymore kick finisher at 26:23 of the match. That was an immediate signal that WWE's creative team has big future plans for McIntyre, who was once nicknamed "The Chosen One" by WWE chairman and CEO Vince McMahon during his first run with the promotion.

After three years away, McIntyre, whose real name is Andrew Galloway, signed with WWE to work for NXT in 2017. At the time, the Scotland native had let his contract with Impact Wrestling expire, and the idea was for him to head to Japan. Instead, NXT exec William Regal, one of McIntyre's mentors, told McIntyre that he should first speak with Paul "Triple H" Levesque. That led to his return to the promotion that once spurned him.

"The time was right to come back home and fulfill that destiny," McIntyre said.

And now the time is right for a massive step forward, McIntyre believes. After a run with the NXT title, McIntyre moved to the main WWE roster in 2018. He admits that he spun his wheels for a bit with a character that was not 100 percent clicking with the fans. That has changed, McIntyre said. WWE has given him more leeway to be himself.

"On Raw, I hadn't quite found myself the way I had outside the company, until the past couple of months," McIntyre said. "I think I was in a good position. I was the big, nasty heel that a lot of guys could work with. But I was also the big, hairy, gigantic Scotsman that no one could really relate to. But over the past couple of months, I've been allowed to get a bit more freedom on that microphone. I was essentially told, just be yourself. I've always said, 'I'm not good or bad. I'm just gonna show Drew Galloway.' That's who Drew McIntyre is -- the real me.

"Now, I'm showing the real me. The crowds are responding, because I'm letting them in. They're relating to me a bit more, and that's why I think the time is perfect. They're reacting, I won the Royal Rumble and it's frickin' WrestleMania season."

McIntyre, 34, has been NXT champion. He has been TNA world heavyweight champion. He has won titles in EVOLVE and Dragon Gate USA. He is a legend and Hall of Famer in his home country, with Scotland's ICW. The Royal Rumble, though, is something set apart from the rest. Only one man and one woman can win it annually. It is a cornerstone event on the WWE calendar. And it is a key that unlocks a massive match at WrestleMania.

"It means as much to me as any championship," McIntyre said. "I've had a lot of highlights in my career in the company -- and not with the company. This is the biggest moment of my career. The emotion that came over me at the end when I heard 40,000 people react the way they reacted, so many things went through my head."

One of those things had to do with his wife, Kaitlyn, and his family -- all the long road trips that have taken him away from them and how all the hard work is paying off now. McIntyre said he adopted The Rock's famous quote, "All it takes is all you got," while he was on the independent wrestling circuit and in Impact.

"I kind of took that to heart when I was outside the company, to the point where I ran myself into the ground a few times," McIntyre said. "I made myself sick a few times by running so hard. But I just never stopped in the gym, I never stopped on my way to getting as good as possible for when the opportunity came. That opportunity finally came, and I wasn't going to let it slip through my fingers."

Especially now, McIntyre believes it is important for people to remain hardworking to achieve their dreams, no matter how wild. It is something he said he'll be repeating "until I'm blue in the face."

"I say, 'Trust me.' Drew McIntyre has done it, then got fired," said McIntyre, who lives in Tampa. "Then he done it again. Then he won the Royal Rumble, and now he's going to frickin' WrestleMania in his hometown in America. It can be done. Just give everything you bloody can."

More history for Flair

Charlotte Flair won the 2020 women's Royal Rumble by last eliminating Shayna Baszler at 54:17 of the match. Flair came in at No. 17 and was in the match for 27:19. She will now get a title match at WrestleMania 36. The victory also made Flair and her father, Ric -- the iconic champion and Hall of Famer -- the only dual-generation duo to win the Rumble. Ric won in 1992.

"I try hard not to [be like], 'I want to have a match just like that, I want to be just like my dad,'" Charlotte said. "Except I do want to be just like my dad. But winning the Rumble and having that accolade beside my dad -- being the only father-daughter duo to have both won the Rumble -- it's like, man, another thing we can add to our legacy. It's just special."

This was WWE's third women's Royal Rumble match. Asuka won in 2018, and Becky Lynch won in 2019. This was Flair's second Rumble, and she said it is much more complex than a singles or tag match. At one point, she was bleeding from her face and said she had no idea where the blood was coming from.

"There's just a lot of bodies and a lot going on," Flair said. "You have to almost be aware of every angle. It's not just one person.

"It's having that self-awareness. That's what makes it so difficult."