When it comes to professional wrestling, it doesn’t get much bigger than Mark Henry.
At 6-foot-4 and 400-plus pounds, the former Olympic weightlifter, the first Arnold Strongman Classic winner and 16-year veteran of the WWE has seen it all and done it all during his long career. And he remains an imposing force in the ring.
The World’s Strongest Man will tell you – quite confidently – that he was, and still is, one of a kind in the business.
I fancy myself as being one of the best athletes that ever lived, he said during a recent telephone interview. I doubt you are going to find a guy 410 pounds that can take off in any direction and run a mile in under 13 minutes. Or that’s going to be able to lift the weights I lift, or to dunk a basketball.
Henry’s nickname isn’t a made-for-TV gimmick, either. He has not only held major all-time powerlifting world records but also had the greatest five-lift total ever achieved in the history of the lifting sports. And in that inaugural Arnold Strongman Classic – one of the highest-profile events featuring strength athletes from around the globe – in 1992, he was better than 2001 World’s Strongest Man contest winner Svend Karlsen, 2006 World’s Strongest Man winner Phil Pfister and Powerlifting World Champion Andy Bolton.
But as he approaches his appearance at Memorial Coliseum on Tuesday for the taping of WWE’s Smackdown show – which airs at 8 p.m. Fridays on the SyFy network – he admits that he kind of feels a little like a rookie again. Henry just recently returned to wrestling action after a nine-month layoff following a career-threatening shoulder injury.
But I made the decision to go back, and I plan on being a champion again, he said.
A change for the better
Henry has returned to a WWE that is much different than the one he broke in with. Back then, its shows were geared toward adults with content that toed the line of the TV-14 rating it carried. During that Attitude Era, Henry was a contributor to that racy content – no fan of the genre will forget his days as Sexual Chocolate or his on-screen affair with female wrestling legend Mae Young, who was in her late 70s at the time.
But in 2008, the company switched back to a PG rating and toned down the risqué content. Last year, it also launched a G-rated Saturday morning show for kids – Saturday Morning Slam – on The CW network.
It is a family product again. And that is fantastic for Henry, a married family man with a 7-year-old son and 3-year-old daughter.
The family is going nowhere. There is always going to be (a need for) family programming, he said. I think it was not only a brilliant business decision, but it was the right thing to do for our fans.
And even though he is such an imposing figure, kids don’t shy away from him.
The only kids that are afraid of me are the ones that see me on TV (only), Henry said. When I go to an event – Make-A-Wish, or Big Brothers Big Sisters, or St. Jude’s or Wounded Warriors, or whatever charity my company is involved with – the first thing that the kids do is come to me because they can see the good in me. They want me to pick them up and stuff.
Kids can tell.
And the big man loves them.
It’s always good to have more kids around because they give you a better parameter of how you are doing (as a performer); whether you are moving them and whether you are touching them, he said.
The kids that really know him – his children and the ones in his neighborhood who gravitate to his home to hang out, play ballgames and such – are his favorite fans.
They see I am real and see I am not a character. I am a real human being, he said. When they see me on TV, they feel my pain, share my victories with me and they cry when they feel my failures, too.
Facing the end
Henry’s shoulder was repaired by one of the world’s most esteemed orthopedic surgeons, Dr. James Andrews. The procedure included some shaving of bone, which required three months of rest. And, Henry said, another injury would not only likely end his in-ring career, it would make lifting the kind of weights he lifts an impossibility.
That – along with his age, 41 – makes him realize that his days as an in-ring talent and as a competitive lifter can’t last forever. The time off gave him perspective and motivation.
I had sat at home long enough to realize how sweet I had it, and I am not going let any grass grow around my feet, he said.
And as he enters the twilight of his career, he has added another goal besides winning another WWE belt.
Right now I am looking for the next strongman, Henry said. I’m looking for somebody to come and take my job because there has always been a strongman in the world of sports entertainment. I don’t want that to end with me. I want another to come along, to come and do what I have done for the next 17 years or 20 years.
Somebody is going to have to come and do that.
But doing that is not going to be easy, he said:
There is only one world’s strongest man in the world but there’s a lot of people trying, and there’s 75 guys on Raw and Smackdown; it’s a difficult business, and it is difficult to try to be one of the top 10 guys.
Though he seems to understand what is coming, that doesn’t make it any easier. The competitive nature that fueled him to become one of the world’s top weightlifters and sports entertainers will never go away.
It’s going to happen, I can’t do it forever, Henry said of retirement. When those two leave me, I am going to have a hard time coping.
But, right now, I’m still good and I can still do a lot of incredible things.