"The World's Strongest Man," Mark Henry, has been out of action for several months with a shoulder injury, and while most expect him to return at some point, it's far from a certainty. If he can't make it back to the squared circle, then Henry's career will be remembered as one that was largely squandered but salvaged near the end.
When Henry first came to the WWE in 1996 at the age of 24, he was a champion powerlifter with all the potential in the world. He was definitely a bit green to start, but the WWE clearly had a natural athlete on its hands and it seemed like Henry had what it took to be a future world champion.
Although that promise did come to fruition, it took a lot longer than most anticipated. Henry was put in a pretty good position early in his WWE tenure when he joined the Nation of Domination, but he was basically just the muscle of the group and often had to put over the top faces in the company.
Henry did find some success as a tag team competitor alongside D'Lo Brown, but his development wasn't as rapid as it should have been. Henry was given the opportunity to showcase his personality a bit more when he took on the "Sexual Chocolate" gimmick, and while he certainly made the best of it, the character set him back in terms of becoming a main event player.
He did win the European Championship during this time period, but it was offset by some of the wild and outrageous storylines he was thrust into. The most notable, of course, was his affair with Mae Young that resulted in Mae giving birth to a hand. On top of that, Henry had some conquests with Chyna as well as a transvestite.
It was all in good fun and it fit with the Attitude Era theme, but Sexual Chocolate ultimately wasn't good for Henry's career advancement. He took on a more serious character after that; however, he had already been pigeonholed into a comedic role. Because of that, Henry had a very hard time figuring out his role within the company.
In the coming years, Henry was off and on in terms of relevance as he pursued the World Heavyweight Championship, won the ECW Championship and even faced The Undertaker at WrestleMania. It seemed like the WWE wasn't sure how to advance him to the next level and keep him there, though, so he ended up being a boring, smiley face.
Everything changed on the April 25, 2011 episode of Raw, as he was drafted to SmackDown and attacked John Cena. This resulted in him turning heel and becoming a dominant force on the blue brand. Henry went on a great run and it eventually resulted in him beating Randy Orton for the World Heavyweight Championship at Night of Champions.
It was the first major title of Henry's career at the age of 40 and it signaled that he had finally made it to the pinnacle of the wrestling business. Henry didn't become complacent once he won the title as he continued to further his heel character and was more entertaining than ever. Henry even managed to impress on the mic, which is something he hadn't done much previously in his career.
Henry had a good run with the belt before dropping it to Big Show at TLC, who was subsequently beaten by Daniel Bryan, who cashed in his Money in the Bank briefcase. Henry's injuries were mounting at the time and his schedule was noticeably lighter after losing the belt until he went under the knife for what he described as career-threatening surgery.
It has been about eight months since then, but there is still no indication as to when or if he'll return. It was recently reported that Henry was cleared for action and plans were being made for his reintroduction, but according to WrestlingInc.com, Henry shot down those rumors and retorted, "There is a chance I'll never come back."
Whether or not that was just Henry trying to protect the secrecy of his return remains to be seen, but we have to operate under the assumption that we might have seen the last of Henry as an in-ring competitor. It isn't easy for a man of his size to recover from an invasive surgery and it isn't as if he was a top-notch worker before the injury happened.
If Henry doesn't come back, it would be a shame because he has shown the fans that he has a lot more to offer then most thought he did. The fact that he was able to become a world champion means that his career can no longer be called a failure, but seeing what he accomplished as world champion makes me think about what he could have done had he been booked correctly for years before that.
In the grand scheme of things, Henry probably didn't quite reach the level that the WWE brass expected him to, but the main thing that people remember is often the last thing that someone did.
If that rings true, then Henry will likely be remembered as a success, even if he never competes in another WWE match.