When Mark Henry returned from injury on Raw by taking out Daniel Bryan, Rey Mysterio and Sin Cara, it was blatantly clear that The World's Strongest Man was back and better than ever. While he should certainly have an effect on the WWE as an individual, his presence more importantly improves the WWE roster as a whole.
One of the biggest criticisms that fans have had regarding the WWE in recent years is that a lack of depth has forced the writers to use the same superstars ad nauseam. It was a valid point and it was never more apparent than during the 2012 Royal Rumble match. It was lacking in star power so much that the creative team decided to use Ricardo Rodriguez, Michael Cole, Jerry "The King" Lawler, Booker T and even one member of The Usos.
Although some of that had to do with the fact that the likes of John Cena, Kane and Henry were on the undercard and didn't compete in the Rumble, it was clear that there was a problem. It's amazing what a difference a year makes, though, as the WWE's current roster is arguably deeper and more chock full of talent than it has been since the Ruthless Aggression Era.
Henry's return is a definite sign of that, but the roster was strong even before he came back on Monday. As poor as the 2012 Royal Rumble was in terms of depth and star power, the 2013 Rumble was infinitely better. Unless you consider surprise entrants like Goldust and Godfather unnecessary, there weren't any wasted spots and there were plenty of significant superstars in the ring from beginning to end.
That doesn't even take into account the fact that CM Punk, The Rock, Alberto Del Rio and Big Show were on the card, but not in the Rumble match. Also, both Henry and Jack Swagger were still out, but they have since returned in the past week.
It has been difficult to put together an incredible WrestleMania card from top to bottom over the past couple years, but there is so much talent on the roster currently that incredibly deserving guys will have to be left out.
Punk, The Rock, Cena and Brock Lesnar are the top stars in the company right now in terms of popularity, but they are supplemented by the likes of Sheamus, Ryback and Randy Orton. Also, Alberto Del Rio is World Heavyweight Champion, Dolph Ziggler is in possession of the Money in the Bank contract and Chris Jericho is back in the fold.
Add in Kane and Daniel Bryan holding down the tag-team division, Antonio Cesaro and Wade Barrett as mid-card champions and veterans such as Henry and Big Show, and it is quite clear that the WWE has a great deal of ammunition at its disposal. The company is brimming with talent to the point that it barely has room for former world champions like The Miz, Rey Mysterio and Swagger.
The aforementioned wrestlers represent the present state of the WWE, but the current roster gives us a nice glimpse into the future as well. Dean Ambrose, Seth Rollins, Roman Reigns, Big E Langston, Brad Maddox and Bo Dallas are all young stars with a ton of potential. They may be supporting players for the most part right now, but many of them could easily be main-event players down the road.
While the WWE has been building this depth for the past several months, Henry is truly the cherry atop the incredible progress that the company has made. Prior to suffering an injury that kept him out of action for nearly 10 months, Henry was on the hottest streak of his career. He won the World Heavyweight Championship at Night of Champions in 2011, wreaked havoc and developed into one of the top heels in the company.
His absence hurt the WWE initially, but Vince McMahon and Triple H were able to build such a nice talent base that it was able to excel without him in the fold. Adding Henry to an already solid foundation takes the WWE's roster to another level, however. He is a veteran guy with main-event experience who just happened to hit his stride in late 2011, so he is still a fairly hot commodity.
Henry is similar to Big Show in terms of being a monster heel, but I find him to be more entertaining and much fresher as well. The fact that he has been gone for 10 months probably has something to do with that, but Big Show has been featured prominently since 1999, so Henry's current character feels like something new as well. His no-nonsense persona should mesh perfectly with top faces like Sheamus, Ryback and Cena moving forward.
Even with the influx of talent the WWE has seen over the past year, SmackDown has been stale for a while. Sheamus, Big Show and Del Rio have been the featured players since WrestleMania XXVIII, but the return of Henry and Swagger adds two former world champions and main-event-caliber guys to the mix, so there is now balance on the blue brand as well as on Raw.
Henry figures to compete in the Elimination Chamber match to earn the No. 1 contender spot for the World Heavyweight Championship. Although Orton is the favorite, Henry stands a decent chance and could potentially face Del Rio for the title at WrestleMania. Even if he doesn't, there a number of different ways Henry can be utilized, and it's great to see him back on WWE programming.
Henry's WWE future is uncertain as his contract expires after WrestleMania XXIX, according to an interview with Eurosport Turkey. Even if these are the final months of Henry's WWE career, I'm glad he will be able to have one last run. The roster depth will take a hit if and when he leaves, but luckily there is enough star power already in place and talent coming through the pipeline for the WWE to persevere.