The term "late bloomer" is often thrown around in professional wrestling and in professional sports in general, and perhaps nobody is a better example than Mark Henry. It took many years as a midcard wrestler before Henry finally found his niche, but he is now arguably the best heel in the entire WWE.
There are certainly several other credible heels on roster including CM Punk, Dolph Ziggler, Big Show and Brock Lesnar (if you're counting part-timers), but none of them possess an assortment tools as complete as what Henry owns. He truly has everything you look for in a heel and he deserves a higher spot on the card moving forward.
If not for an injury that kept him out for most of 2012, there is no telling how far along The World's Strongest Man could have been right now. He had a brief, albeit fruitful run with the World Heavyweight Championship in late 2011 and certainly could have been in the mix to win it again at some point.
Whatever the case, Henry is back and better than ever, so perhaps there is more championship gold in his future.
Here are the top five reasons why WWE's resident Hall of Pain inductor is the best heel in the company today.
One thing that often seems to be overlooked in professional wrestling is experience. Fans often marvel over some of the younger wrestlers who are coming up through the system while a guy like Henry has been in the picture for 17 years.
There are some obvious detriments that come with age, as Henry may not move as well as he used to, but in-ring work has never been his forte, so the experience he has accrued should be viewed strictly as a positive.
Henry debuted all the way back in 1996 at 24 years of age and now he's 41. Henry has had plenty of different gimmicks over the past 17 years and has been in several different spots on the card, so he knows what works and what doesn't. Henry has gone from heel to face and back again on a number of different occasions, he has taken part in both serious and comedic angles and he has worked with tons of unique Superstars.
Experience is one thing that can't be taught, so I would feel very confident sending Henry out to the ring for a match or a promo if I were a WWE higher-up.
It may have taken a long time for Henry to truly hit his stride, but there is no question that his monster heel character fits him perfectly. He had to sift through a bunch of garbage—such as "Sexual Chocolate"—in order to come of age, but it's better late than never. Henry is now an established heel and there isn't as much risk in putting him high on the card as there may be with some of the younger guys.
A lot of the less experienced heels on the roster are still trying to find their voice and their gimmick, but Henry has definitely settled in. He won't give you any 5-star matches; however, he knows how the business works, knows how to develop a feud and knows what his role is in the WWE currently.
I doubt that many fans thought of Mark Henry as a great promo guy prior to his big heel run in the summer of 2011, but that probably has a lot to do with the fact that he was never really given many opportunities to shine in that regard. During his previous stints as a heel he normally had someone doing the bulk of the talking for him, whether it was Faarooq, D'Lo Brown, The Rock, Teddy Long or whoever else. Since being unleashed, though, Henry has proven to be capable of handling himself.
When Henry began randomly attacking faces and cutting promos during his big heel push a year and a half ago, there is no question that he reached his peak in terms of entertainment. It was during this time that he coined the phrase "Hall of Pain." Henry inducted many top stars into his Hall of Pain, including Big Show, Kane and Vladimir Kozlov, who was ultimately written off by The World's Strongest Man prior to his release.
Henry cut promos about being disrespected and spoke largely about how he should be feared. Arguably his best promo came after beating Randy Orton for the World Heavyweight Championship at Night of Champions in 2011. Henry was interviewed by Jim Ross and he accused Ross of never believing in him. He said that Ross didn't go to bat for him and that he had finally proven him wrong by winning the world title. I'm not sure many people realized that he had that type of passion in him until he was allowed to show it.
He has cut a couple promos since his return from injury and they have been quite entertaining as well. When talking about mic work, I also include what Henry says during his attacks. He has taken out many superstars over the past few weeks and has often screamed, "That's what I do!" It makes Henry seem even more vicious and it simply adds an exclamation point to what he's doing. Perhaps he can't cut a traditional promo as well as a guy like CM Punk, but he has his own style and it works for him.
As much as Mark Henry's injury may have prevented him from establishing himself as an indispensable main eventer, it can be argued that he is more compelling currently because of it.
As much many fans, including myself, enjoy someone like CM Punk, he has been in the main event scene for the better part of two years, including a 434-day reign with the WWE Championship.
The fact that Henry missed nine months with an injury means that everything he is doing currently feels fresh.
Henry's character is unique regardless of how long he has been out of action, but it's fair to say that many fans really came to appreciate him while he was gone. Most realized that what he was doing during his previous heel run was special; however, it's easier to gain an appreciation for someone when they're gone for a period of time.
SmackDown was far less entertaining with Henry out of the picture, as Big Show essentially took his spot. Big Show is obviously qualified, but it just wasn't the same.
The WWE's top heel crop is pretty shallow right now even with Henry in the picture, it's obvious that things were pretty dire without him. He brings a totally different dimension to the product and that really helps him stand out. Wrestling fans are generally pretty impatient and get bored with things quite quickly, so they usually gravitate toward whatever is new and exciting. Henry is obviously a veteran, but absence makes the heart grow fonder.
Perhaps there will come a time when fans are tired of Henry's gimmick, too, but I can't see that ever being the case for me. He has finally found a gimmick that suits him and differs from what most other guys on the roster are doing. The monster heel role used to be fairly common in professional wrestling; however, Henry is now the best of a dying breed.
Although I'm certainly not one of those guys who worries about whether it's believable for a smaller guy to beat a bigger guy in wrestling, there is no question that it is a very prevalent way of thinking among fans.
For example, I'm sure there are some people out there who would hate it if someone like Rey Mysterio beat someone like Big Show. I'll admit that it wouldn't be realistic in real life, but fans have to suspend disbelief to some degree when watching professional wrestling.
With that said, there is no doubt that it's easier to buy a wrestler like Mark Henry running roughshod over the WWE than it is Mysterio. Henry is one of the few guys on the roster who seems legitimately tough and looks as though he can beat down anyone who is put in front of him. I wouldn't necessarily say that it's a prerequisite for a great heel, but it is definitely a factor that can add to the aura.
Since I've been comparing Henry to CM Punk throughout the slideshow, a sensible way to look at this would be to take both Henry and Punk and put them up against Ryback. Punk has already faced Ryback on a few occasions, and while he has beaten him, he has needed help from the likes of Brad Maddox and The Shield. Punk was never going to beat Ryback cleanly and it can be argued that very few people would have believed that it could possibly happen.
Henry, on the other hand, is billed as The World's Strongest Man and absolutely matches up to Ryback physically. In fact, he can match up with any of the top faces on the roster, including John Cena and Sheamus as well.
Henry is the type of guy who looks like he means business each and every time he comes to the ring. There aren't many guys in the company who look like legitimate threats to the main event faces, but Henry definitely does.
Perhaps the biggest gripe that most wrestling fans have about most heels in the WWE currently is the fact that they're cowardly and always looking for a way out of things.
CM Punk is the prime example of that, as he always needed some type of outside help during the latter stages of his WWE Championship run. There are many more heels like that on the roster as well, and while I don't get too worked up about it since that is the way that heels generally are, it's nice to see someone take a different route.
It isn't often that you'll see Mark Henry running away from a fight. In fact, he initiates most of them.
When he returned to action several weeks ago, he took out Daniel Bryan, Rey Mysterio and Sin Cara on Raw. He followed that up on SmackDown by interrupting a match between Titus O'Neil and The Great Khali. He tossed O'Neil, who is no shrimp in his own right, aside and went right after Khali. He decimated him and has gone one to beat him in matches as well. I realize that Khali is awful, but from a kayfabe standpoint, he is one of the most physically imposing figures in the entire WWE.
This isn't a new thing for Henry, as he went toe to toe with the likes of Big Show and Kane during the summer of 2011 as well. We normally see faces challenge heels and those same heels trying to find a way out of it.
Henry is the one who is pressing the issue, though, and it is highly entertaining. Another example of that came at Elimination Chamber. He was eliminated from the match, but he came back in and delivered a World's Strongest Slam to every remaining competitor.
Henry has spoken about being angry that he missed so much time due to injury, and that anger has driven him to decimate everyone on the roster. Henry doesn't seem to have any grandiose plan other than to inflict pain upon everyone in his path.
Henry is getting up there in years and it is unclear how much longer he'll compete, but I'll continue to enjoy it and refer to him as the best heel in the business for as long as he sticks around.