WWE Night of Champions: Why Mark Henry Deserves the World Championship
Mark Henry has been on a tear the last several months. He's been booked as a total monster, manhandling every person and thing in his path while also giving some great interviews and having good matches.
As everyone figured, he was being built up for a feud with Randy Orton over Smackdown's World Heavyweight Championship. Their first match is this Sunday at WWE Night of Champions 2011 in Buffalo, New York.
Having said that, he's been put in the stop-gap challenger role on several occasions. This time, however, he seems more ready for a main event run than he's ever been before, and it seems like a real possibility that he'll get the title reign he deserves.
He's Deserved a Real Shot at Being a Top Guy for at Least Five Years
While Mark Henry first debuted in 1996, he went back into training not long afterwards and didn't become a full-time member of the WWE roster until the end of 1997. Even early on, he was far from terrible, having good TV matches opponents like Vader and Owen Hart, both of whom were relatively inconsistent at the time.
Still, it took time for Henry to develop as a performer. While he was still unimpressive in the ring, he showed that he was a pretty talented speaker and comedy performer pretty early.
Henry's delivery saved the awful material that he was given during the period where it seemed like WWE was trying to get him to quit. Whether it was the well-executed speech about how he had a sex addiction problem and needed to get treatment (delivered seriously even though it just served as fodder for subsequent sex therapy skits) or awful "comedy" carried by his timing and delivery, he was coming along well out of the ring.
It was 2003 when he started to come around as an in-ring wrestler. While managed by Teddy Long and sometimes aligned with Jonathan Coachman, he had a series of strong matches with Bill Goldberg, Booker T and Shawn Michaels where he was clearly giving a strong performances and not just along for the ride. Still, he wasn't quite a consistently strong in-ring performer.
At the very beginning of 2006, Henry got a new main event push while in the last year of his infamous 10-year contract. Very quickly, he stepped up his game to a whole new level, having consistently great matches, mainly with Rey Mysterio and The Undertaker.
The first match of the Mysterio series is what put Henry on the map as being for real. It's somewhat famous for the incredible finish, which I won't spoil if you haven't seen it.
The first Undertaker match of the feud was a fantastic brawl, but for whatever reason, their big pay-per-view match (a casket match at Wrestlemania 22) didn't click. Still, Henry continued to have a number of strong performances and signed a new contract shortly before injuring his knee. He locked up a new contract, but his momentum had also been derailed.
Henry returned in May 2007, and while he had some high-profile feuds (like another run with The Undertaker), he was largely lost in the shuffle until being drafted to ECW a year later. Speaking of which...
Being ECW Champion Prepared Him for This
A little over three years ago at Night of Champions 2008, Mark Henry pinned ECW Champion Kane in a Triple Threat Match also involving the Big Show to win the title. Henry wasn't yet the compelling overall performer he is now, but he still did an excellent job serving as the centerpiece of one of WWE's brands.
As champion, Henry mainly feuded with Matt Hardy, and they consistently had very good to great matches together both with Henry as champion and in the months after Henry lost the title to Hardy at Unforgiven. Henry was a believable top guy and World Champion on ECW, and I'm sure he can be just as credible (if not more so given the quality of his recent work) as Smackdown's World Heavyweight Champion.
He's the Second-Longest Tenured Full Time Wrestler in WWE
Thanks to rock mark for the correction, pointing out that Kane has a year+ on Henry in the company.
With The Undertaker and Triple H pretty much retired as full-time wrestlers, Mark Henry is the second-longest tenured active wrestler in WWE behind Kane, who's currently off TV selling the "injury" Henry cause. The Undertaker debuted in the company in November 1990, Triple H in April 1995, Kane in June 1995 (as Dr. Isaac Yankem), and Henry in September 1996.
In spite of all of the craziness of working for Vince McMahon, Henry has been able to keep on going for 15 years. Throughout all of the embarrassing storylines meant to get him to quit, the mistreatment by his superiors, dealing with Vince's quirks, etc. throughout, Henry hasn't really changed.
Even after being told to by Vince to portray an incestuous, septuagenarian-loving, hand-fathering, bondage-loving sex addict who can easily be duped into engaging in sex acts with transvestites and seeing Vince laugh uproariously at said transvestite skit, Henry has come to work every day for years with a smile on his face. He is still the easygoing nice guy that WWE first got involved with as an Olympic sponsor over a decade and a half ago.
That says a lot about who Mark Henry is and how much he deserves this. Hell, Kane got a five month reign last year (yes, nearly half a year in 2010) largely because of tenure and his plans to retire soon.
If Henry doesn't deserve the World Heavyweight Championship at this point, then who does?
He's a Great Representative for the Company
Mark Henry is probably one of the best representatives WWE can have among the wrestlers on their roster. He's a blue-chip athlete who's arguably the strongest man in the world, maybe even the strongest man ever to walk the face of this planet.
Some people have excelled in weightlifting, powerlifting or the more esoteric "strength athletics" ("World's Strongest Man" competitions). Henry is one of the few to be world class in all three.
Even when he had been in WWE and out of competition for years, taking several months off for training was enough for him to win the 2002 Arnold Strongman classic against world-class competition. He's the only man ever to cleanly lift the famed Thomas Inch dumbbell (173 pounds with a 2.5" diameter handle) straight up over his head (see the video here).
Before he blew out his knee, he could do more than just lift. He could dunk a basketball, run a 5.2 second 40-yard dash and do a full split. He is the type of athlete that comes along once in a lifetime, if not much less.
Throughout his run in WWE, Mark Henry hasn't really had any disciplinary issues. Instead, when Henry has been presented with conflict, cooler heads have usually prevailed.
When Smackdown head writer Michael Hayes reportedly told him "I'm more of a n----r than you are" while drunk at a party, Henry went to the human resources department instead of escalating the situation. When he was ribbed in a mean-spirited way to punish the fans who showed up to poorly-attended Smackdown taping, he considered quitting over the lack of respect and yelled at John Laurinaitis, but calmed down and was not close to as angry as those behind the curtain (who disappeared before he returned) expected him to be.
Meanwhile, Henry has also been more vocal about the evils of drugs in sports than most wrestlers. Shortly after the Benoit murder-suicide, he gave an interview to local newspaper the Austin American-Statesman (which is no longer on their website, but is archived via contemporary forum posts including one at The Burning Hammer) that was somewhat infamous for his comments on drugs in WWE:
"Henry doesn't ride with other wrestlers to any World Wrestling Entertainment matches. A husband and father of a 21-month-old son, Henry said one reason he drives solo is for safety, that he has less chance of getting in an accident that might cause an injury that could affect his career. The other reason, he said, is that he doesn't want to be in a car if recreational or performance-enhancing drugs belonging to another wrestler are discovered by law enforcement officials.
'If they get caught, then I'd be (considered) guilty, too. If we get pulled over, we're both going down,' Henry said."
Henry's attitude about the subject has been very consistent, going back to at least 1991, when Sports Illustrated published an article about the then 19-year-old Olympic weightlifting prospect. In addition to talking about his feelings on drugs, the relevant passage also goes into why it's not hard to believe that he's telling the truth:
"'He may be the strongest man in the world right now,' says U.S. national coaching director Lyn Jones, who is well aware that Henry is still developing his skills. 'He is the greatest natural talent I have ever seen.'
Henry wants it understood that he comes by his extraordinary strength naturally. 'I hate drugs.' he says. 'I drank a beer once and threw up. We broke my mom's cigarettes every day until she quit. I didn't even know what steroids were until two years ago, and I'll take a test every day if someone wants me to. I can't wait until they start the really refined tests, because everybody thinks I'm on some kind of drugs.'
Jones is among the coaches who are convinced that Henry is clean. They were further assured by a second opinion four months ago when Henry accidentally dropped a 352-pound weight on his foot and suffered only a bruise. The doctor who examined the X-rays of the foot was dumbstruck by the thickness of Henry's bones and the density of his muscles.
His body fat has been measured at 22 percent, which means if you took all the fat off him, he would still weigh 289 pounds. Henry bench-presses 542 pounds, squats 895, runs 40 yards in 5.2 seconds, dunks a basketball, can sink into a split and can belt out a Baptist hymn in a voice so sweet that you would swear some diminutive tenor is hiding behind him. 'Singing,' Henry says. 'Girls like that, too.'"
On top of all that, he's just a nice, funny guy that knew exactly what to do when he was a talk show regular in the run up to the 1996 Summer Olympics. WWE would be privileged to have Mark Henry represent them as their World Heavyweight Champion.
He Knows That It's Now or Never
The above video was shot for WWE.com (use that link if your region is restricted from seeing the embedded YouTube version) and WWE's YouTube channel immediately after Mark Henry was drafted to Smackdown several months ago, but before he turned heel later in the show.
After being asked by Joey Styles about his recent weight loss, Henry gets very emotional. He talks about how he was out of shape, but now feels great, having gone from about 450 pounds to 398 pounds. To put that into perspective, that's 109 pounds over where he'd be with zero percent body fat (due to his bone thickness and muscle density).
Then he explains that he feels he is ready to be World Heavyweight Champion and deserves a run at it. It's a shame that he was turned heel immediately after this, because all of the genuine emotion made it an incredible babyface promo that got a lot of fans behind him.
Still, he's gotten a tremendously well-crafted monster push over the last several months to prepare him for his feud with Randy Orton over the World Heavyweight Championship. He's done a fantastic job, getting his promos up to the next level while having good matches and being the best Mark Henry he can be.
Henry knows that if he wins the World Heavyweight Championship Sunday, he will be able to carry the ball. Plus, as a 39-year-old super heavyweight that's 15 years into his career, he doesn't have many chances left, and he is well aware of that.
Plus, how can you watch that video and not want Mark Henry to win this Sunday at Night of Champions?