For fifteen years Mark Henry has been a fixture of WWE. Other than the iconic Undertaker no one has had a longer uninterrupted tour of duty on the WWE roster than The World’s Strongest Man. And almost fifteen years to the day from he had his first WWF pay per view match he stepped onto pay per view once again. Only this time he utterly destroyed Randy Orton to win the World Heavyweight Championship at Night of Champions ’11. To say Mark Henry has had a rollercoaster ride of a career would be an understatement. In fact there is arguably no other WWE wrestler in history that has had a more uneven career than today’s World Heavyweight Champion.
Henry was always a strong man, earning weightlifting records in high school. As a super heavyweight he was one of the best weightlifters in the country. This led to him earning a berth into the 1996 Summer Olympic Games in Atlanta, Georgia, and he was named captain of the United States’ weightlifting squad. Unfortunately a back injury during the games caused Henry to only place 14th at the Olympics, but his name recognized his talent. So much so that the WWF (as it was named at the time) signed Henry to a crazy lucrative ten year guaranteed contract.
In 1996 the WWF-WCW Monday Night War was just heating up and guaranteed contracts were a brand new concept in the pro wrestling business. The WWF was losing top talent to WCW by the day, and so WWF countered by signing new talent to deals in an effort to keep from jumping. Henry seemed like a win-win deal. He had the American Olympic pedigree that was easy to market and the size and the power that the WWF had always craved.
He was originally trained for the ring by former Canadian wrestling star Leo Burke before making his official WWF debut. He debuted on WWF television in August 1996, just days after the 1996 Olympics ended. His gimmick was that of his real life background, an All-American Olympic hero who was plying his trade in a new arena.
The big man was quickly put into a feud with Jerry “The King” Lawler, a veteran who could guide Henry in the ring and immediately make Henry into a hero. He sat ringside for Lawler’s match against Jake “The Snake” Roberts at SummerSlam ’96 and then defeated Lawler in his first pay per view singles match at In Your House: Mind Games in September. Henry was then set to team with Marc Mero, “Stalker” Barry Windham and the debuting Rocky Maivia against Lawler, Goldust, Crush and Hunter Hearst-Helmsley at Survivor Series ‘96. Unfortunately he suffered an injury and was pulled from the match. He was replaced by his on-screen ally Jake “The Snake” Roberts.
The Nation of Domination
“The World’s Strongest Man” returned to WWF television a year later, in December ’97, picking up right where he left off. In January ’98 he turned on his tag team partner Ken Shamrock and joined Faarooq’s Nation of Domination group of black militants. Naturally Henry worked as the enforcer of the five-man group. He competed in multi-man matches with The Nation throughout the first half of 1998, primarily staying in the background as the group’s heavy. By the spring of ’98, The Rock had ousted Faarooq as the leader of The Nation, picked up Owen Hart as a new member, and everyone gained more of a personality. Within The Nation he formed a tag team with D-Lo Brown. Once The Nation quietly disbanded in the fall of ’98, Henry and Brown remained a team. In fact Henry even defeated The Rock in a one-on-one match at In Your House: Breakdown in September ’98.
Henry and Brown kept on as a team, and added Ivory as their manager. Heading into 1999, and deep into the WWF’s “Attitude” era, Henry developed the persona of Sexual Chocolate, a heavyweight lothario. He had eyes for DeGeneration X’s Chyna, who rebuffed his advances. This led to a tasteless, forgettable storyline where Chyna presented Henry with a new lady-friend, who turned out to be a transvestite named Sammy.
At SummerSlam ’99, Henry turned on D-Lo. He helped Jeff Jarrett defeat D-Lo to win both the Intercontinental and European Championships. The next night on Monday Night RAW, as a gift, Jarrett presented Henry with the European Championship. A month later at Unforgiven, Henry lost the European Championship back to D-Lo.
Going into 2000, Henry formed a relationship with octogenarian Mae Young. Once it again it was another tasteless angle that led Mae Young somehow giving birth to a rubber hand. After that storyline (not surprisingly) failed, Henry was used less sparingly on television. He was pulled from Royal Rumble 2000 and not included in the WrestleMania 2000 Hardcore Title battle royal. Days after WrestleMania 2000 he was taken off WWF TV, pulled off the road and sent down to WWF’s developmental territory, Ohio Valley Wrestling, for some much needed seasoning and an attitude adjustment. Rumors have swirled for years that Vince McMahon had become increasingly unhappy with Henry’s performance and used these embarrassing gimmicks to get Henry to quit, and thus release him from his ten-year contract. Unfortunately for them Henry took them all in stride and kept on. This OVW demotion was another to mold and break him into a better performer in a variety of ways.
He spent a considerable time in OVW re-honing his skills. But he also took time away from wrestling to re-train as a weightlifter. He dropped some mass and ended up winning the Arnold Classic strongman competition in February 2002. The victory was enough to re-claim his status as The World’s Strongest Man.
brand split return
During the initial brand expansion in April 2002, Henry was brought back into the fold as a hot free agent. Mr. McMahon drafted him to the SmackDown brand during the initial on-air draft. Unfortunately he was brought back in the same happy-go-lucky All-American strongman hero role that he debuted with. He spent much of those days on SmackDown doing feats of strength while the SmackDown mid-card took bets on his skills. The gimmick didn’t work, and he was stuck in the mid-card losing to bigger stars and teaming with random tag team partners. By the fall of 2002 Henry suffered another injury and was pulled of television once again.
The World’s Strongest Man
In August 2003 he returned to WWE television once again, this time as a new man. He returned onto the RAW brand as the beast he always should have been. Brought back by Teddy Long, he was the centerpiece of Long’s “Thuggin’ & Buggin’ Enterprises.” He laid waste to the RAW roster and seemed primed to finally gain main event traction. He had a brief partnership with Teddy Long’s other protégé Rodney Mack before Mack was injured, and then battled with RAW’s top stars like Shawn Michaels, Goldberg, Rob Van Dam and Booker T, including a loss to Booker at Armageddon in December 2003. But early into 2004, injury #3 took Henry off TV once again, while he was at the hottest he had ever been, and he was back at square one.
In December 2005, Mark Henry returned once again, this time in a big way. He showed up on SmackDown and destroyed World Heavyweight Champion Batista, which caused Batista and Rey Mysterio to lose the WWE Tag Team Championships back to MNM (Joey Mercury & Johnny Nitro and their manager Melina). Unfortunately that attack legitimately injured Batista and caused him to vacate the World Title. A week later, Kurt Angle won the Championship in a 20-man battle royal last eliminating Henry. This led to a one-on-one bout for the World Title between the two former Olympians at Royal Rumble 2006, which Angle won.
Henry then switched from Melina to Shawn Daivari as his manager, and challenged The Undertaker to a fight. This led to Undertaker defeating Henry in a Casket Match at WrestleMania 22. After that loss Henry ran through the SmackDown mid-card and resumed his feud with Kurt Angle, including a count out victory over him at Judgment Day in May.
This was all leading a huge money bout against the returning Batista at Great American Bash ’06 in July. However days before the event, Henry teamed with King Booker and Finlay in a six man tag match against Batista, Rey Mysterio & Bobby Lashley. In that match Henry messed up his knee and was on the shelf again, suffering his fourth major injury of his WWE career.
He returned to SmackDown in May 2007. After a grueling Steel Cage World Title match between The Undertaker and Batista, Henry arrived, ripped the cage door off its hinges and destroyed Undertaker. This led to Edge sneaking to cash in his second Money in the Bank contract on Undertaker and win the World Title. Henry then ran through SmackDown throughout the summer of 2007, including a win over Kane in a Lumberjack Match at One Night Stand ’07. This led to a main event bout against The Undertaker at Unforgiven in September, in which The Dead Man soundly defeated him.
After that loss Henry began appearing sporadically on ECW thanks to the talent exchange deal between ECW and SmackDown. He formed a team with his fellow monster Big Daddy V and briefly had V’s manager Matt Striker as his own manager as well. The monster duo defeated Kane and CM Punk in a tag match at Armageddon in December ’07.
Henry was officially moved to ECW as part of the 2008 supplemental draft. He made an immediate impact and defeated reigning Champion Kane and The Big Show in at triple threat match at Extreme Rules ’08 to become ECW Champion. Henry picked up WWE Hall of Fame inductee and former strong man himself, Tony Atlas, as his new manager. Teddy Long, his old manager and then-General Manger of ECW, also presented him a new platinum ECW Championship belt. Henry spent the summer feuding with Tommy Dreamer and Matt Hardy over the Championship, eventually losing it to Hardy in a Championship Scramble in September ’08 at Unforgiven. A month later he lost a rematch to Hardy at No Mercy.
Henry then feuded with Fit Finlay, including a loss to him in a Belfast Brawl at Armageddon in December 2008. He then drifted on the ECW brand through the first part of 2009 as a top card performer.
move to RAW
The night after Bash ’09, Henry was traded to the Monday Night RAW brand. On that night he faced WWE Champion Randy Orton as part of a gauntlet match. Orton expected his fellow villain to take it easy on him, but Henry turned on him and beat Orton, and turned the crowd to his favor in the process.
From that point he formed a tag team with Montel Vontavious Porter. The duo unsuccessfully challenged Chris Jericho and The Big Show for the Undisputed WWE World Tag Team Titles at Breaking Point and then entered into a mini feud with Ted DiBiase and Cody Rhodes. After a few weeks apart they challenged then-Champions The Big Show and The Miz for the WWE World Tag Team Titles, but were again unsuccessful in their rivalry.
Shortly thereafter, Porter was Drafted to the RAW brand, and Henry went solo as a mid-card act. He was fairly inconsequential in the grand scheme of things. He was used primarily in mid-card tag bouts with high-flying cruiserweight partners like Evan Bourne and Yoshi Tatsu and put over bigger stars up the ladder. His one saving grace that gave him more television time was acting as the mentor for Lucky Cannon for NXT, season 2.
path to the World Title
On the April 25, 2011 Draft, Henry was sent back to the SmackDown brand. The night he was drafted he turned on his tag partners (John Cena and Christian) to help CM Punk, The Miz and Alberto Del Rio win the match.
From that point on Henry embarked on that mean streak everyone saw back in 2003 and once again became the monster he always should have been. He had a rivalry with The Big Show, which led to a bout between the two at Money in the Bank ’11. Henry won the match and then destroyed Show, putting him on the shelf. Two nights later at the SmackDown taping, Henry attacked Big Show’s tag team partner, Kane, and put him on the injury reserve as well. On the
August 5 episode of SmackDown, Henry got rid of “The Moscow Mauler” Vladimir Kozlov; the same day Kozlov was released from his WWE contract.
All of this momentum led to Henry battling fellow powerhouse Sheamus. Henry defeated Sheamus via count out in a much better bout than many expected at SummerSlam ’11, and his momentum kept rolling. Two nights later at the SmackDown television taping Henry won a battle royal to earn the number one contender status for the World Title.
This continuing momentum finally paid off when Henry absolutely destroyed Randy Orton to win the World Heavyweight Championship just nights ago on pay per view at The Night of Champions.
Fifteen years has finally led to this point. Henry has been a rookie, a hero, a villain, a comedy character, a stepping-stone, a tag team partner, a giant and a monster throughout his tenure with WWE. He has seen highs and lows and ups and downs. He has main evented pay per views and wrestled for a couple hundred people in an arena in Kentucky. It is truly remarkable that Mark Henry has lasted for this long uninterrupted for such a tumultuous company as WWE.
Whether a fan of his in ring work or not, this longevity and hard work needs to be respected. The look on his face when he was presented the World Championship was a thing to behold. It wasn’t that he had legitimately won a Championship; it was the pure faith in the company that said he earned it and could carry the proverbial ball.
Call it a lifetime achievement award or the proverbial gold watch, but Henry has deserved this spot. Right now he reigns atop WWE’s SmackDown brand as the World Heavyweight Champion. Who knows how long this reign will last, who will defeat him and whether he will get another chance to be Champion once again. All that is known right now is that “The World’s Strongest Man’s” years of hard work has now worked out, and congrats to the big man.
Billed Height– 6’4
Billed Weight– 398 lbs.
Billed From– Silsbee, Texas
Nicknames– The World’s Strongest Man; formerly nicknamed Sexual Chocolate and The Silverback
Signature Moves– World’s Strongest Slam
Major Titles Held– World Heavyweight Championship (current); ECW Championship; WWF/E European Championship
For more info:
Mark Henry’s official WWE profile
Mark Henry’s Wikipedia entry
Mark Henry on Online World of Wrestling
Mark Henry’s official Twitter