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News of the Week: Mark Henry looks back on 22 years as the World’s Strongest Man
Mark Henry is not finished in his role as the “World’s Strongest Man.”
“I am not retired,” said Henry, who made his WWE debut 22 years ago in 1996. “There is still a lot I can do.”
Henry turns 47 this June, but his age is not what is keeping him away from the ring.
“I love the WWE, I love the company, but I have two kids and they want me home,” said Henry. “They want me to see their recitals and sporting events, and I want to see them grow and evolve. My dad didn’t live with me when I was growing up, and he missed so much. I am not going to repeat that.”
Starting with an appearance on Monday Night Raw in June of 1996, Henry has put together a run in WWE that will be nearly impossible to repeat. In addition to longevity, Henry has remained an active part of WWE’s heartbeat for over two decades.
“There is no way I could have seen that coming,” said Henry, who, at 6'4" and 400 pounds, is arguably the most accomplished athlete to ever step foot in WWE having won world championships in powerlifting, a national championship in weightlifting a staggering seven times, and even competed in two Olympic games. “So many things come with your maturation process. I changed throughout my time with WWE from a kid in his 20s into a man.”
Entry into the Nation of Domination marked Henry’s first real break in the WWE in January of ‘98, when he was presented to Ron “Faarooq” Simmons as a gift from Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson.
“That was the first time I was on television with the Nation,” said Henry. “Dwayne was introducing me to Ron and said, ‘Hey, I got you a present. I got you the World’s Strongest Man.’ I was their heater, their enforcer, and I really wasn’t supposed to say anything. My job was to stand there and look big.
“I said to Ron, ‘I’m here for you’ and Ron shouted, ‘Shut up! Nobody’s talking to you!’ I was like, ‘Oh s---, is he being serious?’ Afterward, Ron told me, ‘Later on, you’ll have all the opportunity in the world to talk. But I was in my moment, and you can’t step on somebody else’s moment.’ It took a second, but I understood what he meant. You can’t always make it about you. That was a learning experience.”
Henry learned leadership skills, he noted, from Simmons, The Rock, The Undertaker and Owen Hart, then applied them to his own career as a singles star at the turn of the century.
“I took my training to a whole new level in ’99,” said Henry. “The WWE was beginning to recreate itself with a very young roster, kind of like it’s doing now. In a few years, you won’t see Kane, Mark Henry, The Undertaker, or the Big Show, we’ll all be gone. So, back then, I recreated myself.”
Despite years of experience on the main roster, WWE recommended Henry improve his craft at their developmental level, Ohio Valley Wrestling. While others would have viewed this as a demotion, Henry turned it into an opportunity that reinvigorated his entire career.
“I really started to feel the results by about 2003,” said Henry. “It took me about seven years to grasp that I had to be free, not worry about perceptions, and move 100 miles an hour so that people know this is real. If you believe, it will be real. There was a time I was thinking so much that it wasn’t real; when I started to believe, I could do anything.”
Henry’s most successful run in the company took place when he won the world heavyweight championship in September of 2011 as part of his “Hall of Pain” stretch.
“I was believable because I truly believed I was better than everyone I stepped into the ring with during the time,” said Henry. “I’ve been around. I wrestled Bret Hart and Shawn Michaels, I drove for Yokozuna when I was a young boy in WWE. I was introduced to Randy Orton, Dave Bautista, and John Cena in Ohio Valley.
“During that time, I was wrestling the best guys in the world. Several of those guys were Hall of Famers, and there were some future Hall of Famers, so I said, ‘The hell with the Hall of Fame, welcome to the Hall of Pain.’”
Longevity is nearly impossible in pro wrestling, and there is a constant battle to stay relevant, but Henry subtly and skillfully ascertained that his best way to make a lasting impact in the company was to help build newer stars.
“The older guys hated on us when I started, so I decided to make the business better,” said Henry. “I wanted to help bring guys in to help take our place throughout the years, guys like Daniel Bryan, Braun Strowman, Baron Corbin, and Apollo Crews. I feel a sense of accomplishment that I’ve done my part to usher in the next generation.”
Discussion of his retirement reignited memories of a 2013 angle with John Cena, where Cena shared an emotional promo detailing what Henry had meant to the WWE—and Henry then thanked Cena with a vicious “World’s Most Powerful” slam.
“John and I have known each other a long time,” said Henry. “Originally, nobody knew John Cena rapped. It was just something he did in the car. I told Bruce Prichard, and that’s how the whole ‘Thugonomics’ run began.
“That night on Raw, there was genuine respect. I really respect what John has accomplished in his career, from his wrestling to his work as an ambassador for the fans and everyone who works here and makes more money because John is on the card. People think our business is this completely fictional world of big guys in tight clothes with no brains. That’s not the way it is, this is a psychology driven business. You have to take people on an emotional ride without using words. ”
• FROM THE VAULT: Weighlifter Mark Henry is a prodigious prodigy
A renaissance man that loves to cook (with a predilection toward cooking Cajun style; his signature dish is his jambalaya) and who has penned over 150 poems, Henry promises that you have not heard the last from him—but, for now, there is work to be accomplished at home and in the office.
“Not everyone takes a lot of pride in being a parent, even though they should,” said Henry. “I love being a parent. But I’d also like to say thank you to the fans for enduring my bad times, and also thank them for being there for me in my good times.
“I refuse to disrespect a fan, and that’s a big reason why I have had the success I’ve had. I can’t thank people enough for allowing me to have the existence that I’ve had in this business.”
Bobby Roode got his first taste of WWE gold last night on SmackDown, as he defeated Mojo Rawley in the semi-finals and then Jinder Mahal in the finals to crown himself the new United States champion.
Roode will have rematches with Mahal, perhaps even at the upcoming Royal Rumble, but it is opportune timing that Roode is a champion and his greatest rival in the business just happens to be a free agent.
James Storm and Roode were five-time tag team champions in Impact Wrestling, but also combined for a handful of memorably intense singles affairs.
“Roode is one of the guys I love to be in the ring with because we just love to beat each other up,” said Storm. “Me and Roode have so much chemistry together. We wrestled each other as singles, then tagged together in Beer Money, then wrestled against one another again.”
The 40-year-old Storm finished with Impact in November of 2017, and he is lifting a little harder each day in hopes of signing with WWE.
“My ultimate goal is to go to WWE,” said Storm. “The WWE has such a grip on the world, it’s pretty amazing, and I believe I still have a lot to give.
“I’m in the best shape I’ve ever been. When I left Impact, I told people this isn’t my last stop, it’s just time for me to get on a new horse.”
Storm is also an integral part of this weekend’s Aro Lucha shows in Texas, with a Friday showing in Amarillo and then Saturday in Lubbock. Storm noted that he holds the history of Lucha Libre in extremely high regard.
“I’ve worked in Mexico and AAA, and the tradition and culture of Lucha Libre is amazing,” said Storm. “I grew up a fan of the Guerreros and Rey Mysterio, and Aro Lucha knows that even though I am not a high-flying luchador, I can still get in the ring and go.
“I’d love to team with ‘The Hurricane’ Shane Helms—we can be the HurriStorm.”
Storm promised to show the state of Texas this weekend at the Aro Lucha shows that he can still work at an elite level.
“People say, ‘Well, you’re 40 years old,’” said Storm. “When I grew up watching wrestling, my heroes were men like the ‘Macho Man’ Randy Savage. The older you get, the more of a superhero you become. There is a reason there is Super Man, and not Super Boy.”
Another part of Storm that stands out is his heritage. The product of Leiper’s Fork, Tennessee speaks with a southern accent and he is not afraid to admit that he’s proud to live in the south.
“Growing up, watching all these different promotions, there was that one southern guy who stood out, whether it was Dusty Rhodes or later Steve Austin,” said the 6-foot, 235-pound Storm. “I don’t know what it is about rednecks and wrestling, but people gravitate to them. You believe what they’re saying because they believe what they’re saying.
“I pride myself on the whole James Storm character,” added Storm. “That is me and how I live my life. I know that, one day, this life is going to end–not just wrestling, but life in general, and I’m going to live life to the fullest.”
In other news…
• Goldberg was announced Monday as the first inductee for WWE’s Hall of Fame class of 2018, but SI.com also learned there was interest from New Japan Pro Wrestling regarding the immediate future of Goldberg.
New Japan is circling the west coast, and the tires were kicked on Goldberg, who would have made an interesting player for New Japan. His style of wrestling—intense, aggressive, and physical, albeit in short spurts—could have added an interesting piece to their puzzle as they look to build a bridge to the United States. New Japan is establishing itself as a player for top North American talent, and the addition of the 51-year-old Goldberg would have made for appointment viewing.
Interesting opportunities also exist for Goldberg in WWE, including a plethora of never-before-seen matches against John Cena, AJ Styles, Shinsuke Nakamura, Braun Strowman, and even Kurt Angle.
There are still people within WWE asking, “What is there left to do with Bill Goldberg?” but a spark remains. Goldberg needs to be presented in a very careful manner to cultivate his authentic presence. Goldberg also presents multiple challenges, given his age and limited mobility in the ring, so his return is a delicate dance, but his presence would enhance the card for WrestleMania 34.
• Gabe Sapolsky has signed a contract with WWE and NXT to serve as a creative consultant.
In addition to his work with WWE, the 24-year wrestling veteran will also remain in his role as WWN Vice President of Talent Relations and Creative as he oversees EVOLVE. EVOLVE’s next two shows are February 17 in New York for EVOLVE 100 and February 18 in Maryland for EVOLVE 101.
In addition to Keith Lee vs. AR Fox for the WWN championship, Sports Illustrated has learned that Zack Sabre Jr.—who was victorious in a title defense over Darby Allin this past weekend—will put his EVOLVE title on the line at EVOLVE 100 against wrestling prodigy Austin Theory.
Sapolsky’s dual roles, with WWE and WWN, should make the idea of working for EVOLVE—even as a free agent—that much more appealing for talent aspiring to get to NXT and WWE.
• The WWE commentary team noted on Raw that, due to an injury, Paige will not be participating in the first-ever women’s Royal Rumble.
Paige’s absence from the ring supports the news from PWInsider’s Mike Johnson, who broke the story that her in-ring career is over in WWE at the age of only 25 due to lingering neck issues.
Johnson is one of the most respected voices in wrestling journalism, and he was asked if Paige’s neck injuries will alter the way WWE treats injured talent.
“I don’t know if the Paige situation will specifically change how WWE approaches talent injuries, but I do believe WWE is already being more cautious with talents’ health compared to even a few years ago, which, while a major change from the romanticized notion of pro wrestlers working through injuries and running on the road no matter what, is a greatly smarter strategy for the long-term health and overall outlook of the talents,” explained Johnson. “They’ve sent talents home if they have been sick, even if it’s someone like Braun Strowman who is among their most popular talents right now. They’ve kept talents off the road from live events or relegated them to non-physical roles on television if there are injury issues, as we’ve seen in the past week with both Jason Jordan and Kevin Owens. While certainly it requires some shuffling of WWE plans at the last minute, it’s a much wiser long-term decision in terms of longevity. Over the course of the company’s histories, stories of how rough the old road schedule was or stories about how talents were pushed to keep going—think about CM Punk’s claims just a few years ago—were the norm. Now, talents are routinely protected from themselves. It’s a vastly different mindset and in my opinion, a major step in the right direction.”
Johnson also touched on Paige’s future, and whether she stay relevant in a role outside of active competition.
“There are lots of ways the company can build upon her legacy now that she is no longer cleared to compete in the ring due to her neck issues,” said Johnson. “The film Fighting with My Family [based on Paige’s life and executive produced by The Rock] is going to be heavily promoted by the company as it’s going to be a big theatrical release. The company can transition her into a role where she’s the leader of Absolution and have her as an antagonist that doesn’t take bumps, similar to the role Ted DiBiase had as the leader of the Million Dollar Corporation after neck issues ended his in-ring career in 1993. They can use her as a brand ambassador. They can use her as an announcer. In 2018, there are lots of roles someone with her gift for gab and personality can be slotted into that can insure she’s kept on camera and continues to be part of the company in a meaningful way. Daniel Bryan is proof of that alone. It’s a tragic, sad thing that she won’t be wrestling again, but it’s not the end of her life or even her WWE run.”
• WWE Hall of Famer Edge returns to television this week, appearing on History’s Vikings Wednesday night at 9 p.m. ET. Known in the credits as Adam Copeland, here is an exclusive preview of Edge in tonight’s episode:
• PCW Ultra returns to action for its 2K18 Anniversary show this Friday in Wilmington, California, featuring a main event tag match between Sami Callihan and John Hennigan vs. Penta and the Great Muta.
The promotion’s booker is Joseph Cabibbo, who formerly wrestled as the Almighty Sheik and is now one-half of the PCW Ultra tag team champions as Josef.
Cabibbo has a very unique booking style, and his shows are able to appeal to hardcore fans while still connecting with the mainstream audience.
“I hit the business at a really interesting time,” said the 43-year-old Cabibbo. “It was the end of the old guard, so I got all of the old-school knowledge handed down to me from legends like Jake Roberts and Kevin Sullivan, but we were also transitioning into a new era. I’m right in that middle, and the perfect storm of the business today is riding that old school knowledge with the athleticism and thought-process of the new age.”
The PCW Ultra show, which is available on FITE TV, also features Brian Cage, Fenix, Jimmy Jacobs, and the “Bad Boy” Joey Janela. Yet the opportunity to put Muta and Penta together in the same match was a dream come true for both Cabibbo and Penta.
“Penta is such a huge fan of the Great Muta, and he’s almost the Mexican version of Muta,” said Cabibbo. “But Muta is his hero, and we’re looking forward to the legend of the Great Muta validating Penta in what should be an incredible passing of the torch.”
Cabibbo was greatly influenced by his time working in Puerto Rico and Japan, and those experiences only strengthened his belief that fan experience is his top priority.
“This is a quick-moving, unique product that offers a brand that is not offered anywhere else in the world at this time,” said Cabibbo. “We are constantly growing and constantly fine-tuning, and we have aspirations of television and pay per view. We want to tour PCW Ultra across the nation, we’re willing to do business with other companies, and it’s going to be very fun for fans to watch us grow.”
• MLW’s Zero Hour is now available on MLW.tv, and the match between Penta Rey Fenix alone is worth the $4.99 price tag for the show.
Penta and Fenix highlighted a cutting-edge version of lucha. There was aerial combat with dives, springboards, and a phenomenal, precise armbar into a piledriver by Penta, but the story of the match between the two brothers was as compelling as it was dynamic courtesy of their two styles. For those who watched wrestling in the 90’s, watching Penta and Fenix is like watching Rey Mysterio battle Psicosis for a new generation.
MLW now plans to crown a world champion with a title tournament beginning at its next show in February.
• Francis Ngannou plans to knock out Brock Lesnar after he does the same to UFC heavyweight champion Stipe Miocic.
Ngannou challenges Miocic at UFC 220 this Saturday at the TD Garden in Boston, and noted that he will relish the opportunity to defend the title against Lesnar after he dethrones Micocic.
“I’m focused on Miocic,” said Ngannou. “I don’t even know if Brock Lesnar will ever be back to MMA. But I’ve thought about fights with [Alistair] Overeem and Lesnar. I fought Overeem in December and knocked him out. If I get the chance, I’ll fight Brock Lesnar and knock him out, too.”
• Something to Wrestle with Bruce Prichard and co-host Conrad Thompson return this Friday at noon ET with a new podcast, examining the 1998 Royal Rumble.
“There is so much going on in the company, especially with Mike Tyson’s arrival,” said Thompson. “Bruce and I theorize that a big part of ‘Stone Cold’ Steve Austin’s rise is from working with Mike Tyson, but what if Tyson never bit Evander Holyfield’s ear?”
Thompson added some fascinating pieces of information regarding Tyson and the WWE.
“When Tyson fought Holyfield in June of ‘97, Nitro was in Vegas two nights later and Tyson had agreed to appear on WCW television as a special guest of the NWO,” said Thompson. “Then he bit Holyfield’s f------ ear, and WCW didn’t have Tyson. It’s interesting to think Tyson would have been part of the NWO instead of DX.
“Also, I’ll ask Bruce how Vince McMahon had $4 million to pay Mike Tyson only months after he claimed he couldn’t afford to pay Bret Hart. We’ll also talk about how the boys felt about that.”
There are multiple facets to the ‘98 Rumble, which Steve Austin won by last eliminating The Rock, including an appearance by Terry Funk as Chainsaw Charlie.
“We will talk about Terry Funk coming out of a box, which is a fun story,” said Thompson. “The ‘Three Faces of Foley’ are all in the Rumble, and we’ve seen better days but this is near the end for the Legion of Doom. The New Age Outlaws are on the upswing, and there was almost a UFC fight with Ken Shamrock, but the big story is dissecting the Shawn Michaels injury.”
Michaels suffered a back injury in his Royal Rumble casket match against The Undertaker that helped lead to retirement only a few months later.
“Shawn was pretty difficult to deal with, including starting riots at house shows in Arkansas and Memphis, and we cover those riots, really for the first time, where tear gas was used at WWE house shows. A lot of people, Jim Cornette included, point the blame at Shawn Michaels, and we talk about that.”
Thompson and Prichard also discuss whether Tyson was ever slated to wrestle Austin, as well as all angles of the Rumble itself.
“We’ll also talk about why Crush left the company, and I’m not sure that story has ever been told,” said Thompson. “There are so many angles to explore for the 1998 Royal Rumble.”
Thompson and Prichard are on the road for a live show with Eric Bischoff at the Barclays Center following Friday’s Brooklyn Nets-Miami Heat game. Thompson, who has sparred on social media in the past with Bischoff, promised that he will not hold back when dissecting and analyzing the “Monday Night Wars.”
“Bischoff is not ready for Conrad Thompson, and this is not going to go the way he expects it to,” said Thompson. “We’re going to talk about the ‘Monday Night Wars’ in a big way, where Bruce has some strong opinions, Eric has some strong opinions, and I’ll be there with facts in hand to call bulls--- on all of it.”
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Justin Barrasso can be reached at JBarrasso@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter @JustinBarrasso.