Published on July 9th, 2016 | by Joey Finnegan0
MARK HENRY: From Olympic Weightlifting to the Squared Circle
An intimate look at Mark Henry’s twenty-plus years in professional wrestling
Today we take a close, candid look at the life and pro wrestling career of the twenty-year-plus veteran of the ring, and soon-to-be WWE Hall of Famer, Mark Henry. Welcome to the Hall of Pain!
Mark Jerrold Henry was born on June 12th, 1971 in Silsbee, Texas. As a child, Mark was a big fan of wrestling and considered Andre the Giant to be his favorite wrestler. In fact, as a youngster, Mark Henry attended a wrestling show in Beaumont, Texas in which Andre was on the card for. As Andre was making his way down the aisle, Mark tried to touch his favorite wrestler, but instead, he tripped and fell over the barricade. When this occurred, Andre simply picked him up and placed him back on the other side of the barrier. Just one giant manhandling a future one.
When he was twelve, Mark lost his father to diabetes. Two years later, he was diagnosed with dyslexia. Another few years after that, Mark’s football career, which he had been playing for years, was brought to an end. He was a senior in high school and managed to strain some ligaments in his wrist. That, plus scoring below 700 on his SAT, was the one-two punch that successfully took Mark off of the gridiron.
This leads us to Mark Henry’s powerlifting career. For starters, did you know that in the fourth grade at ten years old, Mark was 5’5 and weighed 225 pounds? His mother bought him his first set of weights around this time. Imagine this kind of specimen on the playground when you were a child! What a terrifying thought…
During his freshman year of high school, Mark could already squat 600 pounds, which was well above his school’s record. As an eighteen-year-old, Henry was dubbed “The World’s Strongest Teenager” by the Los Angeles Times. In 1990, he made various headlines for winning the National High School Powerlifting Championships and setting teenage lifting world records.
By the time he finished high school, the future Sexual Chocolate was a three-time Texas state champion with state and national records in all four powerlifting categories: the squat at 832 pounds, bench press at 525 pounds and deadlift at 815 pounds. This is an eighteen-year-old we’re talking about. When he was twenty-five, his deadlift went up to 903.9 pounds, and his squat went up to 948 pounds. More facts concerning Mark Henry’s powerlifting career can be found here.
1996 marks the year Mark Henry’s professional wrestling career began at the age of twenty-four. He signed a ten-year contract, not long after competing in the ’96 Olympics. Henry made his first appearance on the March 11th, 1996 episode of Monday Night Raw, where he press slammed Jerry Lawler, who was supposed to be interviewing him, but instead, was ridiculing him.
The King was actually Mark Henry’s first feud in the WWE. He wrestled his first match against the legend at the WWE PPV, In Your House: Mind Games. It wasn’t the best match, but it did enough to showcase Mark’s power to the WWE Universe. Mark kept going for a little while after that until he sustained an injury that took him out of action.
This served as a great opportunity for the WWE to send Mark back to training for a little while. He reappeared on WWE programming in December 1997 and has been a regular fixture for the most part ever since.
On January 12th, 1998, Mark Henry joined The Nation of Domination alongside Farooq, The Rock, Kama Mustafa and D’Lo Brown. Much thanks to The Rock, this became one of the most legendary factions of The Attitude Era.
As time went on, people realized how good Rocky was on the microphone, and the crowd started to turn. The WWE Universe started to fall in love with him. All of that was worked into the storyline, and over time, The Great One worked to usurp Farooq’s spot as the leader of the NoD. Eventually, it worked, and the faction splintered. Mark Henry chose to go with The Rock. That didn’t last long, though, as The Brahma Bull was no longer in need of a faction.
From there, D’Lo and Mark ended up forming a team. Eventually, however, Mark turned on D’Lo, and completely shattered any remnants of The Nation. This is when the solid gold comes in. We’ve reached the era of Sexual Chocolate.
This is one of our highlights of Mark Henry’s career. It started when Mark attended a therapy session for his sex addiction. While there, he revealed that he lost his virginity to his sister at eight-years-old and that he had slept with her just two days before.
It was madness from that point on. The culmination came when Mae Young, at the age of seventy-seven, gave birth to Henry’s child on camera. Keep in mind, this was all obviously part of the storyline. That doesn’t make it any less ridiculous, though. Especially when you consider that all Mae was able to push out was no more than a bloody rubber hand. Nothing more, nothing less.
Now, despite his twenty-year run, Mark has not seen too much gold wrapped around his waist. During a match at the August 1999 SummerSlam pay-per-view between D’Lo Brown and Jeff Jarrett for the WWF Intercontinental and WWF European Championships (both held at the time by Brown), Henry turned on Brown and helped Jarrett win the match and both titles. The next night, Henry was awarded the European title by Jarrett in return for his help. There was the ECW Championship which came when WWE was in full control of the promotion back in 2008.
However, none of that compares to his pursuit of World Heavyweight Championship gold which he finally obtained at the 2011 Night of Champions pay-per-view, At Night of Champions, Henry defeated Orton to become World Heavyweight Champion for the first time in his 15 years with WWE and the fifth African American overall to win a World Heavyweight title. This was Mark Henry’s best run in the company. So much so, it was even immortalized as downloadable content for WWE 2K15.
At this time, Mark was curator and sole operator of the Hall of Pain. He was destroying people on the reg. It didn’t matter who got in his way. The World’s Strongest Man was angry. He had been overlooked for years and it was time for him to change that with the big gold belt around his mammoth waist – the same gold carried by legends such as Sting, Ric Flair, Ricky “The Dragon” Steamboat and many others.
The video above is Mark Henry’s crowning achievement. I think most fans will agree that they were happy for him. As Michael Cole says on commentary, it was a 15-year journey. It was his dream achieved. He worked his ass off for a decade and a half all to reach that moment and to hold that prestigious title above his head.
While we’re talking about achievements, we have to talk about the time Mark Henry gloriously worked the entire WWE Universe into believing he was ready to retire. This lead to one of the greatest promos he has ever cut. He had everyone watching in the palm of his hand. On a June 2013 episode of Raw, Henry interrupted then-WWE Champion John Cena followed by delivering an emotional retirement speech, which was revealed as a ruse when Henry gave Cena a World’s Strongest Slam after concluding his speech. The segment was highly praised by fans and critics.When he flipped that switch and wrecked John Cena, jaws hit the ground.
Check it out!
That moment will live on for years. Anytime anyone retires on television, fans have Mark and his salmon jacket in the back of their minds. We’re sure this is how many felt with Daniel Bryan, hoping and praying that he’d make that turn, and slap Brie in a Crossface or something. Alas, it was not a work.
On a quick side note, for those who watched Daniel Bryan’s WWE 24 special, how great was it to find out that Mark Henry was one of Bryan’s earliest supporters? This made us like Sexual Chocolate even more.
It’s been over twenty years since Mark Henry’s WWE debut. He’s still around, still employed and most recently was given permission by WWE to take a date at an independent show, not to wrestle, but to do a meet and greet.
He’s talked about retiring before:
“I want to go out in dramatic fashion. Win, lose or draw I want to have a retirement match and a lot of guys have done it. Maybe even let the WWE Universe decide what my match will be. I’m not sure yet but it’s imminent. It’s coming.”
This quote comes from September 2015. While he’s not receiving much onscreen time these days, he’s still going. With an imminent Hall of Fame induction on the way, we can only hope he gets the proper sendoff this big man deserves!