A visit to the new WWE Performance Center in Orlando during its grand opening in July was a reminder for Mark Henry of how far he had come.
The Silsbee, Texan transitioned from the world of powerlifting to professional wrestling in 1996, but it wasn’t easy.
The “World’s Strongest Man” grew as a performer and honed his skills essentially in front of a worldwide WWE audience. In more than 17 years in the company, he has endured serious injuries, harsh criticisms about his in-ring ability and other obstacles.
Overcoming it all, he became one of the most respected veterans in the business with some of the best work of his career within the past few years, including a raging heel persona that destroyed and deceived all in his path. He even fooled the WWE Universe into believing he was retiring, cutting an incredible promo, before turning the tables on them and WWE champ John Cena.
“I was the first developmental talent,” Henry said. “None of this existed. Even the old school [FCW Training Center] didn’t exist. I was still working territories. Me and Dwayne Johnson [The Rock] were the last two to ever work a territory. Of course, Vince [McMahon] ended up buying them all and creating this global phenomenon that he has created.
“I’m proud to see something like the Performance Center, and hopefully we won’t have to wait so long to get another Rock or have to wait so long to get another Undertaker…One of the guys we recruited from the World’s Strongest Man Competition, Adam Scherr, is going to be another Mark Henry someday. So we are preparing for the future.”
Another emerging talent that made a similar trek to WWE is Big E Langston, a college football player and national champion in powerlifting. Langston worked his way from NXT to the WWE main roster. For Henry, the one thing that stands out at the Center are up-and-comers having resources such as an expansive historical library.
“I’m very big on respect and knowing who came before you,” Henry said. “A lot of these guys and girls are going to know more about the business and have more access than I did. I mean I got to talk to the Iron Sheik. I got to talk to Ernie Ladd and Junkyard Dog and Hulk Hogan. A lot of these guys will never get that. So they have to do it through school and going to the library looking at old videos.”
Henry learned a lot from traveling the roads and working with Mr. USA Tony Atlas. The legend served as a corner man for the superstar during his dominant run on WWE’s now defunct ECW brand in 2008. Atlas even returned to the ring for the first time in nearly two decades in WWE during a tag team match with Henry.
The successful bodybuilder, powerlifter and wrestling veteran believes Henry is the most underrated performer the business has ever seen.
“He not only is an underrated wrestler but an Olympian,” Atlas said. “This man went to represent the United States of America not just against people in the South or North but all over the world. He is the most phenomenal individual that I have ever met in my life. There is nobody in WWE or anywhere else that can hold a candlestick to Mark Henry, when it comes to power and wrestling ability and knowledge. He is just very underrated.”
There is no doubt in Atlas’ mind if the 6-4, 400-pound Henry competed during the Mid-Atlantic Championship Wrestling days, he would be world champion.
“Who would beat him?,” Atlas said. “In real life, there is nobody that can beat that mean. That is the God’s honest truth. That man is incredible. If you ever see him in person, what a monster he is and with a heart of gold. He loves people. He has a heart as big as he is. He is a great father. He is drug-free and never used steroids or illegal drugs. He never failed a WWE drug test. Never. He is a great role model for young people coming up.”
Now Henry, 42, is in position to give back to the industry through advice he can give to the next crop of superstars honing their skills at the WWE Performance Center.
“I tell them to ask questions and to introduce themselves to everybody,” Henry said. “From the guy sweeping to Vince McMahon and the guy cleaning the building to the guy running the training facility, you have to know the guys behind the cameras. You have to know the sound guys. You have to know the lighting technicians. I want you to know everyone before you leave. You develop an appreciation for everything and everybody because everybody makes you better.”
We may see a second generation Henry in the business before it’s all said and done. His young son, Jacob, expressed interest in following in dad’s footsteps.
“It’s all he wants to do,” Henry said. “If we can have him as interested in everything else as he is in wrestling, he will be fine.”
• Mark Henry returns to NXT during its television tapings on Thursday, Aug. 22 at Full Sail Live at Full Sail University in Winter Park, near Orlando. For information, visit www.wwe.com.
• Follow Mark Henry on Twitter @TheMarkHenry.
• WWE SummerSlam occurs 8 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 18 from the STAPLES Center in Los Angeles. The pay-per-view spectacular is headlined by Daniel Bryan challenging WWE champ John Cena (with guest referee Triple H) and CM Punk battling Brock Lesnar with Paul Heyman.
Also, World champ Alberto Del Rio with Ricardo Rodriguez vs. Christian.
Kane vs. Bray Wyatt in a Rings of Fire match
Cody Rhodes vs. Damien Sandow.
Dolph Ziggler and Kaitlyn vs. Big E Langston and AJ Lee
Natalya vs. Brie Bella
U.S. champ Dean Ambrose of The Shield vs. Rob Van Dam.
The Miz will be the awesome SummerSlam host.
WWE rookie diva JoJo of “Total Divas” (10 p.m. EST Sundays on E!) will sing the National Anthem.
There are others events during SummerSlam Weekend.
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