WWE superstar Mark Henry doesn’t just remember when SmackDown made its television debut on UPN in 1999. The “World’s Strongest Man” can recall where the show name derived, long before Webster’s Dictionary adopted the term.
It was created during a car ride with Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson.
“That was the thing that really shocked me was they were going to use the name SmackDown,” Henry said during an interview promoting the program’s 15th anniversary special airing 8 p.m. EST Friday, Oct. 10 on SyFy.
“We listened to Dr. Dre at the time. The banter between me and Dwayne in the car was a lot like his monologues. He said, ‘Either shut up, or I’m going to have to lay the SmackDown on you.’
“He was threatening me from a Dr. Dre song. He was like, ‘That was going to be my new thing. I’m going to lay the SmackDown.’ I was like, ‘Oh God. It will never work.’ I’ve never been more wrong in my life. It was able to transcend, and here we are 15 years later. It just started in the car with two dudes talking noise to each other.”
Over the years Henry has grown into a well-rounded performer thanks in part to his matches on Thursday nights and then on Fridays when SmackDown moved timeslots. The veteran’s run-ins with the legendary Undertaker and Kurt Angle tested him. It also helped Henry gain respect as he matured, working his way up the ladder.
“I really enjoyed the time and the sagas between me and The Undertaker and me and Kurt Angle,” he said. “It helped my career tremendously because it put teeth on my game. One of the things that sticks out was I did a preaching eulogy for The Undertaker one time. I had a picture of him, and I was dressed up like a preacher preaching. I was saying what I was going to do to him. Of course, he came out and choke slammed me out of my shoes. It was one of those things that made that show. I’m just happy to say being a main event guy, I was able to do that kind of stuff. A lot of people weren’t able to hold that kind of time with somebody like The Undertaker.”
The proud Texan benefited during a brand split when Raw and SmackDown were two separate entities. He was given the spotlight on the “blue brand” more times than not. All his experiences prepared him for the milestone of winning the world heavyweight championship from Randy Orton for the first time. This happened more than 15 years after the two-time Olympian’s initial WWE introduction in 1996.
“It was historical,” he said. “It was me carving out my place in history. I’ve had more moments than I can remember, but none were more important than that one…I take a lot of pride in that I have carved out my place in history….Then when I look back at SmackDown, I look at me and Batista, me and D’Lo against Edge and Christian. Of course, all the things I did with The Undertaker, the battle royal with Kurt Angle winning and going on to WrestleMania. There have been too many to remember, but I really developed on SmackDown. It made me a better performer overall.”
These days Henry finds himself in a locker room filled with hungry young talent ready to leave their respective marks. Among them is Rusev, a powerhouse who shares many impressive physical traits with his rival.
“He is respectful,” Henry said. “He is a really good listener. He is going to be a guy who holds true for the next 10 or 15 years. Hopefully, his body holds up, and he doesn’t have as many injuries as I did. I know what talent looks like and who has got it. Those are the people I want to work with and against. I’m happy to be able to say I had a hand in making some moments for him in his career.”
Another standout for Henry is Jason Jordan, a three-sport star working in WWE’s developmental brand NXT.
“Jason Jordan is one of the ones who are next,” he said. “He is very athletic. I’m hoping to see more of him in the near future. Athletic, smart, college graduate and understands you have to wait your turn. Ambitious. Not sitting back and collecting checks. I’m happy to know him and know the future is going to be bright.”
Despite injuries and other obstacles, Henry has managed to build a lengthy body of work in WWE. The respected performer attributes his longevity to a few things.
“One, I’ve been blessed with good genetics,” he said. “Two, I know how to study and evolve. You have to be able to change with time and not be stuck in one place. Thirdly, God has blessed me with the unique ability to communicate with multiple ethnicities and people of different races and creeds. I think my ability to communicate will be what helps me in the next 20 years.
“…The days of me in the ring are winding down, and I’m not going to be doing another retirement speech. Even iron wears out. Father Time is undefeated, and that time is going to come.”
When his in-ring career comes to a close, he can see himself as more of an ambassador for the company than a traveling producer.
“I don’t want to be on the road like that because I have small kids,” Henry said. “I would like to do more international marketing and urban outreach community involvement. I want to try to develop the brand internationally whenever we open new places abroad. I think that would be more where my skill set would be used better.”
Before making the transition out of the squared circle, the driven superstar still has some goals for himself before he laces up the boots for the last time.
“I’ve never been a tag team champion or WWE champion,” Henry said. “There are a couple of things I want to do. I would like to get a streak going like The Undertaker has a streak. There is a lot to do. If you sit back and think about what you’ve done rather than what you need to do and can do, then it is going to stymie your progress.”
- Watch the SmackDown 15th anniversary special 8 p.m. EST Friday, Oct. 10 on SyFy. There is also themed programming available on WWE Network.
- Follow Mark Henry on Twitter @TheMarkHenry.
- Follow me on Twitter @smFISHMAN.
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