In every major wrestling promotion, there is a moment that becomes a vivid memory of pro wrestling at a certain time in a certain place. In most cases, these are part of the high-water marks in the history of those promotions and the performers involved, usually leading to record setting business.
The 1996 formation of the NWO propelled WCW to its highest peak of popularity and a two-year run where they were largely regarded as the top wrestling company in the world. HHH’s 2002 return at Madison Square Garden was the key factor responsible for that year’s Royal Rumble PPV achieving a whopping 670,000 buys; a record for the event that has yet to be surpassed. C.M. Punk’s 2011 worked-shoot promo, and a classic match against John Cena, established him as a legit main event star.
This past Monday on WWE Raw, we were treated to another historic moment. While it may not have the long term or immediate ramifications of those prior, it was unique enough in its own right to perhaps stand the test of time as one of the best performances in the 20-year history of the show. I’m talking about the heel turn of Mark Henry.
The fact that the segment could even be labeled a heel turn is proof enough of its greatness. Up until Raw, the last anyone had seen of Henry was at Extreme Rules when he lost a strap match to Sheamus. During the period he was out of action there were rumors of him being at odds with the creative team. Apparently, he had requested time off when those in charge didn’t believe it was necessary. There was even talk of aborting a potential babyface turn that would’ve resulted in him being one of the most featured stars in the company.
Over the last several months, and maybe even longer, it was well known that Henry had made waves about retiring. Wrestlers of his size and age (he is 42) don’t tend to hold up as well as others after a lengthy career. Thus, it wasn’t a big surprise when WWE heavily pushed his potential retirement address on Raw. After all, WWE Hall of Famer Edge retired in similar fashion. His announcement was hyped throughout the course of the broadcast and on WWE.com. It was done in such a manner that fans had no choice but to believe it was nothing other than another chapter in his feud with Alberto Del Rio. However, it became fairly obvious that Edge was not doing a typical wrestling promo before he announced his retirement due to chronic neck issues.
Henry’s promo was as good as any heel performance I’ve seen. In the span of a few minutes he was able to completely manipulate the audience and take them on an emotional roller coaster. He tearfully recounted key moments of his career and talked at length about how much he was going to enjoy spending time with his family. By the time he turned on Cena the crowd was genuinely stunned. So was I. In the current era of wrestling where very few angles tend to stand out, this was one of those moments that come along once every couple of years, if not longer.
It’s not exactly a grand revelation, but Henry has been one of the most consistent heel performers in all of wrestling for quite some time. For whatever reason, it seemed that his character really started to click in 2011. He adopted the “Hall of Pain” gimmick and finally began to live up to his monster heel persona. Later that year, Henry beat Randy Orton clean to win his first and only world championship. Though he lacks the outright unpredictability of Brock Lesnar, I feel Henry is the most effective heel on the roster. With Punk as a babyface feuding against Lesnar this summer, I truly believe Henry is capable of carrying the top heel spot on Raw.
There seems to be an interesting trend in wrestling nowadays. In another era, it seemed that reaching the age of 40 was akin to being over the hill. WCW started going downhill when its top main event slots were dominated by the likes of Kevin Nash, Hulk Hogan, Ric Flair, Lex Luger, and Roddy Piper. Each was in their forties at the time and usually stunk up the joint. On the other hand, WWE experienced a massive turnaround as their top slots were occupied by younger talent such as Steve Austin, Rock, HHH, and Kurt Angle.
Today, many of the best wrestlers in the business are in their forties. Whether it’s TNA’s Bully Ray and Christopher Daniels, New Japan’s Yugi Nagata or WWE’s Chris Jericho, each are doing some of their best work to date. Henry can be added to this category as well.
I’m not sure how much longer Henry plans to stick around, but for now there is no one I enjoy more in WWE.