Lutz's Blog: Mark Henry - An unfortunate trip from Hall of Pain to WWE No Man's Land
By Jeffrey Lutz
Whenever I see Mark Henry walking to the ring on WWE Raw these days, I find myself hoping. I'm not sure exactly what I'm hoping for, but I'll know it when I see it and I haven't seen it for a long time.
I suppose on one hand that's a good thing. The job of any entertainment entity is to leave the viewer wanting more, and WWE has certainly done that with Henry since his return from injury last year. More than that, though, my unfulfilled hopes for Henry show a failure by WWE to deliver the goods for him even though he's producing the best work of his career.
A feud with Sheamus should be a high-profile spot for Henry, but the lack of emphasis placed on rivalries that don't involve either John Cena or one of the major championships mean Henry and others who deserve a brighter spotlight find themselves in secondary feuds that more than live up to that description.
The Henry vs. Sheamus program has blurred the line between traditional heel and babyface roles, which also could be considered a good thing because antiheroes were prevalent in the WWE's heyday, the Attitude Era. But WWE's presentation of Sheamus as a bully to a Henry character who has shown no need to be knocked down a peg and a constant ability to back up his words has been more confusing than compelling.
Billing someone as the World's Strongest Man and trying to get that act over as a monster heel can only be short-sighted if the character isn't always a monster. Unfortunately, WWE has taken this path with Henry.
His embarrassment by Sheamus in falling down during a tug-of-war competition or falling out of his chair at the threat of being run into is funny and well-acted. When combined with Henry's amazing feats of strength that prove Henry is just as strong and as tough as he says he is, however, the portrayal of a bumbling Henry getting what he deserves rings hollow and loses effectiveness.
I recognize that Henry can't always be involved in chasing for championships, and I realize his age (he'll be 42 next month) means he'll be used to put over younger wrestlers and less established stars as his career winds down. Still, No Man's Land is no place for a performer of Henry's talent and ability. He deserves to be treated as the special attraction he has become, and maybe the one he always has been.
Henry is a former Olympian and arguably was the world's strongest man during his younger days. His career in WWE, at least until around 2011, was unremarkable, and it lost momentum several times during injuries. As I look back on his lengthy stay with WWE, though, I find Henry to be one of the most underrated and under-appreciated stars the company has ever had.
Henry didn't just discover charisma as he approached age 40. He's always had it, and he has made whatever character he's been given work more often than not. As a member of Nation of Domination, he was a believable enforcer in a group that launched The Rock's Hall of Fame career. As Sexual Chocolate, he turned some unfortunate writing (think Mae Young and the hand) into some of the most memorable moments of the Attitude Era. He's earned cheers as a babyface and jeers as a heel.
He had a WrestleMania match with the Undertaker; it was a forgettable match, but no one is handed a WrestleMania match with the Undertaker without doing something to deserve it. Today, no one would bat an eye of Henry and Undertaker matched up again at WWE's most prestigious event.
That probably won't happen, and probably neither will another championship run by Henry. That would be OK if upper-mid-card feuds could be portrayed as more than throwaway rivalries that fill out pay-per-view events, but that often doesn't happen. Henry deserves better, and so fans. They deserve a clearly defined character who is spotlighted for his unique look and talent.
Henry can be whatever WWE wants him to be, and WWE should want more.
Jeff Lutz has written for the Wichita Eagle newspaper in Kansas for over a decade and debuted with Prowrestling.net on November 4, 2012. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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