World Wrestling Entertainment superstar Mark Henry does not hesitate. When asked who would win the main event of WrestleMania 28 on April 1st – Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson or John Cena – Henry needed no deliberation time. “If I was a betting man I’d put my money on Cena,” says the 6’ 4”, 412 lb. Silsbee, TX native and former World Heavyweight Champion. “I’ve been in the ring with both guys; I’ve won against both and I’ve lost against both. If I was picking with my heart…I’d go with The Rock.”
Early on Henry set his heart on becoming one of the most decorated athletes in the world. He’s done just that. Outside of the WWE universe Henry holds legitimate claim to his onscreen moniker “World’s Strongest Man”. Recently inducted into the International Sports Hall of Fame for his record-setting athletic career, Henry is a world champion strongman, powerlifter and weightlifter, having competed in the Olympics, Pan American Games, and the Arnold Classic. Henry brought those world class attributes to WWE in 1996, where he has continued to impress and entertain audiences around the world.
Soul Train: Mark, did you watch Soul Train when you were growing up?
Mark Henry: Religiously. It’s one of the first things as a kid I remember that I wouldn’t miss it. It wasn’t just the music; it was just to be part of the in-crowd. If you didn’t watch Soul Train you missed out on the latest dances, the latest music, what was hot, and what was cool to wear. It was very instrumental in how you were viewed as a kid. I had to watch it.
Soul Train: Since watching was a must, what did you like most about it?
Mark Henry: You know what? I think what I liked most was it was my chance to watch television and have something to identify with. During that time there weren’t a lot of programs geared toward seeing African-Americans from all walks of life being on the same page. The dancing and music brought everybody to common ground.
Soul Train: Okay Mark, and this might be hard for some to imagine, but have you ever danced down a Soul Train Line?
Mark Henry: I’ve probably danced down Soul Train Lines as much as I’ve had matches. [Laughs] Every party I went to in my hood there’d be a Soul Train Line; every house party, every family gathering, it was going to jump off. It was going to happen.
Soul Train: What characteristics do dancers share with professional wrestlers?
Mark Henry: Well… I guess the travel, for one. I know a few tap dancers, and my cousin dances with Alvin Ailey. It’s the travel, the practice, and the repetition; going over something, and over it and over it until you get it right is where they’re familiar.
Soul Train: You hear your industry referred to as both professional wrestling and sports entertainment. Those familiar know there is a difference. And one obviously spawned the other. So of which do you have the most characteristics?
Mark Henry: First of all, I’m always going to call myself a wrestler. I was a wrestler before I was a sports entertainer. It’s kind of like that old analogy of how do you classify yourself – are you Black, are you African-American, or Negro? People who come from different time periods will call themselves whatever they were during that time. I came into sports entertainment as a wrestler. I’m always going to be a wrestler.
Soul Train: You’re a world champion weightlifter, a world champion and world record-holding powerlifter, you dominated the Pan American Games, you’re an Olympic Captain, and you won the Arnold Classic. Did you ever think you’d take all your athletic experience and learn to use it to tell stories through physicality?
Mark Henry: The psychology part of what I do, and what people in the industry I’m in do, is paramount. In a professional wrestling match, sports entertainment…you use everything you have. As far as me using all of that – my experience as a weightlifter, a powerlifter, a strongman – I’ve always been a “Type A” personality. I always tried to entertain the crowd where people didn’t entertain. That’s one of the reasons Vince McMahon thought I’d be a success in professional [wrestling], because of the fact I entertained. In order to celebrate you have to win. I wanted to celebrate. And I didn’t win because I wanted to celebrate, but it came with it.
Soul Train: There is a ton of misconception about your profession. The average person doesn’t understand the mental and physical intelligence it takes to be successful.
Mark Henry: A lot of psychology goes in to it. We’re not just big guys in tight clothes. We’re smart people. There are over 30 college graduates at the top of our company. You’d be hard pressed to go through the NFL, NBA, and Major League Baseball rosters and find 30 top guys out of 80 that were college graduates. So brains are not lacking in our industry.
Soul Train: Your entrance theme music is performed by Three 6 Mafia. When it hits and you start making your way to the ring how often does it cross your mind you’re being serenaded by Academy Award-winning recording artists?
Mark Henry: When I first started talking to Juicy and Crunchy and all those guys… [pauses] I grew up listening to their music. When I say “grew up”, I mean grew as a man listening to their music. When I left home I was a kid. My mother didn’t allow us to listen to any hardcore-type music. But telling them my story about how I grew up, where I came from and how it was, it was easy for them to put all that into context and make my song. They use my terminologies in my music. “Somebody’s going to get their wig split” is a very southern, east Texas kind of slang. They talk about what it is that I am, and what can happen to you if you run into that. From the first time I heard it I was proud they did that. It was impressive work. With them being Oscar-winning performers, I definitely respect their work ethic. They don’t just hand those out.
Soul Train: Character development is another essential element to sport entertainment, but where would that be without music?
Mark Henry: Everything goes hand in hand. You look at famous musicians, famous entertainers and athletes; you see them with their headphones on getting in the zone to get ready to perform. Music has a big role in that.
Soul Train: In the ring you’re one of the more aggressive performers; kind of an old school shootfighter style. Your movements are methodic; your attacks are stiffer and look very painful. You’re a beast in there. So when you’re outside the ring what music soothes that savage side of you?
Mark Henry: I’m one of the few guys that was born in the 70s. [Laughs] I grew up listening to late 60s, 70s music. I grew listening to the O’Jays. I grew up listening to Donny Hathaway. My music preferences are pretty vast. I like jazz, I like blues, stuff like that; it tends to take me way back to being a model citizen. I like the Motown era. It was a little before me but I still acknowledge it as music I listened to. It’s complicated music, and exemplary to that time. Music today is so simple. I like to hear the layers behind the music. So old school music does that to me.
Soul Train: What’s a song that gives you strength, whether it’s emotional or to hype yourself physically like when you’re working out?
Mark Henry: There are so many songs, picking one would be doing music an injustice. When I’m getting ready I play some Public Enemy, Rick Ross, Biggie and Tupac, and former Roc-A-Fella artist Beanie Segal; they kind of speak to me and where I came from. Them doing that makes me regress, and that’s not a place where you want Mark Henry. [laughs]
Soul Train: Mark, walking the aisle to the ring is similar to going down the Soul Train Line. Both have people watching you on your left and right anticipating what you’re about to do. You’ve had a great career, so what happens when you get to the end of the line?
Mark Henry: I don’t think it’s ever going to end for me. We were born to die. Living is a part of the process. I’ll go from one thing to the next. I went from powerlifting and being the best in the world, to Olympic weightlifting, to strongman, to professional wrestling. I doubt there’s anyone that has ever been world champion in as many things as I’ve been world champion in. When I retire from wrestling I’ll live a more philanthropic type of life–funding raising. I’ll be helping kids find the focus I found at a young age when people automatically assumed there was no way that some small town Black kid would be able to do what I’ve done. I want to give hope to those kids sitting at home not knowing who they are, what they can be, and what opportunities are out there for them. I’m not going to have any problems because I’m not trying to catch a paycheck. I’ve had my successes. If I go to Mike Lidell, Bill Gates, Vince McMahon, Mark Cuban – these billionaires – they’ll know I’m not trying to capitalize, they’ll know I’m trying to help. That’s where my life is going. On Black History Month I don’t just want to see pictures of people I respect like Martin Luther King and the Obamas. I want my picture up there too. So…I’ll live forever.
For more on WWE Superstar Mark Henry watch him live every Monday on RAW Supershow on USA Network or visit WWE.com. For Henry merchandise visit WWEShop.com. And see him as part of the Team Teddy VS Team Johnny match at WrestleMania 28 Live on Pay Per View April 1st.
–Mr. Joe Walker
Mr. Joe Walker, a senior contributor for SoulTrain.com, is an acclaimed entertainment and news journalist published thousands of times regionally, nationally, internationally, and online. He loves to create, loves that you read. Follow him on Twitter @mrjoewalker. Also visit ByMrJoeWalker.blogspot.com and TheUIMag.com.