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When former weightlifting Olympian Mark Jerrold Henry signed on the dotted line with the WWE back in 1996, there were many who said that the then-24-year-old would never make it as a pro wrestler. They were wrong.
Thanks largely to Henry’s unquestionable work ethic, charisma, and an innate desire to embarrass his critics, “The World’s Strongest Man” soon found his groove in the world of sports entertainment, improving year after year and subsequently dishing out a world of pain to his many WWE opponents before finally hanging up the boots in 2017.
The following year, Henry added a WWE Hall of Fame induction to his list of accomplishments. In WWE, Henry held the world heavyweight championship. In the world of Strongman, Henry’s credits are unparalleled. The man-mountain from Silsbee, TX won the inaugural Arnold Strongman Classic in 2002, and he’s also held numerous powerlifting and weightlifting records, including the heaviest raw deadlift (903 pounds) in the SHW class, and the biggest equipped squat, deadlift, and total ever performed by a drug-tested athlete.
Now working closely with WWE as an ambassador and coach, Henry still travels far and wide. When we talked exclusively on the phone to the man once known as “Sexual Chocolate,” it was late in the evening in Sydney, Australia, ahead of a big tour beginning there on October 21. But despite the long haul, Henry was in great spirits, greeting us with an enthusiastic “Well, hello there!”
What followed was an insight into one of US history’s most driven, and impressive athletes.
Courtesy of WWE
Your list of accomplishments in powerlifting, weightlifting, and Strongman competition is nothing short of extraordinary. What motivated you to be the best?
It was pretty easy for me, because I was angry at everybody that I was competing against. I felt like I needed to prove, and I needed all the work that I did to be seen. I’ve always been an entertainer, long before I started wrestling. I had to win, so I went out there with reckless abandon and tried to entertain as much as I could.
Now at 48 years young, does your approach to training differ from when you were, say, in your 20s?
Oh yeah, I never go above 130 kilos [286 pounds] in anything [now]. I squat, deadlift, bench, anything with a lighter weight. I’ll try to do as many reps as I can in the shortest timeframe. My workouts usually take 45 minutes at the most, and I’m dripping with sweat. Then I stretch, and I do cardio for 30-45 minutes. I have a recumbent bike and a regular upright bike. I do a little bit on the elliptical, but I prefer the bike.
Taking in large amounts of calories required for strength training at competition level can be a real challenge. We’ve all seen the meals that Eddie Hall eats on social media. You had to balance that around traveling when you were starting out with WWE. That must have been no easy task.
You know, when I was competing, it was just like a [means to an] end, just like Brian Shaw, Bill Kazmaier and all the greats. You had to eat at a level that was just not comfortable. It became work to eat. But as I’ve gotten older, I’ve decided to not eat like that, and that’s resulted in me losing 110 pounds.
I do my best to limit what I’m eating, especially when it’s not good for me.
Many people will have seen the HBO documentary on the life of Andre the Giant, and viewers had a great deal of sympathy for some of the discomfort, particularly around traveling, that Andre faced. As a big guy yourself, can you relate to some of those issues?
Most definitely. Travel is the hardest part of pro wrestling for the big guys. We spend so much time in little tiny cars for four and five hours, and then on little buses for five and six hours, or on a plane.
I came over here to Australia on the plane for 16 and a half hours. It’s very difficult when you are a man of my stature, but you have to tough it out, that’s the thing about our [pro wrestling] business. I’ve been very blessed to be able to have a career for 25 years.
WWE is back in Melbourne on October 23. You wrestled a huge match there back in 2002 teaming with Randy Orton to face D-Von Dudley and Batista. There was a massive crowd, more than 56,000 watching live. Do you have any memories of that night?
I do. I remember that the crowd was so unbelievably loud and I enjoyed it. Randy was a new wrestler at the time, and I was trying to help him get acclimated to what it was like being in front of a huge crowd like that.
You may be retired, but you are still very much part of the WWE family, serving as an ambassador and working with the crew. Do younger talent approach you for advice?
I work with our talent development. I want to be a part of having my fingerprints on the future of pro wrestling. I’m able to talk to all the younger wrestlers now and give them the life lessons and the travel lessons that I’ve learned. And so far, so good.
I’ve not had one person reject what I am trying to teach. That speaks volumes for who we pick as talents. I think the important thing is to tell wrestlers to enjoy the [WWE] journey, and that it is important for the fans to have a connection with the talent.
You’ve worked really hard to show that wrestlers are among some of the greatest athletes in the world. With SmackDown reaching brand new audiences on Friday nights, what can some of the critics of pro wrestling learn that they might have missed?
Kurt Angle was an Olympic Champion. I was the best lifter that was ever born. People like Shelton Benjamin and Brock Lesnar don’t come along very often. Brock Lesnar has been a world champion in pro wrestling and MMA. [They’re the] best in the world.
Randy Orton is an unbelievable athlete. Kofi Kingston is a really, really athletic guy with incredible balance. Those guys have so much to give, and they have given so much, for people not to know, or look up, or read what they are talking about, or just going by what they’ve heard from somebody else.
If those people live under a rock, and don’t know that pro wrestling is sports entertainment, and they feel like they are “breaking news” when they say that pro wrestling is not up to par, I haven’t got time for those people. I love the fans, the people that love our business who introduce you to their sons, and to their daughters. They want to share how much joy they get [from WWE], those are the people that I want to be around.
In regard to SmackDown, you have been involved in so many great moments on the show. You must be so proud of how well the show is doing 20 years on.
I’m very proud. I remember the first SmackDown show. It’s such an honorable feeling to have SmackDown go to Fox. The biggest sports network is going to see wrestling in that same platform, I’m very happy.
WWE tours Australia from October 21-23, and SmackDown airs live on Fox every Friday night (check your local and international listings). For information on WWE Network, and to get your first month FREE, visit WWE.com.