Powerlifter NC Harrison reflects on the career of Mark Henry, the enormous wrestler who showed him that immense size wasn’t always a drawback.
Mark Calloway is not actually a mortician. Glen Jacobs is not to the best of my knowledge a big red machine nor is he (in my opinion as a religious professional) the devil’s favorite demon. Hulk Hogan may have been American made, but Sergeant Slaughter never turned on the US and his partner, the Iron Sheik, loves his adopted homeland as much as he does Iran, often screaming nowadays, “USA NUMBER ONE! IRAN NUMBER ONE! ALL THE REST, HOCK P-TOOEY!” So much of wrestling, from the names to the angles, is fakery.
Mark Henry, on the other hand, was (and still is by some measures) the World’s Strongest Man, just like his ring name suggests. His raw squat record of 953.5 pounds was only matched a couple of years ago by fellow Texan Big Robb Wilkerson’s 1000 pound raw squat. It still stands as the heaviest raw lift done without a monolift (and, amazingly enough, without a weightlifting belt) and his verified raw gym max of 1006 pounds has never been matched by anyone except maybe Paul Anderson back in the mists of history. Henry’s raw deadlift, at 903.9 pounds, stood as the record in that lift until 2009 (when it was broken by Konstantin Konstantinov’s 939 pound pull) and is still both the heaviest load ever pulled by an American and the heaviest load ever pulled by a drug tested athlete.
In addition to his work in powerlifting, Big Mark represented in the United States at the 1992 and 1996 Olympic Games, finishing in the low middle of the pack at both of those events after being derailed by nagging injuries. As it stands he still holds an impressive record of first place finishes at the US National Weightlifting Championships and a fine showing at the 1995 Pan American games. His personal records in the highly technical snatch and clean and jerk lifts are, respectively, 407 and 507 pounds. For a man whose primary sport was not Olympic weightlifting, and who weighs just a hair under four hundred pounds, the combination of power and agility necessary to perform at this level is truly astounding. These lifts are, in my opinion, exhilarating because they are a bit like being on the uneven bars… except the bar that you are rotating yourself around is also racing you to the floor.
Henry’s wrestling career has been a spotty mixture of good runs—mostly as a dominant, monster heel, with a notable title run as such in 2011 wherein he would promise to induct opponent to his “Hall of Pain.” He has also had a number of rather less fortunate runs in wrestling including in 1999, as “Sexual Chocolate” Mark Henry, a memorable turn which many of us wish that we could forget. This treatment has led Big Mark to have a love/hate relationship with the sport and, along with various family issues, led him to leave the WWE in 2002. During this time he won the 2002 Arnold Strongman Classic, clean and pressing a 366 pound axle twice in 60 seconds during one particularly memorable event.
Back in eighth grade, when all the other kids loved Stone Cold Steve Austin and the Rock—and before I was introduced to the glorious Goth Goddess Daffney—Mark Henry was my favorite wrestler. He has remained a hero of mine as I grew older and became involved in weightlifting. While my friends practiced their “Stone Cold Stunners” and the best way to call someone a “roody poo candy ass” like their heroes, I practiced the world’s ugliest power clean and press with a cement filled barbell set my mom got for me at Walmart after football season in eighth grade.
Although we weren’t exactly poor we weren’t rich, either, and even on sale at twenty dollars back then those weights were something of a luxury. I didn’t have a rack, or a bench, and so I just fought like a brave, over and over again, to get those 120 pounds from the floor to over my 13-14 year old head by hook or by crook. All that effort paid off and by the time I entered high school to play football there, when the other freshmen were starting out with power cleans, bench presses and squats of 95 pounds, I was able to start out at 185, 185 and 245, respectively. I came home from my first workout giddy… so sore and exhausted that I couldn’t stand up straight, it’s true, but giddy. I wasn’t as strong as the big linemen, I told my dad, but I got to work out with the varsity linebackers and running backs. From that point, I could only get stronger and for that I thank my mom, the little barbell still leaning in the corner of my room as a reminder of days gone by, and Big Mark Henry.
Photo–Flickr/North Carolina National Guard