The monsters of WWE seem to be a theme for PWP Nation’s Zak Fellows, as he takes a trip down memory lane for our WWE Night of Champions coverage. This time around he covers the historic and well-deserve title reign of Mark Henry in 2011.
At one point it seemed like an impossibility: At one point it appeared that Mark Henry, WWE veteran and the world’s strongest man, was going to fall victim to the lifespan of a Monster of the Month with no hope of ever surpassing that image and becoming a World’s champion. Alternating between World’s Strongest Man and powerful beast and fun loving smiling big guy he was once a textbook example of a big man’s life cycle in wrestling serving as a means to improve upon the perception of strength for whoever bested him.
Recently I wrote about the Monster of the Month formula in wrestling, which you may view here if you so wish, and one of the wrestlers I used as an example of such in pertains to the Undertaker was Mark Henry who is an example of a recurring Monster of the Month. It was a simple set up: Every now and then Henry would be built up over a timespan to serve as a stepping stone for a babyface to look good by comparison. It was a role served well and allowed opposition to shine while Mark Henry would seemingly never be able to rise above that role of an enhancement talent.
In 2011 though Mark Henry would rise from his role and was able to become what we never thought he could become: The top villain and a world champion. After his move to Smackdown and subsequent rotational heel turn he would begin a streak of dominance and destruction against WWE’s top titan’s in particular the Big Show and Kane. Not completely unlike the typical set up to position a Monster of the Month and when he earned contendership to face then World Heavyweight Champion Randy Orton many were suspecting that he would be used as a means of making Orton look strong as the face of Smackdown.
Yet, seen when the strength of one’s booking and resolve takes on a life of its own while the wrestler becomes invigorated to improve himself and even the most tried and tested of personalities can be accepted by an audience who once was disregarding. At Night of Champions 2011, after a streak of strong wins and positive reception to his performance, Henry would shockingly defeat Orton to become the World Champion. To this day I view this as a pinnacle example of how to get someone over with the fans through simplistic traditional booking and not holding back for fear of shoving a wrestler down an audience’s throat.
Fortunately Night of Champions was not the peak of his reign. For the three months that Mark Henry held the World Heavyweight Championship he would remain steadfast and strong against his opponents going on to defeat Orton once again inside Hell in a Cell and then proceeding to feud with the returning Big Show in three PPV matches. Granted at Survivor Series Henry did retain his championship via a disqualification although it did serve as remembrance for his status as a heel champion and retaining his appeal as such.
The main positive that was in his favour, in my mind, that allows his title reign to still stand years later is that Henry delivered in what all good champions have been able to accomplish: Matches, Moments and Manner. And Mark Henry did serve well in all those categories of his WHC title reign with good matches, memorable moments and being presented as the unstoppable heel champion for which the audience loved to hate.
If I were to label a criticism for Henry’s title reign in my opinion Henry’s momentum could have enabled a longer reign even leading into WrestleMania. As I am sure you are aware Henry’s title reign would end at TLC 2011 after being defeated by the Big Show who would in turn be defeated by then Money in the Bank holder Daniel Bryan. So while Daniel Bryan did win the championship and would go on to use it as a prop to further his new heel turn Mark Henry could have took the title into the grandest stage of them all and lose it: The monster and the top heel could have been overcome once and for all, bested by a babyface challenging them to end their reign as one of the only ones who could have stopped them: Sheamus could have filled that role quite well.
Enduringly, Mark Henry’s insurgence into the accepted position as a main event champion after over a decade of playing a recurring enhancement monster serves as proof of what can really be achieved through a simple mentality in booking and strong positioning that can overcome even the most persistent of storyline structures. The acceptance that was garnered for Henry during this time frame continues to this day because of the new perception that was created of him. To put things into perspective: Mark Henry is the subject and instigator of an attempt to use Twitter to further an angle and work the audience…and it was successful. Not too shabby for a man who once was known as “Sexual Chocolate”[Zak Fellows doesn’t eat Sexual Chocolate because they don’t sell it in shops]
Kayfabe isn’t dead as long as an audience member can still be worked.