WWE Hall of Famer Mark Henry spoke with fellow WWE Hall of Famer Steve Austin on The Steve Austin Show to retrace his historical career in pro-wrestling. Henry highlighted his transition from Olympic lifter to pro-wrestler as a bit of a struggle. Henry said that because he came from a different sporting background, he was hazed by other wrestlers which succumbed an aggressive attitude toward the personalities within the locker room.
"[WWE] sent me down to [Ohio Valley Wrestling] to get my head together because I wanted to fight everybody who said anything negative to me because my wrestling coop was off," Henry said. "I had a lot of respect for the boys. It wasn't that I didn't have any respect for the boys but I came from a different place. When you tried somebody you better be able to whoop them where I'm from or don't say nothing to them. Let a sleeping dog lay. I used to always pick on Bradshaw because he and Ron Simmons used to entertain themselves by messing with me. And Ron would would tell John, 'He don't like black jokes. Don't say nothing but you got to do it cuz watch him get hot'.
"I walked up to [John] behind the bleachers one time and said, 'Hey man, today is the last day. There's nobody around. One more joke and I'm putting your lights out'. John said, ' What's wrong with you? Are you crazy?' And I said, 'Yes, I am. It's over. All your passes are gone. I don't care if they fire me. But you're going to be hurt.' So he took me over to Ron and I said, ' I'm going to kill him because I'm tired of all his jokes'. And Ron said, 'I'm sorry I put him up to it cause it's so entertaining watching you get mad!' And we laughed.
In hindsight, Henry admitted that these type of occurrences were the locker room's way of wrestling indoctrination. He admitted that if you want to be in wrestling, you have to learn to love it.
"And I realized I had to be indoctrinated into the business," Henry said. "I had never really gotten accepted by the boys because I was so into my life outside wrestling. I was somebody before wrestling. And you need to treat me like I was somebody before wrestling and that don't mean nothing in the wrestling landscape. When you come into pro-wrestling you got to love that and put everything else aside. I let everything else interfere with me getting indoctrinated into wrestling."
Circling back through his journey, Henry talked about gaining his first footing in wrestling. Without a developmental system like today's NXT, Henry mentioned he learned the wrestling business by adopting other facets of the wrestling industry outside the ring.
"There was no such thing as a developmental wrestling system," Henry said. "You went to the Indies, you went to a territory, and you learned how to work and they gave you baby steps. You put the ring up, you drove and got food for the boys, you refereed, you rung the bell. You did everything around the business until you got brought into the business. They hired Dr. Tom Prichard to train me specifically, a wrestling diet, wrestling 101, and I went from being an anaerobic athlete to an aerobic athlete and they expected me to get it in a few weeks
"I didn't feel like wrestling was loving me back. I was doing everything wrestling told me to do, but still the boys used hazed me. I was doing everything there was to do, but when it came time to get on TV, I didn't get put on TV…I didn't know anything about wrestling."
Henry then shared how an incident with Shawn Michaels changed the trajectory of his career. After threatening The Heartbreak Kid, Vince McMahon sent Henry to Canada to sharpen his skills with other wrestlers.
"It took me getting banished to Canada because I threatened to kill Shawn Michaels," Henry admitted. "He hid my crutches when I broke my ankle and I said, 'This is it'. I was like, 'Man, you're 180 pounds. It would be unfair for me to whoop you.' And he said, 'Are you threatening me?' And I said, 'I don't think it's really a threat. I'm just telling you like it is. Y'all need to leave me alone'. So he told Vince and Vince said, 'You can't threaten our top guys. What's wrong with you?' And I said, 'Look man, I'm just not used to having people trying me.' And Vince said, 'Beating people up is not going to fix it. They're trying to bring you in but you keep pushing them back'. So he said, 'I'll talk to Bret Hart, he's training some people up in Canada.
"I was up there for nine and a half months. Training everyday. Every morning in the ring. Four hours a day. And then Owen introduced me to his dad Stu Hart. I would leave Bret's house where the gym was and drive over to the Hart's house and wrestle in the basement in The Dungeon. Stu started teaching me wrist locks and hand holds. Stu was a master in wrist locks and hand holds. He was like, 'With your strength, you could do things to people that would be illegal. Wrestle like that. I want you to put people in holds that look like you're going to pop them.' That's when a light switch came on and I started to wrestle like that…I felt like after nine months I understood what it was to be a wrestler. They should have done that to me first before putting me in the locker room with seasoned wrestlers."
After his training in Canada with the Harts had concluded, Henry said he was moved to Kentucky to further master his transition to pro-wrestling. There, he met Jim Cornette who Henry praised as a special talent with an ability to teach the psychology of wrestling better than anyone.
"Then I went to Louisville for another year," Henry recalled. "I had Jim Cornette- people that really understood. There's nobody crazier in this world than Jim Cornette but there's nobody in this world that I've met that understood the psychology of wrestling or could teach the psychology of wrestling better than Jim Cornette. [He's] special, but crazy as hell. Super special. I love him to death because if it wasn't for him, there's no me in wrestling. He'd see me reading a book and say, 'You know, you need to put those football books and down and start reading some wrestling books'. [Cornette] said, 'If these guys [in the books] were your size, they would need to be put in jail.' So Jim Cornette gave me a vehicle that strength had its place in wrestling and that was it. I was done."
As Henry's path continued forward, another 'it' moment for him was his encounter with Ricky Steamboat. According to Henry, Steamboat complimented Henry in such a way that made Henry feel included in wrestling for the first time.
"[After my match], Ricky Steamboat came over and said, 'You know, it's good to see that [wrestling] psychology still exists in our business.' That was the first time anybody had brought me in. That said 'You're a part of us. You're one of us' He said 'our business'. He didn't say 'My business'. I felt as accomplished as I'd ever felt in power lifting, weight lifting, strongman or anything else. Ricky Steamboat in one comment validated that I belonged in business and nothing nobody else could tell me anything different.
Mark Henry retired in 2017. He was inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame in 2018.
If you use any of the quotes in this article, please credit The Steve Austin Show with a h/t to Wrestling Inc. for the transcription.