It's been 15 years since Mark Henry dashed to the ring in a lime green suit to save his partner, D-Lo Brown, from a two-on-one attack on the debut episode of Smackdown.
Back then, the "World's Strongest Man" was still a relative newcomer to the WWE, which he joined less than three years earlier after a successful powerlifting career. Today, Henry is a former WWE world champion, and the senior member of WWE's full-time roster. But he's as excited as ever to return to Smackdown on Friday night to celebrate the show's 15th anniversary.
Leading up to the special event, which airs at 8 p.m. on SyFy, Henry looked back on a decade-and-a-half of Smackdown, the WWE legend who gave the show its name, and his career.
Castillo: Looking back 15 years, what are your memories about getting the news that there was going to be a whole other show? Were there concerns about whether another two hours would be overexposure?
Henry: No, never. When we heard there was going to be another show, it was just more time for us to get in the ring and show what we were working with. A lot of guys didn't get the opportunity to get on mainstream Raw, and this was going to give people more of a shot. So there was going to be another show, but there was no name set up for it. And I was involved in that process. The Rock and I were in a car riding together and Dr. Dre was playing on the radio. And he said, "I'm going to have to lay the smack down." And we went back and forth saying we were going to lay the smack down on each other. And he said, "I'm going to use that." And he used it for a couple weeks, and then it ended up becoming the name of the show.
Castillo: So you were there in the car for the origin of "Smackdown."
Henry: That's exactly how it happened. For Dwayne to be able to feel that and put it into wrestling context was genius. And when he said it, I said, "Man, that's not going to work." I've never been more wrong in my life.
Castillo: Did you get to see him at the Barclays Center during this week's Monday Night Raw?
Henry: We talked, but we talk all the time.
Castillo: All these years later when you see the kind of reaction he gets, are you proud, as a guy who was there with him from the beginning?
Henry: Most definitely. You know, we go beyond wrestling. I was in Canada training with the Harts and he was playing football with the Calgary Stampede. And I was playing with one of the guys on his team, Jeff Garcia, who was a quarterback with the 49ers. He was their starting quarterback back then. So I met Dwayne, and he said, "You know, this is my last year playing football. I'm going to give it up and start wrestling." And I was like, "That's cool, man. I'm actually going to go back to the States and start training with Tom Prichard." And he said, "Let me get your number," and we exchanged numbers. So we knew each other before wrestling. And then he ended up coming to Connecticut and training with me and Dr. Tom Prichard. And we even ended up getting an apartment together. So we have a really, really long history together outside of wrestling as well as in wrestling. And I'm proud to be able to call him a brother. And his success is shared.
Castillo: When I was in Brooklyn for Raw and he came out, I got into a discussion with somebody about why he would come back. Here's a guy who's an A-list Hollywood star. Certainly he doesn't need whatever money he's going to make for a Raw appearance. Why do you think he still finds time to make an appearance like that?
Henry: It's not the money. He wishes that Hollywood was wrestling. And he attacks Hollywood like a wrestler. You have to get over. You have to be able to succeed at all costs. And if you go out in a ball of flames, you need to go out in a dramatic fashion. And he's done both. People talked about him never being a success in Hollywood, with the Disney movies and so forth and "Be Cool" and him playing gay, and all of that. They definitely didn't give him a proper shake. And then, all of a sudden, people realized that it was not just where you start, it's where you finish and the road that you travel to get there. And he did all of that to get experience -- to be a success. And being a success would let him open doors for other guys, and he has. Look at the other guys that have come into Hollywood since. WWE Films came about because of his success. So him becoming special has made it special for everybody else.
Castillo: So talking about Smackdown again, you were in the business 15 or 16 years before you won the world title on Smackdown. And you got a ton of praise for your run as world champ. I thought the work you did was just phenomenal. It was the best in WWE at the time, just in terms of your credibility and legitimacy. It was a little of what we see now in Brock Lesnar -- just a guy who was no nonsense, wasn't playing games, and was just there to beat people up. Can you talk a bit about that run? What fueled it?
Henry: I was fed up with mediocrity. I wanted to show strength that most people are afraid to bring out. It was hard for me to come down from that. I would leave the arena completely exhausted -- physically, mentally and emotionally. I'd make myself angry to the point that it was sickening. And I realized when I started doing that, that a lot of it was real frustration. I was tired of being trivialized. I was tired of being made the butt of the joke. I was going to retire. I was tired of it. And when I voiced that opinion, with that kind of anger, it was like, "Damn, if you're going to be angry like that, then put it in the ring. Don't just say it. Do it." And that's what happened. I started living it. And it was the best time of my career.
Castillo: Obviously, you're a guy who can draw upon emotion when you need it, whether it was a few weeks ago before the match with Rusev when tears started coming down your face, or the turn on John Cena last year. You really drew on real emotion there, and that's what made it such a great angle. Is that hard for you to turn on and off?
Henry: It is hard to do. You have to work yourself up emotionally for most of the day. I was mopey. Any actor will tell you that when you're able to desensitize yourself to the point that you can make yourself incredibly sad, or incredibly angry, or incredibly happy -- whatever the case may be -- to have the ability to do that is hard. It takes hours and hours to prepare.
Castillo: You've been around for, what now, 20 years?
Henry: This is 18.
Castillo: So you, along with Kane, are the two senior guys on the full time roster, right?
Henry: I've been here longer than anybody. The only person who's been with the WWE longer than me is the Undertaker.
Castillo:Castillo: Right, and obviously he's not a full-time guy anymore. So, day-to-day, as far as a presence backstage, you're the most tenured guy. What, if any, kind of responsibility comes with that, whether it's people coming to you, or you feeling an obligation to play a leadership role? Do you feel an obligation as the, sort of, elder statesman of the locker room?
Henry: Most definitely. You have to set an example for the future of the industry. I'm early to the arena. I'm late to leave. It's business. I try my best to present myself with a level of respect in the locker room. I've never been a drinker or a smoker. I don't cuss people out. I don't show myself in a light where people will not respect me. I command respect. I make guys say, "Sir." I say, "Sir," even though they're young guys. I want them to have a level of discipline that is expected more like by a father or your boss than as a contemporary or somebody that you work with. We're businessmen. And you have to be able to come to work and put on a hard hat and work. If not, you're bad for the people that come after you. So I set that example. I relish that role. I take it on full speed ahead, because I don't want this business to suffer when I'm gone. And I will be gone soon. So these guys need to be able to uphold the standard that I was forced to do, and that I expect.
Castillo: Who were some of those guys for you?
Henry: Ron Simmons is No. 1. He jumps right out as one of those people. Steven [William] Regal. I remember hearing Steven Regal cuss out a group of guys, whose names I'm not going to mention because they were A-list, top five-percent guys. It was like, "Pick your trash up! Your mama don't live here! Grow up. It's not a pig sty." He just went off. And I was laughing my [expletive] off, because he was talking to them like children. And later on, I saw one of those guys go up to him and say, "Hey, Mr. Regal. I apologize. I'll make sure that don't happen again." And I was like, "That's what it's all about." It's not about being a tyrant. It's about making people change and making people respect the ground that they walk on, because this is important ground. It's hallowed ground. And everybody who comes after us has to be able to set that standard. If not, then we are corrupting the business, and it's going to be defunct in a decade.
Castillo: Who do you see from the younger generation who really gets it and has that respect?
Henry: Daniel Bryan is one of those that really understands. He gets it. And he's going to be great. I'm praying that his injuries heal up, because he's necessary. He's needed around here.
Castillo: You mentioned you're not going to be here much longer. How much longer can you go? You're a big guy. I imagine your body is feeling it.
Henry: Most definitely. Outside of Andre The Giant, there's never been a big guy in wrestling who has lasted as long as I have. And I'm still working a full-time schedule. Later in his career, when he was my age, he didn't work as many days as I work. I work 160-170 days a year, still. So I'm in the grind, hard. I doubt that there's been a big guy that's been able to pull the load like I've been able to pull the load. And I take a lot of pride in that. I'm made from different stuff. And the stuff I'm made out of, apparently, is pretty damn good stuff. I can knock off any time I want to. But I don't think I've accomplished everything that I want to. And I still have to show the other people how to lead. Ernie Ladd told me when I first came here, "People are doing stuff for you. You're going to have to do the same for them. Don't mess it up for everybody after you." I'm trying my best not to leave the business in peril. I want it to be better than it was when I got in. I want to show these guys how to be that guy on my way out.
Castillo: What was your favorite time performing on Smackdown over the last 15 years?
Henry: I'll probably get poked fun at by not saying that it was my title run, but when I was "Sexual Chocolate" and me and Mae Young we're going out all the time, we had a Valentine's Day show where we got a hotel room, and tried to have a romantic evening, and all that. And it sticks out in my mind. It was just so funny, and so much fun. I miss her, and I miss those times. It was great TV.