People who don’t “get” professional wrestling—and there’s nothing wrong with that—have trouble appreciating how glorious this unique form of entertainment can be when it really works. This week’s edition of RAW offered a glimpse of that pinnacle.
The set-up was as follows: Longtime WWE wrestler and former World Champion Mark Henry had been off of television for a few weeks, offering cryptic tweets hinting at a possible retirement. He then showed up on RAW to deliver one of those once-a-year or so promos that makes every second spent slogging through mediocrity absolutely, 100% worth it:
It was all the subtle little touches along the way that made this promo. Things like:
1. The boots on the ramp.
2. “I figured if y’all forget me, you would at least remember this coat.” – Exactly the kind of nervous banter an emotional wrestler would spew during a retirement speech.
3. Telling John Cena that he’s on his way to being the greatest WWE champion of all time. Again, this is not the kind of begrudging respect a heel might give a face. This is pull-out-all-the-stops, I-love-everybody-right-now retirement talk that throws us off the scent of what’s actually at work.
4. “I mean . . . nothing like the success . . . John had, but . . . “ Genius. GENIUS.
5. Pausing to thank / praise “one of the best crowds I’ve been in front of in the last five years” in response to a “one more match” chant.
6. Graciously accepting the WWE Title from Cena, holding it up to loud applause, but humbly returning it to John before finishing the promo, citing the fact that ” . . . this is something you gotta earn.”
7. REAL TEARS.
8. A listing of family members awash in corny sentimentality (even referencing people seeing pictures of his son on Twitter), finally having to stop and compose himself when he talks about his little daughter.
9. “Not Mae Young, dummy!” said with a smile and complete with a reaction shot of Cena laughing it up.
10. Actually looking frustrated and angry at himself for being so emotional in a “I PROMISED MYSELF I WOULDN’T CRY!” moment.
11. World’s Strongest Slam
Ok, maybe that last one was neither subtle nor little, but did I mark out as hard as I have in months? Yes.
And those moments, few and far-between though they may be, are why we watch in the first place.
I’m sure the original plan was for Henry to be a flavor-of-the-month heel in an insta-feud against Cena. But, if it’s possible for someone to earn a rewrite with a performance in a promo, Henry did that.
I mean this in all seriousness: He actually has better acting chops than just about anyone on the roster, including non-wrestlers. Compare the credibility of the retirement speech from Monday night to the one that a certain someone laughably delivered last year.
Unfortunately, that same someone holds Henry’s fate in his hands to some extent. I would actually love to see Henry get a short run as WWE Champion before he retires for real (assuming that’s what he wants to do). Even if he doesn’t, it’s remarkable what Henry has done with his career. He’s been in the WWE for about 17 years, and there’s no question that the best work he’s done—and it’s been excellent—has been at the tail-end of his run. It’s strange to see someone indisputably peak after hitting 40, but Henry just keeps getting better.
Here’s hoping he goes out on top. Even though that’s probably not “the plan.”