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Mark Henry doing best WWE work with less money, older age - Mark Henry has been a mainstay in the WWE.
<div style='float:right;width:100%;' align='right'><em></em></div>Mark Henry has been a mainstay in the WWE. -
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'American Coyotes' Series

Traveling by Jeep, boat and foot, Tribune-Review investigative reporter Carl Prine and photojournalist Justin Merriman covered nearly 2,000 miles over two months along the border with Mexico to report on coyotes — the human traffickers who bring illegal immigrants into the United States. Most are Americans working for money and/or drugs. This series reports how their operations have a major impact on life for residents and the environment along the border — and beyond.

Monday, July 15, 2013, 12:01 a.m.

In professional wrestling, it would seem expected for someone age 42, earning half of what they once were, to decline in relevancy and quality. You don't get what you expect with Mark Henry.

In the early '90s, Henry represented the United States in the Olympics and has set numerous powerlifting records. He's been recognized as one of the strongest men to ever live by many publications and people, including Muscle & Fitness and Arnold Schwarzenegger.

In 1996, Henry carried “The World's Strongest Man” title into the WWE. He signed a decade-long contract, and by the time it concluded, WWE had made it clear his career with the company wasn't all they had hoped it would be.

“I was basically told I was middle of the road, and that I was average,” says Henry.

This is why Henry decided to stay, even though WWE cut his pay by 50 percent. Average wasn't sitting well with WWE, and it definitely wasn't going to sit well with Henry.

“I've never been average in my life in nothing,” he says. “I had to come back, prove to the world and this company ― the best that you got is not as good as I am. I've never been a failure. I don't know what it would be like to be a failure.”

The past two years have been Henry's most impressive in the ring and on the mic. He has a special ability. He doesn't need to use curse words or fancy catchphrases when reminding the audience and his opponent how tough he is. Simple words in a simple tone sell the fight.

If you were to ask wrestling fans to name an example of Henry's best mic work, they probably would answer with the retirement speech he gave on Raw in June. Rumors had been swirling on social media of Henry calling it quits. He came out at the tail-end of WWE Champion John Cena's segment. Henry asked Cena to remain in the ring while he spoke kind words of Cena's legacy, talked about his own and had tears in his eyes over what it has all meant to him.

The crowd cheered respectfully, thinking this was the end for his career. Cena raised Henry's arms in triumph. Then, Henry picked up the champion and slammed him to the mat, all the while screaming in Cena's face telling him he isn't done yet. It was one of the most talked about promos in wrestling, and it was deserving of an Academy Award.

When asking Henry why it took over 15 years to see this kind of performance, he replied “It was never wanted before.”

“I know a lot more than what meets the eye. A lot of it is perception,” he says. “People look at you, and they think they know what you are. Or they know what they think you should be, but it's far from the truth. They're so many layers we can't even begin to sit here and talk about my interests.”

There certainly seems to be more than meets the eyes when it comes to Henry. After all, this is a guy in his earlier days in WWE who was once known as “Sexual Chocolate” and had an on-screen relationship with a female wrestling legend Mae Young, 48 years his elder. In one controversial but memorable skit in 2000, Mae Young was pregnant courtesy of Henry. The odd humor and payoff ended up having Young give birth to a plastic hand.

In July 2012 on the 1,000th episode of Monday Night Raw where moments of the past were being remembered, a live skit aired where the “hand” was all grown up. In the past few years, you'd occasionally have an arena full of longtime hardcore wrestling fans unite in a chant of “Sexual Chocolate” while Henry was in the ring. But he doesn't have any negative feelings toward the bizarre, provocative storylines that won't fade from history.

“There are wrestlers that would cut their arm off to be remembered for anything,” Henry says. “I've been through two decades of wrestling, and I'm remembered from both of them. So I feel like I've done my job in that sense.”

As an Olympian, world record holder and former World Heavyweight Champion with one of the longest tenures ever with WWE, despite enduring significant pay cuts, Henry is just now putting on his best performances.

“Well, I guess it's going to be a hell of a book.”

Trib Total Media staffer Justin LaBar has a wrestling column every Monday and Friday. He also hosts Wrestling Reality at every Tuesday from 3 to 5 p.m.

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