When it comes to wrestlers crossing over and becoming global superstars, none have done that as well as The Rock. He was named the highest paid actor of 2020, and truly electrified the pro wrestling business while regularly featured in WWE.
John Cena seems to be following a similar path as Rocky in transitioning to Hollywood, while others still see Cena as more akin to Hulk Hogan in WWE folklore. Mark Henry was asked if Cena is more like The Rock or more like Hogan when he joined Heavy Live with Scoop B.
“You have to put Steve Austin in that conversation when you’re talking about it,” Henry said of pro wrestlers who were a cut above everyone else.
“Steve Austin and John Cena both, and The Rock… all three of those guys, they changed the way wrestling business was done. From a contract standpoint, they got a greater percentage at the gates, and so forth made contracts not guaranteed at that time, even though I was the first wrestler in history to have a guaranteed contract,” revealed Henry. “But they took it to another level and created what we called the ‘downside’ – if you get hurt, then you live off that money, and that money might be $100,000, it might be $500,00, it might be $1,000,000 just to have you as a contracted wrestler for that company, and those guys put that in place. But the whole world of pro wrestling owes a debt to those guys, and there’s other guys.
“Triple H, that was really, really good at that time. The Undertaker, who in my opinion is on that Mount Rushmore of pro wrestling, like if you start going back to Dusty Rhodes, and Andre the Giant, and Ric Flair, and the people like, you know– we’d be here all day. But we’re talking about the guys that you just mentioned, and those guys – with Steve Austin in there – are responsible for the way that the fans look at wrestling now, not just the way fans look at it. [They’re seen] by the way they buy merchandise. Steve Austin would have a different shirt every Monday, and Monday Night Raw is the longest episodic television show in history. And every Monday, he got a new shirt? Every pay-per-view? Seven pay-per-views a year? Like, the money that those guys were making just for merchandising was ridiculous, and they made that. It’s kind of how like it is now – everybody’s got this– we got T-shirts, and coffee cups, and license plate covers, and those guys changed the game.”
Going back to the comparisons between Cena and the Rock, Henry shared a similarity between them that makes them so successful in whatever they do.
“John Cena and The Rock is commonality because both of them are well-studied. I’ve never met anyone in my life that studies more and prepares more than Dwayne [Johnson]. He was over prepared for every single situation that he would go in to, and John Cena is one of the brightest people that I’ve ever met. From the time that he used to ride with me and we used to rap on the drives in Louisville when he was The Prototype, his first 6-7 weeks in the WWE, I knew that he was going to make it because of how smart he was,” stated Henry.
“He was always thinking ‘Why? Why do you do that?’ and it’s because of this. Or, ‘When do you know to do that?’, and the ‘how’ is very important. You have to know how to do things, but the most important thing in wrestling is why and when. You see these matches that people– people respect the entertainment of pro wrestling now, but the most important thing is letting the veteran leadership show you how to do it, why you do it. But most importantly, when is the right time.
“And the fans are going to be ones that decide. I’m beating somebody, I’m listening, I know when to turn it up and I know when to back off and say, ‘Hey, you need to stand up for yourself. Fire up! C’mon!’ Like, that kind of thing is like having a conductor leading an orchestra, and the crowd thinks that they’re the conductor, but they’re the audience. I’m the conductor, and that’s the art of pro wrestling that people never explain. You’re the only person that’s ever had that explanation – I guarantee you – about pro wrestling’s inner workings.”
Henry said that he can see Roman Reigns eventually following in the footsteps of The Rock and Cena in becoming a Hollywood star. Reigns’ transition to Hollywood – if there is one – is still a few years away, but Scoop B floated the possibility of UFC’s Jon Jones transitioning to the ring. He asked Henry if he would rather pay to see Reigns take on The Rock or Reigns take on Jon Jones in a WWE ring.
“I would pay money to see both because, you know, I would pay money too to see [Daniel] Cormier in there too,” said Henry. “Not only is he a big wrestling fan– like, pro wrestling, the whole stigma [of it being scripted] doesn’t upset talented wrestlers. People used to do that, people like John Stossel – ‘I want to get a rise out of the guys. I want to say that wrestling’s fake and we’re pulling the wool over people’s eyes.’ And you have to be living under a rock for you to walk around here and feel like, you know what? I’m gonna piss Mark Henry off and say, ‘Hey, Mark Henry! Is wrestling fake?’ And I’m gonna be like, ‘It’s entertainment. There’s a difference.’
“Fake? If I threw a punch at you or if I put my hand out to slap you and I miss you, that’s fake. But in my business, there’s gonna be contact. That’s real. The better the relationship that you have with people, the more carte blanche you give them to lay it in. That’s the term: ‘lay it in’. I don’t want people to look at my art as being phony, so, it’s got to be real.”