I have been a wrestling fan for a while, I have watched it my whole life. I was Hulkamaniac as kid. The Attitude Era and the nWo were the two coolest things in the world when I was in high school. With all that holding true, I feel comfortable saying this without it being hyperbolic:
Mark Henry's retirement and subsequent swerve was perhaps one of the greatest angles I have ever seen in wrestling.
It was astounding in its brilliance. It was the ultimate mark out moment in an age of unparalleled backstage information and dirt from behind the curtain. Wrestling is often at its best when the lines between reality and fiction get a little murky. It can be also at its worst in that state when it's in the wrong hands. Luckily for all of us, last night the angle of the summer, maybe year, was in the right hands.
Here is what this angle has accomplished: Mark Henry is no longer a monster. He has surpassed the concept of a monster and transformed into some Lovecraftian nightmare of sociopathic darkness and evil. Henry could have just walked out and did some serious damage on Cena, but it wasn't enough. He had to catch Cena at his weakest and most vulnerable, he exploited the one chink in Cena's armor...the need to be a hero. It was the ultimate mind game. Henry demonstrated the insane lengths he would go to to get an advantage over the champ. Mark Henry let John Cena know: Ryback was nothing, the real monster is here.
The angle accomplished something else. It made John Cena look like a saint. John Cena came out and cut his standard, intense and inspirational promo. Honestly, it was a decent promo. No stupid jokes, no smirking, just expressing his passion and triumph. Perfectly fine. Henry waited for him to finish and then came out. Cena was even gracious enough to leave the ring and give Henry the spotlight. He only remained because Henry asked him to, then proceeded to really put Cena over.
I bought it. I completely bought everything that Mark Henry was selling on the mic. His emotion, the tears in his eyes, everything felt real and true. The best thing about Cena was that he was always on the edge of frame. The camera only cut to him when he was specifically referred to by Mark Henry. As usual, WWE's production crew really pulled through with a wonderfully constructed and cut sequence, all the more impressive because it was done live. Every aspect of the WWE machine was on top of its game for this segment and it showed.
I honestly believed that I was watching John Cena the human being and not the character. When he handed Mark Henry the belt and let him hold it as a sign of respect and admiration, I honestly believed that was the true man doing that. It felt real, it felt genuine and it was an emotional and touching moment. But when the World's Strongest Swerve hit, it made John Cena look all that much better.
Let's look at this from a kayfabe point of view. Mark Henry has been nothing short of a monstrous heel for the past few years. Mark Henry the performer deserves all the respect and admiration that Cena showed him last night, but did the character? Not at all. The Mark Henry character is a sadistic bully who enjoys hurting people and cares nothing for their careers and lives. Yet, the John Cena character showed Mark Henry respect because it was a part of the WWE that he just professed his love to that was going away. He showed class and dignity. There isn't a single kayfabe reason for John Cena to shed one tear for the end of Mark Henry. No reason other than sheer human decency.
To have that thrown back in his face, to allow himself to open up only for Henry to attack him at his most vulnerable, I can't remember John Cena ever looking like a true hero like he did last night. Everything Mark Henry has coming to him in his feud with John Cena has been completely justified. Cena is so clearly in the right, true and good here, it's almost unbelievable. The lines between good and evil were drawn in a very sharp, clear way.
John Cena was the clear face; Mark Henry was the clear heel.
All of this hinged on Henry's performance, of course, and what a performance he gave. The man deserves an award. Henry was real, raw and brilliant. If you told me 10 years ago that Henry would be responsible for one of the best swerves in the history of Monday Night Raw, I would have laughed in your face. Cena also deserves a lot of credit, as his performance was just as real and visceral.
Sure, it sucks that Daniel Bryan won't be wrestling John Cena at Money in the Bank. However, with a red hot angle like this, I'll gladly take Cena vs Henry. What I want most from WWE is good storytelling, we got that last night in spades. This is going to be something that John Cena's younger fans will remember.
It was awesome because that's what Mark Henry does: awesome.