Although Mark Henry just returned from a 10-month absence on Raw, it is already apparent that the WWE has significant plans for him. Henry deserves to be a featured player on SmackDown moving forward, and the best way to do that is for him to win the No. 1 contender's Elimination Chamber match.
Henry wasted no time in making his presence felt on Raw as he attacked Daniel Bryan, Rey Mysterio and Sin Cara. There was some talk about Henry potentially returning to action as a face, but luckily that wasn't the case. Henry hit his stride in a big way as a monster heel in late 2011, and he carried that momentum into early 2012. Henry was unquestionably better than he had been at any previous point in his career, and I'm glad to see that nothing has changed.
The World Heavyweight Championship scene has been pretty stale on SmackDown for the past year as it has involved Sheamus, Alberto Del Rio or Big Show for essentially the entire time. Henry is totally different from those guys, and he should make things interesting again. The Elimination Chamber match appears to be fairly wide open; however, Henry is clearly the best choice.
Only Randy Orton, Bryan and Mysterio have officially been placed in the match by SmackDown general manager Booker T thus far. That leaves three spots available, and I have to believe that one is reserved for Henry. Booker has said that the match will involve only former world champions, and since Henry fits the bill, I can't envision a scenario in which he is snubbed.
Orton is certainly the favorite as he has been winning quite a bit lately and hasn't had a singles match for the world title since he lost to Henry at Hell in a Cell 2011. A quick look at the potential scenarios disqualifies him as a viable candidate, though. If he wins he would either face Del Rio or Dolph Ziggler. Facing Del Rio would necessitate a heel turn, which would be positive, but we saw Orton and Del Rio feud recently. Also, Orton and Ziggler wrestled at Night of Champions and have faced each other countless times.
The mere fact that Henry has been on the shelf for so long makes him a great choice because things will feel fresh regardless of who he goes up against. Should Henry win, then Del Rio will almost certainly hold the title heading into WrestleMania. Henry and Del Rio have never faced each other, so it is definitely a rivalry I can get behind. It would probably follow a similar formula to Del Rio vs. Big Show, except it will actually be entertaining.
I respect Big Show as a veteran in the business, but he doesn't compel me in the least. We've seen his act in the WWE since 1999, and it has more than run its course. He is supposed to be an unstoppable monster heel, but he is constantly running scared when met with legitimate competition. Henry is everything that Big Show isn't, though, as he won't back down from somebody like Del Rio.
Essentially every heel in the WWE today is cowardly and looks for a way out of difficult situations. While I realize that heels have been that way for a very long time, somebody who is as physically imposing as Big Show shouldn't be. Henry took the conventional thinking and threw it out the window during his last run, and after the way he returned on Monday, there is no reason to think that he will be any different this time.
Fans seem to have mixed feelings when it comes to Del Rio, but there is no question that the reaction from the general audience has been quite favorable since he turned face and won the world title. It seems to me like the WWE is grooming Del Rio to be the company's next Latino icon in place of Mysterio. Beating a guy like Henry would probably go a long way toward accomplishing that.
Provided Henry wins the Elimination Chamber, he and Del Rio will have nearly two months to build toward WrestleMania. Although Del Rio will obviously get his licks in, I would have The World's Strongest Man dominate the majority of the feud. This will make Del Rio look like an underdog at WrestleMania, so a win will garner him an even bigger reaction from the fans.
Putting Del Rio against Henry would also be beneficial to Ziggler. Perhaps following the loss at WrestleMania, Henry could go on a rampage and destroy Del Rio. That would give Ziggler the opportunity to finally cash in his Money in the Bank contract. Fans are growing impatient when it comes to Ziggler, but there is no bigger stage on which to win the world title than WrestleMania.
This wouldn't be an unprecedented move either as Henry did the same thing at TLC 2011. Henry lost the world title to Big Show at that event and took out his frustrations on him afterward. This prompted Daniel Bryan to cash in his Money in the Bank contract successfully. Henry deserves an assist for Bryan's world title win, and he could earn one on Ziggler's as well.
As great as Henry would be as world champion once again, his contract only goes through WrestleMania XXIX and he is 41 years old. This could very well be his last hurra. And if it is, then he can be a big help by having a great feud with Del Rio and then opening the door for the next champion in Ziggler.
The WWE has several compelling options when it comes to the Elimination Chamber match to determine the challenger for the World Heavyweight Championship at WrestleMania. All of them have their merits, but Henry represents a potential paradigm shift on SmackDown, and that is something most fans long to see.