Earlier this month, the United States showcased their dominance at the 2016 Summer Olympics, taking home a total of 121 medals. There to witness the Games firsthand were “The World’s Strongest Man” Mark Henry, serving as the WWE’s ambassador at the event, along with former stooge Gerald Brisco, who was sent to scout talent. With Rio 2016 now behind us, might we see another Olympian turn their attention to a career inside the squared circle anytime soon? The precedent for a transition of this nature might be me storied than you think.
Mark Henry of course represented America in the Olympic Games twice before joining the WWE, competing as a weightlifter at the 1992 Barcelona Games and again in Atlanta in 1996. Henry’s move from Olympian to sports entertainer happened quicker than most, as he signed a whopping 10-year contract with the WWE just two short weeks after the 1996 closing ceremonies. Today, Mark Henry is the third longest-tenured superstar in World Wrestling Entertainment, trailing only Executive Vice President Triple H and the sporadically used Undertaker in the category of service time.
Despite Henry inking the most lucrative deal ever made by the WWE with an Olympian at the time, he was far from the first to make his way to the WWE. Years earlier, Bad News Brown represented the United States in the 1976 Olympic Games in Montreal. Brown earned the Bronze medal for judo that year, becoming the only heavyweight from the United States to ever medal in the event and also the first African American to ever to win a solo Olympic Games medal in any event outside of track & field or boxing. In 1988, another future sports entertainer participated in Summer Games in Seoul, as the man who’d go on to be known as Giant Silva served as a reserve center for the National Brazilian Basketball Team.
The signings of Olympians from events like weight lifting, judo, and basketball begs the questions “Where are all of the Olympic wrestlers?” One needs not look far, of course. We all know that Kurt Angle won a gold medal for wrestling in the 1996 Games with a broken freakin’ neck – the only gold medalist to ever compete in a WWE ring. Current Smackdown superstar and American Alpha member Chad Gable competed in the 2012 Summer Games in London, and Mad Dog Vachon holds the distinction of being the only WWE Hall of Famer to have competed in the Olympics, having represented Canada in the Summer Games of 1948. The Iron Sheik was nearly on Iran’s Greco-Roman wrestling team in 1968, but failed to qualify. Four years later, he returned as an assistant coach to the USA’s wrestling team during the 1972 Games in Munich.
Other Olympians who later turned their attention to pursuing gold title belts rather than gold medals include Ken Patera and Verne Gagne, and given the presence of the WWE at the most recent games, it’s true that this list could be growing again in the near future. It’s damn true.