Perfection is Attainable: Memories of Curt Hennig
Curt Hennig was born in Robbinsdale, Minnesota on March 28th, 1958. The son of wrestling legend Larry “The Axe” Hennig, there was little doubt what career path he would take. He trained under his father, Buddy Rose, and Verne Gagne, and made his in-ring debut in Verne Gagne’s American Wrestling Association in early 1980.
Hennig earned his stripes in mid-card matches over the next 2 years in the AWA. Then, like so many others at the time, he jumped to the WWF for…..a very forgettable 2 years. He did, however, form a nice little tag team with fellow 2nd generation star Eddie Gilbert (BTW, how have I not written about Eddie Gilbert yet?!). When things didn’t go too well for him in Connecticut, he went back to the AWA.
Back home in Minnesota, he finally began to get some traction in the business. Paired with Scott Hall, they quickly won the World Tag Team Titles. Around this time, Gagne decided that Curt had a shot to be a real star for the company and began planning his ascent to the top of the roster. A little over a year after his Tag Team Title win, he was wrestling solo and feuding with Nick Bockwinkel for the AWA World Heavyweight Championship. On May 2nd, 1987, with an assist from Larry Zbzysko, “Cool” Curt defeated Bockwinkel to win the Heavyweight Title, turning heel in the process. He held the belt for 53 consecutive weeks, then dropped the title to Jerry Lawler, and returned to the WWF.
Vince McMahon, having seen Henning’s great run as a villain, paired with his tremendous athletic ability, developed the character of Mr. Perfect for his WWF return. For about 2 months before his debut in 1988, the company ran a terrific set of promos of Henning performing various sports-related feats against big stars, most notably, Red Sox 3rd baseman Wade Boggs. Unlike his first time there, Henning was promoted heavily from the start. Mr. Perfect, was, for over a year after his debut, well…perfect. In fact, he was undefeated (on television) all of 1989. My favorite matches from that time were against Jimmy “Superfly” Snuka, and he had a nice match versus the Blue Blazer (Owen Hart) at WrestleMania V.
Late in ’89, Henning began teaming with Randy Savage’s brother, “The Genius” Lanny Poffo. Poffo basically acted as Perfect’s sidekick and helped him perform all manner of nefarious actions against the company’s top babyfaces. Mr. Perfect had his first televised match against Bret Hart in November with a win that elevated him into a program with Hulk Hogan. They would be the last 2 men standing at the 1990 Royal Rumble, with Hogan ending up the victor. 2 months later, at WrestleMania VI, Hennig’s “perfect record” (in actuality he had lost over 20 untelevised matches) ended with a loss to Brutus “The Barber” Beefcake.
Right after his loss at ‘Mania, Mr. Perfect felt his career needed guidance….and enter Bobby “The Brain” Heenan. Just 1 month later, Hennig defeated Tito Santana to become the WWF Intercontinental Champion. He held it for 4 months, losing to Kerry Von Erich at SummerSlam. With an assist from “The Mission Dollar Man” Ted DiBiase, he regained his title in late 1990. He rolled on strong through early ’91, beating The Big Bossman at WrestleMania VII, and winning a 20-man Battle Royal at Saturday Night’s Main Event. In June however, he broke his tailbone and retired from wrestling. At SummerSlam, he worked through pain to drop the Intercontinental Title to his great rival and friend, Bret Hart.
Curt spent the next 2 years in WWF between working as a color commentator and acting as Ric Flair’s “Executive Consultant”. When he and Flair began to dispute Flair’s actions in the ring, he was thrust into a feud with “The Nature Boy” and his old manager, Heenan, who was Flair’s “Financial Advisor”. At about the same time, the Ultimate Warrior was released from the company for repeated drug abuse. So when Randy Savage asked Perfect to replace the Warrior as his partner for Survivor Series ’92, a now-healthy Hennig agreed. The pair won a great match against Ric Flair and Razor Ramon but elevated the heat between Ric and Curt. After Mr. Perfect eliminated Flair from the 1993 Royal Rumble, a match was made the RAW the next night. A classic “Loser leaves the WWF” match sent “The Nature Boy” back home to the WCW, but he made sure to “put over” his friend Curt Henning on his way out the door.
After Flair’s departure, Lex Luger entered the company, and so who better to welcome him? They feuded through early 1993, and then he lost to “The Narcissist” at WrestleMania IX. (Again, an awful WrestleMania) He then began feuding with Shawn Michaels for his Intercontinental Title, but his bid was unsuccessful at SummerSlam ’93. Once the 1993 King of the Ring was over, Hennig was forced to remove himself from ring action again due to his previous back injuries. He took time off to heal but was in the ring again at WrestleMania X as the special guest referee for Luger versus Yokozuna.
The next couple of years were hard, he was scheduled to return multiple times, but his back stopped him. He spent another year healing and working color commentary, hoping to return to the ring before the end of 1996. Fans were elated when it was announced he would return to RAW in October ’96, but, he was attacked backstage by Hunter Hearst Helmsley before he could enter the ring and pronounced unable to compete. Later that night, HHH battled Mark Mero for the Intercontinental Title. During the match, Perfect emerged from the back, and aided HHH, thus completing the long swerve. He acted as HHH’s associate for a couple of months and then left the WWF.
In 1997, he returned to the ring again, this time in the WCW. Fans, I included, were ready to see him return. Now billed only as Curt Hennig, he had a short-run against Diamond Dallas Page. Then he was invited to join the legendary 4 Horsemen in place of the retiring Arn Anderson. He quickly accepted, but all was not peaceful. The newly coined Horsemen were mocked and Henning was badly beaten by members of the New World Order.
A 3-on-3 cage match was set for Fall Brawl ’97, Henning, with shoulder damage from his attack, couldn’t compete. So, with the arm in a sling, he joined his brothers at ringside and watched their backs, urging Ric Flair to the cage door and the win, and then slammed his head in it. The next night on Nitro it was official, Curt Henning, was the newest member of the ballooning roster that was the NWO. He had a couple of decent months and defeated Steve “Mongo” McMichael (Ughhh!) for the United States Championship. He later dropped the title to DDP.
1998 was basically another lost year, with knee injuries keeping him sidelined. He floundered with the splitting of the NWO into 2 factions and eventually was bounced from the group. He then hooked up with Barry and Kendall Windham and youngster Bobby Duncum, Jr, in a new group called the West Texas Rednecks. They became famous for recording a single called “Rap is Crap” and attempting a feud with rapper Master P, the No Limit Soldiers, and some various young wrestlers in the company including Rey Mysterio. Just typing that makes me think, is it any surprise WCW folded?!
Curt tried to hang on after WCW folded; joining the X Wrestling Federation for the 5 minutes they were in business. He then returned to the WWF, entering the January 2002 Royal Rumble at #25. He wrestled on and off over the next few months and then was fired in May after a physical confrontation with Brock Lesnar took place on the infamous “Plane Ride from Hell”. If you don’t know about that, I promise I’ll go into it one day, it’s awesome.
After his release, he signed with Jeff Jarrett’s Total Nonstop Action. He wrestled against Jarrett for a few months until February 10th, 2003, when he was found in his hotel room, dead of an apparent cocaine overdose at age 44. Curt Hennig was inducted posthumously into the WWE Hall of Fame in 2007 by Wade Boggs. Curt’s daughter Amy wrestles, as does his son Joseph.
Now calling himself Curtis Axel, Joe, became WWE Intercontinental Champion a few months ago, making them first father-son duo to hold the title. I was always a huge fan of Mr. Perfect, and while I tried to summarize his place in wrestling history, I turned to quote from an unlikely source, Hulk Hogan, “Everybody would check their egos at the door when they came to a building that Curt Hennig was in because you couldn’t out-work him, you couldn’t outshine him and you couldn’t out-perform him. He was the best of the best.” Thanks for reading, and keep your shoulders off the mat.