Curt Hennig

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Curt Hennig
Hennig guest refereeing at WrestleMania X in 1994.
Birth name Curtis Michael Hennig
Born (1958-03-28)March 28, 1958[1]
Robbinsdale, Minnesota[1][2]
Died February 10, 2003(2003-02-10) (aged 44)
Tampa, Florida[2]
Cause of death Cocaine overdose
Professional wrestling career
Ring name(s) Curt Hennig[1]
Mr. Perfect[1][3]
Billed height 6 ft 3 in (1.91 m)[1][3]
Billed weight 257 lb (117 kg)[1]
Billed from Robbinsdale, Minnesota[1][3]
Trained by Verne Gagne[1][3]
Larry Hennig[1][3]
Debut 1980[1]

Curtis Michael "Curt" Hennig[1] (March 28, 1958 – February 10, 2003)[2] was an American professional wrestler, manager, and color commentator who performed under his real name for the American Wrestling Association (AWA), the World Wrestling Federation (WWF), World Championship Wrestling (WCW), and Total Nonstop Action Wrestling (TNA). In the WWF, he found his greatest success as Mr. Perfect, a nickname introduced in his second run with the company which gradually became his official ring name. Hennig used the same ring name in his third and final run. However, his real name was widely acknowledged. He is the son of wrestler Larry "The Axe" Hennig, and father to current WWE (formerly the WWF) wrestler Joe "Curtis Axel" Hennig.

Hennig is a four-time world champion, having held the AWA World Heavyweight Championship once for 373 days (the seventh-longest reign in history), the WWC Universal Heavyweight Championship once, and the i-Generation World Heavyweight Championship twice. A two-time WWF Intercontinental Champion, Hennig has been named by WWE as one of the top five Intercontinental Champions of all time[4] and a man who brought a new level of credibility to the title;[3] he was the longest-reigning champion of the 1990s.[5] In addition to winning multiple championships in WCW during the late 1990s, he was a member of the New World Order and leader of stable and country music group, The West Texas Rednecks, who recorded the popular tongue-in-cheek song, "Rap is Crap".[6] Hennig returned to the WWF for a brief period in 2002, being one of the last three men remaining at the Royal Rumble. He later challenged for the NWA World Heavyweight Championship in TNA, prior to his death on February 10, 2003.

Both WWE and WCW have recognized Hennig as one of the all-time great pro wrestlers,[3][7] with the former crediting him for raising the accepted standard of technical wrestling.[3] He was inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame in 2007 by former Major League Baseball third baseman, and longtime friend, Wade Boggs.[3] Former WWF rival Hulk Hogan remarked: "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."[8]

Professional wrestling career

American Wrestling Association (1980–1982)

DDP, Curt Hennig and Diamond Doll Tonya in 1988.

Known as "Cool" Curt Hennig, he began his career on January 30, 1980 in the American Wrestling Association (AWA), the promotion which had made his father, Larry "The Axe" Hennig[9] a star. Hennig left AWA in 1982 and joined World Wrestling Federation (WWF).

World Wrestling Federation (1982–1984)

Curt Hennig started his WWF career in 1982. He established himself as a promising young performer against the likes of 'Playboy' Buddy Rose. Eventually, he was paired-up in tag team matches with another young upstart, Eddie Gilbert, himself the son of a wrestling legend (Tommy Gilbert).

Return to AWA (1984–1988)

Hennig returned to AWA in 1984. He would eventually become one of the promotion's top stars in his own right, winning the AWA World Tag Team Championship with Scott Hall by defeating "Gorgeous" Jimmy Garvin and "Mr. Electricity" Steve Regal on January 18, 1986 in Albuquerque, New Mexico.[10]

Later, he resumed his solo career in the AWA, culminating in defeating the legendary Nick Bockwinkel for the AWA World Heavyweight Championship at SuperClash on May 2, 1987 with the help of Larry Zbzyszko, and turning villain in doing so.[11][12] Hennig, along with his father Larry "The Axe", would engage in a long feud with Greg Gagne and his father, Verne Gagne. He began being associated with Madusa Miceli, the AWA World Women's Champion since December 27, 1987.[13][14] Hennig and Madusa joined The Diamond Exchange, a stable led by Diamond Dallas Page that also included Badd Company and Colonel DeBeers.[15]

Hennig would hold the AWA World Heavyweight Title for about 53 weeks, before losing it to Jerry Lawler on May 9, 1988.[12] Like many other AWA stars of the time (including Hulk Hogan, Rick Martel, and The Rockers), Curt left the AWA for the WWF with the promise of more money and broadened exposure.

Return to WWF

Mr. Perfect and undefeated streak (1988–1990)

Hennig returned to the WWF in the fall of 1988 as "Mr. Perfect" Curt Hennig, an arrogant braggart villain who claimed to be able to accomplish difficult tasks "perfectly." In the weeks before his debut, Hennig shot several promos to get his persona of being superior in athletics or anything else he did. These clips showed him hitting half-court, three-point, and no-look basketball shots, bowling a score of 300, running the table in billiards, throwing then catching his own Hail Mary football pass, sinking a long golf putt, hitting home runs and making bulls-eyes in darts. Stars of various major league sports, including Wade Boggs (MLB), Steve Jordan (NFL), and Mike Modano (NHL), co-starred with Hennig in these vignettes.

Hennig went undefeated for over a year, beating mid-card wrestlers including The Blue Blazer, The Red Rooster and Jimmy Snuka. During 1989, use of Hennig's real name was phased out, save for occasional references to his family history, and he was billed exclusively as "Mr. Perfect". Although undefeated on television, Perfect fought Bret "Hit Man" Hart to a draw at several house shows. Later in 1989, Perfect began appearing with Lanny Poffo, who had turned heel earlier in the year and began competing as "The Genius," an arrogant scholar. That fall, Perfect began feuding with Hulk Hogan over the WWF World Heavyweight Championship. In the first nationally televised contest of a rivalry that would span Hennig's WWF and WCW careers, Perfect defeated Bret Hart on the November 6, 1989 edition of Prime Time Wrestling, when he pulled Hart's tights during a roll-up, building momentum for an eventual meeting with Hogan.[16] Their feud heated up when, after The Genius defeated Hogan by countout, Poffo and Perfect stole Hogan's title belt and destroyed it backstage. Although Hogan later pinned Hennig at several house shows, these were not taped and no reference was made to them on television and commentators continued to say that he had a "Perfect record" in the WWF. Perfect and Hogan were the last two men left in the 1990 Royal Rumble, with Hogan getting the victory. Perfect's first one-on-one loss on television was to Brutus "The Barber" Beefcake at WrestleMania VI at the Toronto Skydome, though a week earlier he was pinned by The Ultimate Warrior in a taped show at Madison Square Garden (aired after WrestleMania).

Intercontinental Champion (1990–1991)

Enlisting Bobby Heenan as his new manager, Perfect went on to win the vacant Intercontinental Heavyweight Title in the final round of a tournament in April 1990 by defeating two-time Intercontinental Heavyweight Champion Tito Santana (The Intercontinental Heavyweight Championship title was declared vacant by the WWF after reigning champion the Ultimate Warrior defeated Hulk Hogan for the WWF World Heavyweight Championship in a title vs title match at WrestleMania VI billed as "The Ultimate Challenge").[17][18] He lost the belt to The Texas Tornado four months later at SummerSlam,[14][18] but regained the title on November 19, 1990, thanks to interference from Ted DiBiase.[14] This title win aired on the December 15, 1990 edition of WWF Superstars of Wrestling. Perfect faced The Big Boss Man at WrestleMania VII in Los Angeles, where a disqualification loss after The Bossman was attacked by Heenan Family members Haku and The Barbarian meant that he retained his title (during the match Perfect had been hit in the head with the IC Heavyweight Title belt by former Heenan member André the Giant, though he managed to kick out of a pin attempt).[19] The following month he was the winner of a 20-man Battle Royal on Saturday Night's Main Event.[20] Perfect held the Intercontinental Title until August 1991, when a broken tailbone and buldged discs forced him to drop the belt to Bret Hart at SummerSlam;[9][14] In the month of May prior to this match, Heenan retired from managing, which led to "Coach" John Tolos becoming Mr. Perfect's new manager. This was short-lived, as Perfect had actually retired from the ring a couple of months before SummerSlam, but he just returned for one match to drop the title to Hart.

Color commentator (1991–1992)

After losing the Intercontinental Championship, Perfect spent the next year-plus, trying to recuperate from his injuries. While recovering, he acted as Ric Flair's "executive consultant" during Flair's two WWF World Heavyweight Championship reigns. He also worked as a color commentator on WWF Superstars of Wrestling following Survivor Series 1991 until the Superstars before the next Survivor Series, acting as a suitable heel foil to Vince McMahon's play-by-play.

Return as a wrestler (1992–1993)

Perfect began a return to wrestling and a face turn when he had a falling-out with Ric Flair and Bobby Heenan (Flair's financial adviser) on the last Prime Time Wrestling before the 1992 Survivor Series. "Macho Man" Randy Savage was originally scheduled to team up with the Ultimate Warrior in a tag team match against Flair and Razor Ramon, but Warrior was released from the WWF weeks prior to the event.[21] Savage asked Perfect to be his partner. After initially laughing off Savage's offer, Perfect was swayed by Savage's cajoling and by Heenan's comments that Perfect was not capable of wrestling on that level anymore and demanded that Perfect follow orders and do as he was told. Immediately afterward, Perfect turned towards the camera to accept Savage's proposal, much to the horror of Heenan, who then slapped Perfect across his face. An infuriated Perfect responded by grabbing Heenan by his tie and pouring a full pitcher of water over Heenan's head. Perfect then stated that he was "back" as Savage's partner at the Survivor Series, much to the delight of the Prime Time Wrestling cast of Hillbilly Jim, Jim Duggan, and Vince McMahon. Perfect returned to the ring at the Survivor Series and, despite some initial mistrust between them, he and Savage won the match by disqualification. Perfect later eliminated Flair from the 1993 Royal Rumble[22] and defeated Flair the next night on Monday Night Raw in a "Loser Leaves the WWF Match".[14] In reality, Flair gave his notice that he was going back to WCW shortly after Survivor Series and promised to put over Perfect before he left.[14]

He then went on to feud with "The Narcissist" Lex Luger, whom Heenan introduced into the WWF at the 1993 Royal Rumble. Luger won their match at WrestleMania IX[23] though both of Perfect's feet were clearly between the ropes. Afterwards, Perfect chased Luger backstage where he was jumped from behind by Luger's onscreen ally Shawn Michaels. This feud with Michaels led to an Intercontinental Title match at Summerslam 1993, which Perfect lost by countout due to interference from Michaels' new bodyguard Diesel.[24] As stated in WWF Magazine, Hennig was responsible for coining Michaels' moniker, "The Heartbreak Kid". By losing to Michaels at SummerSlam, Perfect became the first wrestler to unsuccessfully challenge for the IC title at the annual pay-per-view event, as the title had changed hands at each SummerSlam event prior to 1993.

Perfect also competed in the 1993 King of the Ring tournament, losing in the semi-finals to eventual winner Bret Hart. He was then set to participate in the opening bout at the 1993 Survivor Series, but on October 29, he was taken off the road due to his anger over being bypassed for the Intercontinental title. He was replaced in the match by "Macho Man" Randy Savage.

Retirement and departure (1994; 1995–1996)

At WrestleMania X, Perfect was the special guest referee for the title match between Lex Luger and Yokozuna.[25] Perfect disqualified Luger after Luger manhandled Perfect, who was tending to Yokozuna's stricken managers Jim Cornette and Mr. Fuji instead of counting the pin. Perfect was set to start another feud with Luger (this time with Perfect as the heel) following WrestleMania, but plans were changed when Hennig's back problems flared up again. He left the WWF in the spring of 1994.

Hennig took a year off to recover from a back injury but before he returned to wrestling he took out a very big insurance policy with the company Lloyd's of London. He returned in 1995 as a color commentator at the Survivor Series. The following weekend, Jerry Lawler announced Perfect as his replacement on WWF Superstars,[14] his second stint as a color commentator on the show with McMahon, this time with Jim Ross added as the analyst. Later in 1996, McMahon left and Ross switched to the play-by-play role. Perfect also did color commentary with McMahon at the 1996 Royal Rumble and the 1996 SummerSlam with McMahon and Ross, and also at In Your House 10: Mind Games with Ross and McMahon, and in the video game WWF In Your House with McMahon. Mr. Perfect was once again called upon to serve as special referee for the WWF World Heavyweight Championship match at 1996 King of the Ring between Shawn Michaels and the British Bulldog.

Perfect was initially going to make his wrestling comeback on Monday Night Raw in October 1996 against Hunter Hearst Helmsley but was attacked by Helmsley backstage just moments before their match. It appeared Helmsley's attack left Perfect injured and unable to compete. This all turned out to be a ruse for the purpose of suckering "Wildman" Marc Mero into defending his Intercontinental Championship against Helmsley. With help from Perfect, Helmsley won the Intercontinental Title from Mero, and Perfect was once again a heel.[14] Perfect began to serve as a mentor to Helmsley and accompanied Helmsley to the ring. Perfect left the WWF once again shortly before the 1996 Survivor Series.

World Championship Wrestling

Four Horsemen and New World Order (1997–1998)

Hennig signed with World Championship Wrestling (WCW) in July 1997.[14] Since he could no longer be billed as Mr. Perfect, as that moniker was trademarked by the WWF, he returned to wrestling under his real name for the first time since the late 1980s. Both the Four Horsemen and the New World Order (nWo) showed interest in recruiting him. Hennig made his official WCW debut at Bash at the Beach '97 as Diamond Dallas Page's mystery tag-team partner.[14] Hennig ended up turning on Page costing them the match. After feuding with Page for a month he joined the Four Horsemen, taking the spot of the retiring Arn Anderson. Anderson's implorement that Hennig take "his spot" was the subject of the following week's parody of the Horsemen by the nWo, which lead to the WarGames match. At Fall Brawl, Hennig was allegedly jumped backstage by the nWo and came to ringside mid-match with his arm in a sling. The whole thing turned out to be a setup as Hennig betrayed the Horsemen and joined the nWo, handcuffing the other Horsemen to the cage and then slamming the steel cage door into Ric Flair's head,[14] afterward claiming he had "destroyed the Horseman" and as a further slap to Flair, claimed to be "the wrestler that made Minnesota famous". Two months after he joined the nWo, his childhood friend, Rick Rude, was also brought in. Hennig won the United States Title from Steve McMichael in September 1997 and defended it by defeating many superstars like Ric Flair, Lex Luger, The Giant, Chris Benoit, Jeff Jarrett, and Diamond Dallas Page before losing it to Page in December of that year at Starrcade.[14][26]

He struggled with a knee injury for much of 1998. When the nWo broke into two different factions, the Wolfpac (red and black) and nWo Hollywood (black and white), both Hennig and Rude joined the Wolfpac. The two did not really fit in with the fan favorite Wolfpac faction, especially when Rick Rude would still get on the microphone and tell the fans to shut up. Hennig was not able to compete against Goldberg at the Great American Bash that June, so he asked Konnan to replace him. Konnan lost the match, and afterward both Hennig and Rude attacked him, removing themselves from the Wolfpac and joining nWo Hollywood. Despite his injury he faced WCW World Champion Goldberg in a losing effort at Bash at the Beach. That September, Hennig was taken off WCW TV due to his injury. He returned at Starrcade to aid Eric Bischoff in defeating Ric Flair.

West Texas Rednecks and departure (1999–2000)

In early 1999, he began tagging with Barry Windham. Hennig and Windham lost to Ric Flair and Flair's son David at Souled Out due to interference by Arn Anderson. After the match, the rest of the nWo came out and humiliated Flair by handcuffing him to the ring, and forced him to watch his son David take a beating from Hollywood Hogan. Shortly afterward, Hennig was attacked by the nWo and thrown out of the group for no apparent reason other than Scott Hall stating "it's time to trim the fat". Hennig went on to win the World Tag Team Title with Barry Windham. Three months later, he became the leader of The West Texas Rednecks with Barry, Barry's brother, Kendall, and Bobby Duncum, Jr.. They were supposed to be heels to feud with rapper Master P's No Limit Soldiers, but the southern WCW fans cheered them and the angle was soon dropped. The Rednecks recorded an infamous country song titled "Rap is Crap."[3][14]

After the Rednecks disbanded, Hennig lost a retirement match against Buff Bagwell on November 21, 1999 at WCW Mayhem at Toronto's Air Canada Centre. He returned a few months later, however, and entered a feud with Shawn Stasiak. Stasiak, who had just joined WCW from the WWF, referred to himself as "The Perfect One" Shawn Stasiak, which was a ripoff of Hennig's old "Mr. Perfect" gimmick and even used entrance music composed to sound like Hennig's old WWF theme music. After Stasiak won the feud, Hennig briefly began coaching Stasiak. Hennig left WCW after his contract expired in the summer of 2000.

X Wrestling Federation (2001–2002)

Hennig was a franchise star for the short lived X Wrestling Federation where he had a brief run. The promotion quickly went under due to the WWF buying out many of its major talent, including Hennig himself. Hennig wrestled a well-known match with Hulk Hogan in XWF, where Hogan defeated him.

Return to the WWF/WWE (2002)

During the buildup for January's Royal Rumble, it was announced that Hennig would be returning as one of the 30 combatants. Hennig, again billed as "Mr. Perfect" (although his real name was widely acknowledged), entered the Royal Rumble at #25, and was one of the final three competitors before being eliminated by eventual winner Triple H. Perfect made a strong showing at the Rumble, hitting the Perfect-Plex on Kurt Angle and holding his own with the WWF's best at the time. His performance, along with the positive reaction of the Atlanta crowd, earned Hennig a full-time contract with the WWF. Perfect appeared the next night on Raw in a match with Val Venis. He then had short feuds with Stone Cold Steve Austin and Rob Van Dam before forming a tag team with Shawn Stasiak at house shows throughout March and April as well as a tag team on television with The Big Boss Man. On the February 25 edition of Raw, Hennig faced Stone Cold in a losing effort, on The March 3 edition of Heat, Hennig faced Edge in a losing effort, Hennig faced Stone Cold in a losing effort, on the March 4 edition of Raw, Hennig and Test defeated Scotty 2 Hotty and Albert, on Sunday Night Heat before Wrestlemania X8, Perfect teamed with Lance Storm and Test in a losing effort to Rikishi, Scotty 2 Hotty and Albert. Perfect was drafted to Raw during the first ever WWF Draft. on March 25 edition of Raw, Hennig faced Tazz in a losing effort, on the April 1 edition of Raw, Hennig formed a team with The Big Bossman in their first match they faced The Hardy Boyz in a losing effort, on the April 8 edition of Raw, Hennig faced The Big Show in a losing effort, on the April 22 edition of Raw, Hennig faced Rob Van Dam in a losing effort, Hennig's final televised WWE match took place on the May 5 edition of Heat which was taped on April 29, 2002 where Hennig defeated Tommy Dreamer however his final WWF/WWE match was a dark match at the 2002 Insurrextion PPV on May 4, 2002, facing Goldust in a winning effort, Hennig was released from the company on May 5, 2002 due to a physical confrontation with Brock Lesnar. Among other incidents of drunkenness, the tussle took place on the infamous "Plane Ride from Hell".[27]

Total Nonstop Action Wrestling (2002–2003)

After being released from WWE,[28] he went on to work for Total Nonstop Action Wrestling. In TNA, he was involved in a feud with Jeff Jarrett. He made his debut in a 6-man tag team match, as the mystery partner of Syxx-Pac and B.G. James against Ron Killings, Jeff Jarrett and Brian Lawler. Hennig's team won the match when he pinned NWA World Heavyweight Champion Ron Killings. He got a title shot the following week on October 16 against Killings but lost due to interference from Jarrett. Another shot at Killings on October 23 ended with Hennig lost due to similar interference from Mr. Wrestling III. Hennig also had a #1 contenders match vs Jarrett, but lost via DQ. On November 27, Hennig teamed with B.G. James to challenge NWA World Tag Team Champions Disciples of the New Church but failed to win the titles. Hennig received his last World title shot on December 11, this time against new champion Jeff Jarrett, but he failed once again to capture the gold. Hennig wrestled his last TNA match (and last ever) on January 8, defeating David Flair in a "Axehandle on a Pole match".


On February 10, 2003, Hennig was found dead in a Florida hotel room. He was 44 years old. The Hillsborough County Medical Examiner's Office declared acute cocaine intoxication to be the cause of his death.[29] His father said that steroids and painkillers also contributed to his death.[30] Hennig was survived by his parents, Larry and Irene, two brothers, Randy and Jesse, and two sisters, Sandra and Susan, wife Leonice, two sons Joe and Hank and two daughters Amy and Kaite.[31] Two of his children, Joe and Amy, are professional wrestlers.[32][33]

Hall of fame and legacy

WWE aired a video tribute as well as words from friends and former co-workers Jerry Lawler and Jim Ross on Raw following the news of Hennig's death.[34] TNA paid tribute to Hennig by displaying his wrestling singlet and a framed photo as he was employed by TNA at the time of his death. A tribute song about Hennig, "My Perfect Friend", was featured on the 2003 "Macho Man" Randy Savage album Be a Man.[35] Other peers including Hulk Hogan,[36] Ric Flair,[37] Bret Hart[38] and Shawn Michaels[39] have also commended Hennig's in-ring talents. Scott Hall has also stated that Hennig was directly responsible for developing Hall's professional wrestling career.[40]

Hennig's widow, Leonice, signed a WWE Legends contract on her husband's behalf.[citation needed] Wade Boggs, who appeared in a vignette with Hennig and was a friend of his, inducted him into the WWE Hall of Fame on March 31, 2007. His wife, his four children, and his parents accepted the award on his behalf.[3] On July 4, 2007, Hennig was posthumously inducted into the George Tragos/Lou Thesz Professional Wrestling Hall of Fame and Museum in Waterloo, Iowa. His father, who was inducted the prior year, represented him at the event.

On September 9, 2008, WWE released a two disc DVD set focused on Hennig titled The Life and Times of Mr. Perfect. Promotion for the video included Charlie Haas spoofing Hennig's memorable sports vignettes at a Dave & Buster's on Raw. Finding that he was incapable of performing those feats, Haas decided "there was only one Mr. Perfect." The week after the DVD's release, its first week possible, it went to number one on the Billboard Recreational Sports DVD sales list.

Hennig was mentioned on Raw 1000 by his old friend Bret Hart, who acted as the guest ring announcer for the night's Intercontinental title match. Hart stated that one of his best moments was winning his first ever Intercontinental title from Hennig, and described him as "one of the greatest superstars that ever lived".

Hennig's son Joe now uses the ring name Curtis Axel, representing his father's first name and his grandfather's nickname, respectively. He then went on to win the Intercontinental Championship in 2013 at Payback, and he dedicated his victory to his father. This title win makes them the first, and only, father-son duo to hold the championship.

Hennig was inducted into the Professional Wrestling Hall of Fame in Amsterdam, New York in 2015.

In wrestling

Championships and accomplishments

  • Main Event Championship Wrestling
    • MECW Heavyweight Championship (1 time)[1][56]


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External links