A dynasty in the ring

Curtis Axel is a third-generation wrestler who’s owning the squared circle.

Blake Apgar

As the road to Wrestlemania runs through Minneapolis for Sunday’s Elimination Chamber pay-per-view, it serves as a reminder of the storied history of wrestling in the state.

Minnesota has acted as the launch pad for many illustrious careers in the professional wrestling universe.

The now-defunct American Wrestling Association, based in Minneapolis, was the starting point for Minnesota wrestlers like The Road Warriors and the late Curt “Mr. Perfect” Hennig. His son, Joe Hennig, now performs in the WWE under the ring name Curtis Axel.

Hennig is among few third-generation professional wrestlers in the WWE, and he plans to keep the family legacy glowing in the business.

“I want to put a stamp on the Hennig name being the No. 1 family to ever grace the wrestling world,” Hennig said.

Being the son of a man named Mr. Perfect, Hennig had his work cut out for him.

Hennig told A&E his father never wanted him to step foot in the ring. It wasn’t until Randy Orton became a third-generation wrestler that his father gave him approval, but under one condition: Hennig had to get a college education, an obstacle he didn’t take too seriously.

“I found the easiest piece of paper thing I could follow to get some kind of degree,” Hennig said.

In 2003, after Hennig finished his education and was ready to step into the ring, his father died of a drug overdose at the age of 44.

Hennig then went to train with Harley Race’s promotion in Missouri. There, Hennig wrestled for $50 a night, one night a month. With a baby on the way, he and his wife were living off WIC and food stamps. A few months before his son was born, he was called up to Florida Championship Wrestling, the developmental territory of WWE, later renamed NXT and televised as a reality show.

Hennig debuted on television as Michael McGillicutty. The character never appealed to fans, and Hennig was repackaged as Curtis Axel. The name was created in honor of Hennig’s father, Curt Hennig, and his grandfather, Larry “The Axe” Hennig.

The Curtis Axel character pushed family buttons, adhering to the catch phrase “better than perfect,” which has rubbed some fans the wrong way. Hennig means no harm to his father’s legacy; he’s just a villain who wants the reaction.

“I’m a bad guy. I’d do anything it takes to make people hate me even more. I get joy out of that,” Hennig said.

Hennig’s character solidified the family legacy last year when he won the Intercontinental Championship at the Payback pay-per-view on Father’s Day. The achievement made history, as it was the first time a father and son have held the title.

Hennig takes a lot of pride in coming from the Land of 10,000 Lakes. Born in Champlin and now residing in Minneapolis, Hennig has spent most of his life in Minnesota.

“The toughest people, in my eyes, come from this state,” Hennig said.

Hennig is one of the last household names to come out of Minnesota. Alongside him are Erick Rowan and Brock Lesnar. While Lesnar sits in a stratosphere of superstardom that is certainly legendary, Hennig has no qualms when it comes to scraping his way to the top of the card.

“I’m not done yet. I’m not even close,” Hennig said.

Curtis Axel is on the hunt for his Wrestlemania moment when he can win the WWE World Heavyweight Championship and officially become “better than perfect.”


What: The Elimination Chamber
Where: Target Center, 600 N. First Ave., Minneapolis
When: 6:30 p.m. Sunday
Cost: $27-327