In the scope of wrestling history he may not go down as one of the elites of all time, but for a period of time he was perfect. A second generation wrestler, he seemed to be on the path towards multiple championships in the bigger wrestling promotions but always seemed held back behind the bigger stars.
Real Name: Curtis Michael Hennig
Stats: 6′ 3″ 235 lbs.
Born: March 28, 1960
As second generation wrestlers go, Curt Hennig was destined for greatness. He grew up idolizing his father the great Larry “the Axe” Hennig and had as his best friend since high school Ravishing Rick Rude. They attended Robbinsdale High School in his hometown of Robbinsdale, Minnesota, alongside Tom Zenk, Brady Boone, Nikita Koloff, John Nord, Road Warrior Hawk, and Barry Darsow, who all became professional wrestlers.With such talent surrounding him, how could he possibly miss on wrestling stardom?
Curt’s father Larry was one of the top competitors in the AWA, teaming with Harley Race to win three AWA World Tag Team championships. In 1978, Larry turned his attention to working with Verne Gagne to train their respective sons, Curt and Greg Gagne. After months and months of hard work, Curt debuted in 1979 and achieved early success by teaming with a young Scott Hall and defeating Jimmy Garvin and Steve Regal for the AWA World Tag Team belts on January 18, 1986.
On May 2, 1987, Curt entered the ring to face AWA World Champion Nick Bockwinkel. Controversy surrounded the outcome of the match as it appeared that Hennig was handed a roll of quarters by Larry Zbyscko and used it to knock Bockwinkel out cold. Ignoring the controversy, Curt defended the title for more than a year against such combatants as Bockwinkel, Greg Gagne, Wahoo McDaniel and Baron Von Rasche. Finally on May 9, 1988, Hennig traveled to Memphis, Tennessee where the hometown hero, Jerrry Lawler, turned the tables on the champion and defeated Hennig for the belt.
Without a title belt, Hennig decided that a change of scenery would be beneficial and he moved to the Northeast and in the fall of 1988 entered the World Wrestling Federation under the guise of “Mr. Perfect.” The WWF set the stage for his debut by creating videoclips of him excelling in numerous sports as the “complete athlete.” In 1989, Hennig, angry that he was not given a shot at the title shot against the promotion’s champion (Hulk Hogan), destroyed the championship belt and began a feud that lasted for much of the fall. After obtaining the services of Booby Heenan as his manager, Hennig entered a tournament for the vacant Intercontinental title belt in April 1990. Hennig defeated Tito Santana in the finals to become the Intercontinental champion. After losing the belt to Kerry Von Erich in August, Hennig recaptured it in a rematch on November 19, 1990. His title reign lasted for almost nine months before he was defeated by Bret Hart on August 26, 1991 at the 1991 SummerSlam Pay Per View event in New York. During the match, Curt reinjured a lingering back injury and was forced to take some time off to heal.
In late 1991 he returned as an advisor to Ric Flair. As Flair’s “Executive Consultant,” Hennig helped the “Nature Boy”to win the WWF Heavyweight championship. Their partnership seemed solid until Randy Savage asked Hennig to serve as his partner against Flair and Razor Ramon. By accepting the invitation, he thereby severed all ties with Flair. In January 1993, Hennig defeated Flair in a “loser leaves the WWF match.” While this seemed to set the stage for a big push for Curt, his back injury flared up again and he was forced to take more time off.
Hennig returned in 1995 as a color commentator at the 1995 Survivor Series matchup. In 1996, Curt served as Hunter Hearst Helmsley’s manager, but left the WWF and entered World Championship Wrestling a year later as Diamond Dallas Page’s tag team partner against Scott Hall and Randy Savage. He later took over Arn Anderson’s spot in the fabled “Four Horsemen” when Arn was forced by injuries to retire. He turned his back on the Horsemen, however, when he joined forces with he NWO at the 1997 Fall Brawl. Later that night, he defeated Steve McMichael to win the WCW United States title. He lost the belt three months later to Diamond Dallas Page, and then struggled with a knee injury for much of 1998 (although he faced WCW champion Bill Goldberg, losing both matches).
1999 started well for Hennig as he teamed with Barry Windham to briefly capture the WCW Tag Team championship. Knee injuries again forced him out of action and he was limited to non-wrestling roles for most of the year. The year 2000 was no better for him and he was eventually released by the promotion and began headlining a number of independent wrestling shows.He eventually made his way to NWA Total Nonstop Action where he wrestled a number of programs from 2002 – 2003. His last match occurred on January 8, 2003 in a win over Davd Flair.
On February 10, 2003, Hennig was discovered deceased in a hotel room in Brandon, Florida, at the age of 44 years old. The cause of his death was determined by the Hillsborough County Medical Examiner’s Office to be acute cocaine intoxication, but his father suggested that steroids and painkillers played a role in his passing as well. He was survived by his wife, Leonice Leonard, and their four children, Joseph, Amy, Kaite, and Hank (Joseph and Amy worked as professional wrestlers.
Many felt it was a great shame that Curt Hennig’s career was hampered by so many injuries. A great technical wrestler, he, at the time, was among the premier performers in the business. While history may never know how great he might have become, it should judge him positively based on his talent and achievements.