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The Perfect Return
Curt Hennig is back - and that, my friends, is absolutely perfect

When it was announced that Mr. Perfect would be returning to World Wrestling Entertainment at the Royal Rumble, it seemed to come as a huge surprise to fans, WWE employees and even the WWE Superstars.

But one man who it came as absolutely no surprise to was Mr. Perfect himself.

"I knew I'd be back; there was never been a doubt in my mind," Curt "Mr. Perfect" Hennig tells Raw Magazine. "Some things are meant to be, and this is one of them."

Mr. Perfect's return brought a smile to the face of many fans, who remember the character's boisterous ways -- his cocky walk to the ring, his confident smirk, and even the way he spat out his gum and swatted it away before his matches began. "I've never missed that -- not once," smiles Hennig.

Indeed, Hennig has been a mainstay in the world of sports-entertainment for more than 20 years. But surprisingly, he says he never planned on getting into the wrestling business.

"I hurt my knee playing football at the University of Minnesota," Hennig says. "I got surgery done, and I needed to rebuild it because another school was looking at me. So I went to Verne Gagne's wrestling camp in Minnesota just to rehab. A hundred and ten people went through there, and only Brad Rheingans -- a member of two Olympic teams -- and myself came out of that thing. I wasn't expecting to be a pro wrestler; I just wanted to get back in shape.
"It was grueling -- 500 squats a day, miles of running, different kinds of exercises. Gagne ran a really respectable camp. And I knew from the moment I got through with that camp that this was going to be my life. I just knew it."

The Minnesota native was surrounded by wrestling from the time he was a kid. Curt's father was a pro wrestler -- the legendary Larry "The Ax" Hennig -- but he says his dad never pressured him to get into the business.

"We really never talked about the business around our house," Hennig recalls. "My dad went and did his job, and came back home, and we were a family. We separated the two."

Hennig's best friend since eighth grade was the man wrestling fans know as the late "Ravishing" Rick Rude. The two were practically inseparable up until Rude's death in April 1999.

"One time, I stole some skates from this guy, and I couldn't sell them so I gave them to Rude.

And Rude tried to sell them back to the guy that I stole them from!" laughs Hennig. "And you know what? He never told on me; he took the heat. And from that time on, I had a lifetime friend.
"He was a real man's man. This guy was no bulls**t; he was the kind of guy that would get right up in your face, even if you were just looking at him wrong. I really miss him."

Rude wasn't the only Superstar to come out of Hennig's high school. Hennig, Rude, Nikita Koloff, Demolition Smash, and the Berzerker all graduated from the same class. And other famous Superstars from Minnesota include Blackjack Lanza, Mean Gene, Jesse Ventura, Verne Gagne and the Road Warriors.

"I don't know, maybe that cold weather does something to you," laughs Curt. "It's healthy."

Hennig started at the Minnesota-based American Wrestling Association (AWA) in the late 1980s, even capturing that group's Tag Team Championship with Scott Hall. He also worked for several other regional promotions, and even worked briefly for Vince McMahon Sr.'s Capitol Wrestling.

Before long, though, WWE came knocking, and Hennig was more than happy to answer the door.

"If this WWE door opens up and you pass it up, you're a fool," Hennig says. "And I wasn't about to be a fool."

Prior to appearing on WWE television, Hennig was featured in several vignettes. The vignettes saw him showing just how perfect his character was -- hitting home runs, throwing touchdowns, shooting bulls-eyes and executing picture-perfect dives into a pool.

"Any airport I go to, where ever, people still say, 'There goes Mr. Perfect!' and talk about those vignettes," Hennig says. "Even when I wrestled as Curt Hennig for three years, they still remembered that Mr. Perfect character because Vince developed it so well. It was his idea, and I am that athletic; I can do all those things."

As he was preparing to make his WWE debut, Hennig was looking around for a finishing maneuver. He found it one day on a Japanese tour, as he watch a match featuring his father's old tag-team partner, Harley Race. Race executed a fisherman's suplex during the bout, which turned on a light bulb in Hennig's head.
"The way he did it, he just fell right on his back, and being an amateur wrestler too, I figured I could just bridge," Hennig recalls. "I have a pretty strong neck. So I did it, and the guy went right over. Then one day (referee) Jim Korderas said, 'Why don't you call it the Perfectplex?' I said, 'That's great! Thank you!

After making his debut, Hennig soon gained a reputation as a solid worker in the ring. In an era where muscle and bulk were seemingly more important than in-ring talent, Hennig stood out as one of the finest mat technicians of the era.
"I think people really respected that character -- work ethic and aggressiveness and athletic ability," he says. "That's why people remember Mr. Perfect.

"I like taking control and being in charge out there. That's what I do and that's why guys like me are hard to find. I'm not being braggadocios on myself; that's the real bottom-line truth. They need leaders in that ring, and I love to be creative like that."

Hennig's combination of athleticism, charisma and skill soon catapulted him to the top of the card, and it wasn't long before Hennig was feuding with Hulk Hogan, in what he calls the greatest run of his career.
His upward climb continued, and in the days following WrestleMania VI, Mr. Perfect won a tournament final to become Intercontinental Champion. He would again capture the title that December, and reigned as champion for 14 out of 17 months in 1990 and 1991.

Heading into the summer of 1991, Hennig was the Intercontinental Champion. But a freak injury suffered during a match would send him to the injured list, and would nearly end his career.
"The turnbuckles weren't lined up right one time, and I hit real hard on the turnbuckles, and it bulged a disc in my back and broke my tailbone," he says. "My whole left leg went numb. I had actually gone so far as to cutting all my hair off, since I thought that was the end of the line for me."

Hennig took two months off to rehabilitate his back, but was still in a great deal of pain. He asked Vince McMahon if he could just tape a backstage segment where he would forfeit over the belt, but Vince asked him to come back and compete one more time to drop the title to Bret Hart at SummerSlam.

"To tell the truth, at that time, I couldn't even really rotate my body," Hennig remembers. "And Vince says, 'Well, I want you to wrestle. I don't care if you go three minutes or whatever; I just need you to wrestle.' And I actually said to Bret Hart, 'You know what? I'm going to do this for you, and I'm going to do this for the business.' So I did what I had to do, had a couple of beers, which took care of the pain a little bit. And when you get in front of that crowd, the pain dissipates.

I believe we went over 20 minutes, and although I've had better matches with Bret Hart when I was healthier, it was pretty damn good."

After SummerSlam, Hennig took another few months off to rehab his back, which was still severely injured. As 1991 came to a close, Mr. Perfect was brought back to WWE not as a wrestler, but as the executive consultant for Ric Flair, who had debuted with the company that August.

The trio of Hennig, Flair and Bobby "The Brain" Heenan proved to be a successful and popular one, and Hennig and Heenan soon led Flair to the WWE Championship.

"I learned a lot from Bobby and Ric," Hennig says. "Where else can a guy get that kind of experience? Bobby Heenan to me is the funniest man on the planet, and very smart about the wrestling business. Ric Flair is just a legend. The three of us together, it was non-stop, and I still have a smile on my face from that."

While injured, Hennig also had the opportunity to become a color commentator for WWE television broadcasts, even working alongside Vince McMahon.

"That was probably the greatest experience of all," he says. "I got to be behind the scenes a little bit, and see how the programming works. Man, what I learned there -- you can't get that kind of education in any college."
Hennig also thinks that he helped improve the relationship between "the boys" and "the office."

"I was kind of a mediator there between the production and the wrestlers," he says. "They started to come together more, and I think I was a major influence on that, because I was a wrestler turned commentator. It was the beginning stages back then, and they really got it down now. Production people and Superstars -- we need everyone here working together."

As 1992 was coming to a close, Flair and Razor Ramon were set to take on Randy Savage and the Ultimate Warrior in the main event of the Survivor Series pay-per-view. But just days before the show, the Warrior left the company. So plans were changed, and Mr. Perfect was turned babyface to take Warrior's spot in the match. It was the first time that the Mr. Perfect character had ever been a fan favorite.

"I didn't want to do it," Hennig admits. "Mr. Perfect is just a natural prick. When I'm in character, something inside me just wants to pieface everybody. Curt Hennig, I'm a pretty nice guy, but when I get to be Mr. Perfect, it's on.

Over the next four years, Hennig spent some time in the ring -- "My head wasn't into it, because I knew I wasn't 100 percent," he says -- and also spent some time doing color commentary.
Then, shortly after the 1996 Survivor Series, he left WWE and jumped to WCW. At the time that he left, he was part of a high-profile storyline with Triple H, having helped The Game to win his first Intercontinental Championship. But just weeks later, the Perfect One had jumped to WCW, appearing live on an episode of Nitro.

"I got offered a deal from Turner Broadcasting for a lot of money," he says. "Also, my personal life had to be tended to. I was in this business for the money, but now I know it's all about the family life here in WWE. It's not that I left the family; I just had to take a leave of absence for a bit."

The partnership between Hennig and Triple H was set to be The Game's first big "push," after months of toiling in opening matches. When Hennig left for WCW, it meant that Triple H would have to wait even longer for his big opportunity.

"Obviously at the time it seemed like a big deal to me, but everything seemed to work out all right," smiles Triple H.

Hennig says there was never any heat between him and Triple H after he left, and there was also no heat between him and Vince McMahon.

"I had a meeting with Vince, we shook hands, and there was no problem," Hennig says.

Hennig says he felt strongly for WWE and the people in it that when he left the company, he gave little award statues to everyone at WWE's television facility, to thank them for all their help over the years.

Soon after, Hennig made his WCW debut. He competed as "Curt Hennig," since WWE owned the rights to the "Mr. Perfect" persona. He participated in a number of different storylines, being a member of both the Four Horsemen and the nWo during his tenure.
Hennig says he considers his time in WCW a success financially, but a debacle creatively.

"It was great money-wise, but production-wise, nothing made any sense," Hennig says. "If you had a good idea, they would do whatever they could to bury it. So I just did my time and kept smiling."

Perhaps the most memorable thing he was involved in as part of WCW was the "Rap is Crap" storyline in 1999. WCW had just signed rap star Master P in an attempt to gain more mainstream fans, and Hennig was set to portray a redneck who hated rap and preferred country.

The idea was for fans to boo Hennig and support Master P. But that's not exactly how it played out.

"They let me by chance go out and do some commentary," he says. "Well, it just came out of me -- 'Yeah, rap is crap, it's ruining the youth of America.' And 'Rap is Crap' caught on, and Jimmy Hart wrote a little song, and then I added a little bit to it, then I said, 'You know, that's good, let me sing it.' It's so bad, it's good!"

Hennig and the "West Texas Rednecks" -- Barry Windham, Kendall Windham, and the late Bobby Duncum Jr. -- were soon one of the most popular groups on WCW television, and their "Rap is Crap" song was soon earning airtime on country radio stations across the country.

"It was so much fun," Hennig smiles. "People backstage that I've never seen smile before, when I was rehearsing, they were smiling. I'm a little bit of a redneck too, but I'm not from the south or anything. But it came out of me, so it had to be in there somewhere."

In late 1999, WCW entered a tailspin, which culminated in its sale to World Wrestling Entertainment in March 2001. Hennig spent much of that time at home with his family, taking some time away from the sport of kings to refocus himself, and also getting into the best shape of his life.

"I took a year and a half just to lift weights and eat right and diet right and be with friends and family and do everything I wanted to do," he says. "And now I know what I need to do in my life to be successful. That's my life; this is what I do."

And now, Mr. Perfect is back where he belongs. Aside from once again capturing the minds of WWE fans, many Superstars agree that Hennig will be a positive force in the WWE locker room.

"Curt tends to lift people's spirits," said Ray "Boss Man" Traylor, who considers Hennig one of his best friends. "That makes for a better work environment. I think he brings out the best in people."

Hennig says he's excited about educating a whole new generation of Superstars about the business, and looks forward to giving back to the business that has given so much to him.

"It seems like a really good group of guys here now," Hennig says. "Everyone smiles and keeps their head up, and I'm here to help enforce that. And I think that's part of the reason Vince brought me back."

More than anything else, Hennig is a survivor. He's battled through various injuries to be a top performer for the past 20 years.

And he says he's looking forward to the next stage of his career, perhaps more than any other.

"Still, after 20 years in the business, I'm in great shape, I have all my hair, I have no cavities -- I have all the right things in all the right places," Hennig says. "That's what makes me Mr. Perfect."

"There's going to be a time when I can't do it anymore physically or mentally. But I don't see any end close near now. I've done some crazy things bumping around that ring, and some of the old-timers used to tell me, 'Hey kid -- by the time you're 40, you're going to be in a wheelchair.' I've been pretty lucky -- I might be the luckiest guy ever in this business.

"It's a great thing to be cupped in the hands of World Wrestling Entertainment. I was here in 1982, I was here in 1992, and now I'm here in 2002. I'm the only guy. It's a great feeling, and hopefully, everything will work out. I'm really looking forward to it."



RAW May 2002

Article originally published in RAW Magazine,
May 2002 edition

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