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
"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
"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
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
"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
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
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
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
"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 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,
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
"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
"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."
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Article originally published in
May 2002 edition