Curt Hennig: living up to the moniker Mr. Perfect can be a demanding
order, yet the late wrestler-more often than not-fit the description
Wrestling Digest Tribute
June 2003 by Steve Anderson
The height of most wrestlers' careers is becoming the world
heavyweight champion. Curt Hennig achieved that pinnacle in 1987 when
the American Wrestling Association pushed him to the top of their
just eight years into his young career.
Moves to WWE and WCW saw the second-generation star hold positions of
prominence, but never as the proverbial "crown jewel." In WWE, he
became "Mr. Perfect," a wrestler who could do no wrong. In WCW, he was
a Horseman, an NWO loyalist, and a West Texas Redneck.
Fans marveled at his work rate, which was considered by many to be the
best in the industry. They also loved his cockiness and brashness.
His peers both loved and grew frustrated with his backstage
antics, which included many ribs and pranks at their expense.
A life lived so fully ended so quickly in a Brandon, Fla., hotel room
on February 10, 2003. Hennig was getting ready to compete in a taping
of Jimmy Harts All-Star Wrestling. But the wrestler who wowed the world
as "Mr. Perfect" was dead at the age of 44 of an acute cocaine overdose.
Mourning and Remembering
"We lost one of our fraternity brothers tonight," Jimmy Hart told The
Tampa Tribune. "He's a major star. It's unbelievable. Everyone is in
' The news sent shockwaves throughout the industry. Family,
fans, and friends of Hennig were both struggling for answers and
memorializing the late wrestler.
Hart chose to immediately pay tribute to Hennig by continuing with the
show hours after Hennig died, "I know Curt would want us to go on."
Verne Gagne, who was instrumental in training the up-and-coming star,
offered his own memories of Hennig to The Minneapolis Star Tribune, "He
worked out, trained hard, and he became pretty good. He didn't have
much of an amateur background, to the best of my knowledge, but he took
to the pro style very well. He was a good athlete and he picked up
things quickly-like getting thrown out of the ring at different angles
leaping off the top rope. With a wrestler not as athletic as he was,
that takes time."
Tag-team partner and ring foe Greg Gagne praised Hennig as well,
saying, "We lost a good competitor. He was good for the sport of
NWA/TNA, the last major promotion that Hennig worked for, issued a
release immediately following the tragic news.
"The entire TNA family is saddened to hear of the passing of Curt
Hennig. During the time he spent with us he touched us all with his
humor and his competitive spirit. He was a great champion and someone
we were proud to be associated with. He will be deeply missed by all
of us. Our thoughts and prayers are with his family."
Even Sean "Syxx-Pac" Waltman paid tribute to his friend in an open
letter published on the Pro Wrestling Torch Web site. "Today one of my
best friends died. And today a bridge between the past and the future
of our business has been lost. Curt Hennig is a personality that could
light up even the most dismal locker room. He was perhaps the funniest
person I know."
A "Perfect" Career
Wrestling was several years away from mainstream popularity
when Curt Hennig debuted in the sport in 1979. While he cut his teeth
in Minnesota, he did briefly venture into WWE as a preliminary
competitor, putting over various stars of the late `70s.
By the mid-`80s, Hennig was becoming a star in his own fight in the
American Wrestling Association, competing alongside his father, Larry
"the Axe" Hennig, from time to time. Hennig was hyped as another
wrestler who chose the sweet science instead of rule-breaking, similar
to the philosophies of the Gagne family. Feuding with the ring villains
of the AWA, his first taste of championship gold came when he and Scott
Hall captured the AWA world tag-team title from Jimmy Garvin and Steve
Regal in 1986.
A year later, Hennig was becoming more aggressive in his ring, style,
having been the victim of many heel attacks and screw-job decisions,
including a count-out decision that cost him the tag-team championship.
In early 1987, Hennig surprised many a wrestling fan by turning on
frequent tag-team partner Greg Gagne. By May of that year, he allied
with Larry Zbysko and captured the AWA world-heavyweight title,
the legendary Nick Bockwinkel.
At the time Vince McMahon was on the hunt for stars of other wrestling
promotions to add to his WWE roster. While Hennig was not a sculpted,
muscleman brawler, he did fit the bill for a "perfectionist" scientific
wrestler. "Mr. Perfect" was born in 1988, as Hennig bolted the AWA for
the greener pastures of WWE.
Video vignettes revealed Hennig's ability to play pool, hit
home runs, and shoot baskets in a very perfect fashion. But it was
in the ring that Hennig earned his reputation for near perfection. Yes,
he had a gimmick that stripped him of his name, but he showed that he
was a wrestler with a `solid scientific foundation. While Hulk Hogan
and the Ultimate Warrior had a greater share of the spotlight, Hennig
was gaining a following on a worldwide stage.
He enjoyed an initial feud with Hogan over the WWE world title, which
featured Hennig destroying the championship belt on a nationally
televised "Saturday Night's Main Event." Some say that his antics
created what became the hardcore championship many years later.
He never captured the world title, but in the spring of 1990, Hennig
nabbed the intercontinental title in a tournament for the vacant strap.
He also added Bobby "the Brain" Heenan as his manager.
While not at the top of the card, Hennig had heat. Fans hated the
persona that Hennig portrayed, but loved the pure wrestler underneath
it. Hennig enjoyed a lengthy run as intercontinental champion, but a
nagging back injury would interrupt his career. A consummate
Hennig dropped the strap to Bret Hart at Summerslam on August 26, 1991.
Mr. Perfect was in pain, but he bumped around the ring like a wrestler
Hennig took time off to recover and served in a non-wrestling role as
Ric Flair's executive consultant, but when the Ultimate Warrior
abruptly departed WWE in November of 1991, Hennig was called back into
Hennig enjoyed his first run as a WWE babyface. He would make sporadic
appearances in the promotion for the next several years, but never
experienced another run like the one enjoyed from 1988 to 1991.
In 1997, Hennig showed up in WCW as a supposed Horseman, but eventually
became a member of the hated NWO. He captured the United States
championship during his brief time with the clique. As the NWO broke
up and reunited several times, Hennig moved on to other things. He
his real-life love of country music and formed the West Texas Rednecks
with Barry Windham and Bobby Duncum Jr. While the group enjoyed heel
status, Hennig immediately found favor with the fans when he picked an
in-ring fight with rap star Master P in the summer of 1999.
After the demise of the Rednecks and WCW as a separate promotion,
Hennig joined the "whatever happened to" file. He wrestled in various
start-up and independent promotions before finally returning to the WWE
in January of 2002 at the Royal Rumble. While it was initially
considered a one-time shot for WWE fans to see an old, familiar face,
Hennig earned a spot on the WWE roster.
But by May, Hennig was out after the infamous "Plane Ride from Hell"
where he tussled with Brock Lesnar during an overseas flight. Hennig
next showed up in NWA/TNA and a few independent promotions.
An interview in January of 2003 revealed his desire to possibly return
to WWE, perhaps by Wrestlemania 19.
That would not happen.
Goodbye, Mr. Perfect
Hennig passed from this world in an uncharacteristically quiet fashion
on February 10. One of the greatest wrestlers, pranksters, and ribbers
was gone suddenly. His death came at a young age, but Hennig packed a
full life in those brief 44 years. Love. success, and a zest for
life. There will ever be another Mr. Perfect. There will never be
another Curt Hennig.
Perhaps the closing words of Sean Waltman's online tribute sum up
everyone's feelings when it comes to the life and death of Curt Hennig.
"I learned many valuable lessons from Curt Hennig, and I believe he
taught me one thing above all else: It's how you live, not how you die,
and you never know when your number is up, so don't think you'll do
something tomorrow because there may not be one."
Heaven just got a little more perfect.
A Perfect Title History
* January 18, 1986: AWA world tag-team champion (with Scott
* May 2, 1987: AWA world heavyweight champion
* April 23, 1990-November 19, 1990: WWE intercontinental champion
* September 15, 1997: WCW United States champion
* February 21, 1999: WCW world tag-team champion (with Barry Windham)
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