411’s Wrestling Hall of Fame Class of 2010: Mr Perfect Curt Hennig
Curt Hennig was born with professional wrestling flowing through his veins. One of five children born to Larry “The Axe” Hennig, Curt excelled in many different sports including college football but was a natural in the sport of wrestling.
He started his training with former NCAA champion and Olympian Brad Rheingans where he became close friends with fellow second generation wrestler Greg Gagne. He moved on to Verne Gagne’s wrestling camp and got an invitation to participate in some local shows. He wrestled for short time locally when Vince McMahon Sr. gave him a call.
Hennig went and wrestled for McMahon, including a chance to wrestle Mr. Fuji at Madison Square Garden. At this point, he knew this was what he wanted to do with his life. It was during this time his wife gave birth to his first son, a delivery Hennig made sure not to miss. His wife brags that, regardless of where he was wrestling at the time, his family always came first and he never missed a child’s birth.
Following his stint in the WWE, Hennig went to the NWA: Pacific Northwest where he finally had a chance to team with his father. The two went on to win the Pacific Northwest Tag Team Championship from Rip Oliver and Matt Borne. Curt also won two more tag team titles (with Buddy Rose and Pat McGhee) and later defeated Shiek Ali Hassen for the Pacific Coast title.
Next, he made his way to his father’s old stomping grounds, the AWA. At the start of his successful stint there, Curt specialized as a tag team wrestler. He teamed with his dad to score an upset win over the Road Warriors while also teaming with Greg Gagne on occasion. He won his first title in the AWA when he joined forces with newcomer Big Scott Hall, a rough and tumble cowboy with a Tom Selleck mustache. The two defeated Steve Regal and Jimmy Garvin in 1986 for the belts and held them for four months.
When they dropped the belts, Hall left the AWA to become the Diamond Stud in WCW. Curt remained and set his eyes on World Champion Nick Bockwinkel. Bockwinkel and Hennig went to a 60-minute draw in an early match that Greg Gagne recalls made Curt Hennig a star.
In 1987, Hennig defeated Nick Bockwinkel for his only World Championship. The match was won, in large part, due to outside interference by Larry Zbyszko but Hennig took a step at that point in his career and progressed into one of the greatest wrestlers in the world. He took on the persona of a cocky bad-guy and held the title for a year. Jerry “The King” Lawler finally defeated him in what the King considers the favorite match of his career. Hennig departed for the WWF after this.
Vince McMahon met with Hennig to decide on his gimmick and the two came up with the Mr. Perfect persona. The story is that McMahon asked what Hennig liked to do and he responded everything. When McMahon asked what he was best at, he said everything. This led to a series of promos that depicted him being perfect at everything from bowling to darts to baseball.
The promo that Hennig became best known for was hitting a homerun in front of baseball hall of famer Wade Boggs, who called him “Absolutely Perfect.” Boggs is the man who would go on to induct Hennig into the WWE Hall of Fame and admits he never believed Hennig would actually hit a homerun. Then, when the camera was rolling, Hennig knocked it out of the park much to Boggs’ amazement.
Hennig’s relationship with Boggs went beyond the vignettes. Hennig and Boggs became close friends and routinely went hunting together. On one specific trip, Hennig and Boggs set out together and came across a barbwire fence. Boggs tried to go over the fence and got his legs tangled, flipping upside down. Hennig worked to free Boggs and found the barbwire had sliced his leg open. Hennig carried Boggs three quarters of a mile to their trucks and drive him to the hospital. Boggs says the doctor informed him he would have bled to death if Curt had not been there to help him.
Bruce Pritchard admits the perfect promos were not always perfect. He admits that when the cameras were not rolling, Hennig could do everything perfect but when the recording started, Curt couldn’t hit anything. Despite the lack of reality of the promos, they were enough to set the table for Hennig to debut in the WWE as their newest star in 1988.
When he showed up on WWF television, he was in a tough situation. He advertised himself as a perfect wrestler and he would live or die by how his in-ring abilities matched that persona. Luckily, he had no worries. Arn Anderson commented that anyone who fought Hennig had the best match of his life that night. No less than Bret Hart, Shawn Michaels and Randy Savage consider Hennig the best technical wrestler of his generation.
On April 23, 1990, Hennig defeated Tito Santana to capture the Intercontinental Championship and hired Bobby “The Brain” Heenan as his “Prefect” manager. Hennig held the title on two separate occasions, reigning as champion for nine months the second time around. During his reign, he had a fantastic feud with Bret Hart providing some of the best matches of either man’s career. It is perfect that the man who defeated Hennig for the title was also his greatest opponent.
On August 26, 1991 at Summerslam, Curt Hennig dropped the title to Bret Hart thanks in large part to a back injury Curt suffered prior to their encounter. The match was spectacular and one that Edge says influenced him in his quest to become a wrestler. Hennig was injured but felt he owed it to Bret and the WWF to show up and give it his all. It ended up being one of the greatest matches in Summerslam history.
Hennig moved on to the announcer’s booth and was a perfect color commentator. This would lead to him becoming Ric Flair’s executive consultant. It was a new life for Hennig, allowing him to continue to entertain despite his injuries. He moved on to helping a green Triple H improve his career but soon Hennig’s WWE stay came to an end and he moved on to WCW.
This also allowed Curt Hennig to move back into active competition. He started a feud with the Four Horseman when he betrayed them after they offered him Arn Anderson’s spot in the group. Hennig then joined the nWo in the biggest angle of the era. His back injury seemed to be behind him as Curt began to have great matches once again with just about anyone he stepped in the ring with.
Hennig captured the U.S. Championship and seemed to have his active career back on track. After the nWo angle concluded, he moved into an angle with the West Texas Rednecks and the “Rap is Crap” tour. His son calls this angle the best thing he had ever seen and Curt seemed to be having the time of his life. Unfortunately, it also marked the beginning of the end to his mainstream career as WCW’s booking began to falter.
He made a return to the WWE in the Royal Rumble and dominated the Rumble, becoming one of the final three competitors. He won a spot on the roster after that big return. This lasted until his release on May 5, 2002. He worked for TNA and well as in various independent promotions until he was found dead in a hotel room in Tampa, Florida on the morning of February 10, 2003. The cause of death was a cocaine overdose.
On March 31, 2007 Hennig was inducted posthumously into the WWE Hall of Fame. His induction received a standing ovation when Wade Boggs brought Hennig’s family onto the stage to accept the award. His life ended tragically but no one can deny his abilities as a wrestler and entertainer. He is one of the greatest wrestlers to ever live and is worthy of any professional wrestling hall of fame.