|Curtis Axel, Intercontinental champion, earlier this month in San Jose. Photo by Devin Chen, www.chdevinphotos.com
Since his career has been under the guidance of Paul Heyman, Curtis Axel has shown he can step up to the plate and deliver, claiming the Intercontinental title. But this isn't enough for the third-generation wrestler.
"Winning the title was huge for me but also for all my family, my grandpa. It was a very big deal for me. And now, my next goal is to do something my dad never did and is to win the WWE championship," Axel told SLAM! Wrestling in an interview to promote WWE's show in Montreal in a week.
On June 16, 2013 -- Father's Day -- Axel won his first singles title in the WWE, defeating Wade Barrett and The Miz at the Payback PPV to grab the Intercontinental title, a title his dad, Mr. Perfect, held twice before.
"Winning the Intercontinental belt was just awesome. Fandango was supposed to be in the match, but he got hurt and I was his replacement," explained Axel. "In the week building up to it, I was thinking that we would become the first father and son duo Intercontinental champions, the championship my dad made famous. It was emotions I can't even explain."
Born Joe Hennig on October 1, 1979, Axel is the son of Curt Hennig, better known to WWE fans as Mr. Perfect and grandson of Larry "The Axe" Hennig, a star wrestler from the '60s and '70s, known for his work in the AWA.
If he started in the WWE as Michael McGillicutty, his new persona amplifies the fact he's a third-generation wrestler, pretty much like The Rock when he wrestled as Rocky Maivia. But for Axel, it doesn't mean more pressure at the end of the day.
"It's not really pressure. First of, every time a second or third generation wrestler comes in the WWE, there's always some pressure because of their dad's legacy, but it's not more now than when I first started as Michael McGillicutty," explained Axel. "At the time, I had to prove myself. Now, my talent has been recognized, I was able to prove myself so the name doesn't add any pressure. I just do my things and do the best I can."
Being the son and grandson of such legends, one can wonder if he got any advices from his dad before his passing away in 2003 or even right now from his grandpa.
"The best advice wrestling-wise my dad told me was that the business wasn't easy, that I'd have to bust my ass. He kind of put it in my head that it's not for everybody, but that if I wanted to try it, to go for it. If it works, it works, if it doesn't, it doesn't," said Axel who started wrestling a few years after his dad died in February 2003.
"I talk to my grandpa twice a week. He's my biggest supporter, but also my biggest critic. He's so old-school, you know, his style was hard-knocked, rugged. He gives me lots of advice. I just take what I like. It such a different era now. Wrestling is so different. But I just love to talk to him."
Ted DiBiase Jr. and Joe Hennig team in Waterloo, Iowa, in July 2007. Photo by Greg Oliver
Mr. Perfect was known for his work ethic. He's still considered to this day one of the best wrestling technicians that ever laced on boots, and a tremendous bump-taker. Is there anyone Axel would've liked to wrestle from his dad's generation?
"Arn Anderson. I talk to him once in a while here and he's just awesome. Rick Rude too. He was one of my favourites growing up. All of my dad's friends actually. They are the people I grew up with. Arn, Rude, the Nasty Boys, Big Bossman."
Next Friday, September 6th, WWE makes its return to Montreal after nearly a full year. If no matches have been publicly announced, Axel ended the interview with a scoop for the SLAM! readers.
"I'm actually going to wrestle against CM Punk in a no-DQ match and if you watched Raw last Monday, the beat down Punk received, that's what the fans can expect in Montreal."
Another third-generation wrestler will be on hand in Montreal as the WWE champion Randy Orton will be in town, along with Daniel Bryan, The Shield, Rob Van Dam, Mark Henry and Big Show.
Tickets for this live event can be bought from Evenko.
Hennig family story archive
Pat Laprade is the co-author of Mad Dogs, Midgets and Screw Jobs, a book on the history of the Montreal wrestling territory. He can be reached at email@example.com, on his Facebook page and on Twitter.