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Hennig Remembered, RAW, Austin's
Already Back, and More...
February 12, 2003

by Rick Scaia
Exclusive to OnlineOnslaught.com


Curt Hennig Retrospective

On Monday afternoon, Curt Hennig was found dead in his Tampa, FL, hotel room.  He was in town to work on a Jimmy Hart-promoted wrestling event that night.  Hennig was 44 years old. [I incorrectly said Hennig was 43 in my hastily-prepared Ticker item on Monday.]

As far as circumstances of his death go, little is known for certain.  On Monday morning, he did arrange a lunch date, though some reports also now indicate he was complaining of severe stomach/gas pains at that time.  When Hennig did not make the scheduled lunch, a search of his hotel room found him dead.

Though it is inappropriate to jump to conclusions at this point, I think it is fair to say that a 44-year-old man who was still in ring-shape should not just expire...  Hennig went through a tough period about 10 years ago, when a severe back condition forced him out of action for over a year.  It becomes difficult to dismiss that fact when one considers the prevalence of self-medication in the wrestling business.  And to say Hennig was also a guy who knew how to have fun on the road would be something of an understatement, as well.

But while mentioning that slant, it's only fair to also mention that no less a friend than Sean "X-Pac" Waltman -- who hailed from Minnesota, like Hennig, and was taken under Hennig's wing when he started up in the WWF in 1993 -- has already publicly eulogized Hennig and has taken a stand against pundits who will make unfair judgments and accusations in the wake of Hennig's death.

In a guest column at PWTorch.com, Waltman said, "A lot of people are going to use this as there reason to get back up on their soap boxes and talk about how bad wrestling is. Well, go ahead if it makes you feel like you are doing good. I know from living the life that things will be always be the way they have always been. Right or wrong. We all know and freely choose the road we travel through life on. Curt knew better than anyone, Just like I do and so many others that are here today or that have passed away."  You can read into that what you want, and you should also check out the entire guest column by Waltman right here.

For me, I've long contended that as fans, we have a right to wish our superstars behaved more responsibly.  But at the same time, I've dismissed that fans or experts or pundits or that Phil Mushnick guy have any right to INSIST that grown men behave in a certain way.  Individuals make decisions, and we must respect their right to do so, even if we do not respect the decision itself.  And then, the individual (and not a company, or the wrestling industry, or anybody else) assumes responsibility for that decision.  In this way, I believe I'm in complete agreement with Waltman...  and at this time, I make the decision to not jump to any specific conclusions, nor to make any rash judgments.

Another thing Waltman said was something about it being more important to remember how Hennig lived than how he died.  And in that, I guess I'll agree, too... afterall, Hennig was one of my absolute favorite wrestlers for a 5 year span of time, and to cover his death without paying homage to some of those great moments would be a travesty.  So...

My first memory of Curt Hennig came from watching AWA shows on ESPN... I was probably about 12, and I'd get home from school just in time to watch the 4pm AWA show, if I felt like it.  And while the dingy production values and small crowds didn't usually inspire me to watch religiously, I was entranced by a feud for the AWA World Title between Jerry Lawler and Curt Hennig.  It helped, I think, that this seemed to play to bigger crowds, and involved Lawler -- who I'd read alot about in PWI and magazines like that.

Hennig had been the champion for a while, but when they imported this guy Lawler, I figured Hennig was in over his head.  I don't remember being a fan of Curt's at this point, but I do remember adopting a bit of underdog sympathy for him when AWA brought in the ringer from Memphis.  After a while, Lawler finally got the title away from Hennig (I vaguely recall a minor bit of controversy), and then within a couple of months, the AWA was gone from ESPN entirely, replaced by the GWF.

But at the same time the GWF replaced AWA, this Curt Hennig guy started showing up on WWF TV.  First, he was without much of a gimmick; he was put over by Gorilla Monsoon as the talented son of Larry "the Ax" Hennig, and that was about it.  But within a few months, a persona developed: "Mr. Perfect."  It was lucky that Hennig was never booked to lose during those initial, gimmick-free weeks, because as soon as he started taping vignettes (making holes-in-one, shooting half-court shots, and most memorably, throwing a 60-yard long bomb to the only perfect receiver he could trust... himself!), the character took off.
As "Mr. Perfect," Hennig boasted an undefeated record, some really majestic entrance music, and exhibited a cockiness that, for some reason, I found really entertaining.  Hennig became only the second heel I ever cheered for in my young, mark-ish existence.  [Roddy Piper was the first.]  And with Ricky Steamboat long gone, and almost forgotten (his eventual return to the NWA didn't spark much interest in me, I'm sad to say, since I perceived the TBS show as second-rate at that time), that left "Mr. Pefect" to assume the role of my most favorite wrestler in the world.

So imagine my joy as Perfect remained undefeated and basically tore up the WWF mid-card ranks in 1989.  A feud with Hulk Hogan for the WWF Title eventually brought an end to the undefeated streak, however...  I was devastated when Hogan was able to kick out of the PerfectPlex, as I'd been sure that Hennig would score the win after he'd hit that move.  But no.  

Streak ended, Perfect spun his wheels for a bit in the first quarter of 1990, but was rejuvenated immediately after WrestleMania.  The InterContinental title was put up for grabs in a tournament (because the Ultimate Warrior had unified the IC and WWF Titles, and was ruled unable to defend both)...  Hennig wound up aligning himself with new manager, Bobby "the Brain" Heenan, and won the title, defeating Tito Santana in the finals.

From there, Hennig managed to go on to dominate the IC Title picture for the next 16 months.  He did drop the strap to Kerry von Erich, but regained it in short order.  Then, in 1991, Hennig began to suffer a painful lower back condition that limited the length and quality of his matches.  Unsure of how long he'd be able to continue to work, the WWF entered him into a feud with newly single Bret "the Hitman" Hart.  Fresh from dissolving the popular Hart Foundation tag team, Bret wasn't quite a mega-babyface at this point, but the hope was that the IC Title feud would put him over the top.

Looking back with 20/20 hindsight, you can't really argue with the results.  Despite Hennig's bad back, the two second-generation stars put on a kick-ass match at SummerSlam '91, in which Hennig tapped out to a brand-new submission move, the Sharpshooter.  Hart's IC Title reign wound up including feuds with the Mountie, Roddy Piper, and Davey Boy Smith, and launched him into the WWF Title picture just about a year later.  On the flip side, Hennig's loss foreshadowed over a year on the sideline, rehabbing his bad back.

Within months, however, Hennig was back on TV in a non-wrestling capacity.  Bobby Heenan, his old manager, had brought Ric Flair to the WWF, but had also retired from active managing the year before.  Since Heenan would not making all the house shows at Flair's side, Hennig was booked as Flair's "Executive Consultant," a surrogate manager who could interfere in his matches and basically do all the necessary heelish things in Heenan's absence.  Together, they cut a wide swath, winning the WWF Title, messing with the head of Randy Savage ("Flair Had Elizabeth First" was one of my favorite angles of that timeframe), and basically keeping Flair positioned as a top challenger even when Savage/Warrior was the headline Title feud.

It all came crashing down about the time of Survivor Series '92, however.  When Warrior left the promotion, Savage was left without a partner in the PPV main event against Ric Flair and Razor Ramon...  Perfect's name was jokingly tossed out as a candidate to take the spot, and when Bobby Heenan laughed a little too hard at the joke, Perfect was upset at the insinuation that he couldn't get back in the ring and take care of business, even if it was against his client, Ric Flair.  So just like that, Curt Hennig was brought back to active duty as a babyface.  Within two months of his return, Mr. Perfect actually defeated Flair in a "Loser Leaves WWF" Match on an early edition of Monday Night RAW.

Unfortunately, that wound up being just about the highlight of his babyface comeback.  A feud against Lex Luger fizzled to nothing when Luger had to do an emergency babyface turn to replace the "Real American" Hulk Hogan in a feud against Yokozuna... and despite really good performances in the ring against Bret Hart in the King of the Ring tourney and against Shawn Michaels (at SummerSlam, in an attempt to win back his IC gold), it seemed like Mr. Perfect had run out of steam.  By the end of 1993, a combination of factors -- I remember creative, money, and health issues were all in play at this time -- led to the end of Hennig's in-ring work for the WWF.

A return as a guest ref at WrestleMania 10 seemed to re-spark the feud against Luger, however.  Hennig, now cast as a heel in a guest referee gig, DQ'ed Luger in a title match against Yokozuna.  But again, it was a dead end, and Hennig never actually launched a full-fledged in-ring return.  Instead, he eventually wound up landing a job as a TV commentator, a position that kept him busy for parts of 1995 and 1996.

As '96 wound down, rumors abounded that Hennig once again felt healthy enough to cash in on wrestling's resurgent popularity as an active wrestler.  The WWF began phasing him into storylines as a consultant/manager, as he seemingly helped to guide Marc Mero to an IC Title win, only to screw Mero over and show his allegiance to Hunter Hearst Helmsley.  Then he sort of screwed them both over by completely removing himself from the storyline as he signed with WCW (where he joined the ballooning ranks of the nWo).

As over-stocked as WCW was at the time, it didn't seem likely that Hennig had any real chance of regaining his 1990 glory... but in late 1997, he did manage to move his way up the card and won the WCW US Title.  Alas, when he lost it to Dallas Page at Starrcade to close out the year, it was just about the end of Hennig's top-level contribution to a national wrestling company.

A slight resurgence in 1999 was completely unintentional.  Eric Bischoff and WCW foolishly doled out huge sums of money to rapper Master P to come in to WCW and lead a faction called The No Limit Soldiers.  The hope was that the cross-over mainstream appeal would help WCW gain an edge over the WWF in the ratings.  Hennig, a country music fan, was tossed out on TV as a sacrificial lamb to pronounce that "Rap is Crap."  But instead of being treated as a heel, most fans -- unimpressed by outsiders like Master P -- cheered Hennig.  The formation of the comically named "West Texas Rednecks" (seeing as how Hennig hailed from Minnesota) only enhanced the unexpected reaction.  The Rednecks, which also included Barry Windham, Kendall Windham, and Bobby Duncam Jr., were turned babyface and were a mild sensation for a while the No Limit Soldiers were phased out.  [Earlier in the year, Hennig had also enjoyed a brief WCW Tag Title reign along with his eventual fellow Redneck, Barry Windham.]

Hennig played no significant role in WCW as it limped through its final year of existence.  After two years out of the spotlight, he once again took the national stage in early 2002, as he made a return to the WWF at the Royal Rumble.  What had been planned as a one-shot deal developed into a longer-term contract, and as "Mr. Perfect" once again, Hennig made it to the Final Four of the Rumble.

Over the next few months, a few attempts were made to recreate a bit of the 1989 magic with vignettes and things like that (this time, with Perfect having to cheat to succeed, to insure his heelishness)... but he never really got the full weight of the WWF promotional machine put behind him.  When he was one of the major instigators of poor behavior on a flight back from a tour of Europe -- including a brawl with Brock Lesnar -- Hennig was considered expendable.  And so the newly-renamed WWE released him in May of 2002.

Hennig was a part of several NWA:TNA PPVs over the latter half of 2002, as well.  He even got to feud with NWA Champ Ron Killings.  At the time of his death, Hennig had not been active in TNA for a while, and was accepting indie bookings -- such as the one he was in Florida for.

On Monday Night, Jimmy Hart's All Star Wrestling show took place as scheduled.  Hennig was remembered with a 10 bell salute, as fans stood in honor of their fallen hero.

Our condolences go out to Curt Hennig's family, friends, and fans.

Some Mid-Week NewsBites

  • Monday's RAW was a fun sort of throw-back show, in my opinion... when wrestling was hitting its stride in 1998-99, the trick was often to have a show promise a major upheaval, but at the end of the night, maintain the status quo.
    Such was the way things played out on Monday.  Eric Bischoff was to be fired, we were promised.  And mid-show, he was.  But by the end of the night, we're right back where we started.  Ha ha, sayeth the creative team, the trick's on you fans!
    Actually, the trick of doing this is making sure the fans don't, at the end of the night, care that they got swerved.  And in this case, I think they did a bang-up job.  The live crowd was eating up even tripe like the return of the Kiss My Ass Club, and I think setting up Austin vs. Bischoff for No Way Out is a particularly genius bit of booking.  I mean, let's face it: the ultra-smarts will approve because this way, you're not rewarding Austin with a win over an established wrestler in his first night back after his temper tanturm... mid-level smarks will buy into it because they remember the way Bischoff fired Austin from WCW in 1995... and average fans at home just want to see Bischoff get the shit kicked out of him.  Everybody wins!
    And if I may:  I never really saw much logic to the rumored Rock/Goldberg match for WM19... isn't Austin/Goldberg the money match with about 5 years of tacit hype behind it?  If a deal could be done with Goldberg, I say bring him in as Bischoff's protection policy at No Way Out, and set up Austin/Goldberg for WM!  But now I'm getting ahead of myself...
    As a wrestling show, RAW was badly lacking, and I grant that.  I thought Jericho/Hardy was an OK main event, but maybe lacking some luster because fans weren't sure they should get behind Jeff or not... the Dudley decimation of Chief Morley was tremendously entertaining, but wasn't exactly a competitive match of any kind...  and I also appreciated the rock solid, non-gimmick women's match between Jazz and Molly.  But when you can expect SD! to promote 2 or 3 matches in a given week that'll blow away the best from RAW, that's just too much of a disparity.
    But I'm trying to keep this a bit shorter, since I did the big long Hennig thing above... so I'll just close by saying that I thought RAW this week was a very effectively storyline show, even if it was lacking in the ring.  Reminded me a lot of 1999....
  • The rating for RAW on Monday was back up to a 3.9, a gain of about a half-point from the prior week.  That's good news...
  • After RAW went off the air on Monday, Steve Austin made his in-arena return to WWE.  Vince left the ring, and the glass shattered...  Austin stormed down the ramp to confront Bischoff, but was cut off by Chief Morley.  Morley got his ass whupped as the crowd lapped it up.
    Austin did his beer-fueled celebration (so much for that probation, eh?) for a while, but was interrupted by Chris Jericho, who wanted to drink a beer with Austin.  Instead, he got a couple Stunners for his trouble, too.  Then Austin drank more beers.  Then he decided to go back and give Morley seconds.   The whole thing went on for a really long time, and was evidence that fans will have no problem welcoming Austin back as a huge babyface. 
  • Spoilers, in case you missed 'em, are right here.
  • Torrie Wilson's Playboy photo shoot is complete, and it will appear in the May edition of the magazine... which conveniently will hit shelves the same week as WrestleMania X-9.  Color me... ummm... we'll say: more interested than I was in either the Chyna or Sable Playboys.
  • Stacy's mysterious "GGW" will hopefully wind up being Girls Gone Wild...  Eric Bischoff is helping to produce the Girls Gone Wild spring break PPV that will air in March, so that would be your connection.
    I know I'm relieved at the connection: when I first heard "GGW" and "exposure" and "testicles" in the same skit, I immediately flashed back to a recent "Guys Gone Wild" gag in The Onion and began vomiting in terror.
  • WWE has announced that they grossed over $4 million from their recent three-show tour of Korea and Japan.  That figure includes ticket and merchandise sales.
    For comparison, a three-show tour of Asia last year grossed $2.6 million... which means either WWE has raised prices substantially, or they played to bigger crowds this time around.  In either case, it's further evidence that there is money to be had overseas.
  • Lastly for today, a quick rundown of what to look for on tonight's NWA:TNA PPV... 
    The company will be producing a tribute to Curt Hennig...  matches will include:  Sonny Siaki vs. Kid Kash for the X-Title, BG James/Mike Sanders/David Flair vs. Ron Killings/Jorge Estrada/Tenacious Z, and an 8-man X Division challengers match... also, TNA has been promising yet another Big Surprise for this week.  With the Styles/Raven/Jarrett three way NWA Title feud picking up steam and the on-going SEX vs. TNA factional feud still chugging along, those are the likely candidates to get the surprise treatment.
    Check it out tonight, or come on back for a full recap tomorrow here on OO.
  • I'll see you again on Friday....



Rick Scaia is a wrestling fan from Dayton, OH.  He's been doing this since 1995, but enjoyed it best when the suckers from SportsLine were actually PAYING him to be a fan.

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