Being the son of a legendary WWE Hall of Famer doesn’t give you any free passes with Vince McMahon — just ask former WWE superstar Curtis Axel!
Joe Hennig, better known to WWE fans as Curtis Axel, once said in an interview with Sports Illustrated’s Justin Barrasso that it was a cursed blessing being the son of Curt Hennig. "It isn’t easy trying to live up to what my father accomplished–for Christ’s sake, my dad’s name was ‘Mr. Perfect!’"
Although Axel hasn’t reached the professional heights of his father, it doesn’t mean that he hasn’t been happy with his role in the WWE.
"We’re constantly compared, and I couldn’t be prouder to be his son, but I’m not trying to be my father. It’s a common misconception, because my father is a Hall of Famer and a major star in this business, that the path was paved for me. But that’s the furthest thing from the truth."
"Some generational guys start their training on the WWE payroll, but I didn’t."
How Curtis Axel Got His Start in Wrestling
Curtis Axel trained under the tutelage of Brad Rheingans, Harley Race, and his father, Curt. On July 13th, 2007, he made his debut in Harley’s World League Wrestling promotion out of Troy, Missouri. Making his in-ring debut in a tag match alongside Ted DiBiase Jr., he would go on a nine-month singles unbeaten streak before being handed his first loss courtesy of a wrestler by the name of Wade Chism.
After accepting his father’s WWE Hall of Fame award on his behalf on March 31st, 2007, he would sign a developmental deal with WWE. He would soon be sent to Florida Championship Wrestling (FCW) in 2008, WWE’s old developmental territory.
Joe Hennig would find success in FCW, winning the FCW Florida Heavyweight Championship once and FCW Florida Tag Team Championship four times alongside Gabe Tuft, Health Miller (Slater), Brett DiBiase (younger brother of Ted Jr.), and Kaval (Low-Ki).
Under the awe-inspiring name "Michael McGillicutty," Hennig took part in the second season of NXT, being paired with Kofi Kingston as his pro. Not long later, he would join the faction "The Nexus" and move onto the main roster as Curtis Axel.
Axel would win his only singles WWE title, the Intercontinental Championship, on Fathers Day in 2013, making him and Mr. Perfect the only father-son duo to win the IC title in WWE history. This would mark Axel’s highest-reached accolade as a singles competitor within the company.
After that, Axel remained mostly in the tag team division, teaming with the likes of Ryback (RybAxel), Damien Sandow (The Meta Powers), Heath Slater, Adam Rose, and Bo Dallas (The Social Outcasts, Miztourage, and The B-Team). With The B-Team, he and Bo Dallas won and held onto the Raw Tag Team Championship for 50 days.
Being Tested by Vince McMahon
Ring announcer and professional wrestler Ricardo Rodriguez worked in the WWE system from 2010 until 2014. During his time with the company, he was a witness to a lot of happenings behind the scenes, and he had many fascinating stories to share about Vince, in particular, in his highly recommended interview with RF Video in 2014:
"[Vince McMahon is] still the boss. You just have to find an elegant way to approach him.
"Vince, to us, was amazing, and he helped me out a lot. Granted, if for whatever reason the segment before us pissed him off, there goes the rest of the show for the rest of the guys because now he’s upset. So now, any little bad thing that [you] do, [you’re] going to get the bad end of it, as well.
"Of course, depending on the mood he was in, for the most part, he was very supportive, and he would always help us out."
Ricardo Rodriguez continued with a story on Curtis Axel (then known as Michael McGillicutty).
"Vince likes it when you stand up for yourself. I remember one instance, specifically. We used to have promo class with Vince. I remember this one because I was brand new, so I just stood off to the corner by myself quietly and watched.
"[Vince] kept walking by Curtis Axel. Axel had his foot out, and Vince would just step on his foot on purpose and keep walking. He’d keep talking and walking, come back, step on his foot, boom, keep walking and talking, step on his foot again, repeat.
"Eventually, [Vince] just turned around and was like, ‘Aren’t you going to say anything?’
"Curtis Axel was just like, ‘Sorry, sir.’
"Vince was like, ‘No, no, no, no. You don’t know what I’m doing! I’m stepping on your foot on purpose as I want you to say something. I’m waiting for you to stand up for yourself.’"
Ricardo Rodriguez continued, "Vince likes it when you have a problem, you address it. He doesn’t like it when you become a little bitch. Vince would just do that on purpose. He would step on your foot just to see if you would do something."
In this instance, Vince McMahon hoped Curtis Axel would have the gumption to stand up for himself. Instead, Axel responded politely, which didn’t earn him any brownie points with the boss. Sometimes the best antidote for intimidation is to intimidate the intimidator.
Did you know? Kofi Kingston once threatened to fight Vince McMahon. This was, of course, fueled by a bit of liquid courage. 4-hours of drinking Jack Daniels can bring valor out of anyone! Still, Kofi stood up to his boss, and in the process, gained his respect.
Curtis Axel Outside of Wrestling
On April 30th, 2020, Curtis Axel was released from his WWE contract due to budget cuts stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic. This would make an end to his 13-year tenure with the company.
Outside of the ring, Curtis Axel finds much happiness with his wife Brooke and their three sons. He also enjoys fishing and playing fantasy football.
The above quote from Ricardo Rodriguez comes from a long-form article of ours entitled, Vince McMahon – 3 Times He Intimidated Wrestlers in WWE. This one is well worth the read!
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