The WWE sure love their bloodlines. From The Rock to Randy Orton, those second and third-generation wrestlers often get their shot at the brass ring, and sometimes, the son outshines the father. Yet as revered as “Mr. Perfect” Curt Hennig deserves to be, Larry Hennig was a legendary champion with an exeptional story of his own!
“I wasn’t the fastest. I wasn’t the strongest. But I was as tough as anyone!”
– Larry Hennig
Larry Hennig: The Early Years
At a burly 6’1″, 275 pounds and more, with a massive twenty-two-inch neck, Larry Hennig was a super heavyweight who was a big man for his day and had legit wrestling skills to back it all up.
A high school athlete, Larry was the Minnesota State Wrestling Champion at Robbinsdale High School in Minnesota in 1954 and earned a scholarship to the University of Minnesota for both wrestling and football.
Not long before, Verne Gagne was the Robbinsdale legend who won state titles and two NCAA titles.
Subsequently, Gagne and old-school shooter Joe Pazandak trained Hennig to become a pro wrestler.
In the early 1960s, Larry entered the AWA, and it wasn’t long before he attained main event stature; he also shared a brief tag team championship reign with Duke Hoffman.
In 1963, Hennig went to Amarillo, Texas, to wrestle for the Funk brothers, and when he came back, he was a rule-breaker.
Along with tag team partner Harley Race, they met with great success as they held the AWA World Tag Team Championship three times.
Hennig was a top-notch promo guy and would state his alliance with Race, “We have the bodies of Hercules, the minds of Einstein, and the faces of the Goddess of Love!”
They battled Verne Gagne and every possible tag team partner archrival Verne came up with.
Hennig also faced Verne one on one many times for the AWA World Championship.
Hennig and Race went their separate ways in the late 1960s, with Harley stating that Hennig didn’t like the endless travel. However, there were brief reunions while Race going solo led him to the NWA title.
Larry Hennig would move on to other partnerships with top stars like Lars Anderson and Dusty Rhodes.
Larry Hennig in the WWWF
Morphing into Larry "The Axe" Hennig during his 1973-74 run in the WWWF, he used the lariat – "The Axe" – as his devastating finisher.
Hennig headlined versus Pedro Morales and Bruno Sammartino for their belts.
He faced Pedro at Madison Square Garden no less than three times and Bruno on top at various venues throughout the East Coast circuit.
On the historic December 10th, 1973, Garden card, when Bruno bested Stan Stasiak to win back the WWWF World Heavyweight Championship, Pedro vanquished Hennig in a lumberjack death match with the Boston Crab.
During this run, Hennig also teamed with former WWWF champion Stasiak in a colorful tag team.
Winding Down: Life Outside of Wrestling
From the beginning, Larry Hennig smartly juggled wrestling with Larry Hennig Realty in St. Cloud, Minnesota; he was also an auctioneer.
Hennig suffered a devastating in-ring knee injury early on, and by the mid-’80s, he was winding down, tag-teaming with his son Curt.
His last major feud was when the father-son duo faced The Road Warriors.
He retired from wrestling in 1986, while Curt tragically passed away in 2003.
"Until you lose one of your family, you never realize the feeling. It’s a sad, sad feeling," Larry stated following the death of his magnificent son.
“I loved him since I was a kid,” New York wrestling historian Scott Wilson noted about Hennig.
And he’s proved just that by having one of the most extensive wrestling collections ever assembled of Hennig memorabilia.
“For me personally, it takes me back to innocent times in my childhood, watching it with my grandfather. I liked watching him in the ring, enjoyed his promos, and just developed an admiration for him."
Wilson went on to describe some of his favorite Hennig moments.
"I enjoyed his matches with Bruno and Pedro and when he and Curt wrestled Nick Bockwinkel and Saito.
“There isn’t much footage of Hennig and Race in the AWA in the 1960s, though. Dick the Bruiser and the Crusher and Butcher and Mad Dog Vachon feuded with them. Hennig and Race against The Sheik and Mark Lewin in Japan was great.”
Larry Hennig was a major territories era headliner known for quality matches who worked in Australia and New Zealand and toured Japan a dozen or so times. “Handsome” Harley Race and “Pretty Boy” Larry Hennig were an all-time great tag team and one of the hottest of their era.
On an interesting side note, with Hennig billed as “Pretty Boy” in the AWA, Bobby Heenan dropped his own "Pretty Boy" moniker and instead became “The Brain.”
Hennig collected titles wherever he went. Among them were the AWA Midwest Tag Team Championship and AWA World Tag Team Championship four times.
He was equally successful in the NWA as a two-time Amarillo North American Tag Team Champion, Pacific Northwest Tag Team Champion, Texas Brass Knuckles, and World Tag Team Champion.
Respected by his peers, he was a legit tough guy and skilled grappler. He has been honored by various wrestling organizations and hall of fames.
He also inspired his son Curt and grandchildren, Amy and Joe, to enter the squared circle.
Upon Hennig’s death from kidney failure at age 82 in 2018, grandson Joe (Curtis Axel) Hennig poignantly summed up Larry’s legacy:
"82 years old. 5 kids. 28 grandkids. No one had a bigger impact on my wrestling career than my Papa Axe.
“He’s been my biggest supporter since day one! Another father when I lost mine.
“We lost our King of the Jungle today. I never thought I’d see this day. But he’s with my dad now, so everything will be okay. Love you, Papa Axe.
“The Hennigs have always held our heads up high! We will continue to do so. You rest assured, the Hennig name will live on forever."
Yes, thank you, Larry, for paving the way. What a legacy of greatness you’ve left us!
These stories may also interest you:
- Curtis Axel and Vince McMahon Promo Class Incident
- Verne Gagne and the Rise and Fall of the AWA
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