Sports. Honestly. Since 2011

Remembering Mr. Perfect Curt Hennig

As I write this, it is February 10, 2014. It has been 11 years since the passing of Curt Hennig, better known to some as Mr. Perfect. He was a wrestler whom I didn’t appreciate until he was gone. Actually, that isn’t entirely accurate. I didn’t realize how much I appreciated and respected his work until after his death.

I was first introduced to Curt Hennig during the vignettes promos that were part of his early run with the WWF. Whether he was bowling a perfect 300, hitting home run after home run with Wade Boggs, or catching his own football pass while former Minnesota Viking Steve Jordan looked on in awe, he exuded charisma. Even as a kid I was smart enough to know that he wasn’t actually catching his own pass, but it didn’t matter because he made it fun. Those promo videos had nothing to do with professional wrestling yet they got me excited to see what he could do in the ring, and he did not disappoint.

Hennig was a gifted wrestler. His maneuvers were precise and he moved with a fluidity in the ring that truly personified his craft. From his rolling neck snap, and flawless standing dropkicks, to the, for lack of a better term, perfect bridge of his finisher, the aptly named “Perfect-Plex”. He did things in the squared circle that my 10-year-old self simply hadn’t seen before, including something I wouldn’t learn to appreciate until a few years later, his selling. Yes, he would sometimes over-sell, but in the larger than life world of professional wrestling it worked. It still works today, as Dolph Ziggler’s ring work has drawn many comparisons to Hennig’s.

After enjoying over a year of being undefeated (on television, anyway), Hennig supplied one of the most shocking things my young eyes had ever witnessed when he, along with his lackey The Genius, confiscated Hulk Hogan’s Heavyweight Championship and, backstage, destroyed it with a hammer. Granted, nowadays championship replicas are sold all over, but in 1989, and to a 10-year-old, those championships were rare and coveted. But Mr. Perfect wanted to send a message to the champ and I’d say it was heard loud and clear.

Hennig didn’t beat Hogan for the championship after stealing it in November of ’89, but he did see gold during his time in the World Wrestling Federation. He had two reigns as WWF Intercontinental Champion adding up to a collective eight months and culminating in what is still one of my all-time favorite matches against Bret “Hitman” Hart at Summer Slam ’91. The two had similar styles and worked so well together, the pay-per-view could have ended after their match, which was only the second match of the night, and I would have walked away happy.

His time as a colour commentator and as Ric Flair’s “Executive consultant” was bittersweet. While it was good that he was still around in a non-wrestling capacity, and understandable that he’d want to let his body recover from the punishment of the sport, I missed seeing him in the ring. Flair’s heavyweight title feud with “Macho Man” Randy Savage only served to galvanize my wanting to see Mr. Perfect return to the ring, as a series of matches between he and Savage would have been amazing.

My wish was granted a short time later, at least partially. While Hennig wouldn’t feud with Savage, he did team up with him at Survivor Series 92 which would be the catalyst of his return to the ring. Mr. Perfect’s babyface run wasn’t the same though. His ring work was still good, but I missed the brash, cocky, egotist he had portrayed for years. His face run lasted a little less than a year, before his back problems resurfaced.

The next couple of years he was off and on as a commentator, manager to the likes of Hunter Hearst Helmsley and the occasional wrestling spot. However, in 1997 he jumped ship to WCW. I was always a loyal WWF/E fan and while I watched the occasional WCW show, it wasn’t often enough and I lost sight of what the former Mr. Perfect had been up to in the world of wrestling.

As time moved on and a new generation of wrestlers were emerging, I was pleasantly surprised in 2002 when Mr. Perfect was entered in the Royal Rumble. What was even more surprising was that he made it to the final three. While I knew he wouldn’t win being in there with the likes of Triple H and Kurt Angle, part of me was still disappointed when he was tossed over the top rope by Triple H. His showing at the 2002 Royal Rumble was enough for WWE to sign him to a new full-time contract in what would be his final run with WWE.

It was during that last run that I finally got to see Mr. Perfect wrestle live during a taping for Sunday Night Heat in Ottawa, Ontario. He challenged Rob Van Dam for the Intercontinental title, the same championship he proudly held over a decade earlier. Though he didn’t win the match, I was still elated that I was able to see a wrestler I grew up both loving for his ability and hating because he really was a great heel.

Unfortunately, as with far too many in the wrestling business, the bumps and the schedule took their toll. I’m not sure when drugs came into the picture, but they did play a role in his death. Hennig was 44 when he died, certainly in the twilight of his wrestling career, at least in regard to in ring action. It makes me wonder though, had he not died 11 years ago, would he be a road agent? Would he have stepped back into a commentary position? Or would he still be wowing NFL greats by catching his own pass?


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