It is hard to believe it has been a full decade since one of the greatest wrestlers to ever an olympic style singlet, Mr. Perfect Curt Hennig, passed away from a drug overdose at age 44.
In my formative years watching wrestling, the late eighties and early nineties, Mr. Perfect was, well, the perfect bad guy. He was a pompous, braggadocios, pretentious jerk who talked a big game, yet always seemed to back it up in the ring. For a child who was rooting for the Hulk Hogan’s and Ultimate Warrior’s of the wrestling world, Mr. Perfect was, well, different. He stood out. When you saw Hogan or Warrior, two burly juiced up powerhouses, wrestle once, well, you had seen every match of theirs. Mr. P was different. While he was undoubtedly juiced up, he wasn’t grossly proportioned like most of the steroid freaks of the era. His build was, well, perfectly proportioned. He had a flowing mane of curly blond hair, the coolest tights of his era, and a little thing called wrestling ability.
(Yes, I am aware that last paragraph may seem a little fruity. But pro wrestling is a sport with very gay undertones. We fans understand and accept that, and don’t need critics bludgeoning us over the heads with that stereotype over and over again. This column is intended as a tribute, not to be mocked. So lay off, junior.)
Curt Hennig was born to wrestling royalty in Minnesota in 1958. His father was a legendary toughman in a sport with many of them: Larry “The Ax” Hennig, a powerhouse wrestler with massive shoulders, a broad chest, and one of the largest necks ever seen in the squared circle. That he stood out as a badass in a sea of roughnecks should be significant, as he was legitimately considered one of the toughest men ever in pro wrestling.
If for nothing else besides genetics, Curt, after a decorated amateur career, decided to throw his hat into the professional arena. Trained by his father (duh), his first few years in the ring were not exactly notable, as he primarily tagged with his father, gaining valuable experience while under the watchful eye of “The Ax.”
Then 1986 came. Wrestling primarily in Verne Gagne’s AWA (American Wrestling Association), the promotion in which his old man established his legend, Curt began to stand out. Part of this is explained by the fact that at that point, the AWA was losing talent in droves to Vince McMahon’s WWF. Just about every big name (and small name) wrestler the AWA turned to the greener pastures offered by Vinnie Mac. Some experts of the game will tell you Vince destroyed all the territories in his avarice to create a national conglomerate, but, in fact, Vince really only destroyed one promotion: The AWA. That fact is undeniable and irrefutable.
Anyway, back to Curt. The talent raids by the AWA by the WWF hurt the promotion, yes. But in a way, they benefited Curt. He stayed on with the Minnesota based organization, and his rose began to bloom. Curt was rapidly developing into one of the best performers in the game, blending raw athleticism with crisp execution, and a willingness to sell, sell, sell. Curt would sell any move in spectacular fashion, helping himself get over with the fans while making his opponent look lethal in the process. A simple punch to Curt’s jaw would send him twisting and somersaulting through the air, a truly breathtaking visual. To people who are not fans of wrestling, this is basically the essence of the sport: Get yourself over with the fans while also making your opponent look great. That formula generally equals money, and the whole point of Pro Wrestling is to make as much money as you can for yourself, you opponent, and your organization. If that means you have to show a little ass (ie. Sell your ass off to make an opponents offense look convincing), than so be it. For fans of current wrestling, watch Dolph Ziggler sometime. He patterns his style after Hennig, but Hennig was far superior.
The zenith of Hennig’s AWA career came in a match nationally televised on the AWA’s ESPN broadcast in 1986. The match was against then AWA Champion Nick Bockwinkel. If you are a shrewd wrestling fan, you have seen this mat classic. It spanned the entire hour long program. Bockwinkle and Hennig traded hold for hold for an hour, each move working to define the story of the match: the young upstart Hennig finally realizing his vast talents and matching the much wilier, much more experienced champion, Bockwinkel. Buckets of blood were spilled by both participants, and while the match ended in a wholly unsatisfying draw, it established Hennig as a serious threat and catapulted him into stardom as the babyface the fans wanted to see, the heir apparent to the throne a top the promotion.
However, no one has ever accused Verne Gagne of being a promotional genius. Rather than establishing Hennig as the #1 good guy atop the promotion, he switched gears. Nepotism in wrestling is as old as the platform itself, and old Verne was a traditionalist. Remember, this is the man who let Hulk Hogan slip through his fingers on his way to becoming the biggest star in wrestling. No, Verne did not want Hennig eclipsing his son, Greg, as the top babyface in the company. Nope, he knew what the fans wanted more than the fans did: Hennig as the dastardly heel fighting off the advances of the fiery white meat babyface Greg Gagne. Despite Greg not showing any great flair or ability either in the ring or on the microphone. Hennig ended up winning the championship from Bockwinkel when heel Larry Zbyszko (god I hate spelling that) handed Curt a roll of quarters in which Hennig proceeded to blast over the head of Bockwinkel for the W. As heel turns go, it wasn’t the worst of ideas, I guess, but the fan backlash was immediate, as they EXPLODED after Hennig decked the champ and won the match. But Verne was persistent, as Hennig was installed as lead heel with Greg chasing him around the loop for the title strap.
While Hennig turning heel in the AWA may not have made good business sense, it allowed Curt to flourish. You see the man was a BORN heel. Some guys just have it in them, and Curt certainly did in spades. So much so that, after being passed over by the initial WWF talent raids, Vince McMahon came calling in 1988, looking for the services of one of the top heels in the business. At that time, one did not turn down an opportunity at the lucrative paydays offered by the WWF. So Curt agreed to jump ship. He dropped the AWA World Championship to Jerry Lawler (the beginning of the end of the AWA) on his way out of the promotion, and was off to McMahon Land.
When he first arrived in the WWF, Curt languished around the mid card for a few weeks, not doing anything too notable and wrestling in plain-Jane black trunks. What came next for him is a hotly debated subject. According to many industry insiders, and from no less a source than Mick Foley himself, the WWF had two gimmicks they were ready to hand out to two lucky wrestlers. The two lucky wrestlers in question were Curt and NWA and Mid-South import TerrY Taylor. The two gimmicks are both legendary, for completely different reasons. Curt and Terry wrestled a match at the WWF supercard WrestleFest 1988, a match that would determine who would get which gimmick. If this story is true, and I am skeptical, then apparently Curt won out. He was given the gimmick of “Mr. Perfect”, an arrogant loudmouth who professed that everything he was and did in life was “absolutely perfect.” Taylor, the loser in this little trial, was saddled with the gimmick of “The Red Rooster,” possibly the worst persona in the history of pro wrestling, and that covers A LOT of ground.
No offense to Terry Taylor, who was a supremely talented wrestler, but forget him. He lost out. This article is about the man now anointed Mr. Perfect.
The Mr. Perfect gimmick was one of the best the WWF ever thought of, as well as one of the best executed. For weeks, with Hennig was repackaged in this new persona, the WWF aired a series of historic vignettes touting the abilities of one Mr. Perfect. These vignettes showed him bowling a perfect 300, hitting no-look half-court basketball shots, and getting perfect scores in horseshoes. That the gimmick was a success is a testament to Hennig’s natural abilities as a pompous jerk, and he was off and running. His first singles match as Mr. Perfect was at WrestleMania V against the mysterious Blue Blazer. Mysterious if you have no concept of wrestling that is. The match was short but very good, and Perfect kept piling up win upon win upon win. Indeed, as 1989 drew to a close, Mr. Perfect had lived up to his moniker, compiling a Perfect record. Bigger things were now on the horizon.
In late 1989, for no good reason, Mr. P was given a manager: The Genius, Lanny Poffo. If you are a current fan, The Genius was basically a more effeminate version of Damian Sandow. How this was supposed to make Hennig more over with the fans is unknown, but the partnership led to one of the great angles in WWF history.
In early 1990, on Saturday Night’s Main Event, The Genius was put into a match with none other than Hulk Hogan himself. The Genius was little more than a comedy jobber at this point, so the ending never really seemed in doubt: Big Boot, Legdrop, Hogan victory. However, as Hogan had the match well in hand, The Genius’ crony, Mr. Perfect, walked down that aisle and distracted the Hulkster, long enough for The Genius to dump Hogan outside the ring and score the bogus countout victory. The fans were in a state of SHOCK, as the then WWF Champ Hogan simply did not lose to anyone in any fashion, let alone someone of The Genius’ ilk. After the match concluded, however, was where the, no pun intended, genius of the angle came about. Mr. Perfect, indignant at the thought of Hogan, not himself, as WWF Champion, stole the Hulkster’s belt, brought it backstage, and proceeded to destroy it with a hammer! It was all designed to set up Hogan-Perfect as the next main event feud. However, the untelevised trial matches at house shows met to lukewarm revues, so the WWF instead went with the legendary Hogan-Ultimate Warrior program to headline WrestleMania VI. Some of you may be wondering why a throwaway angle like this, one that did not lead to any meaningful PPV matches, is so historic. Well, here’s why: in late 1998, the WWF, in the throes of the Attitude era, established a new title belt: The Hardcore title, which was awarded to Mankind. The belt was a patchwork amalgamation of broken gold fragments with masking tape adorned with the word HARDCORE in magic marker.
Astute observers of wrestling at the time realized that the Hardcore Championship belt awarded to Mankind was actually the WWF World Title belt that Mr. Perfect had destroyed in 1990. And they say wrestling isn’t nostalgic.
Anyway, with the Hogan feud now off the table, Perfect was moved into a feud with Hogan lackey Brutus “The Barber” Beefcake. You know, I shouldn’t call him a lackey (although he really was), for at this point, Beefcake was at the zenith of his career. He was, arguably, the number two babyface (behind Hogan) in the company, and was really coming into his own as a performer. The two combatants met in the ring at WrestleMania VI, where Beefcake ended Mr. Perfect’s perfect WWF run to that time, pinning him after Hennig took a spectacular bump off the ringpost.
Perfect, while on the losing end of the spectrum there, was still the most over heel in the company, and possibly in the entirety of the business. Hogan had dropped the World Title to Intercontinental Champion the Ultimate Warrior at the aforementioned WrestleMania, and WWF figurehead Jack Tunney declared that no man could hold both singles titles at the same time. While the character of the Warrior was not necessarily presented as the most stable or intelligent guy in the world, he was no dummy and chose the World Championship, and the Intercontinental Title was vacated in April of 1990. An eight man tournament was announced to form the creation of a new Intercontinental champion. The participants would be Mr. Perfect, “Superfly” Jimmy Snuka, “The Model” Rick Martel (himself a former AWA Champion), “Rowdy” Roddy Piper, Dino Bravo, Brutus “The Barber” Beefcake, Tito Santana, and Akeem. Perfect defeated Snuka in the first round with a roll up and the heel standard hand full of tights in the first round, and Santana defeated Akeem. Beefcake-Bravo went to a double count out, and Martel-Piper to a double DQ. That meant the finals would be former IC titleholder Santana matched up against Perfect. By this time, Hennig had been distanced from the Genius, for something greater was afloat. And, indeed, as Santana was about to put Mr. Perfect away, Bobby “The Brain” Heenan, the greatest manager in the history of wrestling, made his way to the ring and distracted Santana, Perfect capitalized and rolled up Santana for the three count and his first Intercontinental Title. And thus began one of wrestling truly great pairings, Heenan and Hennig.
The dastardly duo of Perfect and Heenan went on a rampage, as Perfect dispatched most of the mid card of the WWF throughout the summer of 1990. While Mr. P was truly the best heel in the company during that period, his lukewarm program with Hogan earlier in the year disqualified him from main eventing with WWF Champion Ultimate Warrior. That slot was given to WWF mainstay, and Hennig hometown homey “Ravishing” Rick Rude. Rude and Hennig were actually, outside of the ring, very close friends, both having grown up in Robbinsdale, MN. And in 1990, there were no two bigger heels in the WWF than the Robbinsdale duo.
As a quick aside, something must be said about Curt Hennig outside the confines of the squared circle. He was one of the most notorious ribbers in the history of the business. For the uninitiated, ribbing is a form of hazing, pulling pranks on other wrestlers to help lighten the mood. And there were none finer than Hennig. His most notorious prank, unfortunately, indirectly lead to the demise of one of the great talents the industry has ever seen. You see,two of Mr. P’s favorite ribbing rituals were to either shred a wrestlers clothing with scissors, or to place heavy padlocks on luggage to weigh them down. Which one of these he used in this scenario is not quite clear, but sometime late in 1988, the Rougeau Brothers asked Curt to watch their luggage while they were in the ring. Big mistake. Hennig pulled one of his two famous ribs, and right before the Rougaus came back to the locker room, Mr. P scurried off to the toilet. When the Rougeaus saw the state of their belongings, they screamed for Curt, who feigned innocence, saying he was busy drowning his deuce. The Rougeaus, incensed, believed Hennig, and instead assumed that another notorious prankster, The Dynamite Kid, was responsible and vowed to rat him out to the higher ups. Dynamite, one of the biggest pricks wrestling has ever known, caught wind of this, and one night, while Jacques Rougeau was playing cards with some of the boys, Dynamite came up behind him and cuffed him across his ear. Dynamite wised off to the brothers, bullying them around while professing his innocence in the most patronizing manner possible. Dynamite thought the matter settled; The Rougeaus did not. So not too long later, as Dynamite was making his way back from the canteen truck in Milwaukee, Jacques jumped Dynamite with brass knucks, breaking most of Dynamite’s teeth and shredding his gums. Dynamite was renown for being the biggest bully in wrestling, and when the Rougeaus cleaned his clock and left him laying, his reputation was as tattered as his gums. Humiliated, he quit the company and was never the same again, spiraling into a cycle of self-destruction that had already began before the incident, but none the less assisted in him becoming a bitter shell of his former self, confined today to a wheelchair, living in the slums of England, broke and broken.
And it all began with a Hennig rib. But enough tragedy for the moment. Back to Mr. Perfect.
Perfect was on a collision course with Brutus Beefcake, as the two were set to face off for the Intercontinental Title at SummerSlam 1990. However, tragedy struck (I thought I said enough tragedy): On July 4th of that year, Beefcake was on the beach when an out of control parasailer went flying knees-first into Beefcake’s face, crushing it and requiring major reconstructive surgery. Beefcake’s career was thought to be over, so the WWF had to move Perfect into a different program with Beefcake sidelined. They found there solution deep in the heart of Texas.
The solution was “The Texas Tornado” Kerry Von Erich. Kerry was a huge star through most of the 1980’s in his father’s WCCW promotion out of Texas, and certainly had the name value and cache with most knowledgeable fans to be plugged in as a viable opponent for Mr. Perfect. So a week before SummerSlam, Von Erich was named Beefcake’s replacement to challenge Mr. Perfect. And in what could be deemed a stunning upset, he defeated Mr. Perfect in a little over five minutes to win the title. The crowd in Philadelphia exploded at the demise of Mr. Perfect, and all seemed well on the Intercontinental front. There would be a complication, though, but we will get back to that in a second.
Mr. Perfect’s manager, Bobby Heenan, also happened to be a color commentator on a bunch of the WWF’s syndicated shows at the time, namely Superstars of Wrestling and Wrestling Challenge. In the summer of 1990, for whatever reasons, Heenan would start to make wisecracks about the mother of wrestler The Big Boss Man. Boss Man portrayed a hardened correction officer turned pro wrestler, and he had recently turned from villain to good guy. Heenan’s grandstand insults finally prompted Bossman to retaliate, and he did so one afternoon by handcuffing Heenan to the guardrail surrounding the ringside area for the duration of an episode of Superstars. At the end of the episode, Heenan protegé Rick Rude came to his rescue and questioned the motives of the Bossman. Rude, fresh off losing his title opportunity to Warrior at SummerSlam, was to be programmed into a Fall/Winter feud with Bossman. However, for reasons I won’t get into here, he left the WWF right after this show, and Boss Man instead was programmed to go through Heenan’s stable of wrestlers throughout the Winter of 1990 and into the spring of 1991.
So now we get back to Perfect. So he has just lost the IC title to Von Erich. However, I mentioned a complication, and there was a big one in Von Erich. You see, Kerry had a nasty little drug problem at the time, and the WWF soon realized this. Sensing his disintegration, and fearing a suicide attempt, the WWF, caring souls that they were, decided they needed to get the belt off of Von Erich and STAT. So on a taping of WWF SuperStars, Mr. Perfect regained the title from the Tornado, thanks to some well timed interference from guest ring announcer, “Million Dollar Man” Ted DiBiase.
So Mr. Perfect is now a two-time IC Champion, and the crown jewel of the Heenan Family (the name of Heenan’s stable of wrestlers). The Big Boss Man, enraged by Heenan’s mocking of his mother, picked apart all of Heenan’s wrestlers until only one was left unmolested: Hennig. So the match was set up for WrestleMania VII, Bossman-Perfect for the Intercontinental Title. The match itself was excellent, as Perfect was in the absolute prime of his career, and Boss Man at the time was one of the best and most agile super-heavyweights ever. The bought looked to be Bossman’s when Andre the Giant lumbered to ringside and blasted Perfect with the title belt. Bossman went to cover him, but Haku and the Barbarian, two Heenan contracted wrestlers, interfered, giving Bossman the win by DQ, but keeping the title on Perfect. Storyline-wise, Boss Man considered revenge his, and both he and Mr. P moved on.
However, at this point, Hennig was having serious back problems, so bad that he essentially sat out the summer months match-wise and only cut a few promos. Meanwhile, Bret “Hitman” Hart, recently split from his tag partner of many years Jim Neidhart, was forging ahead on his own stellar singles career. Hart was tabbed as the man who would become the next Intercontinental Champion, and the match between the two outstanding pure wrestlers was set for Summer Slam 1991. It was uncertain, though, if Hennig would be able and healthy enough to actually make the date. After much wavering back and forth, Perfect did in fact show up (no doubt on enough painkillers to kill a camel) and drop the title to “The Hitman.” The match was a total classic, and a true passing of the torch moment. Perfect was, you see, the workhorse of the WWF, the guy charged to get great matches from a variety of opponents on cards Hogan or Warrior would headline. Now, with his balky back, he handed that task to the Hitman, who accepted it and was off and running to one of the most decorated careers in the history of the WWF.
So Perfect took a short sabbatical. While he was vacationing, his former manager and ally Heenan was extolling the virtues of his newest signee: former NWA Champion Ric Flair. Flair, long considered the best wrestler to ever set foot in the ring, had jumped from the mismanaged NWA to the WWF…WITH THE NWA TITLE BELT. This was seriously heady stuff at the time for hardcore fans, but the NWA eventually sued and got the belt off of WWF TV. Flair was installed as the top heel in the WWF, wit Heenan as his manager. However, Bobby was having some neck problems that necessitated surgery, and he was unable to go on the road with Flair. So Heenan, Flair’s “Financial Adviser” was placed back at the commentary table, replaced by Mr. Perfect, Flair’s “Executive Consultant.” It made for quite the trio, and Flair eventually took home the WWF title at Royal Rumble 1992. The formula for most Flair matches at the time was tremendously fun, as Flair would take a hellacious shitkicking for the majority of the match, only to maneuver his opponent and the referee just so that Perfect could get a cheap shot in to give Flair the advantage. The two would just absolutely cheat with impunity to keep the strap on Flair, with Heenan on commentary hilarious defending the nefarious acts. It culminated with Flair and Perfect basically destroying Randy Savage’s leg in his title opportunity at WrestleMania VIII with Heenan, in his broadcasting prime, defending everything to just a ludicrous degree. However, Flair took his eye off the ball, as he started badmouthing Savages’ wife, Elizabeth, at ringside, and he was given his comeuppance as Savage, the good guy, rolled Flair up and grabbed the biggest handful of tights he could muster to keep Flair’s pinned to the mat for the count of three. Heenan, Flair, and Perfect’s accusations of cheating following the match were absolutely priceless, and it seemed the Macho Man would not be able to escape the threats of the three throughout the summer.
The new number one contender for Savage’s WWF title was the recently returned Ultimate Warrior. The match was set for SummerSlam 92 at Wembley Stadium in London. WWF at the time did not do many face vs. face matches, so they decided to add a wonderful little wrinkle. In the weeks leading up to the event, while either Warrior or Savage were cutting interviews with Gene Okerlund, either Flair, Heenan or Perfect would interject themselves. Didn’t think they were gonna stay out of this, did you? Anyway, the gist of their gab was that one of them, either Savage or Warrior, had paid Mr. Perfect to be in their corner to tip the odds in that combatants favor. Both faces, never the best of friends, and certainly neither one considered the most cool headed, stable guys, became incredibly paranoid about the plans of one another. The heat for this was off the charts, and I am surprised the WWE, or even TNA, doesn’t rip off this idea, because it was tremendous at the time and now, 20+ years later, it is ripe for the picking.
So SummerSlam rolls around in August of 1992, and both men, while virtuous babyfaces, are just wrought with paranoia over the possible underhandedness of the other. (THIS is how much the WWF Title used to mean: two babyfaces fighting for the title, they want it so bad that a third party interjects, poses a threat, and the men will do anything possible to try to grab the brass ring.) Both men came to the ring sans Mr. Perfect, and, with Heenan doing commentary alongside Vince McMahon, the drama built to a crescendo towards the end of the match, as both Perfect and Flair walked that (ridiculously long) aisle. Perfect took turns helping out each competitor, Warrior and Savage, to the point that both men were just stupefied as to what was going on. Eventually, Savage had Warrior dead to rights and was about to deliver the coup de grace, his flying elbow smash (CM Punk’s current tribute version doesn’t hold a candle to Savage’s. Shawn Michaels’ was pretty swank though). However, as Macho ascended the top rope, he was overcome with anxiety over the true motives of Flair and Perfect. Rather than deliver the elbow to vanquish the Warrior (which is debatable seeing as Warrior at one time kicked out of FIVE successive said elbow smashes), Savage pivoted and instead launched himself in the direction of Flair and Perfect. Both heels sideswiped Savage, and as he crashed leg first to the padded concrete below, only then did the motives and machinations become clear. Perfect, Heenan, and Flair were only out there to advance themselves and screw both Warrior and Savage. Flair and Perfect once again brutalized Savage’s leg, leading to a countout victory for the Warrior. Warrior and Savage, post match, engaged in a rugged, manly good guy embrace in the ring and celebrated not doing a god-damned thing together (because faces, in the long run, were all friends in the end), but the Randy Savage title reign was about to come to a screeching halt.
A few weeks later, Flair got his WrestleMania rematch with Savage, and Savage was still nursing that tender knee. Flair and Perfect once again put a bulls-eye on the injured appendage and, with some additional assistance from WWF newcomer Razor Ramon, Flair made Savage pass out from pain to the figure four leglock. (As an aside, that was the ONE time with Flair, still in his prime, I saw him win a match with his signature hold. As an homage to Flair, Chris Jericho submitted to the move in 2002, but has a finishing hold ever been less effective than Flair’s?)
So Flair, with Perfect as his henchman, was once again World Champion. However, Flair was having some personal issues at the time. Vince McMahon realized this, and one night in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan Canada, Flair dropped the WWF Title to old Hennig nemesis, Bret Hart, starting a long and still lasting period of legitimate acrimony between the two wrestling legends. But I digress. With Hart now at the top of the card, Flair, still feuding with both Savage AND Warrior, was placed, with Razor Ramon as his partner, in a nifty little tag match at Survivor Series 1992. Just as the heat for the match was progressing famously, there was, again, a slight complication.
Where to start…oh yeah, Ultimate Warrior is a fruit loop. He had some issues with his feuds coming out of said Survivor Series, particularly, allegedly, a series of Electric Chair matches with a wrestler known as Nailz, who portrayed a psychotic ex con (and Bossman foil). Allegedly weirded out by the idea, Warrior walked from the promotion a couple of weeks before the Survivor Series Tag Match, leaving the WWF in a lurch. But back before “wrestling” was a dirty word to Vince McMahon, back when he could arguably still called a “creative genius,” he had a back up plan. On an episode of Prime Time Wrestling, the precursor to Monday Night Raw (in fact this was one of the last episode of Primetime, as Raw was installed less than two months later), Savage was interviewed in front of a panel of wrestlers sitting at a roundtable of sorts, the concept of Prime Time at the…uh…time. One of the panelists was Mr. Perfect, another was Bobby Heenan. When asked his choice for a replacement partner for Warrior (the last time Warrior’s name was uttered on WWF shows until 1996), Savage picked Mr. Perfect, which seemed totally preposterous. Heenan thought so, and made his feelings known. But Savage, old heel that he was, egged the argument on, as Perfect felt that Heenan was insinuating that the choice was ludicrous only because Perfect wasn’t an active competitor, and couldn’t get the job done. He accepted, shedded both Heenan and Flair, and the resulting tag match at Survivor Series was tremendous fun. The result was a hot feud between Perfect, whose back after a year plus hiatus was kind of healthy again, and Flair, who was now on the outs with the WWF. The result was twofold. First, a year after Flair drew number three in the Royal Rumble and lasted over an hour in winning the match and the then vacant WWF Title, he entered at number one in the 1993 incarnation and was eliminated in fairly short order by…Mr. Perfect, much to the consternation of commentator Heenan. This led to result number two, as Flair, incensed with Perfect, agreed to put his WWF career on the line to get his hands on Mr. Perfect. The match was aired on one of the earliest episodes of Monday Night Raw, and, twenty years later, it remains one of the best matches the program has ever aired. Perfect defeated Flair cleanly, and Flair gracefully bowed out and headed back to WCW (the organization replacing the now defunct NWA).
Perfect did not do a whole lot to note of during 1993, as the WWF did not have a hell of a lot of confidence in his back. He was placed in a feud with new Bobby Heenan protegé, “The Narcissist” Lex Luger, and lost to him at WrestleMania IX. He qualified for the inaugural PPV King of the Ring Tournament in June. Actually, his qualifying may have been some of his best work. His initial qualifying match was against the evil clown, Doink. (actually a pretty cool character at the time, before they made a farce of it) The first two matches went to draws, both excellent matches (this was the first Doink, Matt Borne, who was a damn fine pro wrestler) The third match, a thoroughly entertaining affair, had Perfect secure the win and enter himself in the tournament. (The third Doink match is actually on the latest “Best of RAW” DVD and is well worth unearthing on YouTube)
The highlight of that 1993 King of The Ring Tournament was the second round match pitting Mr. Perfect against his old IC title nemesis, Bret Hart. In what is probably one of my favorite personal matches ever, the two engaged in a classic mat battle for the better part of thirty minutes before Hart attained victory. The match showed Hennig still had the goods, but he re-retired shortly after with his back once again barking at him.
For posterity’s sake, and for those who have never seen it:
So Mr. P left the ring again. He laid low for a few months, until WrestleMania X came around. For that event, two WWF Title matches were to take place: Lex Luger would take on Champion Yokozuna in the first title match; the winner would face Bret Hart later in the evening. Convoluted, I know, but this article is getting long already, and I still have a way to go. Both matches were assigned special guest referees, and for the first title match, with Luger, Mr Perfect was assigned. Luger seemingly had his match won, after decking both of Yokozuna’s seconds, Mr. Fuji and Jim Cornette, but apparently, Mr. Perfect held a grudge from the year prior’s Wrestlemania. He disqualified Luger, and the two met eachother on some house shows, but nothing really materialized out of it, due to Hennig’s still problematic back.
So, with Hennig sidelined from ring competition again, he was reshuffled. This time, he became a color commentator. Not only was he surprisingly adept at it he was, well, PERFECT at it. Seriously, as good as you think JBL may be today, (and he is DAMN good) Perfect was better. The man could have never wrestled again and become the next Heenan or Jesse Ventura.
But Curt Hennig was not a man designed to sit on the sidelines and admire the feats of other wrestlers. He was a wrestlers wrestler, and that itch was always going to be there. To satisfy that, the WWF created an angle for him. It involved a guy you may have heard of: Hunter Hearst Helmsley.
You see, the not-yet-quite HHH was known as the “Connecticut Blueblood,” and he had a cache of women who could accompany him to ringside for his matches. One of them was the current Mrs. Brock Lesnar. Anyway, Hennig started showing up ringside during Hunter’s matches and escorting the lovely ladies away. This irked Hunter to no end, and, eventually, he challenged the still laid up Perfect to a match. Perfect accepted. Early on in that 1996 Raw episode, while Perfect was going through his stretching routine (helpfully caught on camera), Helmsley attacked him, laid him out to the point where he couldn’t compete. So Perfect offered up his friend, IC Champ Marc Mero, to avenge him and face Hunter. Hunter insisted it be for the title, and Mero accepted. And wouldn’t you know, just as Mero had HHH beat, Perfect interjected himself, cost Mero the win and the title, and revealed himself to be aligned with HHH all along. You see, he was escorting the women away to get HHH’s mind back on the match. Or so he said. This was a great angle, one that got Curt back in front of WWF audiences as a heel, got the fledgling career of HHH on track, and was poised to make some bucks for the WWF. The trifecta, as I defined earlier.
So WCW went and snatched Curt away. Go figure. But money talks.
Curt’s WCW tenure was not bad, don’t get me wrong. But, as a WWF guy growing up in the northeast United States, and having followed his career for many years, it was a vast disappointment.
The quick and dirty synopsis of Curt’s early WCW tenure: He came in a hot “free agent” and tagged with Dallas Page for a match, roughly to the surprise of no one. Then, Arn Anderson had to retire due to a serious neck injury, and he handpicked (correctly) Hennig to be his replacement as the “Enforcer” of the Four Horseman. This, THIS was Hennig’s peak in WCW, and I would be remiss not sharing it here:
If you were a fan of, really, WCW and the Horsemen, or WWF and Hennig, I mean, CHRIST, this shit couldn’t lose. If you were, like me, a fan of both, this was one of the best, most surreal, most tear inducing things you ever saw. It screamed one thing: $$$$$$$$$$$$$$. To quote a current tag team in WWE, “MILLIONS OF DOLLARS, MILLIONS OF DOLLARS.” But WCW was a mismanaged black hole of creativity at certain points, and this was one of them, as at the very next PPV, they had Hennig turn on Flair and join the NWO, where he would languish in mediocrity for the next few years.
One of the biggest problems for Curt in WCW was simply this: most fans identified him as Mr. Perfect, and the WWF owned that copyrighted moniker. The other was, while he was paid handsomely, he was an also ran in WCW. I know I have described Hennig’s career in great detail to this point, but he was almost invisible for much of his time in WCW. There is an exception, though:
In late 1998-early 1999, WCW’s creative head Eric Bischoff got it into his mind that what his organization specifically, and wrestling in general, was missing was rock stars. His first foray into the genre resulted in KISS, long past their prime, performing to a lukewarm crowd. His second foray was even worse.
Let me preface this next section: I am a fan of rap music. I grew up in the Northeast in the 1990’s, home of Biggie Smalls, Nas, Jay-Z, Big Daddy Kane, Rakim, etc, etc. You know, (or maybe you don’t) GOOD RAP MUSIC. So this next section of the story pisses me off to no end.
You see, Eric Bischoff decided to sign to contract the biggest flavor of the month, hacky, untalented rap regime ever assembled: The No Limit Soldiers. As a rap aficionado, I could deal with Wu Tang Clan, Boot Camp Click, Def Squad, The Firm (hopefully not over most WHITE wrestling fans heads). No Limit records was a total niche fad, and a bad one at that. When your label’s greatest hit is a song called “Make ‘Em Say Uggghhh”, you probably don’t have a lot to offer the social landscape. Uncle Eric apparently thought they were timeless, and brought them in to the nadir of WCW. As bad as this marketing ploy was (trust me, No Limit’s shelf life lasted from 96-early 1998. They were shit by mid to late 1998), it had an unexpected and unwanted side effect, one that WCW could have capitalized on, but, predictable, didn’t.
You have to understand that, while the WWF stemmed from a regional territory based in the Northeast (New York, Boston, Philly), WCW was born of the south. WCW the territory that usurped the entirety of the NWA, was initially Mid-Atlantic Championship Wrestling. It was based out of North and South Carolina, the states of John C. Calhoun and Strom Thurmond, a secessionist and a racist, either respectively or collectively. WCW always retained strong southern roots, its base of operation in Atlanta, GA. Listen, I am not trying to define people south of the Mason Dixon line as racists, but there is a culture there, and cultures do not break easily. So, WCW, a southern institution, bringing in the NO LIMIT SOLDIERS (I know they are from Louisiana, but still…) expects these guys, with no discernible wrestling talent, to be huge good guys. That is a bad chess move. Back to Hennig, who was floundering in the mid card. Bischoff decides the “Soldiers” need a good white mid card nemesis to crush, and Hennig is at the top of the list, apparently. So Hennig, making the best of a bad situation, formed the West Texas Rednecks; he, Barry and Kendall Windham, and Bobby Duncam Jr. All but Hennig were from Texas, but semantics be damned. They were a fun group to watch, not overtly racist, its just the No Limit guys …well…aside from recruiting an unmasked Rey Mysterio…sucked as a group, and people were suffering from No Limit exhaustion. On top of that, Hennig and his rednecks recorded a song entitled “I Hate Rap” that actually CHARTED in the south. Of course, WCW ignored it, and a group of midcarders that could have been elevated, were buried, and Hennig’s career looked to be on the outs. Hennig lost a retirement match to Buff Bagwell late in 1999 to seemingly mercy kill his WCW career, but nonsensical WCW VInce Russo-infused storylines reintroduced him back into the fray. But nevermind that: Hennig’s WCW career was dead after he turned on the four horsemen in 96.
The West Texas Redneck’s angle should have revitalized Curt’s career. but, sadly, it didn’t. People like me prayed for it. Mr. Perfect was probably the coolest gimmick of my lifetime, and Hennig was just the guy to pull it off. Hennig stayed grounded after the Rednecks angle, hunting with baseball Hall Of Famer, Wade Boggs.
Hennig, as Mr. Perfect, returned. Honestly, one of the greatest moments of my vapid wrestling life, was watching MR. PERFECT run down that aisle at Royal Rumble 2002. The man was well past his prime, yet he looked ready. One thing about the WWF/E:What I love is they glorify guys from my age. Mr. Perfect was one of them. The man, the legend returned in 2002, and was one of the last four men in the fray. Sure, he was first eliminated, but the man did it with style, That WAS, and will always be, Mr. Perfect. Curt Hennig died shortly thereafter, February 10, 2003.
According to the medic, Curt died of a MASSIVE cocaine overdose. Nay. I refuse to believe this. Did Curt die in this manner? Yes. But i prefer to think that the man’s heart simply gave out, and that he died, much like he lived, PERFECTLY. Old visions die hard. R.I.P. Curt Hennig.
I AM WHAT I SAY I AM, AND I SAY I’M PERFECT.