Becoming a star in pro wrestling isn’t easy. In many cases, it sometimes takes years for fans to get behind a wrestler or a character. In some cases, it’s the fans who grow a respect for a certain wrestler’s abilities in the ring. In other cases, it’s a gimmick that simply takes off and has a large following. In the case of Joe Hennig, it took years for him to “get over.” This despite an impressive built in pedigree.
You see, Joe Hennig is a third generation wrestler that comes from a well respected family. His grandfather was Larry ‘The Ax’ Hennig and his father was none other than ‘Mr. Perfect’ Curt Hennig. You would think that having that kind of lineage would help Joe in his career….but in many ways it hindered it. According to former WWE road agent Arn Anderson…WWE made a huge mistake initially when they didn’t capitalize on Hennig’s family background. Instead of being recognized as a third generation star, Joe Hennig was given the random name of ‘Michael McGillicutty’ with no mention of his famous wrestling past.
After numerous starts and stops on pushes and finally being repackaged with his lineage in mind as ‘Curtis Axel,’ (A variation of his father’s name and grandfather’s nickname) Hennig never seemed to quite adjust as a WWE star. Sure, he won tag team gold and an Intercontinental title reign….but it all never really came together for him. That is, not until the 2015 Royal Rumble. It was at this event, that some of Curtis Axel’s misfortunes turned around. It wasn’t exactly planned, but when opportunity is there….you need to seize it.
At the Royal Rumble, Curtis Axel was scheduled to be the number 5 entrant….however….Erick Rowan of the Wyatt family attacked Axel before he could make his way to the ring. Curtis Axel was “injured” and couldn’t compete, so Rowan took his spot in the match. While the incident didn’t seem like a big deal initially, Curtis Axel’s name began trending on social media. Things like “Curtis Axel was never eliminated” and Curtis Axel is the real 2015 Royal Rumble winner” were trending worldwide from WWE fans.
WWE creative and Joe Hennig were smart enough to capitalize on the trend and made a small storyline out of it. Curtis Axel would come out week after week confident that he was never eliminated from the Rumble and that he was the true Royal Rumble winner. Considering the real winner was much maligned babyface Roman Reigns….the small gimmick really started to take off. Many WWE fans who hated that Reigns was given the victory at the Rumble, turned to Curtis Axel as a consolation. Hennig ran with the idea and developed his own cult following. Axel kept pointing to the Wrestlemania sign as the person who was more deserving of the main event match and many fans agreed.
Curtis Axel would come to the ring to do a promo and actually have a clock of how many weeks, days, hours, minutes and seconds of how long he was still never eliminated from the Royal Rumble. His campaign became affectionately known as Axelmania. While Axelmania was never meant to be taken seriously and for the most part…a silly, comedic storyline…it did get over with fans.
If nothing else, it was a storyline that revived the career of Joe ‘Curtis Axel’ Hennig. It gave him a platform and an excuse to be on television each week. While wrestlers and announcers on screen were laughing at Axel and thought he was delusional…it was actually working for him in real life. He was doing TV segments with Snoop Dog and Hulk Hogan. While Axel never got his Wrestlemania main event match…he did participate in the Andre the Giant Memorial battle royal that year and was subsequently eliminated.
Axlemania was a small thing that was blossoming into a little bit of a bigger thing for Curtis Axel. Joe Hennig took the ball he was given and was running wild with it. Unfortunately, in the case of Axelmania…all good things must come to an end…sometimes abruptly. The first problem was WWE creative tinkering with the gimmick and making Curtis Axel a parody of Hulk Hogan. Instead of being delusional over being the 2015 Royal Rumble winner….he was now nothing more than a parody of the Hulkster.
It came complete with another fallen star in Damien Sandow as the Macho Mandow and they formed a tag team called the Meta Powers. The entire original concept of what Axelmania was about was gone and this is what took its place. All in all, as ridiculous as the Meta Powers gimmick was….it was still an outlet for Hennig to get screen time. That all ended once Hulk Hogan was fired by WWE after making some racist remarks. The company washed itself clean of any and all references to Hogan and in turn….Axelmania was dead and buried.
In a way, thankfully it was because WWE lost its creative way about what Axelmania was about. It grew organically from fans who refused to accept Reigns as a top star and used Curtis Axel as their spokesman in many ways. WWE does have a history of tinkering with organically grown successful gimmicks and killing them. Whether it was Zack Ryder, Damien Mizdow or Axelmania itself….too much tinkering of something that was simply natural just never really works out for WWE.