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Larry Hennig (1933-2018)

Real NameLarry Hennig

Lifespan - 6/18/1933 - 12/6/2018

6’3” 260 lbs. - St. Cloud, MN

Athletic BackgroundWrestling, Football (University of Minnesota)

Teacher(s)Verne Gagne

Professional BackgroundAWA(`59-`67), Amarillo(`68), AWA(`68-`7?), IWE(`70), WWWF(`73-`74), AWA(`74-), Portland(`82), AWA(`84-`86)

Aliases - none

Peak Years - `63-`67

Place in HistoryThe way in which a person’s legacy can be enhanced through offspring of importance is a phenomenon not uncommon in pro-wrestling.  Stu Hart, Peter Maivia and Gory Guerrero were all successful wrestlers (and promoters) in their era, but they had children and grandchildren that became even bigger stars and who credited their success to that lineage.  When Larry Hennig left the University of Minnesota because he had a young family to tend to, little did he know he was setting into motion so much.  Hennig was a brute of a man who was a state champion wrestler in high school and used his legitimate skill, legendary toughness and physical impressiveness to break into the pro-wrestling ranks.  In the 1960s, the AWA was a growing promotion and Hennig found a solid home there for much of his career.  He was masterfully turned from a Gagne disciple into a big, rugged challenger to the AWA kingpin.  The rivalry established him as a top heel for years to come.  Hennig found arguably his greatest success tagging with a young “Handsome” Harley Race.  As only pro-wrestling could do, these two gritty battlers who were no beauties were cast as egocentric baddies.  In the Midwest, this was highly effective and Hennig & Race worked on top and wore the AWA Tag titles on several occasions.  The legendary team of the Bruiser & the Crusher called them the “Dolly Sisters” and were their main rivals for the titles.  Hennig & Race were imposing enough to match up with the two Midwestern anti-heroes and garnered great heat when they took shortcuts in the ring.  Hennig & Race also beat back challenges from an assortment of dream teams, often Verne Gagne and a big name partner.  The two became so hot that even top heel tag teams were put against them in the rare “battle of bullies” attraction matches.  When a knee injury sidelined Hennig for over a year, Race on and they only briefly reunited.  Larry Hennig, despite hard feelings toward AWA promoter Verne Gagne (who he felt did not take care of him during this time), had his family and businesses in Minnesota and was not going to leave that behind outright.  Hennig traveled out a few times, even working as a top heel in the WWWF, but ultimately returned to the AWA and famously saved Greg Gagne from an attack by Nick Bockwinkel and Ray Stevens.  “The Axe is Back” campaign helped him become one of the classic characters of the AWA’s hot 1970s period.  Despite Hennig’s popularity, or perhaps because of it, his push was conservative.  It should be stated that while Hennig had a believable look and presence, his knee injury had slowed him down and he was a man in his forties with commitments past the AWA.  In the 1980s, he shifted into a new role as his son, Curt, broke into the business.  Much like Bob & Brad Armstrong in Georgia, Eddie & Mike Graham in Florida and Warren & Nick Bockwinkel in California, the Hennigs were a popular babyface team with the father playing the grizzled veteran who saves the day when the son playing the fiery youngster gets himself in trouble because of inexperience.  The formula was perfect when the Hennigs took on the Road Warriors, Nick Bockwinkel & Mr. Saito or Buddy Rose & Rip Oliver.  The run was perfect for launching Curt’s career and a fine way for Larry to end his.  Curt became a top star in the AWA before having successful runs in both the WWF and WCW, although his death in 2003 forever colored his legacy.  Curt’s son, Joe, became a third generation wrestler, even incorporating his father and grandfather’s names into his as Curtis Axel.  As a result of the success of his son and visibility of his grandson, Larry Hennig has maintained a favorable place in pro-wrestling history.  Curiously, his true contributions seem to be overlooked, but as both the “Pretty Boy” tag wrestler and “the Axe,” Larry Hennig is one of the most significant and successful stars in the history of the AWA.