JM: How does it feel to be one half of the first ever father/son pairing to win the Intercontinental Championship?
CA: Leading up to that whole pay-per-view, the whole week before, the thoughts going through my head were, “What was going to happen if I were to win? What was I going to be thinking?” My grandfather (Larry “The Axe” Hennig”), I talked to him about it. When I finally won at Payback, man — I just couldn’t stop thinking about my dad (“Mr. Perfect” Curt Hennig). Holding that same Intercontinental Championship that he held. He would bring (it) home and I would hold it and wear it as a kid. I now possess this thing. I had goose bumps and was pretty emotional. My grandfather and mother were emotional about the whole thing, too. (My father and I) never got to stand in the same ring as each other, but now I feel honored that I get to stand in the record books with him.
JM: As “Michael McGillicutty,” your heritage wasn’t a major focus. Now that you’ve become “Curtis Axel,” does this allow you to become more of yourself and tap into a different side of your character?
CA: At first, they (WWE) didn’t want to bring up where I came from — which they have totally 180’d on. If I incorporate moves that my father and grandfather did, it’s to pay homage to them — to my family. Family is number one and will always be number one to me. Even as Michael McGillicutty — I still wrestled as myself. I think it was a good thing — even though that name sucked. I hated being Michael McGillicutty and having to tell people my name. It was embarrassing. Even signing that five-syllable name is ridiculous. I always wanted to be “me” in the long run.
JM: Who are the guys, now, that offer up the most advice about your matches and your promos?
CA: Paul Heyman. Just being with that guy — listening to him before the show and after the show, riding up and down the roads with him between events. He has so much information. He’s like a library — he’s got stories, and if you have questions, he has answers. He is the best tool I’ve got right now. When I am off the road — my grandfather. I talk to him two or three days a week. He has critiques of my work. He is super old-school, which I have to take into consideration, but he is a beast.
JM: You were on NXT Season 2. Being in that kind of environment, being introduced to the world in this reality show of sorts — what are some lessons you learned from that whole experience?
CA: NXT was a nightmare. I was really excited to be brought up — I knew I was ready. I saw what those kids had to go through in season one — getting the microphone shoved in your face and doing these stupid challenges. I was kind of bummed, but at least I was being brought up. Then they told me my name was Michael McGillicutty (and) it broke my heart. You never knew exactly what was going on. They said, “OK, you guys have a match, a contest — here’s the microphone.” It was a surprise every single week. You had to stay on your toes — it was scary ‘cause everyone in the back and everyone at home were watching. I think being involved in that atmosphere — it kind of toughens you up. I feel, now, that I am prepared for anything.