Axel was born Joe Hennig, son of the legendary, late great “Mr. Perfect” Curt Hennig. He is also the grandson of grizzled veteran Larry “The Axe” Hennig. Born October 1, 1979, Hennig was raised in Minneapolis, Minnesota and got his wrestling training naturally from his father but additionally from legends Harley Race and Brad Rhengins.
He debuted in 2007 for World League Wrestling (WLW) out of Iowa but was only there for a year when he got signed to the WWE’s developmental territory of Florida Championship Wrestling (FCW).
Teaming with Sebastian “Heath” Slater, Hennig snagged the Florida Tag Team Championships and eventually dropped them to the New Hart Foundation (Tyson Kidd and Davey Boy Smith Jr.) just over a month later.
Hennig made a few failed attempts to wrest the FCW Florida Heavyweight Championship from Sheamus, but eventually did capture the gold from Eric Escobar.
He then formed a tag team with another son of a legend, Brett DiBiase. The two called themselves the “Fortunate Sons” and they snagged the FCW Tag team Championships, making Hennig a second time champ. When the two lost the belts to the Usos, a rivalry developed between DiBiase and Hennig as to who was responsible for their loss, ending their partnership together.
In the second season of NXT, Hennig appeared this time with a new name: Michael McGillicutty. He had an impressive series of wins over his losses, but was eliminated in second place by Kaval.
In late 2010, McGillicutty and Husky Harris (Bray Wyatt) had interfered in a series of matches in support of Wade Barrett who then granted them entry into the Nexus. McGillicutty was able to remain an active Nexus member even after CM Punk took control of the faction.
McGillicutty and David Otunga snagged the WWE Tag Team Titles from Kane and the Big Show on an episode of Raw. They would successfully defend the belts for three months after dropping them to Evan Bourne and Kofi Kingston (Air Boom).
McGillicutty did not fare too well on televised WWE thereafter, losing more often that winning. As such, he returned to NXT. He feuded with Tyson Kidd, claiming that he wasn’t a true “Hart”. McGillicutty lost most of the encounters against Kidd.
He didn’t fare much better after that losing to NXT Champion Seth Rollins as well as tag matches with partner Bo Dallas. McGillicutty knew that his career as a wrestler was at an impasse and he needed re-boot pronto.
Re-boot he did, appearing on Raw with Paul Heyman as manager under the moniker “Curtis Axel”. He started off hot as pistol defeating the likes of Triple H, John Cena, Sin Cara and Chris Jericho.
To add to his push, Axel won the WWE Intercontinental Championship from a three way involving The Miz and Wade Barrett. He feuded with former Heyman protégé CM Punk and defended the title against all comers successfully including Chris Jericho and R-Truth. He would eventually drop the belt after a very respectable 155 days to Big E Langston of “New Day” fame.
Axel then formed a partnership with Ryback, calling themselves RybAxel. Over time, they challenged Cody Rhodes and Goldust as well as the Usos as well as The Shield for the WWE Tag Team Championship belts, all to losing efforts. After Ryback returned after attention to some injuries, the team broke up for solo pursuits.
An angle was started whereby Axel was supposed to participate in the 2015 “Royal Rumble” Pay-Per-View event, but was attacked by Erick Rowan from the Wyatt family, rendering him unable to compete. Axel then made a formal case of it protesting that he should be considered the true winner of the Rumble.
Despite the fact that his protest fell on deaf ears, Axel persevered and got involved in an ill-conceived angle where he would impersonate Hulk Hogan and Damien Sandow would impersonate Randy Savage and the two would act out (mockery/homage?) the Mega Powers union of Savage and Hogan decades earlier. Needless to say, the stupid angle flopped.
Once 2016 rolled around, Axel joined a new faction called the “The Social Outcasts” with fellow members Adam Rose, Heath Slater and Bo Dallas. The Outcasts did nothing worthy of note including participating in the making of a crappy movie.
At present, Axel is an active member of the WWE roster. Given his genes and in-ring achievements to date, the talented grappler will certainly continue his success against the best the WWE can offer.
Special thanks to Dr. Stephen Balsky for contributing the above wrestler profile.
Dr. Stephen Balsky is a chiropractor currently in practice in his native Toronto, Ontario, Canada. He has been a wrestling fan since age 13 and is very passionate about the product, especially the “old-school” 80’s – 90’s era. He completed his Masters of Business Administration (MBA) degree in 2015 and currently is also working part-time as a professor in both business and healthcare.