From the early days of the AWA, the legacy of pro wrestling in Minnesota is well documented. Now third-generation wrestler Curtis Axel is carrying that torch as a WWE Superstar.
If he looks familiar, it's probably because Axel, a.k.a. Joe Hennig, is the grandson of Larry "The Ax" Hennig, and the son of the late, great Mr. Perfect.
This Monday, Axel will storm into Minnesota, along with the rest of the WWE, for Raw at the Target Center. He's likely to get a strong reaction from the hometown crowd despite being one of the most hated characters on television.
"I get fired up to go out in front of my hometown fans," Axel says. "I always get a warm welcome, even if I'm playing a bad guy. The way I look at it, if the Minnesota crowd wants to be a bad guy with me, I'll roll with it."
Despite being part of such a legendary wrestling family, however, Axel has been blazing his own trail as a member of the WWE roster for the past several years.
After being introduced to the world as "Michael McGillicutty" back in 2010, the torchbearer of the Hennig name was repackaged and introduced as Curtis Axel in May of last year. Since that time, he's gone on to become the WWE Intercontinental Champion, performed at Wrestlemania, and beaten down everyone from John Cena to Triple H. He's currently one half of a tag team with Ryback, and together they've been a huge part of revitalizing tag-team wrestling.
"My goal as a singles competitor has always been to become the World Heavyweight Champion," says Axel. "But then you had me and Ryback, two former Paul Heyman guys with nothing else to do, so they threw us together in the tag-team division. So now we're looking at it like, 'Hey, let's really do this thing,' and we're getting ready to take this bad boy over."
While fans may be looking forward to seeing Axel, Ryback, and the rest of the WWE superstars mix it up this Monday night, he says that one of the best parts of performing at home is sleeping in his own bed.
"It's like an extra day off for me. I just got back from an 18-day tour in Europe, and this week I'm right back at it again. So there's really not much time to rest. Being at home, seeing my family, and sleeping in my own bed is just awesome."
While some people wouldn't be able to withstand the pressure of living up to the reputation of a famous wrestling family, as well as the history of pro wrestlers from Minnesota, it's something Axel takes great pride in.
"If you look at the guys who have come out of our state -- my dad, Rick Rude, the Road Warriors, and the whole AWA, really -- we produce tough guys. We've got a good stock in Minnesota. It's always tough to live up to having a famous father and grandfather, but I'm not trying to be the next Mr. Perfect or Larry the Ax; I'm trying to be the first Joe Hennig. With a lot of third-generation guys, their fathers are still around to give them advice. Unfortunately, my dad isn't around anymore. I wish he was, and I still get good advice from my grandfather, but I think the fact that my dad isn't around drives me even more to get out there and do it for myself."
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