Sometimes all the promise in the world doesn’t amount to more than a hill of beans.
On paper, Curtis Axel seems like a man destined to sit atop the WWE mountain. He’s the son of the outrageously talented Curt Hennig and the grandson of the equally influential Larry ‘The Axe’ Hennig. Wrestling perfection runs through his veins, and yet he won’t be mentioned in the same breath as his forebears.
Due to this the question that comes up is simple – where did it all go wrong? The answer is just as simple – it went wrong from the first second he stepped foot in a WWE ring, through no fault of his own.
Before ever gracing the main roster, Axel plied his trade in WLW and the WWE feeder company, FCW. In both organisations, he enjoyed a fair amount of success. He went undefeated for an eight-month stretch, and in FCW he captured Tag and Heavyweight Titles. It’s clear from re-watching his matches in those early days that he held all the promise one would expect of him. He’s crisp and composed where other rookies may be sloppy and impetuous. Then NXT reared its formerly ugly head.
When Axel made his way onto WWE programming for the first time, it was as a contestant on the second season of the old game show style NXT. The show’s bread and butter were humiliating the young guns featured on it week in and week out. Axel got the same treatment as his peers, although he did actually end up finishing second behind Kaval in the finale. Despite the respectable placing, it was no way to introduce such a legacy performer to the audience at large.
That could have been made up for had he then burst onto the main roster in a dominant fashion. Remember that Wade Barrett also came from the terrible version of NXT before establishing himself as a force to be reckoned with upon his debut proper. Creative went a different route with Axel though.
Under the atrocious and irritatingly difficult to spell moniker of Michael McGillicutty, he came out alongside Husky Harris to cost John Cena a match against Wade Barrett. Nexus had lost is teeth by this point and so hitching his wagon to the group was not a recipe for success.
This was all made worse by the fact that, in order to be welcomed into the group, McGillicutty and Harris faced off against Randy Orton and John Cena in a losing effort. Despite the loss, they still made it into the Nexus, for reasons known only to the dolts who write this tripe.
He remained with the group throughout the Punk leadership, getting Punt Kicked along the way. He and David Otunga did enter into an altogether forgettable reign as Tag Team Champions, not bad because of their wrestling but because it was booked as an afterthought from start to finish.
After losing the Tag Titles he made his way off of the main roster and ended up on NXT Redemption, the final season of the show in that format. He feuded with Tyson Kidd for the entirety of the series, a feud that spilled over onto NXT programming once it took over from FCW as a proper developmental system.
He would enjoy precious little success in the rebooted black and gold brand. Before long he was being called back to Raw.
This time he looked to be in for a hot start as he was introduced as Curtis Axel, a name born of his father and grandfather, by his new manager Paul Heyman. He faced Triple H that night and although he did not get a decisive win – Triple H collapsed at ringside due to injuries suffered at the hands of Brock Lesnar – he did still record a victory over one of the biggest stars of all time.
He followed this up with proper wins over the likes of Sin Cara as well as more cheap wins against Cena and Chris Jericho. He even beat Triple H twice in one night due to DQ and forfeit.
He followed all of this up by winning the Intercontinental Championship, making he and his father the first father/son duo to do that. This should have served as a launching pad for Axel to ascend the card. His one weakness was a lack of mic skills and that was covered up by the presence of Heyman at his side. The focus could have been on his impressive wrestling ability, but instead, he was made into a lackey for Heyman’s truly important clients, CM Punk and Lesnar.
To avoid becoming stretched too thin, Heyman dropped Axel and shortly thereafter Axel lost the Intercontinental Title to Big E. That was that for him as a serious singles threat. He’s gathered momentum time and again since then but never in a way that convinced anyone he might become a championship challenger.
One criticism was always that he was too bland, lacking the charisma that made his father so famous. It’s hard to agree with that if you have seen his time as a member of the B-Team though. He and Bo Dallas blended so well together as a goofy but lovable duo that it’s a shame they weren’t more successful, though a run as Raw Tag Team Champions is nothing to be dismissed.
Similar allegiances with The Social Outcasts, as well as the great Axelmania run, serve to show that he actually has a great sense of humour and an innate ability to connect with an audience when given the opportunity. Perhaps it wasn’t World Champion charisma, but he deserved to be pushed in a more meaningful way than he was.
This is a man who was trusted to train both The Rock and Brock Lesnar ahead of their respective returns to the ring. He is and always was a safe pair of hands capable of having a good match with most of the roster.
Whatever is next for Axel, I hope it will be fulfilling for him. If she does continue as an active wrestler then a move to the NWA seems a smart choice. His style would fit in well there and the fans are far more likely to appreciate him.
You can find the author of this article on Twitter @Impers0nalJesus. Thanks for reading!