Larry Hennig (June 18, 1936 – December 6, 2018) was an American professional wrestler. He was the father of "Mr. Perfect" Curt Hennig and was best known for his work in the American Wrestling Association, National Wrestling Alliance and World Wide Wrestling Federation. Hennig was also known for his muscular neck which, to this day, measures 22 inches.
Before pursuing a career in professional wrestling, Hennig became the Minnesota State High School Heavyweight Champion from Robbinsdale, Minnesota in 1954. He was awarded a scholarship from the University of Minnesota to wrestle and play football but had to quit due to the priorities of family and raising children.
In 1963, Hennig entered the AWA under the tutelage of Verne Gagne. He eventually found some main event success and shared a brief Tag Team Championship reign with Duke Hoffman. But in frequently losing to rougher, more experienced wrestlers, he began questioning the scientific style instilled into him by Gagne and looked toward a different approach (in kayfabe).
During the summer of 1963, Hennig left the AWA for a stint in the Texas territories. While touring Texas, Hennig adopted a more brutal style and won the Texas Heavyweight Title. He also crossed paths with Harley Race. The two young wrestlers struck up a friendship and following their mutual commitment in Amarillo, a new tag team broke out into the Minneapolis wrestling scene. Race and Hennig branded themselves as "Handsome" Harley Race (which was actually a moniker given to him by fans in Japan) and "Pretty Boy" Larry Hennig, a cocky villainous tag team with a penchant for breaking the rules to win matches. They quickly became top contenders, and on January 30, 1965, they defeated the legendary tandem of Dick the Bruiser and The Crusher to capture the AWA World Tag Team Championship, becoming, at the time, the youngest tag team champions ever. Race and Hennig continued to feud with the Bruiser and Crusher and other top teams for the next several years, amassing three title reigns.
Verne Gagne, in particular, was a hated rival of the team, and recruited many different partners to try to defeat Race and Hennig during their AWA run. Gagne and Crusher would win the titles from them six months after Race and Hennig's first reign but would lose them back on August 7, 1965. The team would retain the titles until May 1966 where they lost to Bruiser and Crusher. They would then embark on a tour through New Zealand, Japan, and Australia where they became the first IWA World Tag Team Champions of Australia's World Championship Wrestling in June. Just before leaving to Japan, they would drop the titles to Mark Lewin and Dominic DeNucci.
Race and Hennig returned to the US in fall of 1966, starting back at the bottom of the competition. As they climbed the ranks all over again, they finally received a title shot on January 6, 1967 and defeated Bruiser and Crusher in Chicago, Illinois. This would prove to be their final reign at AWA Tag Team Champions, however.
A rather infamous knee injury would contribute to Hennig's retirement from wrestling. On November 1, 1967, during a tag team match in Winnipeg, Hennig was in the middle of lifting Johnny Powers as another opponent rammed into him from the front. As he dropped Powers to the mat, Hennig found that his knee had bent inward. Despite severe damage to the cartilage and tendons, he refused to go to the local hospital and instead had Race drive him 500 miles home to Minneapolis.
The injury ended their last title run. The AWA allowed Harley Race to select another partner to defend the championship. Race selected Chris Markoff, who had occasionally appeared in six-man tag matches with Race and Hennig. Race and Markoff dropped the titles to Pat O’Connor and Wilbur Snyder in their first title defense.
In March 1968, Hennig would return to once again wrestle alongside Race. After several years at the top of the tag team division, however, Race would leave in December 1968 to pursue a singles career in the NWA. Hennig was immediately partnered with Lars Anderson for the next three years. In the mid-1970s, while competing in Florida, Hennig teamed for some matches with Race. 1972 had Hennig pair with "Dirty" Dusty Rhodes (then a heel), and in 1973, Larry worked as a singles star feuding with Verne Gagne and son Greg.
Hennig made a face turn on August 10, 1974 at a TV taping in Minneapolis, now sporting a full red beard and calling himself "the Axe" when he saved the High Flyers, Jim Brunzell and Greg Gagne, from an attack. The event had Hennig opposing his former allies, Nick Bockwinkel and Ray Stevens, and manager Bobby Heenan (who Bockwinkel and Stevens hired following their recent loss of the AWA World Tag Team title to The Crusher and Billy Robinson the previous month) as they assaulted the Flyers during an episode of AWA All-Star Wrestling. This moment would be featured in WWE's Spectacular Legacy of the AWA DVD released in 2006.
During this time, Hennig also appeared in the independent film, The Wrestler, where he faced Verne Gagne at the Cow Palace in the opening match. In 1976, Hennig formed a semi-successful team with Joe LeDuc.
Return to AWA
When Harley Race returned to the AWA in 1984, he wrestled Hennig's son, Curt - a match that was fueled by Larry Hennig's confronting his former tag team partner at the end of the match. The following year, Curt's first major push would be alongside his father in a feud with The Road Warriors. The Hennigs were unsuccessful in their bid to win the tag titles but proved to be worthy opponents, an attempt by the AWA to raise Curt's clout amongst fans. It was during this time that Curt became one of the biggest stars of the company and Larry's career came to a close. Before Larry's retirement in 1985, however, the Hennigs would win the NWA Pacific Northwest Tag Team Championship.
Among his famed work with Harley Race, on different occasions, Hennig traveled to New York City to unsuccessfully challenge the immensely popular Bruno Sammartino for his WWF Heavyweight Championship title. He is also frequently recognized for defeating a 16-year-old "Rowdy" Roddy Piper within 10 seconds in Piper's debut match in Winnipeg in 1970. Larry was mostly famous for being incredibly sweaty in the ring, thus making it difficult for the workers to hold him.
Larry Hennig and his wife later owned a successful real estate company in St. Cloud, Minnesota, and he remained active in the promotion of professional wrestling. He also dabbled in Commodity Futures, specifically CME Dairy. Hennig made occasional public appearances, such as at the IPW "Night of Icons" show on July 14, 2006, where he signed autographs along with Harley Race, Terry Funk, and Ted DiBiase. The following day, he accepted his induction into the George Tragos/Lou Thesz Professional Wrestling Hall of Fame. Hennig also appeared at WrestleMania 23, where, along with his daughter-in-law Leonice, he represented his son in the WWE Hall of Fame Class of 2007 induction. That same year, Curt was also inducted into the Tragos/Thesz Hall of Fame with Larry appearing in Waterloo to represent him.
Hennig endured knee problems in his later years as a result of the serious ring injury he suffered in 1967. His son, Curt, died on February 10, 2003 of acute cocaine intoxication. Curt left Hennig and Irene with four grandchildren. After the highly publicized death of Chris Benoit and his son, Hennig shared a few words with USA Today regarding premature deaths in professional wrestling. He also spoke extensively about his son and his favorite matches on the retrospective DVD set The Life and Times of Mr. Perfect, released by WWE in September 2008. On 2013, Hennig received the Lou Thesz award, due to has taken the skills of the profession into the realm of public service. Also, Hennig makes history by becoming the first person to be inducted into the George Tragos/Lou Thesz Professional Wrestling Hall of Fame, and to receive the Lou Thesz Award.
- Wrestlers managed
- Finishing moves
- "The Axe"
- "Pretty Boy"
Championships and accomplishments
- American Wrestling Association
- NWA Western States Sports
- NWA Texas Brass Knuckles Championship (1 time)
- Other titles
- IWA Tag Team Championship (1 time) - with Bob Windham
- George Tragos/Lou Thesz Professional Wrestling Hall of Fame inductee (Class of 2006)