Being The Booker: Out with Curtis Axel, in with Joe Hennig

The Calfornia-based John LaRocca has been a pro wrestling booker for nearly nine years, having booked with All Pro Wrestling from 2008-12. He currently co-owns and books Premier Wrestling. This series will see John take a current WWE wrestler and give him a path based on his experience.

Pro wrestling has always been tough on second generation wrestlers. The pressure is enormous as everything from the in-ring performance to achievements are always compared to their father or mother.

One second generation wrestler that I feel can still really break out is Curtis Axel. Because he’s been in the WWE since 2010, most fans probably feel there is no possibility for upward movement, but I disagree.   

I’ve always felt Axel never had a storyline that people could emotionally invest in. His biggest success was being put with Paul Heyman as his manager and repackaged as Curtis Axel in May of 2013. He quickly won the Intercontinental Championship and all seemed good, but in reality, Axel was just a background player in the CM Punk vs. Heyman feud.

Once that program ended, Heyman left him as his manager and soon after, he lost his championship. After that, he fell lower on the card with no real impact. His most recent gimmick was as a member of the Social Outcasts group with Heath Slater and Bo Dallas, but as comedy relief.

I’ve always enjoyed Axel’s work. I think he is one of most talented technical guys on the roster. His timing is good and body of work in a match is really smooth. With his “I was never eliminated from the Royal Rumble” gimmick in 2014 and the Outcasts gimmick, Axel showed he has a lot of personality. But while gimmicks like that are entertaining for the short term, they do nothing for you long term.

He just needs something fans can sink their teeth into, and a reason to care about him again.  

This past Monday on Raw, his latest gimmick was unveiled: “Mr. Irrelevant” an NFL term designated for the guy picked last in draft. When I saw he was picked last in the WWE Draft, I thought that that was something they could run with. Here’s how I would turn being chosen last into something positive starting with tonight’s Raw.

August 1st: WWE.com announcement that Axel is taking a leave of absence

Due to being distraught from being picked last during the draft and losing last week to Neville on Raw, Axel requests a leave of absence. This announcement would be very low key on WWE.com, social media, etc. On Raw later that night, there’s a quick mention of Axel taking a leave of absence.

August 8th: Raw vignette #1 “The Road To So Far”

The first of four vignettes focused on Axel and his WWE career so far begins on Raw. Axel is at his home, talking about various memorabilia like his Nexus shirt, the WWE Tag Team Championship, and the Intercontinental Championship. Axel says winning the I-C title was the highlight of his career so far, especially because it was the same championship his father held. After losing the title, he felt like he was just spinning his wheels.

With the announcement of the draft, he felt positive things would come for him. But then, he was picked last. Being picked last means that nobody saw value in him. With his confidence down, he felt like his head was someplace else rather than inside the ring on Raw vs. Neville. He had to step away and contemplate if he wanted to continue his career in the WWE.

The vignette ends with Axel still looking at his memorabilia and the shot finally stops as he holds a picture of his father, “Mr. Perfect” Curt Hennig.

August 15th: Raw vignette #2 “Perfect Expectations”

The second of four vignettes takes place at his childhood home and focuses on Axel’s relationship with his father, his father’s death, and the overwhelming expectations of being the son of one of the best wrestlers in WWE history.

Axel talks about when he started to get into pro wrestling and how everyone would compare him to his father. Though he was natural in the ring like his father, people expected him to be as perfect as his father was. People expected greatness from start, and when those expectations were not met, they quickly forgot about him.

Axel explains that he took the name “Michael McGillicutty” to escape the comparisons to his famous father. When Heyman convinced him to change his ring to name to Curtis Axel, he embraced it because he believed in Heyman and with winning the I-C title, he thought he finally was living up to those expectations.

After losing the title, he was right back to square one. People expected him to regain the championship like his father, but he never did. He soon went from a “Paul Heyman guy” to being fired. Just like that, the legacy of his father’s legendary career was once again a huge weight on his shoulders.

August 22nd: Raw Curtis Axel Vignette #3 “The Rock Says…”

The third of four vignettes focuses on interviews with Axel’s family and friends. His family and friends all say the same thing: he needs to get over his fear of letting his father’s legacy down. He needs to remember his pedigree and remember he has all the tools to not only match his father’s legacy inside the squared circle, but also become a bigger superstar.

The final person interviewed is The Rock, a WWE superstar who also had the pressure of living up to his famous father’s legacy in the ring. The Rock gives Axel a motivational speech and at the end tells him to be himself, Joe Hennig, and to be who he really is, just like Rocky Maivia found himself as The Rock.

The end of the vignette shows Joe Hennig watching The Rock’s speech on TV. Joe looks down and opens up a suitcase and pulls out his father’s “Mr. Perfect” singlet and boots.

August 29th: Raw Joe Hennig Vignette #4 “The Perfect Path”

The fourth week of vignettes focuses on the now former Curtis Axel no longer afraid to fail to live up this father’s legacy, but now embracing the challenge to exceed it. The final vignette shows Hennig training with various clips of Curt Hennig in action inside the squared circle in the video package. At the end of the vignette, Hennig cuts a promo, talking about how he is now ready for his return to Raw, and ready to take that perfect path to the top.

September 5th: Joe Hennig returns versus Epico on Raw

With a new entrance, wearing his father’s singlet, and now using his real name, Hennig pins Epico with his new finisher, the fisherman’s suplex buster.

The Perfect Streak

Filled with confidence and finding the belief in himself,  Joe Hennig goes on a winning streak. He works his way up the card by defeating all the competitors picked ahead of him in the draft.  Week after week, the streak becomes a focus and those on the Raw roster want to snap it.

This all builds to Hennig earning a title shot at the WWE United States Championship. US Champion Rusev laughs at the challenge, and looks forward to both ending his winning streak and crushing his dreams. The match is signed for Hell In The Cell on October 30th.

WWE Hell In The Cell, October 30th: WWE US Champion Rusev versus Joe Hennig

Hennig pins Rusev to win the United States Championship. After the match, his family and friends come into the ring and celebrate with him.

The second segment following the US title match, the cameras catch Hennig in the locker room surrounded by his peers who are showering him with champagne. His fellow wrestlers leave and Joe clutches the belt, puts a towel over his head, and lets all the emotions out that have been building to this moment. 

**********

You are probably reading this and thinking that I am crazy for wasting my time on re-booting the Joe Hennig character, but I love a challenge. I truly believe everyone on the WWE roster has great value, and you just need to find the right story to get the fans emotionally invested in that person.

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