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Called ‘Pretty Boy’ or ‘The Axe’, pro wrestler Larry Hennig was an original

December 7, 2018

The Wicked Wort Brewery Co. is located in Robbinsdale and has named specialty beers in honor of local celebrities. On Nov. 17, the guest was Larry Hennig, and the beer unveiled was The Axe is Back Pecan Brown.

Hennig quit consuming beer and other alcohol products many years ago, but those of us who watched him in TV interviews and in the wrestling ring its hard to see Larry as a pecan brown kind of a guy.

Maybe a shot and a Grain Belt, but definitely not a pecan-flavored brew.

Larry was Big Red, and then he was Pretty Boy with tag-team partner Handsome Harley Race, and then he was The Axe in these parts, as well as an evil foil for heroes Bruno Sammartino and Pedro Morales in Madison Square Garden.

Hennig also was a devoted family man. He was married to Irene for more than 60 years, with five kids and 28 grandchildren so many grandkids that Larry joked that he assigned them numbers because he had no chance to remember all those names.

On Thursday, Hennigs family confirmed that Larry had died at age 82. His grandson Curt Axel, a third-generation wrestling star in the WWE, sent out a Twitter message in which he called Larry another father when I lost mine.

Curt Hennig, Larrys son and Axels father, was a huge attraction in the WWE as Mr. Perfect. He died from what was ruled cocaine poisoning in 2003 at age 44.

That was a tremendous emotional blow to Larry, said George Schire, author of several books on the glory days of the AWA. We didnt see much of him for a couple of years after Curts death. He always had been a really funny guy and was able to bounce back.

Hennig was the Minnesota state wrestling champion at Robbinsdale High School in 1954.

A few years earlier, Verne Gagne was the Robbinsdale legend who won state titles and also two NCAA titles for the Gophers.

Gagne and a partner, Joe Pazandak, trained Hennig to become a pro wrestler. Gagne also was the star attraction and the owner of the AWA. In 1963, Hennig went to Amarillo, Texas, to wrestle for the Funk brothers, and when he came back, he was Big Red and he was a rules-breaker.

This set off a long feud with Gagne. Most wrestling feuds of the AWA era ended with the participants going to the bar together after the matches in Winnipeg or Denver or Fargo, N.D.

Both Schire and Vernes son, Greg, said that Verne and Larry had a genuine dislike for one another.

Larrys most-famous tag-team run came as the Pretty Boy to Handsome Harley. They teamed up starting in 1964 and would open TV interviews with Larry saying, We have the bodies of Hercules, the minds of Einstein and the faces of the Goddess of Love.

Schire said, And then Harley would add, We have the bodies that men fear and women crave.

How are you going to like guys with those egos?

In later years, Hennig was The Axe and one of his rivals was Greg Gagne.

Streaking was big then, and Larrys vow was that if he couldnt beat me in 10 minutes, he would streak down Hennepin Avenue, Gagne said. I was early in my career. Larry was over 300 pounds and knew all the tricks.

My dad was at ringside yelling, Slap him. Slap him. I finally slapped him. The Axe clotheslined me with a forearm and knocked me out of the ring.

And he didnt have to streak down Hennepin Avenue.

Patrick Reusse can be heard 3-6 p.m. weekdays on AM-1500.

E-mail: preusse@hbi.com

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