By Jeffrey Lutz
Sunday night at Payback, Curtis Axel captured the Intercontinental Championship 24 years after his father, who became synonymous with that title as a workhorse during the 1980s and '90s, won it for the first time. It was a great babyface moment except for one problem -- Axel isn't a babyface.
WWE's lack of direction early in Axel's run, standing alone, isn't a major problem. With Paul Heyman by his side, Axel will have plenty of opportunities to settle into his role as a villain while carving a niche around his own strengths. Unfortunately for Axel, the timing of his push and his personal skill set will probably prevent him from breaking through in a major way.
Heyman's presence, while a boost for any blossoming wrestler, might ultimately be working against Axel. Though Heyman has a history of turning lesser-known performers into major stars by masking their weaknesses, Heyman has become a manager to the biggest names in the industry. It just doesn't look or feel the same when, after accompanying Brock Lesnar and C.M. Punk, Heyman associates with Axel. It also creates expectations for Axel that are unfair to saddle him with and nearly impossible for him to reach.
Axel's pedigree as a third-generation wrestler also seems to be working against him, if only because WWE can't seem to figure out a way to break him away from his father's legacy. I'm all for frequent reminders that Hennig's father was Mr. Perfect, but WWE has been hot and cold on whether to acknowledge that fact. When it's convenient for WWE to do so, like when Axel won the Intercontental Championship, Curt Hennig's name is mentioned. But considering Axel's character was built on the idea of creating his own identity, the wishy-washy aspect of Axel's story so far has been confusing.
It was especially head-scratching for me when, in the promo explaining Axel's identity change from Michael McGillicutty, Heyman explained that Axel's goal was essentially to no longer walk on the trail his father and grandfather, Larry "The Ax" Hennig blazed ahead of him. I liked that logic, but it seemed to go out the window when Axel's name, a combination of his father's and grandfather's, was announced. WWE would be better served to embrace Axel's lineage rather than avoid it, because avoiding it is too difficult. It will always come up.
The problem with Axel's new name -- in addition to the plethora of problems with his old one -- is that while "Curtis Axel" sounds cool, he looks like a guy named Joe Hennig. WWE should have, and still could eventually, run with that name, because it might be the only noticeable connection between Axel and Mr. Perfect. Axel doesn't look like his dad and doesn't have the same moveset, so allowing him to go by his real name would be beneficial even though that goes against WWE's unwritten policy. It would also create a connection between Axel and fans who fondly remember Mr. Perfect's unique talents.
That brings us back to the original problem -- Axel is a heel even though he should probably be a babyface based on his real-life individual traits. Unfortunately, a strong babyface must develop a positive connection with the audience, something Axel doesn't seem to be capable of doing at this stage of his career. Axel's limited microphone skills necessitate a manager and a mouthpiece, and Heyman is basically the only option even though Axel doesn't fit in with Heyman's other clients.
Against his own better interests, Axel was re-introduced as a heel. Two or three years ago, giving Axel a strong heel push wouldn't have been a problem because back then WWE could have used the incorporation of new blood. Now, however, WWE, aside from the ubiquitous John Cena, is built around new blood, especially on the heel side. To get to the top of the card, Axel must pass The Shield, Punk (who seems primed for a turn), Ziggler (same), and be positioned higher than the numerous mid-card heels who are in the same spot as Axel.
WWE appears unwilling to provide Axel that kind of momentum. He has been constantly buried by Triple H and other members of the Axel family for being inferior to the company's true main-event stars, and Axel's series of matches against Triple H and John Cena did little to establish him as a household name. WWE has backed off Axel's push by handing him a mid-card (at best) title, so he's in danger of becoming lost in the shuffle if he hasn't already.
Axel has potential. His in-ring work is solid and his look is that of someone who belongs in the main-event picture. His bloodlines are also to his benefit, if only WWE consistently shared that line of thinking. Unfortunately, current circumstances don't allow Axel much room to reach his potential. In a vacuum, Axel's positives outweigh his negatives. On the WWE landscape, though, Axel has too much to overcome to become a major star.
Jeff Lutz has written for the Wichita Eagle newspaper in Kansas for over a decade and debuted with Prowrestling.net on November 4, 2012. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Lutz's Blog: Too many drawbacks for Curtis Axel to become a major WWE star
Jun 17, 2013 - 02:47 PM
Jun 17, 2013 - 02:47 PM
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