Source: Frank Rajkowski of the St. Cloud Times
For a number of years now, Larry Hennig has made his home in the St. Cloud area where he runs the Larry Hennig Realty and Auction company.
But he is best known, of course, as Larry “The Axe” Hennig — a legend in the professional wrestling ranks.
And 50 years ago this week, he was on the card of a wrestling event held at the old Municipal Stadium in St. Cloud. “The Axe” met Doug Gilbert in a two-out-of-three falls bout.
The main event pitted American Wrestling Association world champion Verne Gagne against “Russian” challenger Ivan Kalmikoff.
Hennig doesn’t remember much about that particular card. But he does remember wrestling in St. Cloud often over the course of his lengthy career.
“We wrestled up in St. Cloud a number of times,” Hennig said. “At the armory and places like that. (Fellow wrestlers) Larry Heinemi and Buddy Wolfe both went to school there (at St. Cloud State).”
Added Hennig: “The smaller towns were really a lot more prevalent back then. We’d go to St. James, Rochester, Duluth — places like that.
“St. Cloud was actually bigger than some of the other places.”
Hennig did have a tale to spin about events that once occurred following a card in St. Cloud. Also on the bill was a wrestling bear named Vic the Bruiser (in homage to wrestler Dick the Bruiser). After the matches, a number of wrestlers repaired to a bar in downtown St. Cloud where a loudmouth belittled professional wrestling and challenged the wrestlers as Vic waited in the parking lot.
“The guy was into the whiskey and he started smarting off about wrestling,” Hennig said. “So we told him we had somebody that would straighten him out. He said to go get whoever we wanted. So the doors open up and suddenly there’s Vic the Bruiser. You want to see people run for the exits. The look on their faces was priceless. They couldn’t wait to get out of there. Here you had this bear about nine or 10 feet tall standing on its back legs.”
After leaving that establishment, Hennig and the group headed for a bar in East St. Cloud located along Highway 23. There, Vic came inside handcuffed to his handler.
“The bear was sitting there at the bar and drinking beer,” Hennig said. “And this college kid came up and said he liked animals. He wanted to take the chain and put it around him. The bear’s handler said that was fine. And now this kid is chained to the bear.”
Unfortunately, that was also when a pair of Dobermans owned by the bar’s proprietor got loose and charged at the bear, who decided the time had come to make a hasty exit.
“He tore off through that door and the college kid went along with him with those Dobermans right on their tail,” Hennig said. “The bear was running down Highway 23 headed toward Highway 10. He wasn’t stopping and the dogs weren’t stopping either. Fortunately, we were able to catch up to them and cut him off.”
These days, Hennig is still running his real estate business. But he is also watching with pride as his grandson Joseph — known professionally as Curtis Axel — receives a major push in Vince McMahon’s WWE. The name is an homage to both his late father Curt “Mr. Perfect” Hennig and his grandfather (note the Ax in Axel).
“He’s no overnight sensation,” Hennig said. “He’s been working hard the past five years to get where he’s at. And he deserves it. He’s representing a billion dollar company. You have to be good or you’re going to be gone. They can’t afford any misfires there.”