Curtis Axel has spiraled downward ever since he lost his Intercontinental Championship back in 2013. Luckily for him, his career didn't have to fall far to reach rock bottom...again. You would think that after having as many repackages, a WWE Superstar would eventually find his stride, yet Axel does not seem to click well with the WWE Universe.
It's not like he hasn't had ample opportunities to shine in WWE. Axel—real name Joseph Curtis "Joe" Hennig—was booked on the second season of NXT under the ring name Michael McGillicutty. It was his first time in the ring without using his real name. With Kofi Kingston as his pro mentor, he went on a six match win streak and had control at the top of the voting polls. He finished the season as the runner-up, losing to Kaval. Along with the other eliminated wrestlers, he joined in turning heel and attacking Kaval.
His main roster career began by aligning with one of the most dominant stable in WWE at the time, The Nexus. While he wasn't one of the more focused on members of the group, he was still made to look strong while being in the faction. When CM Punk took over as the head of The Nexus, McGillicutty was kept on in a much smaller group. While being in a smaller group would have made him more popular, WWE went the opposite way with it.
After failing to beat Randy Orton in a match, Orton punted McGillicutty in the head. It was used for an angle to write him off the show, as he was being prepared to be repackaged soon. Instead, he won his first WWE title: WWE Tag Team Championship. Sadly, when CM Punk left WWE, the New Nexus was disbanded and McGillicutty was forgotten again. He spent nearly two years off the main roster shows and on house shows only mostly on NXT and Superstars. He lost more than 20 non-NXT matches in a row in this time.
After a decent run on NXT and many short-comings for WWE gold, Hennig made his return to the main roster on Raw as "Curtis Axel" in reference to his father Mr. Perfect (aka Curt Hennig) and his grandfather Larry "The Axe" Hennig". He finally had some good luck in WWE, being paired with legendary manager Paul Heyman.
Heyman must have been a good luck charm, because Axel won matches over Triple H, WWE Champion John Cena and Chris Jericho. Axel also won his first WWE singles title when he beat The Miz and Wade Barrett for the Intercontinental Championship. It was a very personal win, as he became part of the first father-son duo to win the IC title. He would defend the belt in many hard fought battles, dropping it after 155 days and leading to him joining fellow "Paul Heyman Guy" Ryback to form the tag team RybAxel.
After going through yet another character change, Axel's tenure with RybAxel actually gained some momentum at first. However, the duo was never taken seriously as competitors for the WWE Tag Team Championship belts. When Ryback took a hiatus for surgery, Axel competed solo again, coming up short in not one, but two battle royals for a championship.
Back as a singles competitor, he was set up with—big surprise—another character change.
At the 2015 Royal Rumble, Axel was #6, but was attacked by Erick Rowan and never officially entered the match, so in his mind, he was also never officially eliminated just the same and should be going on to WrestleMania. Thus, AxelMania was born.
He began cutting promos with the likes of Dean Ambrose, John Cena, and Rusev. Axel turned face when he joined forces with Damien Sandow during his stint of different personas. They formed The Meta Powers, with Axel impersonating Hulk Hogan and Sandow pretending to be" Macho Man" Randy Savage. Even though they connected with the audience, they had to quit the personas when Hulk Hogan was fired from WWE.
In 2016, WWE decided to turn Axel heel again and team him with fellow jobbers Bo Dallas, Heath Slater, and Adam Rose to form The Social Outcasts. Even though they were all losers, the group itself was actually looking like a positive thing for these outcasts. They began their tenure by feuding with The Wyatt Family. However, the group's spark faded pretty quickly and they went back to being just regular outcasts.
In July, WWE did a complete draft of the entire roster. Axel was the final pick, going to Raw. As the final pick, Axel was given a new gimmick of "Mr. Irrelevant", being the last pick similar to the NFL. After a losing streak, the gimmick was dropped and so was Axel, who hasn't been on television for some time now.
There you have it. Joe Hennig has gone through more than seven different gimmicks during his time in WWE. Some caught fire, some faded quickly, and some were just complete duds. Usually after three or four failed attempts, wrestlers tend to be released. Hennig has been kept around and it is a good thing. He has the potential to be a decent star in WWE, but he needs the right character and booking. Here is a list of steps WWE can follow to ensure Hennig finally gets over the hump, if he even can.
Step 1: Use his history as a third-generation Superstar to build his character
This includes him reverting back to his real name in the ring, Joe Hennig. His grandfather and father were both successful with the company. Either turn him face and have his character wanting to follow in his father's footsteps and carry the family legacy or turn him heel and have him prove he is better than his father and grandfather and that he is not a third-generation jobber.
Step 2: Do NOT send him back to NXT as a competitor
Hennig is nearly 40 and if he was to be sent back down to the developmental league, then he will fail. He has the mic skills and the in-ring abilities to succeed, but his character needs to be tweaked. He may only have a few more good years left in the ring and they should be spent where it really matters: the main roster.
Step 3: Give him a real win streak and a title to match
Hennig does not have many accomplishments in WWE, but his biggest may be his 155 day title reign as the Intercontinental Championship holder. He can help make the secondary titles much more important and with much more meaning. He has already proven he can run with some of the top superstars and he can have some great feuds with the likes of Sami Zayn, Finn Balor, Bray Wyatt, and John Cena. Putting him in the proper feuds can make him a legitimate threat in WWE. Bringing back the charisma he had as Michael McGillicutty in NXT seems best.
Step 4: If steps 1-3 fail and Hennig is done as a competitor, make him a manager
There is the sad truth that maybe Joe Hennig has already climaxed in a WWE ring as a fighter. Luckily, he is still on the younger side for a manager and his mic skills can be great. He is a long-time veteran in the company and could pair with a younger talent in NXT and show them the ropes and help propel their own career. He could pair with a fellow third-gen star and former ally Bo Dallas.
Step 5: Above all else, do not use him in comedic roles
During Hennig's run through his many personas, he had more comedic roles than serious ones. While a few were popular for a little while, he would thrive more as a serious threat who can use humor in some promos.
What do you think? Will these steps help make Hennig relevant again? Or has he run his course in the WWE and should start looking at TNA or ROH? Comment below your thought or any ideas you may have on ideas to fix his career.