Does Joe “Curtis Axel” have a real viable future in WWE? Or is he too hard of a sell to fans?
OK, so at first glance, the NXT star has a few things going for him.
After several years languishing in the lower midcard doldrums, he's regained prominence thanks to his high-profile association with top manager Paul Heyman.
He's main evented Raw a few times, too. And at WWE's Payback pay-per-view last Sunday, he was given the Intercontinental Championship.
Axel is currently embroiled in a feud with Miz, a popular and talented wrestler who will surely be able to bring out the best in the third-generation star.
On paper, it all sounds very promising. But scratch beneath the surface and you'll notice more than a few problems.
First of all, apart from his credible—and touching—win at Payback, Axel has been booked terribly. Sure, he has technically defeated Triple H and John Cena in matches, but those victories were total flukes, and everyone knew they were total flukes.
The accompanying storylines didn't do Axel any favors, either.
Following Triple H's concussion, Stephanie and Vince McMahon were determined to keep him out of the ring. But not because they were worried about what Axel would do to him. In fact, it was frequently mentioned on television that Stephanie considered the third-generation wrestler “beneath” her husband. Vince dissed him, too.
Judging by some recent TV segments, “The Game” has seemingly forgotten about getting revenge on the rising star, too. He's got other things on his mind—mainly, trying to control his crazy and dysfunctional family.
The message here is clear: Axel is not in Triple H's league—at all.
Not that Axel is totally blameless here.
His shortcomings—a dull personality and struggling mic skills—are as obvious as they ever were. There was a reason he was stuck in developmental-show hell for so long, and it wasn't just the awful “Michael McGillicutty” name.
In fact, he calls to mind that other third-generation star, Ted DiBiase Jr. Similar to Axel, Ted had a good physique and was highly competent in the ring. However, his lack of charisma and non-existent mic skills meant he never went anywhere in WWE.
Will Axel have a similar fate?
Granted, he has Heyman as a manager, and as one of the best talkers in wrestling history, Heyman will surely help compensate for Axel's flaws as a performer.
But, really, Heyman is only one man. He can't do it all for his client. At some point the wrestler is going to have to come into his own.
Of course, you could claim that Axel is a young star and has plenty of time to improve. But he is not young. He's 33. That's the same age as Randy Orton. He's actually older than guys like Jack Swagger, Daniel Bryan and Wade Barrett.
If, after several years on the roster (he signed a deal with WWE in 2008), he still hasn't shown any real personality, will he ever?
Ideally, Axel will face up to the flaws in his repertoire and rectify them.
Perhaps he could attend acting or improv classes—assuming he hasn't already—like many wrestlers before him have to help bring out their personalities.
He should also attempt to learn from Heyman about speaking well and getting a reaction from the crowd. It's not hard to get advice and help in WWE, you just have to ask for it.
At his age, this may very well be Joe Hennig's last shot at the big time. Let's hope he can live up to it.