Curtis Axel wrestles in the shadow of two legends and just doesn't have the charisma to cut through it.
Were Axel not the son of "Mr. Perfect" Curt Hennig and the grandson of Larry "The Axe" Hennig, we'd surely look at him differently—our expectations adjusted. Even without that pressure, though, Axel wouldn't enter WWE's upper echelon.
He just doesn't compare favorably to the biggest stars and most complete wrestlers on the roster.
His current position is an ideal one for him. Paul Heyman serves as both his mouthpiece and a means to inspire loathing from the audience. The Intercontinental Championship, even if it's not as prestigious as it once was, is still an honor to hold.
Axel can thrive as a villainous midcard champ.
He can produce quality ring work and be a valuable component in various storylines. You can't ask Axel to carry a feud, though.
While Heyman and CM Punk have gone at it over the past few months, Axel has drifted into the background. Blame some of that on the way he's being presented, but Axel's lack of presence is a major part of that as well.
Renaming him, aligning him with Heyman and keeping him a heel have all been wise decisions. Axel has to shine beyond that and isn't radiant enough to get noticed.
Praise from His Peers
Several former wrestlers and folks in the industry clearly like Axel.
Taking apart what they choose to compliment about him reveals his talents but highlights his weaknesses as well. Take Chris Jericho's comment about him on Twitter.
Axel is good, but one wonders who how much better he can get at age 33. That's the same age as Randy Orton.
You don't hear about Orton improving because he's already reached such a high level that improvements at this point are subtle refinements at most. For Axel, it feels like we're waiting for him to fulfill his potential, but perhaps what we're seeing from him now is his best
One can't expect Axel to make a major transformation at this stage in his career. He is who he is.
To Dustin Rhodes, that means being one of the top talents in the company.
Rhodes is right in that Axel is extremely talented. It's not his talent that's in question—it's his personality and presence.
Jim Ross wrote on his blog, "Curtis is a big, athletic kid who is tough." He also noted that Axel has worked hard. It's hard to argue with those statements, either.
It's what Sid Vicious tweeted about Axel that rings true on the negative side. In a tweet that has since been deleted but can be seen on this Facebook page, Vicious said that Axel needs to "improve his mic skills and enhance his charisma."
Those are the deficiencies Axel has to overcome to make it beyond where he stands right now, but it is his physical abilities that got him there in the first place.
All the Tools but One
In the ring, Axel's lineage is clear.
He's powerful and intimidating like his grandfather and athletic and has great body control like his father. He'll be a dependable source of quality matches for WWE for years to come.
He has yet to have his magnum opus in the ring but has looked best against smaller, speedy guys like Dolph Ziggler, Sin Cara, Tyson Kidd and Kofi Kingston. William Regal genuinely sounded impressed watching Axel in action against Kidd in 2012.
Axel gives you everything you want in a performance here, clubbing Kidd to the ground, grinding his elbow into his head, taunting him, selling dramatically and landing a beautiful dropkick to Kidd in midair.
This is a good match, something Axel has been producing throughout his career.
He's intense, aggressive and hits a dropkick worthy of admiration.
One doesn't get the kind of acclaim Axel has received from the likes of Rhodes and Ross without talent. One doesn't make it this far without being a good wrestler, but the narrative of Axel's career has been that he's lacking something.
Being agile, powerful and skilled can only take you so far; star power is what makes or breaks a WWE career.
The Supporting Actor
Star power isn't necessarily the same as people about to entertain via microphone. Brock Lesnar's star power is undeniable; his mic work isn't impressive.
Axel sounds good in interviews and promos. Like his ring work, he's technically sound in this department. There's just less fire in his persona than WWE fans are used to.
Take this promo alongside Heyman, for example.
Axel enunciates, projects and times his lines well, everything your drama teacher tells you to do. The issue is that it comes out flat.
He's not a leading man; he's not magnetic enough to hold our attention.
That's exactly why WWE put Heyman with him; Heyman is the car wreck you have to crane your neck to see. That can only take Axel so far, though.
Heyman spoke for Lesnar, but Lesnar made fans gravitate to him on his own as well. The inability to do that will be the leash that keeps Axel right where he is.
WWE already found the best way to funnel Axel's talents, and he's doing well as Heyman's client.
The company can't inject more charisma into his veins. He's near the peak of his potential and pushing him any higher would be like putting a backup singer in a front man's spot.
Expect Axel to tease toward a higher rung but not quite get there.
He'll be placed in a few Money in the Bank ladder matches and get one or two shots at the world title, but he won't win. Bigger stars get those victories, even if Axel is a better wrestler than them.
Axel can grow more comfortable and confident on the mic, and that will help. He will work a handful of matches that end up on someone's greatest hits collection.
That's what success will look like for him.
Measuring him against his father and grandfather is unfair. His career path is bound to look more like R-Truth's, with a number of midcard championships on his resume and one brief moment facing off against a top Superstar in a main event.
Axel will be the rooster looking to get attention as he's overshadowed by the spread tails of peacocks.