I vaguely remember Dick shouting, “Larry turn him loose!”
In the early 80’s I became friends with a good golfer who loved to play golf for money, drink Tanqueray and Tonic and knew people from every walk of life. Dick was not the kind of person you would want your daughter to marry!
We had finished a round of golf at my golf course on the west side of Mille Lacs Lake between Garrison and Grand Casino. My friend Dick had set up the game to introduce me to Larry “The Axe” Hennig. Hennig, who owned a log home on Mille Lacs near my course, was in the twilight of his memorable career as a professional wrestler.
Larry Hennig grew up in Robbinsdale, MN where he excelled in sports. He was a high school heavyweight wrestling champion and a great football player. He received a scholarship to the University of Minnesota to participate in both football and wrestling. His career as a college athlete was cut short because he had to make money to support his already growing family. Hennig and his wife had five children.
Hennig started his professional wrestling career with the America Wrestling Association (AWA). He had a perfect personality for the newly created AWA and the growing TV audience who followed their “bad boy” heroes. His popularity blossomed when he teamed with Harley Race as tag team partners. Race and Hennig branded themselves as “Handsome” Harley Race and “Pretty Boy” Larry Hennig, a cocky tag team that became famous for breaking any of the loose AWA rules to win matches.
In 1965 they defeated the tandem of Dick The Bruiser and The Crusher to capture the AWA World Tag Team Championship becoming the youngest tag team champions ever. For years Handsome and Pretty Boy continued to the feud with The Bruiser and The Crusher. This rivalry made AWA one of the most popular shows on television. Race and Hennig won three World Championships. They toured the world doing wrestling exhibitions matches. During this time Hennig, who was well known for being brutal, created his famous “Sleeper Hold.”
The Sleeper Hold was a type of head lock where Hennig used his massive arms to squeeze the neck of his opponent. The Sleeper Hold cut off the blood supply to the brain from the carotid artery until the wrestler became unconscious.
After a few beers and a heated discussion concerning winners and losers of the golf game, Henning invited the group to his home for a few Tanqueray and Tonics. Henning was a firm believer that with enough lime juice the Tanqueray would not cause a hangover. The lime juice was flowing freely.
Hennig was a great host. As the lime juice flowed there was an endless supply of venison sausage and crackers. The conversation shifted from golf to football to wrestling. That is when I made the near fatal mistake.
As I washed down a mouthful of venison sausage with lime juice I said, “Larry, we all know that professional wrestling is fake. Tell me is that Sleeper Hold that you became famous for real or is it just part of the made for TV show?”
The next day Dick asked me, “RJ, did you see the look in Larry’s eyes when you asked if the Sleeper Hold was fake?”
As he sat is his overstuffed chair the insulted Larry said to me, “You think the Sleeper Hold is fake? Why don’t you come over here and find out for yourself?”
Never one to back down from a challenge, I sat my T&T with lime juice on the table and walked over to face Larry who was now standing.
In a quick-as-a-cat move Larry had me in his arms. Instantly I knew that I was in trouble. Larry “The Axe” Hennig was huge with a body made of steel. I felt like I was engulfed by an aircraft carrier. Suddenly his Popeye like forearms were on each side of my skinny neck.
Larry looked me directly in the eye as a grin expanded on his bearded face. As I smelled the lime juice breath only inches from my face, then he tightened his grip as the smile grew. I was swallowed into a muscular time warp.
I don’t know if it was minutes or seconds, I only remember Dick screaming, “Larry turn him loose!”
For years as the T&T with lime juice flowed my friend Dick would recall how he saved me from The Axe and his famous Sleeper Hold.