Wearing masks and face paint is a tradition as old as time itself. Ancient civilizations used face paint to make their appearance more intimidating for their enemy, creating a new persona of death and fear. Masks were used for storytelling, rituals and as armor to portray animals and their gods. The tradition of using face paint and masks to convey a character continues today in the wrestling ring.
Wearing a mask to wrestle is one of its most revered traditions. Luchadors in Mexico were never seen without their mas. Ever. It was even commonplace for the biggest names to be buired in their mask, thus never revealing their true identity. The death of true kayfabe has broken this illusion, but the concept of masks still exist
Professional wrestling was always presented as morality play, and these plays have actors and characters. Some of these actors chose to portray their characters the same way the ancient peoples did: with face paint and a mask. The mask could be a call back to the ancient traditions of the sport, or it could be a way to simply hide a famous face. The face paint can be there to frighten and intimidate their opponent, or it could be a fun, bright way to express yourself. Either way, the tradition of masks and paint aren't going away anytime soon.
Some of the most famous wrestlers in the business choose to hide their true selves behind a costume, and because the industry is what it is today, there's always someone looking to find "the man behind the mask". Here are 15 well-known wrestlers who are well known for who they are inside the ring, but may not be as known without their trademark look.
The face of WCW and TNA (now GFW) is a face that we’ve only barely seen. Most famous for his “Crow” phase, Sting has worn face paint for his entire career. His early designs only went around his eyes and his nose, but when he really started to become The Man, he was covering his entire face with paint. It’s this period that most people know him from, so it’s always been rare to see him without his paint on. Now that he’s retired (thank you Seth Rollins…) it’s become more and more common to see the real Sting. So next time you’re at a wrestling convention and you see a goateed guy that looks juuuuuust the right kind of familiar, you can be sure it’s probably Sting.
14 Rey Mysterio
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The most famous luchador on the planet is famous precisely because of his mask. You can’t go to a wrestling event without seeing someone wearing his famous double eagle wrestling mask. His influence is even seen outside of wrestling, with masks appearing in sporting events around the world. Other than preserve his lucha heritage, the mask also ups his intimidation factor, which is a good thing because outside of the mask, Rey looks like your kid cousin. Allowing Rey to wrestle outside of his mask is such a bad idea that it helped kill WCW. For some stupid reason, WCW brass didn’t want masked characters.
Because of this dumb idea, Rey had a period where he wrestled maskless. Fortunately not many people remember this and we can enjoy a masked Rey on TV today. If you look at Rey's Instagram feed today, he's a little more open with revealing what he really looks like and he still looks like the teenager he looked like back in WCW.
13 El Torito
One-time Royal Rumble participant, and WeeLC champion El Torito was the unofficial mascot for Los Matadores. The Matadors, consisting of the recently-released Epico and Primo Colon Brothers, had a Spanish bull fighter gimmick, which obviously meant they needed a bull! El Torito (which translates to “little bull” in English) served as one-part hype man, one-part mascot and one-part wrestler. Before he came to WWE, Torito was a big player in AAA in Mexico, going by Mascarita Dorada (Little Golden Mask). Very little is known about Torito outside of the ring, including his real first name. There is, however, one picture of him outside of this mask. One could even say he look like a bull in that picture too!
12 The Ultimate Warrior
Before he died, Jim Helwig embodied The Ultimate Warrior, even going so far to changing his name to Warrior. One of the reasons Warrior was so famous was because of his trademark face paint. Cutting across his forehead, over his nose and down his cheeks, the Warrior face paint has influenced wrestlers for many years. The man behind the paint may be less known to modern-day fans because of Warrior’s fight with WWE over trademarks, and his unfortunate death. Other than a small appearance in WCW, Warrior was off TV for years at a time, staying out of the spotlight. When he finally returned to WWE for his Hall of Fame induction he was seen without his paint, but that partnership only lasted a short while as he died a short while later.
Rosemary is currently having one of the best careers in all of wrestling. Since making her debut in the dark-side faction known as Decay in GFW she has, to date, suffered only two professional losses. And not only that, each of these losses were to the current GFW unified champion. Aside from her penchant for victories, Rosemary is famous for her frightening, full-face look. Outside of the paint, Rosemary looks, well, normal. You would be hard-pressed to pick her out of a crowd at the local mall. Whatever normalcy lies in Rosemary outside of the ring, you can be rest assured that once that face paint comes on, and she’s in the ring, she is a force to be reckoned with.
10 The Boogeyman
You remember the weird kid in grade school who would always eat worms? Imagine that kid never grew out of that phase. He also lived in the weight room and got really, really weird. That kid is now The Boogeyman. Known more for his look and entrance than his in-ring work, the Boogeyman frightened children and other wrestlers for a brief time in the 2000s. The clock, face paint and worms certainly added to the fear everyone experienced when they saw him, but The Boogeyman is just as intimidating looking outside the paint. Even without the gimmick, The Boogeyman is a huge dude.
Like the Ultimate Warrior, Boogeyman spent a few years away from the WWE before being let back in. He is back in his old face paint, but no one can argue that he still looks good.
9 The Undertaker
Other than Hulk Hogan, there is only one other wrestler in history that passes the mom test; meaning that you could go up to your mom, who has no idea what wrestling is, and she would recognize his name. The recently retired superstar had a career unlike any other. The Undertaker is also an anomaly because he’s one of the only wrestlers to live his gimmick outside of the ring. It didn’t matter if it’s in an arena, or a shopping mall, you didn’t meet Mark Calaway, you met The Undertaker. He never wore face paint, but he had his share of trademarks: The hat, the gloves, the trenchcoat and even a bandana at one point. Seeing him out of costume was just as weird as seeing a Lucha outside of their mask. Even though he’s retired, you can still bet on Undertaker continuing the tradition of living his character in the real world.
Since his days in NXT, Kalisto has been the most over luchador in WWE since Rey Mysterio. His “Lu-cha! Lu-cha!” chant and his high-flying moveset often brought the WWE crowds to their feet. He was so over he even made Sin Cara relevant again! Kalisto is also one of the few masked wrestlers working in the business today that is almost never seen without his mask. Unfortunately for him, one of the most notorious mask-haters briefly exposed his face on TV.
Alberto Del Rio (who doesn’t wrestle in a mask, but used to) apparently really hates masks. He’s constantly trying to pull them off during matches, and sometimes he succeeds; he’s known for accidentally exposing both Rey and Sin Cara. Kalisto also fell victim to Del Rio’s mask hijinks.
7 Prince Puma
You could practically do an entire article of this featuring only wrestlers from Lucha Underground. After all, wearing a mask is one of Lucha’s most respected traditions. However, if there’s one Lucha who’s made a name for himself more than any other Lucha on that show, it’s Prince Puma. Seemingly from out of nowhere, Prince Puma rose the ranks of Lucha Underground to become its first ever champion. Puma is pretty well known outside of The Temple as well, only this time he’s known as Ricochet. Ricochet is famous for using a high-flying style in the independent scene and NJPW. Once you see him outside the mask, the most surprising thing to learn is Puma isn’t even Mexican, having grown up in Illinois.
The eldest of Dusty Rhodes’ wrestling sons has been riding his same character since the 90s. His weight and overall look may have changed over the years, but one thing has remained consistent: Goldust is always clad in glorious gold. The androgynous character always reflected a bit of pure Hollywood glitz and glam, and that was always reflected in his face paint. Nowadays, Goldust ditched the glittery gold and goes for a more stylized approach. He’s come out and said that every design of his face was created and applied by the man himself. With the amount of work it takes to create his look, you can’t blame him for appearing without his signature gold paint. However, when he’s hanging out with his daughter, or making appearances on his late father’s behalf, it’s not uncommon to see the real Dustin.
5 Sin Cara (Mistico)
Other than Rey Mysterio, Sin Cara is one of the longest-running masked characters in WWE history. He’s often forgotten about because he’s never been in the championship scene for a reasonable amount of time, but you can’t deny his longevity. Aside from his time with Kalisto, he’s probably best known for the storyline where there were two Sin Caras running around.
The original Sin Cara is better known as Mistico and was only around for a little while. Sin Cara is now played by the former Hunico, who even had a short stint as himself in the WWE (ironically, often losing to Sin Cara). We've seen the current Sin Cara without the mask, as he went under Hunico for a while, but not many have seen what the original Sin Cara, Mistico, looked like.
4 Ember Moon
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Ember Moon is still climbing the ranks of NXT. While she doesn't keep her real life appearance all that hidden, she does come to the ring in super cool colored contact lenses. She almost looks like a mythical creature when she comes to the ring, so it leads one to wonder what the regular person looks like. Ember Moon isn't really shy about sharing that on Instagram. It's only a matter of time before Moon makes her way up to the main roster and when she does, you wonder if the WWE will want her to stay in her disguise more often or if she'll just be allowed to be who she is. In any event, she's done some good work in NXT and we can't wait for her to get the call-up.
The late 80s and early 90s Tag Team scene was dominated by the fearsome group known as Demolition. Consisting of Ax and Smash (and eventually, Crush) these two wrestled themselves all the way to championship gold. Their look consisted of black studded vests and fearsome-looking red and silver face paint. Their look and attitude became one of the most influential looks in WWE history, with the effects still being seen today (Looking at you Ascension). Given the timeframe of their ascent, it’s not surprising to hear there are only a handful of photos of Demolition outside of their war paint; this was back in a time where kayfabe was taken much more seriously than it is today. Your best chance of seeing Ax and Smash outside of their paint is by visiting them at a convention or seeing them on the streets.
2 Ultimo Dragon
The original cruiserweight division in WCW was a revelation in American wrestling. Nowhere else on American soil were the Lucha and Japanese wrestlers given a chance like they were in WCW. One of the biggest names to land in WCW was Japan’s Ultimo Dragon. He was already a huge name overseas, but WCW gave the American audience a chance to see this legend in our ring. He quickly became a mainstay of the division; including championship runs. His influence is still seen today, as he has moved from a full-time performer, to a performer and educator. Multiple wrestlers in today’s business can boast about being trained in Ultimo Dragon’s wrestling school. It may surprise people that some wrestling a Lucha style, with the name Ultimo Dragon is actually from Japan.
1 Doink The Clown
There are terrifying wrestlers because of their size (think Brock Lesnar), there are terrifying wrestlers because of what they bring to the ring (think Boogeyman and his worms) and there are terrifying wrestlers just because of who they are, and this Doink the Clown. Clowns are scary enough, and having one with the “comedic” mind of Doink makes them all the worse (and we’re not even getting into Dink). Doink has some controversy surrounding who he is because multiple people are credited as wrestling as the scary clown. However, one name is most often associated with him, and that’s Matt Osborne. Unfortunately for the wrestling world, Matt passed away just a year ago, forever closing the chapter on the original Doink the Clown.
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