Wrestling while wearing a mask is one of wrestling’s greatest traditions – particularly in Mexico where Luchadores are considered to be “superheroes”, and are given similar status as other famous sport stars around the world. In addition to Mexico, other wrestling-heavy scenes, such as in Japan and North America, wrestlers that wear masks keep their identity hidden for character-driven reasons that create an aura of mystery and grandeur (or sometimes for just plain weird reasons). Masks of this nature often have significant reasons for being a part of the wrestler’s character, and can often be put “on the line” in matches, which are called Lucha de Apuesta in Mexico, translating to a “betting match”. Removing your mask is against wrestling tradition for Luchadores, and they often go above and beyond to keep up appearances by never removing their mask in public.
However, this does not always remain the case throughout a wrestler’s entire career, as we have documented what 20 masked wrestlers look like when their mask has been removed. With kayfabe not quite being as prominent as it used to be, some masked wrestlers have eventually let their guard down and some photos of what they really look like have popped up.
20 Jushin “Thunder” Liger
We’ve mentioned many Mexican luchadores so far, who have maintained the tradition of not showing their face in public to keep up the mystique of lucha-libre. While this tradition is obviously a big part of wrestling in Mexico, the inclusion of masked wrestlers is also prevalent in Japan. One of the most famous examples of this is Jushin “Thunder” Liger, who has the distinct reputation of competing for all the major promotions across the world, including WCW, NJPW, ROH, TNA, CMLL, PWG, and most recently in NXT in 2015.
Liger does not have the distinct mystique that Mexican luchadores carry because he is presented as more of an Anime character come to life - he even had a cartoon made in his likeness in the 80s – but there is no denying the legacy that his mask has in the world of professional wrestling. Liger has been making high-profile appearances since the 1980s for major promotions, and being able to see what is behind the mask is very interesting.
19 Curry Man
It is no secret that wrestling is filled with characters that cannot be found on any other medium – while other shows have vampires and monsters, wrestling is filled with characters more outlandish than this. Sometimes the characters are entertaining and other times they fall flat and do not connect with fans. This entry is not a case of either one – this entry is just strange. Curry Man showed up in TNA 2008 and attempted to dance his way into our hearts. TNA is no stranger to odd characters (remember that time they had wrestling penises?), but Curry Man came out of nowhere, but was an entertaining comedy act while he lasted.
For those that were not aware, the many under the “spicy” mask was none other than “The Fallen Angel” Christopher Daniels. Considered one of the most famous independent wrestlers on the circuit, Daniels has portrayed the character of a serious, brooding wrestler for close to two decades, and this was an opportunity to have some fun in the ring after being somber for so long.
18 Sexy Star
In order to be successful has a professional wrestler outside of one of the big global promotions, it is necessary for the media to take notice of you to make wrestling fans aware of who you are. However, this can go south sometimes if the publicity is negative it can be severely damaging to the wrestler’s career. Enter Sexy Star.
Arguably one of the most famous luchadoras of all time, Sexy Star has competed for both Lucha Underground and AAA, and has broken the mold by being the first female to hold Lucha Underground’s top title. But she recently made headlines for another reason. Sexy Star was booked to face TNA’s Rosemary at AAA’s TripleMania XXV event in July 2017, but took it upon herself to apply a “shoot”, or real, armbar during the end of the match which ended up injuring Rosemary. Since this incident, members of WWE have stated that she has become blacklisted, as well as other wrestlers voicing their displeasure with the incident. Events like this damage a career beyond repair, so I don’t think that any lucha-libre fans should look forward to seeing Sexy Star on television again any time soon.
17 Ultimo Dragon
I remember looking on the internet during my teenage years and seeing a masked wrestler posing while holding over 10 championship belts around his arms and waist, which made him look like the most successful wrestler of all time. While I did not know which promotions he won those titles from, or even who the wrestler was, he clearly looked like a very big deal. That wrestler turned out to be Ultimo Dragon, who has wrestled all over the world, including stints in WCW and WWE. While his introduction to WWE audiences included him tripping during his entrance at WrestleMania XX, he is still widely considered one of the best wrestlers in the world, and one of the true pioneers of bringing Cruiserweight/Junior-Heavyweight style wrestling into mainstream popularity.
If you are a casual follower of North American wrestling and read through various wrestling awards every year, it was probably surprising to you that the winner of the 2006 Wrestling Observer Newsletter awards for Best Box Office Draw, Best Flying Wrestler and Wrestler of the Year were a luchador named Mistico. Fans became very excited when it was revealed that he was signed to WWE in 2011. The promotional picture for Mistico’s signing to WWE had him wearing his full-faced mask at a press-conference, which served to increase the mystical (no pun intended) aura around him.
Without going into too much detail, it is fair to say that Mistico’s – renamed as Sin Cara once he debuted – run in WWE was disappointing. Renamed “Botch Cara” by WWE fans, he became infamous for botching his entrance and the various miscues experienced during his matches. Mistico eventually left WWE in 2014 after fan reaction began to diminish even further, and returned to wrestling in Mexico. While his career in WWE was underwhelming, this picture remains one of the only documented pictures of the original Mistico/Sin Cara without his mask.
15 Sin Cara
While we already mentioned how Mistico debuted from Mexico as Sin Cara but eventually left WWE in 2014, the character of Sin Cara has remained in WWE. The question is, if Mistico is wrestling in Mexico, who is still under the mask? Who held the NXT Tag Team Championship with Kalisto? Why isn’t he still botching moves during matches? That is because even though the character is the same, another wrestler replaced playing Sin Cara after he was released from WWE. Prior to wrestling as Sin Cara, Hunico had a “blink-and-you-miss-it” year in WWE in 2012, teaming with Camacho.
Upon donning the Sin Cara mask in 2013, both Hunico and the Sin Cara character began experiencing a resurgence in their wrestling careers, and it can be considered one of the best things to happen to Hunico. The highlight of the new Sin Cara’s career was his run as a member of the Lucha Dragons with Kalisto, which included an NXT Tag Team Championship run.
14 Rey Mysterio
It’s been a long morning traveling from Laredo to Monterrey in bus then flying to Mexico City for a 2 hr meeting & now to Guadalajara for a 2nd meeting, very productive day! Thank you @rootsoffight for my #Ali T it catches a lot of attention out here in 🇲🇽, no time to feel tired! #GottaLetThemKnow #GreatestOfAllTime #NewDopEProjects #CantWait
Imagine for a moment that you are Eric Bischoff, and you have a star-studded Cruiserweight division attached to that company with some incredibly marketable wrestlers with Mexican backgrounds that make them mystical to the audience. Logic says that you should market them and their luchador masks to the audience in an effort to make merchandise money as well as create an aura to their performances. However, instead of utilizing Rey Mysterio’s popularity in 1999 as a luchador, Bischoff made the decision to remove Rey’s mask after he lost a Hair vs Mask match at SuperBrawl IX, despite how connected both Mysterio and the fans were to his mask-wearing persona.
While this not only effected Mysterio’s heritage as a luchador, it is unfortunate to say that Mysterio does not appeal to wrestling fans without his mask. Thankfully, when he debuted in WWE in 2002 he returned donning his mask, but those who watched WCW at the time will always remember how much this effected his career.
13 Imposter Kane
Anytime that the calendar gets close to the middle of the year and we begin passing the date of May 19th, I can’t help but chuckle to myself because of the storyline that transpired in May 2006. An unmasked Kane (as he appears now in WWE) was being taunted by videos displaying his old mask, until magically another Kane appeared donned in his old ring attire and mask. But, how can this be? Two Kanes in the ring at the same time? One must be an imposter!
You’re right it was. The imposter Kane was played by none other than a “good brother” named Luke Gallows, fresh in his first role on the WWE main roster. While the angle was very short lived, Gallows does have the distinction of defeating the real Kane during their match at Vengeance 2006, after he pinned Kane following a Tombstone Piledriver. Gallows made a fairly decent Kane, but apparently there is only room for one Big Red Machine. Look on the bright side, at least he isn’t Festus anymore.
Fun Fact – TNA has released two video games (and if anyone has played them before, they are unfortunately not in the same league as WWE video games). For those that did play the game during its initial release, they would have noticed a member of the roster who had not been featured on television before. A wrestler by the name of Suicide was a playable character, but did not have a corresponding real-life counterpart on television until vignettes began airing which promoted Suicide being taken from the game and TNA programming. Did you not know that TNA Management had the power to do this? It’s quite remarkable.
While Suicide was eventually “revealed” to be T.J. Perkins in 2013, there were several wrestlers who portrayed him during his initial run. Frankie Kazarian was the original Suicide character during the initial debut, and continued to wear the mask until Christopher Daniels took over briefly in 2009. Since then, Suicide has also been portrayed by Kiyoshi, Perkins, Jonathan Gresham and Caleb Konley, but Kazarian had the most success as the character during his initial run.
11 The Great Muta
As we get deeper into professional wrestling history, there are few wrestlers that have achieved legendary status but have never stepped foot in a WWE ring – one that holds this type of prestige is The Great Muta. Having wrestled all in NJPW for most of his career, Muta is also the former president of All-Japan Pro Wrestling, and one of three wrestlers to hold the NWA World Heavyweight Championship, the AJPW Triple Crown Heavyweight Championship, and the IWGP Heavyweight Championship. Muta’s legacy and accomplishments are only second to his legendary character, including his mask, ring attire and mannerisms.
Look no further than emulations of his style from wrestlers like Low Ki and Tajiri to see the influence that Muta has had on the wrestling world.
10 Mr. America
Wrestlers under masks are often considered some of wrestling’s best kept secrets – people have struggled for years to see who was underneath Blue Demon’s luchador mask, or to catch a glimpse of Ultimo Dragon. We are only privileged for wrestlers with such mystique to grace our television screens, and in 2003 we were treated to one of the biggest mysteries of all. Former SmackDown General Manager Stephanie McMahon announced that she had signed a new talent to the Smackdown brand by the name of Mr. America, a patriotic super-hero type wrestler who promoted “saying your prayers and taking your vitamins”.
Mr. America entered a feud directly with Vince McMahon and a returning Roddy Piper, who seemed to have a big grudge against him and constantly accused him of being someone else hiding under a mask. Such absurdity! Mr. America’s career in WWE was very short-lived and only lasted a couple of weeks when it turned out that Hulk Hogan had disguised himself as Mr. America for one match, and took off his mask to show the crowd. Undoubtedly, the real Mr. America is out there somewhere, and whereever he is I hope he is saving the world because he is a “real American”.
9 Shark Boy
As I have previously mentioned, wearing a mask is a part of Luchador tradition and carries a sense of ritual and mystique for the performer, almost making them seem like a super hero. However, there are times when these rules do not apply, and that is mainly when the wrestler under the mask acts like a literal shark and is competing mainly as a jobber or in comedy matches. Shark Boy was a member of the TNA X-Division during the company’s initial weekly pay-per-view structure in 2002, and was mainly involved in comedy segments with other lesser-known wrestlers like D-Ray 3000.
As a life-long WWE fan, I can say that Shark Boy’s crowning achievement was when he began to take on the persona of “Stone Cold Shark Boy”, leading to a highly comedic interpretation of Steve Austin, complete with drinking “Clam Juice” instead of beer.
When I decided to expand my wrestling viewership in my teenage years, I came across NWA:TNA (yes, there used to be another name before it became Global Force Wrestling) and instantly became enthralled with the X-Division style of wrestling. None of the Heavyweight division or tag-team wrestling really interested me, with the exception of one wrestler. Abyss instantly caught my eye as a stand-out monster-type performer – his power moves were captivating, as were his hardcore matches including Falls Count Anywhere, Full Metal Mayhem and Monster’s Ball matches.
Abyss is also very agile for a big man wrestler, which puts him a cut above some of the other wrestlers his size in WWE. While Abyss’ character background is flawed and has a confusing lineage, he is certainly one of the most intriguing mainstays of the TNA roster.
Some of the luchadors and wrestlers that I have mentioned are ones that have the audience’s full respect due to their wrestling pedigree, experience and upholding of Mexican tradition. While this is certainly the case for wrestlers on this list like Rey Mysterio and Jushin Liger, former ECW and WCW wrestler Psicosis did not experience the same level of admiration during his first WWE appearance at ECW One Night Stand in 2005. Rey Mysterio and Psicosis have a storied history, battling in all major wrestling promotions in Mexico and the United States, so they received a featured spot to continue their feud during the ECW reunion show.
As a show of respect for the fans, Psicosis removed his mask before the match began. Instead of being received with the cheers he surely expected, the fans began to chant “Put your mask on” at full volume to voice their thoughts on his appearance. While during his later career Psicosis did not don his mask, this was surely a very hurtful moment for him.
6 Prince Puma
For those that enjoy watching Lucha Underground, you know Prince Puma quite well because he has been a fixture of the promotion since the first season, but for those that have not watched before, you may recognize him by his tattoos and wrestling maneuvers. Puma is an interesting case because he does not actively hide his identity to the rest of the wrestling scene, but he is presented as a different person than his counterpart. Underneath the Prince Puma attire is high-flying wrestling sensation Ricochet, who has made headlines from his appearances in NJPW and PWG for being one of the best high-flyers on the wrestling scene. When the opportunity in Lucha Underground presented itself, Ricochet was included on the roster wearing a mask and playing a different character than he usually does during his wrestling appearances.
Growing up watching wrestling, I grew up being both terrified and intrigued by the concept of Kane – he genuinely seemed like a monster, and any attempt of seeing under his mask throughout the '90s was meant with genuine terror. Kane’s backstory was that he wore his mask because he was left to burn in a fire which killed both of his parents, and the mask covered up the hideous burns and scars on his face. While Kane has been wrestling for the most part since 2003, no one was really certain of this prior to his unmasking. When a match on RAW between Kane and Triple H was given the stipulation that Kane would need to unmask if he lost, the world would finally see Kane without his mask.
When Kane ultimately lost, he removed his mask to unveil a face covered in black burn marks. Magically, when Kane appeared on RAW next week, all of these marks were gone, and the “burns” were portrayed as only being psychological. After so much build-up, it was disappointing that Kane was not a permanently hideous character, but on the bright side we did get to see Corporate Kane wrestle in dress clothes for several months.
4 The Executioner
This interesting fact will be intriguing to long-time wrestling fans, and also educational for newcomers to professional wrestling – the first match on the very first WrestleMania card in 1985 featured Tito Santana against the masked Executioner. While the match was nothing interesting to note athletically and involved little excitement, the distinction of being in the first match in WrestleMania history is one to carry with you for the rest of your life. The real question has always lingered – who exactly was The Executioner that night?
There have been dozens of recorded Executioners over the years (as another fun fact, my previous wrestling trainer was one of them during the WWWF days, apparently), this one was played by “Playboy” Buddy Rose, a well-known tag team wrestler that was featured heavily in the American Wrestling Association with his partner Doug Sommers. While this appearance did little for Rose’s WWE career, it is still something he could have held on to before he passed away in 2009.
3 Gobbeldy Gooker
For every legendary character that dons a mask, and for every superhero cartoon derived from a luchador, there is one that remains a stain on history of professional wrestling. This particular stain hatched from an egg at the 1990 Survivor Series and danced around the ring with “Mean” Gene Okerlund. Of course, I am talking about the Gobbeldy Gooker, an oversized turkey who was run out of the WWE after a very negative fan reaction to his debut.
While WWE is quick to make fun of themselves for this decision now, someone in the office thought this would be successful. Who was the unlucky wrestler to receive the honor of wearing this costume? None other than Eddie Guerrero’s older brother, Hector Guerrero. How unbecoming it is for a wrestler with the Guerrero name, one that is revered in Mexican wrestling, to be saddled with a dancing turkey costume.
While it is interesting to cover wrestling in major promotions as well as historic luchadors in this article, there are also masked wrestlers on the independent circuit that will not reveal their identity. Delirious has been a mainstay of both Chikara and Ring of Honor since the inception of both promotions, and is currently the head trainer at the Ring of Honor Dojo training center. For those that have never seen Delirious wrestle before, he is well known for speaking in incomprehensible gibberish and wrestling in a very unorthodox way, including running around the ring and biting his opponents while screaming. Very strange stuff, but also hilarious. Delirious is actually involved in what I consider to be one of the funniest wrestling segments of all time at a Chikara show also involving Player Uno from the Super Smash Bros. Take a look at it here, especially if you are a Nintendo fan.
1 El Santo
Mexican Luchadores are revered throughout Mexico as superheroes come to life, and the tradition of a masked Luchador is one that is taken very seriously. Through Mexican wrestling history, three men have remained the most iconic Luchadores of all time – both Blue Demon and Mil Máscaras are two that kept their identity a secret throughout their careers, with Blue Demon even being buried wearing is iconic blue mask. The third most famous Luchador of all time was El Santo, he decided to break from tradition just one week before his death.
During an appearance on a Mexican talk show, Santo pulled his mask up to expose his face to the world for a brief moment, finally letting the world see behind the mask of their hero. Santo would die from a heart attack one week after this occurrence, leaving many thankful for this glimpse at their hero.