Professional wrestling, unlike most every other sport on the radar, holds a rich heritage of larger than life characters within its ranks. Of course, promoters have had a hand in building the intrigue with fictional biographies and hometowns – whatever they could conceive to increase the box office appeal of the grapplers under their employ.
One might argue that every sport lays claim to their fair share of memorable athletes whose legend was as large while competing as it was away from the glare of the spotlight. However, one area that no other sport has ventured to create is the mystique that surrounds the many wrestlers that have donned a mask to enter the ring.
Historically, it was the cloaked villain that would don a mask to enter a new territory and serve as the antagonist for the home grown hero but over time the role of the masked wrestler has evolved. This is due in large part to the influence of Mexican lucha libre on North American wrestling, which has resulted in some of our most beloved stars of all time earning their fame incognito. Stars like Mil Mascaras, Jushin Liger and The Destroyer are best known for their work under a mask and few know what visage lies beneath.
The following list explores 12 of the best masked wrestlers that should never have unmasked, despite what the creative direction of the day may have dictated. In some cases, forfeiting their secret identities signaled the end of their careers. In others, professional wrestling simply lost a little of its allure by pulling back the curtain on some of the all-time great characters in the sport. Here are 12 wrestlers who never should have unmasked.
12 Juventud Guerrera
11 Barry O
On paper, it would seem that Barry Orton was on track to carry on the family tradition in the squared circle alongside his brother Bob Orton Jr. He had moderate success touring the territories and in Japan under his own name, but things exploded for him when he donned a black cloak and mask as The Zodiac under Stu Hart’s Stampede Wrestling banner. In fact, during his stay in Calgary, he became one of the territory’s top villains.
Paul Heyman’s reputation as a wrestling visionary was never more apparent than when he expanded the largely northeastern U.S. talent roster in Extreme Championship Wrestling to expose fans to the best international talent on the market. Psicosis was among the first wave of talent to appear at the ECW arena and his talent was indisputable. It wasn’t long before he found himself under contract with WCW. However, when the WWE came calling and he debuted under the name by which he was known to fans without his signature mask, the change did not pay off for him as a member of the Mexi-cools.
8 The Spoiler
Canadian Don Jardine enjoyed a long career from the 1950s to the 1980s, most famously known as the Spoiler. Under a mask in headline matches around the world, Jardine was a top draw almost everywhere he appeared. In fact, after first donning the mask in 1967 in World Class Championship Wrestling, fans seldom saw his face again without his trademark mask. That was, until he was called up to headline Madison Square Garden against World champion Pedro Morales for Vince McMahon Sr. in 1972.
7 The Shockmaster
5 Jean-Pierre Lafitte
Unfortunately for Jean-Pierre Lafitte, in 1995, the only image that sprung to mind for a wrestler with one glass eye was a pirate with an eye patch. However, any way you slice it, the most memorable character ever attached to Montreal’s Pierre Ouellet was as the eye-patched swashbuckler. We salivate at the thought of what could have been done with Ouellet in the WWE in the Attitude Era had he been introduced at the same time as characters like Mick Foley’s Mankind.
Let’s admit, when we first saw Abyss, we couldn’t escape the comparison to Mankind. However, as the 6’8 monster in TNA carved his own wide swath and established his own identity and track record, we couldn’t help but get caught up in the rise of the monster that seemed unstoppable. Nothing could derail the wild animal Abyss. Oh wait, enter Joseph Park. Shearing his hair, discarding the mask and playing the role of his own brother, it was a little like pulling back the curtain on the incredible Wizard of Oz and discovering that he was just a frail old man with a gift for sleight of hand.
3 Rey Mysterio
It’s difficult to define what WCW’s bigger mistake was: importing so many luchadores from Mexico that they were left with a marketing nightmare to distinguish them from each other to American audiences or resorting to taking away the identities that so firmly defined what the marquee appeal of this attraction truly was. At any rate, the unmasking of Rey Mysterio Jr., easily one of the most unique and celebrated lucha libre stars of his generation was a move that defied all logic.
2 El Generico
It was twenty years ago that fans were introduced to “The Big Red Monster” and in commanding fashion. In fact, the arrival of Kane to the WWE and the back story that they created about his dark character was so compelling that we were even able to forget that we had already seen him as Isaac Yankem and as the ‘fake’ Diesel before this explosive debut. Through his evolution, Kane was never more compelling and frightening than from behind the mask. While still physically formidable, an unmasked Kane just looks like another middle-aged giant among a roster that has traditionally heralded big men.
Yes, remaining relevant over the span of a 20 year career is important and change is necessary, but the man behind the mask doesn’t stir images of the horrors that shrouded this masked menace upon his introduction. Kane’s unveiling makes many yearn for the era from which he was spawned.
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