There are several archetypes in the wrestling world: Muscular heroes, gigantic monsters, and of course, the masked men. The majority are lucha styled with colorful masks and high flying skills. Mexico’s unique style influenced many, who eventually took those ideas to Japan, North America, and Europe.
But one of the first Lucha Libre masks in Mexico was actually worn by an American. ‘The Masked Man wore a leather mask from Chicago. At that time, the majority of wrestlers in Mexico were from the U.S.A. This mask became hugely popular and set the standard for all Lucha masks to come.
A mask or face paint is so incredibly useful to revitalize a wrestler’s career. If fans grow tired of a wrestler, they could throw a mask on and appear brand new. Some would even keep a few gimmicks going simultaneously. This would help prevent burnout and increase the chance to make money.
Since wrestling requires a suspension of disbelief and characters to be created and played, a mask helps that process. It automatically creates an air of mystery, and can also create tension if there is a chance the mask could be removed. And if the wrestler is so ugly it’ll drive the fans away, a mask can help that too. Of course, the potential to sell mask-related merchandise is always going to be appealing to any wrestling promotion. It’s a way to generate revenue while putting your wrestlers over.
It’s great to see a tradition from so long ago still in use today in nearly every promotion. Even the WWE, with it’s reality shows and modern ideas currently utilizes a luchadore tag-team and has always kept masked men on their roster.
Hopefully the legacy that these fine masked men leave behind will be enough to keep the tradition alive for many more years to come.
Trained by Rey Mysterio Sr, Psychosis must have picked up some family tricks as he had an electrifying feud with Mysterio Jr. Their first series of matches were so heated, they set attendance records at the Arena Mexico. They took their rivalry north to ECW and proved the anti-luchadore critics wrong by putting on some of the best matches in the promotion at that time.
Psychosis would land in WCW and consistently put on fantastic cruiserweight matches with Rey and many others. His run in the WWE was nothing special, but it’s nice to see that he got there.
He also had the rarest item of all– a great WCW theme song!
14. La Parka
One of the few things WCW got right in the 90s was their excellent mid-card. WWE may have had the edge with The Rock and Stone Cold, but their lower-tier of Marc Mero and The Godwinns couldn’t hold a candle to Jericho, Malenko, and the Luchadores.
La Parka was the most unique of their Mexican imports. He was less of a high flyer and also had a comical side. The “Chairman of WCW”played air guitar and danced all while dressed like Skeletor. His gimmick became so popular that his original Mexican promotion sued him to use the name and costume with one of their own wrestlers. This prompted his change to the Darth Maul-esque mask, different colors, and eventual name change to L.A. Park.
Like many wrestlers who legally battle former promotions, he would eventually go back to work with AAA, attacking the imposter and even winning a match for the use of the name.
Since his explosive WWE debut, Kane has been a mainstay and has surprisingly grown into a living legend. The ultimate soldier, Vince McMahon never had to worry about his loyalties or temper tantrums regarding belts and status.
He was an incredibly believable monster that could even intimidate The Undertaker. The brother storyline was a perfect addition that sent the angle over the top.
Glenn Jacobs is proof that a mask can do wonders for a career.
Will there ever be another Mick Foley? His body type certainly didn’t get his foot in the door, but his willingness to sacrifice that same body type endeared him to the fans. His great psychology and willingness to entertain at all costs set the tone for his Hall of Fame career.
After a somewhat successful WCW/ECW run, his career really took off when he donned the mask of Mankind. The character looked like a heel but evoked the sympathy of a babyface. It was perfect for the tweener era of the late 90s and Foley played it to perfection. Looking more like a fan than a wrestler and taking extreme punishment from the top guys quickly won over the crowd. His World Title win on Raw symbolized the turning of the tide in the Monday Night Wars (yeh that put butts in the seats hey Schiavone?)
11. Masked Superstar/Ax
Bill Eadie made his debut as the Medic in Detroit, but it wasn’t until he wrestled in Georgia Championship Wrestling as The Masked Superstar that he found his niche.
The gimmick was that he was an Olympic wrestling champion, and he would challenge other wrestlers to break his Cobra Clutch. He went on a massive run, winning the GWC heavyweight title four times and was even one of the first to bodyslam Andre The Giant.
Eadie and Andre would also don masks as The Machines, a gimmick they stole from New Japan.
He would continue to find success covering his face as Ax in Demolition. This duo would set the record for longest WWE Tag Champions with a whopping 478 day reign.
To this day Eadie will don the face paint for meet and greet with the fans.
10. Mr. Wrestling 2
He was an icon of Mid-South Wrestling, but his popularity extended all the way to the White House.
He was invited by then-President Jimmy Carter for an official visit but actually turned the Prez down. The Secret Service wouldn’t allow the mask for security reasons and Mr. Wrestling chose his gimmick over the Presidential Honor. Talk about sticking to your guns.
He would eventually meet with Carter’s mother (wearing the mask). Hey Secret Service; STICK IT!
9. Ultimo Dragon
A global legend, Ultimo has competed and succeeded in almost every notable wrestling promotion. He held a ridiculous 10 titles simultaneously, a feat that would take a miraculous effort to break.
A superstar in Japan and Mexico, he also had a decent run in WCW until a botched surgery forced a temporary retirement. A successful surgery would allow him to compete in the WWE and he would accomplish two more dreams of competing at Madison Square Garden and WrestleMania.
He was always a versatile performer with incredible international success.
8. Kendo Nagasaki
The Brits have been huge fans of pro wrestling since the 60s and have continued to display intense passion anytime the WWE decides to cross the Atlantic. One of the most unique British characters of decades past, Nagasaki took kayfabe seriously. He would even appear on talk shows only to remain completely silent.
His unmasking ceremony had a cult-like feel. Flanked by followers who threw themselves at his feet, purifying salt was tossed before the mask was finally removed. But with his satanic-looking head tattoo, red eyes, and ultra-serious look, he was even scarier without the mask.
For his unrelenting dedication and Bray Wyatt-level creepiness, Nagasaki earns his spot.
7. The Assassins
Called the greatest tag-team he ever saw by none other than Jim Ross, the team won an astounding 25 tag titles in a run that lasted over two decades. The name must have drawn major heat as just a few years after their debut, JFK was shot. I can just imagine McMahon creating a presidential babyface for them to feud with.
The team had a revolving door of members, but the original Assassin, Jody Hamilton remained throughout their marathon run.
If they’re good enough for JR, they’re good enough for our list.
6. El Solitario
With a career that lasted over 25 years, El Solitario is one of the greatest Mexican wrestlers of all time. He is a member of the Wrestling Observer Newsletter HOF but unfortunately passed away 10 years before his induction. He was only 39, and the details of his death are not clear.
Solitario took the name and mask style in reference to The Lone Ranger. You know, back when the Lone Ranger was cool and Johnny Depp wasn’t there.
Making an immediate mark, he kicked Mil Mascaras in the groin during his first match in Los Angeles, almost inciting a riot. He would later team successfully with Mascaras in Japan. I assume they shook hands (or groins).
El Solitario missed the tv boom by a few years so many of his best matches were never seen by those outside of Mexico. But he still has a place on our list.
5. Mil Mascaras
Mil Mascaras is a legendary trailblazer who has truly done it all.
Initially he was known in Mexico for his power game. At nearly six feet and 240 pounds, he competed in the heavyweight class in his native country as well as North America. His legend grew as despite his size, he was one of the first to perform the high-flying Lucha style in Japan.
After winning titles around the world, the WWE lifted their ban on masked wrestlers just for him. Mascaras became the first masked wrestler to perform at Madison Square Garden. He would even battle with Superstar Billy Graham for the World Title.
Mascaras stretched beyond wrestling (somewhat) to star in nearly 20 films (about wrestling). Was he The Rock of his time?
Belonging to nearly every wrestling Hall of Fame that matters, Mascaras leaves behind an unmatched legacy.
4. Thunder Jushin Liger
Perhaps the greatest actual wrestler on this list, Liger had a strong amateur wrestling background and even trained at the famed Hart Dungeon. He was The Wrestling Observer’s Best Flying Wrestler from 1989-1993, and also the Best Technical Wrestler from 1989-1992. To top it off, he is credited for inventing the dangerous Shooting Star Press.
His incredible matches with Brian Pillman in early WCW sparked the cruiserweight division that would become a major highlight for the promotion.
Liger’s career elevated once he aligned himself with an anime show. Changing his colorful costume to match the animation and mirroring the storyline with his own performance. It was an interesting and genius move to help build a connection with fans of both products.
An incredible athlete and a trailblazer, Liger is truly one of the greats.
3. The Destroyer
The Destroyer was a massive draw almost immediately. In the 60s he took the WWA World Title from none other than ‘Classy’ Freddy Blassie. He would work with other legends like Lou Thesz, Giant Baba, Verne Gagne, and Gorgeous George. Those matches with Baba built him a huge following in Japan where he would later draw insane numbers. His Japanese match with Rikidozan in 1963 garnered 70 million viewers. It’s still the second most watched Japanese program in their history.
A box-office smash and worldwide phenomenon.
2. Rey Mysterio Jr.
Rey Mysterio was another gem WCW did very little with. He managed to get over with zero help from management and eventually rose as high as he could in WCW. In a controversial decision, Bischoff threatened Rey to take off his mask or be fired.
Further illustrating Vince’s better understanding of wrestling, he brought in the high-flying superstar with his mask back in place. This actually required Rey to speak with the Luchadore head honchos and they relented, as he had not lost the mask in a match.
Rey’s charisma and talent would take him further than any other cruiserweight in the WWE, winning the World Championship and placing his name among the best in the world.
1. Tiger Mask
Satoru Sayama burned intensely bright but only for a short time. He quickly became one of the world’s best and most innovative wrestlers but decided to retire at the young age of 28.
After starting his career as enhancement talent, Sayama brought what he had learned in Mexico and England to the Japanese ring. Given the Tiger gimmick from a cartoon, he took a cheesy idea and made history.
He was so ahead of his time, moving with lightning speed and agility, while inventing and popularizing moves never seen before (Mysterio’s 619 is a Tiger creation).
Mask was too good for the wrestling industry. He despised the politics and longed for a more realistic sport. After his early retirement he became a martial arts trainer and started the Super Tiger Gym.
It boggles the mind to think what he could have accomplished if he wrestled for another 10 years. But fans and wrestlers still benefit today from his revolutionary ideas.
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