One of the most cherished and honored traditions in the art of wrestling is the trope of the wrestling mask. The concept of the wrestling mask dates all the way back to early 20th century lucha libre in Mexico and in due time, the concept made its way around the world to become a mainstay and global phenomenon for wrestling in several other countries. In lucha libre especially, a mask is a symbol of excellence that is expected to be held in the highest of esteem by those wearing a mask and respected by those admiring it. It is considered a disgrace for a wrestler to lose their mask in a luchas de apuestas (which translates to "matches with wagers") or worse, for a wrestler to willingly remove their mask at any given time. While not every part of the world sees the wrestling mask with such prestigious lineage, it is always a shocking moment to a see someone unmasked no matter where you watch wrestling.
No matter if a wrestler wears their mask, hood, or any head cover briefly or for a long period of time, there is something about watching someone remove their mask that is always so stunning to see. Under the right circumstances, a mask removal can be a shocking reveal for the wrestler's face, the wrestling angle at hand, or both. It has made for some unforgettably shocking moments across several wrestling promotions. Some moments were good and some were bad (either due to bad writing or bad timing for a wrestler who maybe shouldn't have lost their mask to begin with) but these moments always made our jaws drop to the floor from the moment we watched it all take place. Here are just 15 of the most shocking unmaskings to ever take place in wrestling history.
13 The Calgary Kid
On the August 3rd, 2009 edition of Monday Night Raw, The Miz lost a match to John Cena where the stipulation was that if The Miz lost, he would be forced to leave Raw forever. With Miz gone, that meant a new spot was open on the Raw roster and the following week, a Contract on a Pole match was made between a returning Eugene and a plucky masked newcomer named The Calgary Kid. Calgary Kid ended up winning the match and seemingly as a good show of sportsmanship, helped Eugene up to his feet. Only to drive Eugene's head face first into the mat with a full nelson facebuster, a move he would later call The Skull Crushing Finale. The Calgary Kid then removed his mask to reveal himself as none other than The Miz. The Miz used the opportunity to completely repackage himself with new tights and a more serious attitude that led to his first United States Championship win later in the year.
12 El Generico
Before they went to war with each other in WWE and NXT as Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn, they were doing the same in ROH as Kevin Steen and the masked luchador, El Generico. At the height of their feud, Steen teamed with Steve Corino to take on Generico and Colt Cabana in a bloody Tag Team Chain Match at Glory by Honor IX. While it was Generico and Cabana who won the battle, Steen would get the last laugh as he snatched off Generico's mask after the match. While El Generico's face was never caught on camera, it was still an unmasking that no one in the Manhattan Center expected to see that night. It eventually led to a Mask vs Career match at ROH Final Battle between the two foes later that year where Generico returned under a black mask. He defeated Steen and forced The Anti-Christ of Professional Wrestling out of Ring of Honor for a year.
Ever since debuting the character in 2003, Abyss has been one of the most instantly recognizable acts in TNA due to his mask. He had a scary aura in his size and an erratic persona, but the mask is what made him memorable. Fans were always curious as to what exactly Abyss was hiding underneath that mask. In 2012, Abyss disappeared following a Monster's Ball bout with Bully Ray at Genesis and to find him, his sane lawyer of a brother, Joseph Park, entered TNA's doors for the first time. Eventually, Park ended up wrestling full-time for TNA. Despite a sophisticated demeanor, Park often would unleash a hidden mean streak similar to his brother that would explode randomly during matches. Park frequently wrestled just like his brother, even going as far as to use Abyss' signature Black Hole Slam as a finisher. When Abyss did finally return, Park was nowhere to be found. It took Eric Young ripping off Abyss' mask during a February 2014 edition of Impact Wrestling to reveal that the brothers are one in the same. Joseph Park was merely a split personality of Abyss. The reveal led to Abyss donning a brand new mask and later on, embracing his "beauty" as a member of Decay with no mask and just facepaint.
10 The Lizard Man
In 1991, at Clash of the Champions XVII, The Enforcers (Larry Zbyszko and Arn Anderson) were set to defend the WCW World Tag Team Titles against Dustin Rhodes and Barry Windham. Unluckily for Windham, he had to pull out of the match on the night of the show due to a hand injury sustained after The Enforcers slammed Windham's hand in a car door at Halloween Havoc. Instead of forfeiting the match, the two announced that a mystery partner would be substituting for Windham. After Windham introduced him, down the ramp came a strange looking Lizard Man. It was a strange sight and fans weren't quite sure what to make of it. Suddenly, Rhodes joined the Lizard Man on the ramp, removed his lizard head mask, and the crowd erupted to see that the mysterious Lizard Man was none other than the returning Ricky Steamboat. Steamboat, who had spent most of 1991 on WWE soil, was the last person fans expected to make a long-awaited WCW comeback. It proved to be a worthwhile comeback as he and Rhodes went on to topple The Enforcers that night and become the new WCW World Tag Team Champions.
9 Eric Bischoff
While this one has more to do with a prosthetic mask than an actual wrestling mask, it is a mask none the less and the moment certainly was shocking. After the former WWE Tag Team Champions had spent the last year hinting a homosexual relationship with one another, WWE decided to go all the way with the angle by booking a proposal between the two and an impending wedding. Everyone in mainstream media—including an ecstatic GLAAD—had their eyes on WWE for the September 12th, 2002 episode televising the duo's wedding ceremony. To the disappointment of many viewers, and seemingly the relief of an elated crowd that wasn't exactly pro-gay, Billy and Chuck admitted that the whole thing was a publicity stunt gone too far that was orchestrated by their manager, Rico, and the two weren't actually gay. That wasn't even the most shocking twist that happened that night. The big twist came when the frail old pastor raved about how Billy and Chuck had a bond that was sacred no matter if it lasted 16 months or 3 minutes. The crowd went into a stunned awe as soon as a familiar voice from Monday Night Raw roared through the microphone. "Wait a minute," He paused. "Did I hear myself say '3 minutes?'" On cue, the pastor removed his prosthetic make-up to reveal himself as Raw GM, Eric Bischoff. Invading on Raw's behalf, The 3 Minute Warning ran down the ring and destroyed the Smackdown festivities.
During a heated feud between Kane and World Heavyweight Champion Triple H, things came to a head when Eric Bischoff booked a Title vs Mask match between the two rivals. After losing to Triple H thanks to The Game's stablemates in Evolution, Kane reluctantly removed his mask on the June 23rd, 2003 episode of Raw. He revealed that half of his hair was singed off and his face was covered in burnt, black excess from a fire (which adds to the continuity began in the mid-90s that Kane was burnt in a fire, even though all of these details would get retconned later on). As soon as Kane lost his mask, no one was safe and his first victim was RVD who he chokeslammed on sight that night. Ever since the character debuted on WWE television, he had always prided himself by his mask. He always kept his mask near and dear to him and as soon as he lost it, he started an uncontrollable rampage. A rampage that saw Kane set Jim Ross on fire, hit Linda McMahon with a Tombstone Piledriver, and electrocute Shane McMahon's testicles in the later weeks.
7 Rey Mysterio
One of the main appeals to Rey Mysterio since the very beginnings of his career has been the fact that he wears a mask. The kids love it, it sells hot on every wrestling company's shop rack, it adds to his mysterious aura (they don't call him "Mysterio" for nothing), and it helps that all of his masks happen to look cool. What wasn't cool was when Big Daddy Cool Kevin Nash and The Bad Guy Scott Hall defeated Rey Mysterio and Konnan in a Mask vs Hair at WCW Superbrawl IX. The match came about after Mysterio had been defiant towards the nWo in disbanding the Latino World Order for them. Backstage, Mysterio was strongly against removing his mask on television, but felt WCW would fire him if he didn't. To this day, Mysterio admits in interviews that he still thinks it was a bad idea, which it was. Mysterio's mask was a marquee item that separated him from anyone else on the roster or the Cruiserweight division. Losing the mask stunted his momentum and just made him out to be another small guy among a group of small guys. It also made things awkward when he debuted for WWE in 2002 wearing his mask again, which luchadors don't typically do once they lose their mask.
6 The WCW Phantom
At Halloween Havoc 1991, an unknown masked man wrestling under the name of The WCW Halloween Havoc Phantom made his debut against Tom "Z-Man" Zenk. While the guy's get-up was admittedly laughable, his in-ring work was no laughing matter as he immediately started throwing fists of fury as soon as he entered the ring and made quick work of the Z-Man. After the match, accompanied by Madusa, Paul E. Dangerously got on the mic to announce he had acquired the services of a new challenger to take on Sting for his United States Championship. It was The Phantom, but The Advocate for The Dangerous Alliance gloated that the man behind the mask would crush The Stinger. The Phantom removed his mask to reveal himself as Ravishing Rick Rude, fresh off a 4-year stint with WWE. Rude made an immediate impact upon joining WCW as just a couple weeks later, he defeated Sting for the title at Clash of the Champions XVII.
Prior to joining WCW in 1996, Psicosis found success on the wrestling circuit under a mask. Along with his quick and unpredictable offense, his unique mask was a reason why so many fans gravitated towards the luchador. He was able to transition that success into WCW gold as a 2-time Cruiserweight Champion. After years of wrestling with a mask, it was unimaginable to think he'd one day wrestle without it, but that unthinkable thought became a reality as he lost a Mask vs Hair match to Billy Kidman on the September 27th, 1999 edition of Monday Night Nitro. What makes this unmasking so shocking is just how rushed the angle felt. The angle came with virtually no build as just the week before, Chavo Guerrero spoke on behalf of an irate Psicosis by challenging Kidman to put his hair on the line against Psicosis's mask. As much as Psicosis didn't like the idea, he went along with it and paid for it. It is also worth noting that Rey Mysterio had also lost his mask not too long ago earlier in the year.
4 The Black Scorpion
Upon debuting in WCW under a series of vignettes in August 1990 where he taunted World Heavyweight Champion Sting, the identity of The Black Scorpion was shrouded with intrigue and mystery. The masked assailant repeatedly alluded that he was a former friend and tag team partner of Sting. The strong assumption among fans was that the man under the mask was The Ultimate Warrior, who originally debuted in wrestling with Sting in their early days together as The Blade Runners. This was ruled out by the fact that Warrior was working as a World Champion for WWE at the time of The Scorpion's debut. Questions would be answered once and for all at Starrcade when Scorpion and The Stinger wrestled in a Mask vs Title match to take place in a steel cage. As per stipulation, Scorpion was unmasked to be revealed anti-climatically as Ric Flair. According to Flair, he knew that the reveal would have stunk, but after the original plans for Al Perez and Ole Anderson to be The Scorpion were tanked—Perez after learning he was to lose the feud and his replacement, Anderson, after sustaining an injury—WCW planned for the Scorpion to be revealed as either Flair or Barry Windham. Flair agreed to play The Black Scorpion because he felt that he could bounce back from the embarrassing angle whereas it could have hurt Windham’s career.
Everyone remembers the infamous Montreal Screwjob from 1997 that saw Bret Hart's exit from WWE, but not many people are familiar with the original precursor to the Screwjob that happened 12 years earlier in 1985. At the time, Wendi Richter had just won her 2nd WWE Women's Championship at the inaugural Wrestlemania. After Richter had grown stubborn and reluctant when it came to signing a new contract, WWE Chairman Vince McMahon felt that he had to make drastic measures to ensure that his Champion wouldn't walk out of his company. On November 25th at the illustrious Madison Square Garden arena, Richter was scheduled to defend her title against a masked newcomer known simply as The Spider. Breaking away from the original plans of the match, The Spider immediately wrestled Richter to the ground and pinned her shoulders to the mat for the ref to count a quick 3 count. The Spider was the new Women's Champion and Richter was pissed. The furious hellion continued to attack The Spider after the bell had rang and in the scuffle, Richter pulled off The Spider's mask to expose her as The Fabulous Moolah. Infuriated at the betrayal, Richter stormed out of the arena in her gear, booked a flight to New York, never wrestled for WWE again, and never spoke to Moolah ever again.
3 Jushin Thunder Liger
One of the most iconic masks in wrestling history happens to belong to Jushin Thunder Liger. As he built a reputation for himself in the 90s as one of the greatest junior heavyweight to ever step into the ring, his mask had always accompanied him along the way. During an October 20th, 1996 match-up against The Great Muta in NJPW, the heel Muta went through underhanded means in an attempt to defeat the innovator of the Shooting Star Press. At one point, Muta tore apart Liger's legendary mask. As Liger hid his face into the mat, Muta left the ring to acquire a steel chair. When he re-entered the ring, right before he could clobber Liger with the chair, Liger rose to his feet to reveal not a normal face, but monstrous facepaint. His face was covered with red and white paint while his body was covered in black markings. In this new dark transformation, Liger spit mist in Muta's face and wrestled a more aggressive style. Over the years, Liger sometimes brings back this Kishin Liger persona for special occasions where he must sink to evil depths to conquer his opponents.
When the WCW Invasion of the WWE had started to kick into high gear in 2001, fans were eagerly anticipating the arrival of the charismatic Diamond Dallas Page. Meanwhile, there was an angle going on where The Undertaker's wife, Sara, was being harassed and stalked by an unknown peeping tom. When it came time for the pervert to be revealed on the June 18th episode of Raw, he walked to the ring under a ski mask. The silent voyeur dramatically removed his mask and ended up being none other than DDP himself. The crowd went ballistic at the sight of The Original People's Champ in a WWE ring, but then grew dumbfounded realizing he was in the middle of a dumb angle that betrayed everything his WCW character was about. In WCW, DDP's character was many things—loud, abrasive, boisterous, witty—but he was no pervert. Such a role was more fit for someone like Raven than DDP. WCW fans were disappointed to see what the innovator of the Diamond Cutter had become and WWE fans not familiar with his work were given the wrong impression of what he was capable of in WCW. Nonetheless, it made for a surprising moment as no one would have pegged DDP to be Sara's stalker.
On the June 27th, 2013 episode of Impact Wrestling, Suicide defeated Kenny King and champion Chris Sabin to become the new X Division Champion. Suicide had plans to cash in his title under Option C, which is a special stipulation where the X Division Champion can surrender their title in favor of a TNA World Heavyweight Title shot at the Destination X pay-per-view. Things went awry when TNA GM, Hulk Hogan, and a bruised young man named TJ Perkins showed up on the ramp. Hogan claimed that the Suicide in the ring was an imposter and the real Suicide was Perkins, who was knocked out from behind backstage off-screen only to wake up with his suit missing. Never mind the fact that this was an anti-climactic way to reveal who Suicide really was. The question on everyone's tongues that night was that if TJ Perkins portrayed Suicide on a regular basis, then who was wearing his suit now and just won the X Division Title? Later that night, both Hogan and TNA World Heavyweight Champion Bully Ray demanded for Suicide to take off his mask. In a robotic distorted voice, the Suicide imposter announced that everyone should know exactly who he was because he was the man who created Option C to begin with. He then took off his mask to reveal himself as the self-proclaimed Greatest Man Who Ever Lived, Austin Aries. Although this was a perfect twist fitting for Aries' conniving character, his opportunistic plan was in vain as he lost the title back to Sabin the next week. Sabin went on to cash in his title and beat Bully Ray for the World Championship. As for Perkins, he returned in a mask under the new guise of Manik.
1 The Higher Power
One of the most fascinating angles during the Attitude Era was the mystery surrounding who The Higher Power of The Ministry of Darkness was. Anyone powerful enough to give The Undertaker orders had to be bad news for anyone in The Ministry's way. The idea that this Higher Power was powerful enough to inspire The Undertaker to kidnap Vince McMahon's daughter, Stephanie, and attempt to marry her on a crucifix was a perplexing and interesting idea to watch develop every week. This Higher Power was so unstoppable that longtime rivals Stone Cold Steve Austin and Vince McMahon formed an alliance to take on The Ministry. It had viewers around the world gripped to their seats every week tuning in just to see when or if this Higher Power would ever be revealed. The big reveal finally came on the June 7th, 1999 episode of Raw is War and to everyone's surprise, it was Vince McMahon all along. Apparently, Vince McMahon went through this elaborate ruse just to mess with Austin. The only thing more unbelievable than Vince as The Higher Power is the number of plot holes that this storyline ended up having.
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