Masks have been a part of wrestling for a long time, pushed more in Mexico as they were based on the ancient Aztec and Mayan warrior masks. Japan would follow off their own long traditions and of course it wouldn’t take long before that followed to North America. Often, they’ve been used by jobbers to give themselves some extra work and occasionally boost themselves up more. Some are able to become stars like Mr. Wrestling I & II and the Killer Bees had fun with their own masked gimmick.
In some cases, the mask is used for a bigger deal. For years, Mexico has pushed “hair vs. mask” matches for some great crowds and Japan has helped push masked stars as well. There are also angles of a guy wearing a mask as part of a bigger arc for a disguise (such as Dusty Rhodes’ Midnight Rider) and push an angle along. And there are times when the unmasking is the huge part of an entire storyline and can often work out great. Here are 15 of the most notable unmaskings in wrestling and how they used that gimmick well.
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15 Black Scorpion
In 1990, Sting had finally won the NWA World title over Ric Flair but his promising reign was wrecked thanks to Ole Anderson’s short-sighted booking. Without a real viable challenger, Ole decided to create one via the Black Scorpion, a mysterious hooded figure talking of how he and Sting had a history. They spent months on this thing with the Scorpion interfering in matches but mostly doing stupid magic tricks like turning a fan into a tiger (really) and WCW still having no idea who the guy was supposed to be.
It built to Starrcade with the Scorpion facing Sting in a cage match, breaking out moves and spots that every fan of the company knew by heart. Thus, it was of no surprise when Sting unmasked him to reveal Ric Flair as WCW knew Flair was the only logical choice for all this after so much build and would set up his regaining the title. A long mess ending in a bit of a letdown, perfect WCW in so many ways.
14 Sin Cara
When Luis Urive joined WWE in 2011, expectations were high due to his great fame in Mexico. However, injuries cut his push short so WWE decided to give the gimmick of Sin Cara to Jorge Arias. Soon, Urive returned as the old Sin Cara in different tights to take on Arias in various matches that pushed who was who and some. It all ended in a mask vs. mask match with Sin Cara forcing the imposter to submit then unmasked him to reveal Hunico. This led to another feud but notable how the double Sin Cara gave the character a bit more attention than just one single push might have.
13 The Destroyer
Stampede Wrestling was known for its hard hitting style and passionate fan base. One of their big stars in the early 1970s was Dan Kroffat, a fine worker who soon found himself targeted by the company’s major heel, Archie “The Stomper” Gould. Gould laid Kroffat out in one of the most brutal, bloody and vicious attacks fans had seen at the time and it was declared his career was over. A few weeks later, in came a masked man calling himself the Destroyer who targeted Gould, laying into the monster heel with a vicious assault. With Gould down, the Destroyer yanked off his mask to reveal Kroffat, the crowd loving it and helped kick off a great feud that showed the magic Stampede possessed.
12 CM Punk
In 2010, Punk was doing great with his Straight Edge Society, promoting a “clean living” style while acting the arrogant heel. He faced off against Rey Mysterio in a series of matches with the stipulation of having his head shaved at Over the Limit. Punk lost with Kane helping Mysterio handcuff him to the ring ropes for the shaving. Punk was shown on SmackDown wearing a towel, acting chagrined at having to remove it only to reveal he was wearing a mask. After weeks of teasing, we finally got the bit of Punk racing up a ladder with the Big Show following, grabbing him tight and peeling off the mask, Punk screaming in outrage as the crowd laughed at his bald head. It was short but funny thanks to Punk himself making it all work.
11 Rey Mysterio
It’s not something he wants to remember but it’s still notable. At SuperBrawl IX, Mysterio, one of the key stars of the cruiserweight division pushing WCW high, teamed with Konan to face Kevin Nash and Scott Hall in a hair vs mask match. Mysterio lost and was forced to unmask, a move pushed by how Eric Bischoff honestly thought Mysterio wasn’t “marketable” enough with that mask. Looking like a teenager, Rey never got a real shot, pushed down the card and the loss of his mask hurt him in Mexico as well. WWE would rectify that mistake by making millions off the sale of Mysterio's masks and his various DVDs skim over this as much as they can to show how it’s the masked Rey fans prefer.
In late 1989, the Steiner Brothers were taking off as a tag team, winning the World tag titles and soon in a feud with the sultry Woman, who brought in a pair of beefy black masked men she called Doom. While they had some promise, the two kept coming up short in their battles with the Steiners, finally culminating at a Clash of the Champions match where Doom would be unmasked if they lost. When one of them went for a pin, Rick managed to yank his mask off to reveal Butch Reed. The Steiners got the pin as the other Doom member had to unmask to show he was Ron Simmons.
That would appear to be the end of it but, for once, WCW realized they had something as Simmons and Reed had all the ingredients to be a good team. They were paired with manager Teddy Long who soon got them back on track and in just a few months, the unmasked Doom would win the NWA tag titles and hold them for the rest of the year. So the unmasking was the best thing to happen to the team and gave WCW one of their better teams of the time.
9 The Spider Lady
In 1985, Wendi Richter was riding high as WWE Women’s champion and making some bold claims to Vince McMahon about wanting Hogan-sized paydays. Naturally, Vince didn’t take to that very well and so decided to teach Richter a lesson. Richter was wrestling long-time jobber the Spider Lady who looked quite familiar in body and moves to the fans in attendance. Richter kept on going, clearly kicking out of a pinfall but the ref counting it to give the Spider Lady the title. Not realizing she’d been screwed, Richter continued on with the fight, yanking off the mask to reveal the Fabulous Moolah. Richter was pissed as hell, soon gone from the company and highlighting one of the biggest double-crosses the business has ever seen.
8 La Parka
After paying his dues for a while in the mid-card, Diamond Dallas Page was finally breaking out as a star in 1997 after ambushing the New World Order and becoming a fan favorite. He and his wife Kimberly were soon targeted by Randy Savage who beat DDP down badly, kicking off a wild feud. In June, Savage was taking on masked worker La Parka in a regular match, beating him around until suddenly, La Parka pulled out a Diamond Cutter and unmasked to reveal himself as DDP before pinning Savage. It was a fun bit that showed DDP’s nice skills and added to his rise to stardom.
7 The Halloween Phantom
In late 1991, Paul E. Dangerously was making moves to form what would become the Dangerous Alliance, going after then-U.S. champion Sting. He brought out the Halloween Phantom, a guy in a dark mask who got an epic organ-like entrance, taking out Tom Zenk in a minute with a familiar finisher. Still, it was epic when Paul E. got on the stage for a promo to bring out the Phantom who then unmasked to reveal himself as Ravishing Rick Rude. He cut a great promo on his own to push himself as the fantastic heel he would be over the next year, a great reveal and one of the better moves of WCW that year.
Since his debut in 1997, Kane had been notable for that dark mask and talk of a past trauma that scarred him. It was interesting as fans had wondered what was under that mask and WWE had played with it a few times. In 2003, after so much teasing, it finally happened as Kane came up short in a match against HHH. Per the match stipulation, he was forced to finally unmask and reveal a blackened face although not as scarred as many had assumed.
He turned heel to chokeslam former partner RVD, soon shaving his head for a more sinister appearance. It may not have been as gruesome as expected but it was a push that gave Kane’s character new life and continues today.
5 Los Conquistadores
Try to follow this one. The Conquistadores had been a heel jobber team in the ‘80s, long unseen. They made a return in 2000 although the way they targeted the Hardy Boyz and used moves quite like Edge & Christian made it obvious who they were. They tried to defuse it by being shown backstage with the Conquistadores who earned a title shot against the Hardyz and won the belts. Edge & Christian challenged the Conquistadores for the titles on the next RAW but Christian was found taken out backstage so Edge went out alone.
He appeared surprised when the Conquistadores came out to fight and confused when they refused to job to him. After some bumbling, the pair suddenly broke out into some familiar high-flying moves to pin Edge and then unmasked to reveal themselves as the Hardyz. Commissioner Mick Foley came out to reveal video footage of E&C with the two jobbers they had posing as Los Conquistadores for the backstage stuff and basically declared the Hardyz the tag champions. A wild turn but somehow these four made it work.
4 The Masked Avenger
World Class was the Von Erichs' territory but they had plenty of other top stars. Jimmy Garvin was a terrific heel as the American champion having a feud with “Gentleman” Chris Adams, the two going to a time limit draw for the title and Garvin declaring he would be avoiding as many title bouts as he could. He then went out against a variety of hand-selected jobbers that included The Masked Avenger, a guy in a body suit and a rather nifty Texas-themed mask.
The Avenger pulled off some surprisingly good moves to take Garvin down, then hit a thrust kick to pin him and unmask to reveal himself as Adams. He was able to use that for a rematch to win the belt, one of those great moments WCCW always provided and a highlight for Adams.
3 Mystery Lizard
1991 was not a good year overall for WCW but they could still pull off something now and then. At Clash of the Champions XVII, Arn Anderson and Larry Zybsko were to defend the tag titles against Dustin Rhodes and Barry Windham but Windham had injured his hand. They announced a new partner and out came a guy in a robe and a goofy looking lizard mask. For once, a WCW surprise worked as Dustin pulled off the mask and the man threw the robe off to reveal himself as…
Well, to quote the screaming Arn: “NOOOOOT RICKY STEAMBOAT!!!” Fresh off a brief WWE run, the Dragon emerged to a big pop as he and Dustin took on the Enforcers. It was a fantastic match with Arn freaking out facing Steamboat, who got the pin after a flying body press to give him and Dustin the titles. A classic moment that WCW actually pulled off to make the Dragon shine.
2 El Santo
Considered the pioneer of lucha libre, Rodolfo Guzman Huerta was one of the first to popularize the use of masks. As El Santo, he was not only a great worker but a true multi-media star, including movies and become an icon and hero to the working class who cheered him on. He was also the first to push how Mexican wrestlers kept their masks on constantly, always out in public and never removing it.
That was until 1984, a year after his retirement when, during an interview, Santo lifted his mask up enough to show his face. It was quite surprising but perhaps he knew something as just a week later, he died of a heart attack. He was given a massive funeral with thousands in attendance and buried with his mask on. It’s surprising but still notable for how the greatest star of the genre was able to show his true features off.
The highlight of WCW during the Monday Night Wars was always their fantastic cruiserweight division. In 1998 Chris Jericho was breaking out big-time as the arrogant heel champion, having just disposed of Dean Malenko in a feud insulting Malenko’s father. At Slamboree, the Cruiserweights were going at it in a battle royal with the winner to have an immediate title shot at Jericho. Jericho himself did the introductions with some great jokes as the guys went at it. It finally came down to Juventud Guerrera and Ciclope as they faced off, shook hands and then Juventud threw himself over the top rope.
The commentators were confused, as were the fans, as Ciclope leaned down, undid his mask and rose to reveal himself to be Dean Malenko. The crowd went wild as Jericho was terrified before Malenko launched himself on a brutal attack to take Jericho down and soon won the title. It was a fantastic moment that helped elevate both men and win the Cruiserweights wider respect as the backbone of WCW at the time.
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