The pageantry of pro wrestling has always been one of the many aspects to attract fans to the show. Colorful characters were always necessary and it has led to unique attires being worn to compete. Masks became one of the fixtures involved in the wrestling business for wrestlers wanting to cover their faces. Some did it for the cool look of being visually similar to a superhero. Others just wanted to hide their flaws. A mask can give you an excuse not to talk or get exposed by a lack of facial expressions not being able to add to a character.
Mexican wrestlers have been wearing masks for years due to the tradition of it being in the sport. It gets passed down from generation to generation and is more respected by the fan base there. The pros and cons to wearing a mask are both long lists but some wrestlers are better off with them. Rey Mysterio and Jushin Thunder Liger are legends thanks to implementing the mask into their personas. The other spectrum features many talents that were limited by the mask and who excelled after losing them. We’ll break those down as we look at the top fifteen wrestlers that were much better after ditching their mask.
15 Gregory Helms
The in-ring skills of Gregory Helms have always delivered but he struggled in his early WWE career. Following the purchase of WCW, WWE gave him an opportunity and were impressed by his work ethic. Helms found great success when transitioning into The Hurricane character. The persona stemmed from Helms’ real life fandom of the comic book industry and took a page from the Superman comics. Helms was obviously the Hurricane but tried to live with both identities apart similar to Clark Kent as Superman.
As entertaining and humorous as The Hurricane was, comedic gimmicks only have such a ceiling and he peaked. His unmasking and returning to Gregory Helms provided a better all-around performance. Helms became a valued member of SmackDown winning the Cruiserweight Championship and later entering a tremendous feud with Matt Hardy. Helms was actually allowed to showcase his wrestling skills and develop a more evolved character than what we were used to during the Hurricane days.
TNA has seen the majority of their homegrown stars get fed up and ditch the failing company over the past few years. Abyss is the rare exception as he still holds a roster spot as one half of the TNA Tag Team Champions with Crazy Steve. The hardcore matches have seen Abyss literally give his body to the betterment of the promotion. Abyss would suffer the same fate as anyone residing in a company for a long period of time with one character by getting stale.
The most refreshing thing Abyss has done in years was losing the mask to portray Joseph Park. The wacky storyline featured Joseph claiming he was the brother of Abyss and was leading a search to find him. Everyone knew he was Abyss, but that just added to the charm. The lack of a monster character forced him to step outside of his comfort zone and he hit a home run with the endearing gimmick. TNA changing Park back into Abyss was a horrible decision that should have never taken place.
13 Justin Credible
Aldo Montoya's gimmick left a lot to be desired when it came to masked wrestlers. PJ Polaco was given the role and couldn’t get over with the extreme limitations preventing him from showing his talent. The mask looked like it was made by a kindergarten arts and craft class and Montoya became a laughingstock among wrestling fans. WWE released the talented wrestler for failing to succeed with the mask and it was the best thing to happen to his career.
Paul Heyman signed Polaco under the name of Justin Credible and made him one of the biggest stars in ECW. Credible instantly connected with the fan base as a bad ass despite his resume showing him being the silly masked caricature in WWE. The success made him a hot commodity, winning both the ECW World Championship and ECW Tag Team Championship with Lance Storm. WWE ended up bringing him back as Justin Credible and further destroyed any memories of Aldo Montoya.
12 TJ Perkins
TNA is known for frustrating wrestlers and wrestling fans with poor decisions. TJ Perkins was signed after years of great work on the independent wrestling scene. Most of the top wrestlers of the time had stints in PWG and ROH to show off their talent and TJP delivered in both promotions. This led to TNA signing him for the X-Division but decided to put a mask on him with the old Suicide character.
The name was changed to Manik, but the character remained as silly as ever. No one wanted to see Perkins sport the mask and recycle a failed idea. TNA ended up changing the mask design but it still looked absolutely foolish. TJP campaigned on Twitter to wrestle without the mask and frustrated management into letting his contract expire. The free agent market has been kind to Perkins, as he's one of the bigger names in WWE's Cruiserweight Classic. Being able to wrestle without a mask has helped TJP build his reputation back up in Evolve.
11 Chris Kanyon
The fact that Chris Kanyon wrestled under a mask for years in WCW is sometimes a shocking tidbit to many fans. Kanyon portrayed the Mortis character and actually did a good job with it. Eric Bischoff had a fixation with the Mortal Kombat video game at the time and wanted a few characters similar to the fighters in the series. Mortis was fine but definitely had a short shelf life.
WCW made the right decision to end Mortis and allowed Kanyon to wrestle without the mask. His personality was a welcome surprise, as he had a knack for bringing comedy to the show. Kanyon found great success in the Triad group with Diamond Dallas Page and Bam Bam Bigelow. The wrestling skills of Kanyon also delivered in memorable battles against the likes of Raven and Saturn. We can all agree the career of Kanyon improved with the unmasking and ditching of the Mortis era.
10 Jerry Lynn
Jerry Lynn will go down among the most underrated wrestlers in the industry. His in-ring work was second to none with a guaranteed entertaining match any time he stepped inside a wrestling ring. WCW employed him in the mid-90s under the moniker of Mr. JL. The Cruiserweight division was booming with the introduction of various masked luchadors and that led to Lynn being forced to wear a mask as well for his character.
Mr. JL received very little television time but always put on a spectacular performance when given a chance. A short series of matches against Sabu helped put his talent on display. WCW didn’t view him as anything special and terminated his contract. Like many others released by WCW, Lynn found more success in ECW. Paul Heyman ditched the mask and allowed him to wrestle with more freedom to dazzle fans. Lynn became a beloved figure in ECW thanks to legendary matches against Rob Van Dam and ended up winning the ECW World Championship.
9 Juventud Guerrera
The Mexican wrestlers signed to WCW for the Cruiserweight division were all talented enough to perform great matches but it was hard to showcase personality. The mask limited their upside and their inability to speak English made it difficult to connect with the American fan base. Rey Mysterio was the exception to the rule due to his “once in a generation” talent and smaller stature giving him an advantage.
Juventud Guerrera always brought his elite high-flying moves but he just never had the tools to get to become the most popular star in the division. Everyone enjoyed watching him wrestle but it wasn’t until he lost his mask that he was able to showcase his true personality. Guerrera started cutting comedic promos referring to himself as “The Juice” in a parody of The Rock. His in-ring work remained as consistent as ever but Guerrera finally could use facial expressions and personality to his liking.
A current instance of a wrestler being hindered by a mask is Ricochet. The independent wrestling superstar wrestles in Lucha Underground under a mask as Prince Puma. Lucha Underground fans love him and he’s arguably the top star in the promotion, but everyone knows it’s him under the mask. Ricochet is allowed to wrestle without the mask or character restrictions in other companies, mainly New Japan. Most regard him as the best high-flying wrestler in the business and among the best talents outside of the WWE.
His ability to show his inherent charisma helps Ricochet add another dimension to his work, which is pivotal for any performer to get the best of their talent. Wrestling expert Dave Meltzer has made it known on many occasions that Lucha Underground is missing the boat by not allowing Ricochet to work without the mask. The body of work put out by Ricochet, including his highly touted match against Will Ospreay this year, proves he benefits from wrestling without covering his face.
7 Eddie Guerrero
The late Eddie Guerrero makes almost every longtime wrestling fan’s list of greatest all-around performers in the history of pro wrestling. Many of those fans aren’t even aware of his successful stint in New Japan during the early 90s. Guerrero worked as the second incarnation of masked wrestler Black Tiger. His work was amazing but it was clear he would need to unmask to get the best of his potential.
Guerrero went on to become one of the best workers in North America for ECW and WCW without the mask. WWE signing Guerrero would add even more to his thriving career as he received a huge push after overcoming his battles with drug and alcohol addiction. Guerrero won the WWE Championship by defeating Brock Lesnar in one of the most heartwarming moments in company history. The emotion shown by Eddie throughout his career as the loving face or dastardly heel is proof he never needed the mask.
6 Chris Benoit
Similar to Eddie Guerrero’s story, Chris Benoit achieved his first big success in pro wrestling under a mask in New Japan. Benoit wrestled as The Pegasus Kid and captured the prestigious IWGP Jr. Heavyweight Championship over the legendary Jushin Thunder Liger. His in-ring work was clearly elite and he ended up unmasking shortly before making the jump to the United States in hopes of becoming a bigger star.
Benoit became one of the most successful stars in WCW history with various title wins in just about every division. His work ended up earning him the reputation as the greatest technical wrestler in the business. WWE eventually signed him and made him an even bigger star with his memorable moment being winning the World Championship in the main event of WrestleMania XX. Benoit was never the most charismatic personality but the facial expressions told the story during each of his matches. The mask would have limited his upside in WCW and WWE or may have prevented him from even getting signed.
5 Daniel Bryan
The story of Daniel Bryan getting trained by Shawn Michaels is well documented but not everyone knows of his early career as a masked man. During training, Bryan showed a natural aptitude to deliver in the ring but he lacked the personality. The idea of a mask was pitched to hide his flaws of not being able to express his emotions during matches. Bryan wrestled as The American Dragon during tours of New Japan and even in his early WWE tryouts.
It dawned on him that he would have to lose the mask to get more bookings and a greater chance at success. Bryan started wrestling under his real name of Bryan Danielson and the rest is history. Ring of Honor was built around everything Bryan represented - competition, in-ring pride and work ethic. His unbelievable matches in ROH led to his reputation growing as the “best in the world” and eventually landed him his dream job in the WWE. Bryan would have never become one of the most beloved figures in wrestling history if he continued to wrestle with a mask.
4 Mick Foley
WWE giving the character of Mankind to Mick Foley was initially a genius move. The character had great depth and shined in various epic feuds against The Undertaker. Foley’s ability to tell a story and portray a character like no other is the main reason the character excelled with the terrifying mask. After a while, WWE realized Foley would have to change things up and it resulted in losing the mask.
The characters of Dude Love and Cactus Jack took his game to another level thanks to being able to have free reign without the mask. It also gave WWE fans a chance to get to know Mick Foley and he eventually started to wrestle without a character name. Foley blossomed into one of the elite stars in the business right behind Steve Austin and The Rock. If WWE left the Mankind mask on Foley and never allowed him to show who he truly was, his career and the Attitude Era is remembered completely differently today.
3 Alberto Del Rio
As the son of legendary masked wrestler Dos Caras, Alberto Del Rio spent the majority of his career in Mexico under a mask. The tradition made sense for the situation and he achieved huge success as one of the biggest wrestling stars in the country. WWE ended up finding him and offered a contract to come over to the United States without the mask. Del Rio’s handsome features and ability to cut great heel promos in the right story made you wonder why he ever covered his face.
Del Rio's WWE career has had some up and downs, but there’s no arguing his place as one of the more successful names in the industry. Del Rio always ranks pretty high in the pecking order and has four different WWE World Championship reigns on his resume. Regardless of what happens in the rest of his career, there’s no doubt Del Rio will never waste his time wearing a mask again.
2 Sami Zayn
The story of Sami Zayn’s unmasking is one of the times WWE can say they truly knew better than the internet. Zayn achieved great success on the independent wrestling scene under a mask as El Generico. “The Generic Luchador” pretended to be from Mexico and became a beloved figure in ROH, PWG and various other independent promotions across the world. Everyone expected Generico to continue in WWE after he was signed but the decision was made to unmask.
Zayn started wrestling without the mask for the first time in his career since becoming a respected worker. The incredible matches and feuds in NXT proved Triple H had it right. Zayn’s emotions shined perfectly during matches and his personality added a different form of charm to his character. Fans feel like they know Sami Zayn now and it is helping him become a fixture in the upper midcard of the main roster. Zayn has similar traits to Daniel Bryan and could easily move up the card in WWE showing he never even needed the mask.
1 Owen Hart
Owen Hart is remembered fondly among wrestling fans eighteen years after his unfortunate passing. His legacy lives on due to his incredible work as one of the best wrestling performers we’ve had the pleasure of watching. Owen actually wore a mask during his first stint in WWE as The Blue Blazer. WWE didn’t want to initially introduce him as Bret Hart’s brother, so they put him under a mask to portray a wholesome superhero character.
The gimmick had no legs and Owen eventually started to wrestle without the mask. One of the greatest wrestling storylines took place when he turned on big brother Bret to start a sibling rivalry. Both Hart brothers put out classic matches against each other at WrestleMania X and SummerSlam 1994. Owen played the perfect heel with cowardly antics that was represented perfectly by his mannerisms and expressions. The unmasking of Blue Blazer and the introduction of Owen Hart gave WWE was one of the best performers and greatest heel characters in wrestling history.