Throughout wrestling history, there's been a really easy way for many a failed wrestler to revitalize their career after a particularly bad gimmick. They just need to don a mask.
Masks are a uniquely wrestling concept. To begin with, watching wrestling in the first place requires the viewer to temporarily suspend reality while engrossed in the violent dramatic world of make believe. If you're okay with the all the other stuff that happens, believing a masked wrestler's imaginary back story isn't a huge leap of faith.
In the WWE, feuds are started seemingly willy-nilly, building up to the ultimate crescendo conveniently at the next pay-per-view event. Nobody in the real world solves problems with suplexes or leaps from the top turnbuckle, unless they want to spend a few months in a jail cell.
The history of masked wrestlers dates all the way back to 1865, when Theobaud Bauer first donned a mask, calling himself "The Masked Wrestler." Hey, when you're the first one, you don't need a clever name. Straightforward will apparently do. In 1915, Mort Henderson called himself the "Masked Marvel" wrestling in the New York area, bringing the gimmick to North America.
These days, masked wrestlers are more popular in Japan and especially Mexico, but there have still been many wrestlers who have successfully donned the mask. Here are what some of the most famous masked wrestlers look like.
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15 The Great Sasuke
The Great Sasuke started his career in Japan in 1990, wrestling under the name Masa Michinoku. He adopted The Great Sasuke character and his trademark mask after doing a wrestling tour in Mexico.
He ended up having a cup of coffee in the WWE in 1997, debuting in the tournament which crowned the first ever Light Heavyweight Champion. He reportedly told the Japanese media if he won the title he would refuse to drop it unless he was wrestling in Japan. Unsurprisingly, WWE execs dropped him shortly after.
He would later become the owner of his own regional wrestling company, the first in Japan that wasn't centered around Tokyo. He also got elected to his local government in 2003, reportedly wearing his mask to official government business.
14 Doink the Clown
I'll admit to adding Doink the Clown to the list simply because he was one of my favorites in the then-WWE in the early-to-mid 1990s. He started off as a real jerk, living up to his name by playing mean pranks on popular wrestlers. His peak was probably WrestleMania IX, when he defeated Crush with the assistance of an identical Doink from underneath the ring.
Doink was played by several wrestlers, but was most notably the work of Matt Osborne, a jobber for much of the 1980s for both WCW and WWE. He also spent time in World Class Championship Wrestling, eventually winning the Texas Heavyweight Championship.
13 Shark Boy
Shark Boy (played by Dean Matthew Roll) had some moderate success in the Independent Wrestling Association in the late-1990s before WCW signed him to a contract in 1999. He only lasted six months before getting released.
He resurfaced a few years later in TNA, feuding with Brutus Magnus, Consequences Creed, and Sheik Abdul Bashir. He's probably best known for teaming with D-Ray 3000 back in 2004 and by 2010 he was removed off the TNA website.
In 2004, Roll opened up his own wrestling school called The Shark Tank in Ohio. He also sued Miramax Films, alleging the movie The Adventures of Sharkboy and Lavagirl in 3-D ripped off his Shark Boy character. The suit was later settled out of court.
12 Tiger Mask
Tiger Mask is a wrestler based on a Japanese manga book of the same name. In the book, the wrestling character goes to the United States to compete as a heel, only to return to Japan as a face.
Over the years, five different wrestlers have performed under the Tiger Mask character. The first was Satoru Sayama (shown above), who competed for both New Japan Pro Wrestling and the WWE, feuding with future superstars like Bret Hart and the Dynamite Kid.
Sayama ended up quitting the business shortly after. Since 1995, Tiger Mask has been held by Yoshihiro Yamazaki, who has been one of the top wrestlers in New Japan Pro Wrestling. Yamazaki is the only Tiger Mask to be officially endorsed by the original.
11 Sin Cara I
Sin Cara is one half of The Lucha Dragons. His name means "Faceless" in Spanish.
The current incarnation of Sin Cara is played by Jorge Arias, a 38-year old Mexican-American wrestler who has been part of the WWE family since 2009. He graduated to the main circuit in 2011 and was asked to take over the Sin Cara character from Luis Urive, the one we see unmasked above, who was serving a 30-day suspension for violating WWE's wellness program.
Because it's the WWE, for a while both wrestlers feuded, with both appearing as Sin Cara. Eventually Arias became the permanent Sin Cara, after Urive was sloppy and often injured.
10 The Destroyer
The Destroyer might be the best-known masked wrestler of the sport's early days, starting his career in the mid-1950s. He finally semi-retired in 1984, but still shows up from time to time, like when he inducted Gorgeous George into the WWE Hall of Fame in 2010.
The Destroyer was played by Dick Beyer, who got his masters degree in education before launching his wrestling career. He first donned his mask in 1962 and just a year later traveled to Japan to take on Rikidozan, the man credited with bringing professional wrestling to the nation. Some 70 million Japanese watched the match, which is still a record for the largest television audience to ever watch the sport in Japan.
Beyer is still alive today at the age of 85.
Vader (played by Leon Allen White) became active in professional wrestling after being forced to retire from his short-lived NFL career because of a ruptured patella as a member of the Los Angeles Rams. He made his debut in 1985 and is still involved in the squared circle today.
Vader is a legend in Japan, and at one point, held the heavyweight championship belt in Japan, Europe, and Mexico, becoming the only man to ever hold championships on three separate continents at the same time.
He moved over to WCW in 1992 and eventually was wooed to the WWE in 1996. His most famous feud there was with The Undertaker in 1997, when Paul Bearer attacked The Undertaker and helped Vader win, becoming his manager in the process.
8 The Hurricane
The Hurricane was a masked wrestler played by Gregory Shane Helms, who was active in both WCW and WWE from 1999 to 2010.
Helms started with the Hurricane character in 2001, appearing wearing a superhero costume with green hair and a Green Lantern-inspired costume. He's best known for his tag-team efforts with Rosey, dubbing him "Rosey, the Super Hero in Training." The two ended up winning the Tag Team title after defeating La Resistance at Backlash in 2003.
Helms continued on with The Hurricane character until late-2005, before reverting back to his real name and turning on Rosey, watching him face the champions alone during a tag-team match.
Helms ended up having a relatively successful career after giving up The Hurricane persona, eventually winning the Cruiserweight Championship as a singles grappler.
7 Ultimo Dragon
Ultimo Dragon is a Japanese wrestler named Yoshihiro Asai, who learned how to wrestle in the lucha libre style while working in Mexico. He made his debut in 1987 in Mexico, but traveled regularly back to Japan to compete there.
His peak was in 1996-97, when he held championships from various international promotions, the NWA Middleweight Championship, and the WCW Cruiserweight Champion. In all, he held ten championships during that time.
He was signed by the WWE in 2003, where it was hoped he would be as popular as the recently acquired Rey Mysterio. He never really caught on in the world's most famous wrestling circuit and is probably best known by WWE fans for tripping as he entered the ring at WrestleMania XX, a blunder that was later edited out of the official DVD.
While the character Goldust didn't physically wear a mask, his gold face paint sure did a good job of obscuring his appearance.
He first appeared in the WWE in 1991 as himself, but achieved his great success returning in 1995 as a villain nicknamed "The Bizarre One." Goldust was spooky and intentionally would distract and creep out his opponents by doing things like groping them or expressing his affection for them before or during the match. He appeared regularly until 1999, even holding the Intercontinental Championship for a time.
Goldust is really Dustin Runnels, the son of WWE Hall of Famer Dusty Rhodes and the half-brother of current WWE superstar Cody Rhodes (Stardust). He was back in the WWE for a fifth tour of duty this year, teaming and then eventually feuding with his half-brother.
5 La Parka
La Parka was played by a Mexican wrestler named Adolfo Margarito Tapia Ibarra. He enjoyed success wrestling in his home country from 1982 to 1996.
In 1996, WCW came calling. La Parka was an instant hit, doing things like bringing a chair to the ring, sitting on it, and playing air guitar to the theme of his entrance music.
La Parka is probably best remembered for something that didn't even involve Adolfo Tapia. One night, while fighting Randy Savage, La Parka suddenly executed Diamond Dallas Page's finisher, the Diamond Cutter, on the confused Savage. After the match La Parka took off his mask to reveal it was Page all along.
Hoping to cash in on his popularity in Mexico while wrestling in the states, Tapia allowed another wrestler to use the name, costume and name La Parka while wrestling in various independent promotions. When the wrestler got signed to one of Mexico's largest wrestling companies in 2003, a legal fight ensued about just who exactly had the legal right to use the name. Tapia would eventually win, but not before being forced to modify his costume for a short period of time.
4 Mil Mascaras
Up until 1972, masked wrestlers were banned from competing in Madison Square Garden, which was the WWE's home court. That all changed when Mil Mascaras burst upon the scene.
Mascaras performed just about everywhere. He spent much of his career in his home turf of Mexico, but also spent time in Japan, WCW, the International Wrestling Association, and the World Wrestling Council, out of Puerto Rico. He is perhaps most remembered for his matches against number ten in this list, The Destroyer.
"The man of 1,000 masks" was inducted into the Professional Wrestling Hall of Fame in 2010 and the WWE Hall of Fame in 2012.
Yes, I know. Sting (played by Steve Borden) didn't actually wear a mask. But he did wear really cool face paint that sure did obscure his real appearance, which is enough of an excuse for me to add him to this list.
Sting was the face of WCW in the 1990s, eventually spending time feuding with every significant wrestler to spend time with the organization. His career culminated in 1996, when WCW introduced the nWo, lead by Hulk Hogan, Kevin Nash and Scott Hall. Sting lead the fight against the nWo.
When WCW ended up being bought out by WWE in 2002, Sting was the only noted personality to not join Vince McMahon, choosing instead to continue his career independently. He eventually gave in and joined WWE in 2014.
2 The Great Muta
The Great Muta might be the greatest Japanese wrestler of all time, becoming one of the first grapplers from the country to spread his popularity to the United States.
Keiji Mutoh, the man underneath the mask, started his career in 1984 in the New Japan Pro Wrestling Academy. He quickly rose to prominence in his native land, taking on The Great Muta name for the National Wrestling Alliance and then WCW in the late 1980s. He fought against wrestlers like Ric Flair, Lex Luger, and Sting.
After a stint back in Japan, he would go on to regularly appear in the WCW in the 1990s. He's best known for his high-flying finishing move, the moonsault press.
1 Rey Mysterio
There's little doubt that Rey Mysterio is the most famous masked wrestler in WWE history. He was with the company from 2002 to 2015, holding the WWE Championship once. the World Heavyweight Championship twice, the Tag Team Championship four times, the Intercontinental Championship twice, and the Cruiserweight Championship three times. At just 175 pounds, he is the lightest man to ever hold the WWE Championship.
Mysterio's real name is Oscar Gutierrez, and he still wrestles in Mexico today.
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