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The 20 most amazing masked wrestlers
As much a part of professional wrestling as ring aprons and three-counts, masks have a long and important role in the history of sports-entertainment.
Although there’s some argument about when the first masked grappler actually appeared inside the squared circle — some say it was The Masked Marvel in 1915, while others claim it was The Masked Wrestler, way back in 1873 in Paris — masks have a special significance to the performers who wear them. They’re also pretty cool, and help add to the mystique of the already larger-than-life personas that have thrilled fans for generations.
What follows is a list of the 20 Most Amazing Masked Wrestlers of All Time — no small undertaking, considering the sheer number of Superstars who have donned a mask over time. So to calculate our list, we’ve concocted a witches’ brew of criteria that includes in-ring prowess, overall contributions to sports-entertainment, the association between the wrestler and the mask and, finally, the sheer coolness of the mask in question.
As this list will prove, sometimes it’s the mask that makes the man.
Much like a lightning bolt, Blitzkrieg brought a surge of energy to WCW’s cruiserweight division in 1999. A relative unknown when he was plucked out of Southern California’s indie wrestling scene and replanted among the world’s finest junior heavyweights in WCW, the hiccup-quick American luchador (OK, we’ll play along: Blitzkrieg was billed from “The Cosmos”) didn’t just hold his own — he often stole the show.
Although he stunned Nitro and Thunder audiences with mesmerizingly agile moves seemingly culled from “The Matrix,” Blitzkrieg didn’t last long in WCW, competing for roughly a year. Still, his embrace of the lucha libre style and aesthetic helped him make a lasting impression. Part of that could be owed to his mask — a red, black and silver design that sometimes featured lightning bolts alluding to his militaristic moniker.
There are creepy masks, and then there’s the mask adopted by Mortis in WCW. An eerie combination of Skeletor and … well, we don’t know what else, really, the scary factor was turned up to a level befitting a grappler whose name in Latin translates to “of death.”
Memorable for its sheer scariness, Mortis’ rubber nightmare of a face covering comes in at No. 19 on the list, despite the fact that it was around for less than a year.
You need only take one look at La Parka — what, with his skull mask and skeletal ring gear — to know you’re staring at a different type of cat altogether. A fixture of the Mexican wrestling scene and, later, Monday Night War–era WCW, La Parka dripped charisma, which is no small feat for a man whose face was almost completely obscured.
Although La Parka’s outlandish antics, which included air guitar riffs and swinging chairs, regularly garnered cheers from WCW fans, his outfit was based on the Mexico holiday Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead), and it was only intended to inspire fear. “I know I scare my enemies,” he informed audiences during a WCW video segment in 1997.
La Park often entered arenas in Mexico to the tune of Michaels Jackson’s “Thriller,” but after watching him compete, it’s difficult to resist the temptation of humming “Dem Bones.”
Emblazoned with a figure of a two-headed eagle to reflect the duality of his in-ring persona, Dos Caras’ mask is a true classic with great meaning.
The legendary Mexican wrestler — whose name translates to “two faces” — is part of a historic wrestling lineage that continues in WWE today with his son, Alberto Del Rio. Dos Caras is one of the greatest heavyweight grapplers in the storied history of Mexican wrestling, a true lucha libre icon.
Timeless in its elegant simplicity, Dos Caras’ mask is unquestionably one of the 20 best, ever, and the man beneath it similarly ranks among the all-time greatest.
It’s not often you hear a commentator exclaim that a competitor is at risk of bending a horn while executing a suicide dive, but such was the case in 1996 when Bobby Heenan first saw Psicosis take flight in a match against Rey Mysterio. “The Brain” was right to show concern: Psicosis’ ring gear — among the most elaborate in ring history — was punctuated by a devilish mask with two curved horns that could very well puncture opponents.
The lithe luchador’s wild and colorful mask complemented his unorthodox ring style, which leaned heavily on daredevil tactics. A peer of Rey Mysterio (both men trained under Mysterio’s uncle, Rey Mysterio Sr.), Psicosis spent much of his career as a foil for The Ultimate Underdog, although it was ultimately Billy Kidman who unmasked Psicosis following a Hair vs. Mask Match in WCW from 1999. Two years prior, Psicosis passionately described his mask as “part of [his] soul, and a great myth.”
It takes someone special to be considered a superhero in a locker room replete with larger-than-life Superstars and Divas, yet that’s the exact space The Hurricane occupied for several years in the 2000s. Sporting a black-and-green mask that looked like it sprung to life from the pages of “Justice League,” the caped crusader — widely speculated to be a persona of mild-mannered citizen Gregory Helms — won the European Championship in his WWE debut.
That was only the start, as The Hurricane went on to capture the Hardcore Championship, Cruiserweight Championship and the World Tag Team Championship on two occasions (once with Kane and once with Rosey). When he wasn’t winning titles, The Hurricane was guilty of employing superhero tropes so corny they’d make Adam West blush. Cheesy though they sometimes were, The Hurricane’s antics won over the WWE Universe, securing him a place as one of the most beloved Superstars of his era.
The Great Sasuke
Were it not for his colorful hood, with its flashes of green, red and blue, The Great Sasuke could easily be mistaken for a ninja. The Japanese Superstar boasted the black ensemble and light-footed grace of a mysterious mercenary, and inside the ring, he was plenty ruthless, too. But what truly set Sasuke apart was his profound influence, as a competitor, promoter and politician.
As one of Japan’s top junior heavyweights in the 1990s, The Great Sasuke ushered in a new era of “high-risk” action. (His aerial stunts twice resulted in a cracked skull.) He was more than just flash, though. By founding Michinoku Pro Wrestling — a lucha-influenced Japanese organization akin to salad-days ECW in terms of scale, innovation and fan loyalty — Sasuke helped dovetail the fine wrestling traditions of Mexico and his native country. Not to be overlooked is the fact that The Great Sasuke was also voted in as a legislator in Japan’s Iwate prefecture in 2003, becoming the first masked politician.
Mr. Wrestling II
If the stories are true, then “dedicated” doesn’t even begin to describe Johnny Walker, the man better known as Mr. Wrestling II, and one of the greatest masked wrestlers of all time.
As legend has it, former President Jimmy Carter’s mother was a big wrestling fan, and she adored Mr. Wrestling II. Using her powerful son’s considerable political pull to have a face-to-face meeting with her in-ring idol, Mrs. Carter interviewed Mr. Wrestling II at her home.
Later, when her son was elected President of the United States, Mrs. Carter once again called Mr. Wrestling II, this time to invite the masked grappler to the White House and to Carter’s inauguration. Mr. Wrestling II was denied entry both times, however, when he refused to remove his trademark mask.
Hayabusa was never a household name stateside, but the gutsy aerialist — a mainstay of Japan’s slice-and-dice Frontier Martial Arts Wrestling outfit — is remembered fondly in his native country for both the spectacular fashion in which he glided through the air and his captivating presence. The latter quality was owed, in large part, to his mysterious falcon-inspired mask, an ornate visage featuring two ribbons sewn into the back. The mask added an undeniably aerodynamic element to Hayabusa’s persona.
The prototypical risk-taker was also an originator inside the ring, inventing maneuvers such as the Phoenix Splash, a top-rope assault that began with Hayabusa’s back to the ring before twisting into a 450 Splash and culminating with a magnificent impact in the ring. Sadly, Hayabusa’s in-ring career ended tragically in 2001 when a quebrada attempt went awry and he landed on his head, resulting in paralysis. Since then, Hayabusa has slowly but heroically recovered, regaining the ability to walk.
True story: One of the ring’s most feared men spent the bulk of his career with a woman’s girdle on his head. That man was Dick Beyer, better known to the masses as The Sensational Intelligent Destroyer, and that girdle became one of the most recognizable masks in wrestling history.
The hood — featuring a wide, red seam down the middle of his forehead and rudimentary openings for his orifices — was fashioned by Beyer’s wife, and although it lacked the ornateness of modern masks, it succeeded in stirring the imaginations of all who watched The Destroyer do his thing in the 1950s to 1970s. He found great success in America, but it was in Japan where his reputation arguably reached its pinnacle. So captivating was the man — an early proponent of the Figure-Four Leglock — that an astounding 70 million Japanese fans tuned in to watch his clash with Far East icon Rikidozan in 1963.
Beyer also gained notoriety under another masked alias, Dr. X. (Debbie Harry of Blondie fame was once photographed wearing a Dr. X shirt onstage.) Nowadays, Beyer’s Destroyer likeness is the face of Destroyer Park Golf, a picturesque park golf course located in quiet Akron, N.Y.
“Decorated” is a fitting word to describe Ultimo Dragon.
Truly one of the great highfliers of all time, Dragon was a driving force behind the cruiserweight revolution of the 1990s. World-renowned for his aerial maneuvers — including the spectacular Asai Moonsault — the WCW Television Champion, J-Crown Champion and two-time WCW World Cruiserweight Champion is also remembered for his radiant ring gear.
Entering arenas dressed in extravagant and colorful capes and shoulder pads, Ultimo Dragon also boasted a distinctive mask, which has become one of the classics. Flying through the air with the greatest of ease, Dragon’s flight paths were truly reminiscent of a superhero come to life.
Tipping the scales at a ripped 290 pounds, The Masked Superstar cut an intimidating figure wherever he traveled, and judging by all the miles he logged in the 1970s and early 1980s, that covers a lot of territory. The Masked Superstar boasted a versatile ring style: He could get down and dirty with the best of them and he was more than capable of holding his own on the mat. Depending on his disposition, The Masked Superstar could elicit a hero’s welcome or a hateful reaction with equal aplomb.
And what about the mask? Black stars circled the crown of his head. The openings for his nose, ears and mouth were all outlined in black, and the rest of the fabric covering could span a range of colors, from gold to red.
From the straightforward name to the minimalist mask, everything about The Masked Superstar was simply cool. He was equally as cool and even more intimidating when he later became Demolition Ax.
Long before he came to WWE, Mick Foley had already established himself as a legendary figure in wrestling, developing a reputation through the independent circuits as hardcore specialist Cactus Jack. Sadistic in nature and willing to go to extreme lengths to make his opponents pay, Foley put his own body through the wringer with seemingly no regard for his personal well-being.
But when he finally arrived in WWE, Foley put on a mask and became something else entirely.
First witnessed by the WWE Universe through a series of dark and disturbing vignettes, it was clear from the outset that the methodically rocking, chillingly masked Mankind would be a major threat to the day’s crop of Superstars.
Brown and dirty and creepy and perfect, Mankind’s trademark leather looked more like a muzzle for Hannibal Lector than a mask, and made it a must-have on our list.
Have a nice day.
OK, let’s just get this out of the way right up front — yes, Vader wore a mask.
Despite (several) intra-office arguments as to whether Vader’s head gear could even be considered for this list, we’ve come to a final decision. So once again:
Yes, it’s a mask.
We’ve also come to the conclusion that we work with an (absurdly high) number of people who don’t know/understand the difference between a mask, and NOT a mask.
Most importantly, Vader himself considers it a mask and nobody in their right mind would dare to disagree with “The Mastodon.”
Tangents aside, now that it’s settled, here’s why the big man is on the list.
One of the most intimidating Superstars of all time, Vader’s classic red facial covering is almost as recognizable as his sizeable girth, surprising agility and legendary brutality. Known for his excessively physical matchups against some of the greatest wrestlers of all time, Vader is responsible for Mick Foley’s hearing problems.
Because, ya know, he tore Mick’s ear clean off when the two battled in Germany.
Although several ring warriors would go on to sport the distinctive tiger mask, Satoru Sayama was the first, and the best, ever to don the headgear. A former WWE Junior Heavyweight Champion, Sayama’s in-ring abilities were never called into question. But when New Japan needed to attract a younger audience in the early 1980s, Sayama saw that it was time for a change in appearance.
After honing his craft in England and Mexico, Sayama returned to New Japan with a brand-new and surprising persona — that of a popular Anime character come to life in the form of Tiger Mask.
Some fans may have been skeptical of the transformation, but Sayama quickly quelled such doubts as he pinned Dynamite Kid in his Tiger Mask debut. The two would go on to have a classic series of matches over the course of their careers, further ensuring Tiger Mask’s place on our list.
Had it not been for WWE Hall of Famer Mil Mascaras, one could argue the WWE Universe would have never known the likes of Rey Mysterio. “The Man of a Thousand Masks” popularized and legitimized the trend of Superstars wearing masks in the United States. In December 1972, Mascaras became the first masked wrestler to compete in New York’s Madison Square Garden. Prior to that watershed moment, Superstars were prohibited from disguising their face in WWE’s home arena, making it all but impossible for masked competitors to gain traction in the world’s biggest wrestling market.
Immensely popular from the start, Mascaras captured the imagination of all who saw him. Thanks to his unconventional appearance, he was a cover boy for global wrestling magazines in the ’70s and ’80s, and millions of youngsters craved the opportunity to watch this real-life superhero compete in-person.
Next time you see a Superstar perform a Shooting Star Press, just remember that you have Jushin “Thunder” Liger to thank. An integral player in the evolution of junior heavyweight wrestling over the last quarter-century, the Japanese highflier redefined aerial artistry and is responsible for innovating some of the ring’s most graceful maneuvers. He also happened to sport a truly eye-catching red, white and gold ensemble that was capped by an Anime-inspired mask.
With upwards of five horns protruding off his headgear and oversized fangs framing the opening around his mouth, Liger looked every bit a comic book hero, and his awe-inspiring moves inside the ring did little to dissuade anyone of the opinion that he wasn’t, in fact, a superhero.
El Santo was in a class unto himself. An ultimate innovator, “The Saint,” as his ring name translates, was a lucha libre forefather and among the first masked competitors not only to strike it big, but also to take on a superheroic persona. El Santo’s legacy, however, far transcends his activities in the squared circle.
Rather, he is a folk icon south of the border, having been featured in comic books and dozens of movies, where he bravely fought the likes of vampires. During his wrestling career, which spanned nearly 50 years before coming to a close in the early 1980s, El Santo rarely, if ever, deviated from his angelic white tights and stunning, albeit simple, silver mask.
Just how sacred was El Santo’s mask? When the athlete portraying “The Saint” died in 1984, he was buried with it on his face, per his request. Thousands of adoring fans attended his funeral to pay tribute.
His unparalleled legacy and unmistakable mask live on through his son, El Hijo Del Santo.
Few masks in wrestling history are as instantly recognizable — or as thoroughly terrifying — as the trademark black-and-red leather monstrosity worn by Kane throughout The Attitude Era. Giving him a frightening visage to rival his demonic persona, Kane’s mask did the talking for the then-silent Superstar.
Well, that, and his in-ring prowess, of course.
Possessive of an in-ring repertoire surprising for a Superstar of his size, the 7-foot-tall, 320-pound Big Red Monster has terrorized Superstars and other denizens of the WWE Universe for decades, and he shows no sign of stopping.
No mask in this world is as universally recognizable as the one made famous by “The King of Mystery.” The story of Rey Mysterio encapsulates one of the truest tenets of lucha libre: the tradition of honoring warriors who came before. In the case of the three-time World Champion, his name and elements of his mask design were derived from his uncle and trainer, Rey Mysterio Sr. Yet The Master of the 619 has never allowed his appearance to grow stale: Over the course of his career, Mysterio has continuously evolved the design, having worn literally hundreds — if not thousands — of variations.
That’s to say nothing of Mysterio’s in-ring legacy. “Revolutionary” only begins to describe his effect. The Ultimate Underdog broke new ground in the ring, to the awe of the WWE Universe, and he’s served as an inspiration for undersized athletes everywhere, proving it’s the size of the fight in the dog that matters most.