The 411 Wrestling Top 5 9.01.10: Week 90 – Masked Wrestlers
Hello everyone and welcome to 411 Wrestling’s Top 5 List. What we are going to is take a topic each week and all the writers here on 411 wrestling will have the ability to give us their Top 5 on said topic, plus up to three honorable mentions. Most of our topics will be based on recent events in the Wrestling World, looking at those events that make us think of times past.
So, on to this week’s topic…
The history of the mask in wrestling goes back to many, many generations in Mexico and Japan, but isn’t taken as seriously in the United States, with few exceptions. Today, we look at the greatest of these wrestlers who choose to bear the mask of their heritage and for the respect of wrestlers past. In other words, don’t expect much in the may of the WWE in here.
So what did our group of writers select? Let’s find out…
5. Tiger Mask – The Tiger Mask character has been portrayed by five different people including the originator, Satoru Sayama and the legendary, Mitsuharu Misawa. What started off as a Japanese anime character was brought to life as a wrestler in 1981. Having wrestled for both New Japan and All Japan, Tiger Mask is one of the most well-known and respected characters in Japan. His body of work doesn’t hurt that fact either with feuds against the likes of the Dynamite Kid and Black Tiger. Plus, any mask with artificial mutton chops deserves some credit.
4. La Parka – Not only does he have one of the most recognizable masks/outfits in lucha libre history, the La Parka character has quite the interestingly controversial story. After Adolfo Tapia- the original La Parka in AAA- gained considerable popularity in Mexico, he began working for WCW. In order to capitalize on this new found North American popularity, AAA founder Antonio Peña gave the La Parka character to another wrestler in Mexico. Eventually, Tapia would go on to sign with CMLL, AAA’s main competitor. This is when the troubles started as Peña barred him from using the La Parka name. Long story short, Tapia began calling himself L.A. Park while the second incarnation of La Parka continued in AAA. It wasn’t until recently that Tapia and Peña have made up, coming to an agreement for him to return to AAA and feud with the new La Parka. Nevertheless, both incarnations of La Parka have always had an incredible ability to express charisma and emotion, even behind the shield of a mask, making him one of the most beloved characters in the history of lucha libre.
3. Jushin “Thunder” Liger – A Top Masked Wrestler list would not be complete without Jushin “Thunder” Liger. Seeing as how he has competed for the large number of promotions that he has- from New Japan and WCW to TNA and ROH- one would be hard pressed not to include him. Liger is clearly a sought after commodity. What’s more, unlike my previous two picks, the character has been portrayed by the same wrestler since its inception as a real-life anime character. Even though he is now in his mid-40s, he has proven he can still go with today’s younger wrestlers.
2. El Santo – The Hulk Hogan of Mexico, El Santo surpassed legendary status south of the border. Talk about living the gimmick, Santo was Santo all the time. Whether it was on a film set, on a TV show or even eating dinner in a public restaurant, Santo wore his trademark silver mask everywhere he went. Actually, there is only one reported case of him unmasking, and that was in 1984 on a TV show shortly before his death. You have to respect a man’s dedication to his character, asking to be buried wearing his mask. He may not have been the most technically proficient luchador, but he was a master showman to be sure.
1. Rey Mysterio – His over-exposure on WWE television may have turned off some fans, but you cannot deny his popularity. While all of the masked wrestlers on my list are true legends in each of their respective countries, Rey Mysterio is a legend worldwide. Very rarely, if ever, do you hear him getting booed. His entrance, decorative attire and colorful moves can pop the most dead of crowds. Even after numerous knee surgeries, he can still perform at a high level with a wide variety of opponents. While I cannot pretend to be his biggest fan, I can respect what he means to pro-wrestling and the number of future wrestlers that he will inspire to don a mask.
5. Mil Mascaras – Mascaras is one of the two or three most popular Mexican masked wrestlers of all time, and was certainly the most popular Mexican wrestler internationally in his day. Mascaras in many ways set the precident for the success of the luchadors in WCW, including a certain masked luchador who became a world champion in WWE.
4. Jushin Thunder Liger – Based on pure talent alone, Liger deserves to be on this list. Anything you want in a wrestler, Liger can do it. Technical wrestling. High flying. Wild brawling. Fiery babyface comebacks. Brilliant heel tactics. Add a twenty plus year career where he has continued to be one of the top talents in the world, all the while changing his persona as the television character has evolved, and you have one of the greatest of all time.
3. Tiger Mask I – Innovation. Tiger Mask was twenty years ahead of his time. Satoru Sayama took what was the cartooniest of cartoony characters and made the character a wrestling icon. Tiger Mask set the standard that Liger built on, and that other great masked wrestlers like Ultimo Dragon, The Great Sasuke and Rey Mysterio would be compared to. Few have lived up to that standard.
2. Rey Mysterio – For the last fifteen years, Mysterio has been the ambassador of lucha libre and the Mexican Wrestling Culture for American fans. I’ve heard people say that he shouldn’t have put his mask back on when he came to WWE, but I say that WWE righted a wrong that never should have happened. Rey is one of the greatest talents to ever grace a wrestling ring. There are a lot of men that wrestle the same style as Mysterio, but no one does it like Mysterio.
1. El Santo – The discussion of masked wrestlers begins and ends with El Santo. Trying to explain what El Santo means to Mexican Wrestling is almost impossible. His popularity was like Hulk Hogan and Steve Austin…combined. El Santo is more akin to a folk hero or even a demigod than a wrestling superstar. Santo was buried in his silver mask, because it was that truly, truly sacred.
5. Jushin Liger – He’s not an all-time box off smash like some of the others on the list, but I don’t know if anybody has ever delivered so many consistently great matches over such a long career as Jushin Liger. The man from New Japan has been wowing audiences for over twenty-five years now, and he shows few to no signs of slowing down. Just don’t ask him about the debacle that was “Super Liger” . . . at best he’ll just shake his head and walk away, and a worst he’ll level you with an open hand palm strike.
4. Tiger Mask – How can you not love the revolutionary series of matches put on by Satoru Sayama during his run as the original Tiger Mask? Furthermore, how can you not love the fact that this gimmick has successfully transitioned and launched the careers of two incredible wrestlers in the form of Mitsuharu Misawa and Koji Kanemoto? Granted, some people have recently grown tired of the antics of the fourth Tiger Mask in New Japan Pro Wrestling and nobody really seems to know what the deal is with the new fifth Tiger Mask that Sayama has been hauling around with him on the indies, the first three incarnations of the wrestler established a legacy which cannot be denied.
3. The Mascaras Family – I can’t really differentiate between these three. Hubbard already covered Mil Mascaras himself, who was, by far, the most popular member of the family in the United States and Japan. However, equaling and perhaps even surpassing Mil’s popularity in his home country of Mexico were his two masked brothers, Dos Caras and El Sicodelico. What’s interesting to note is that, with over 130 years of combined wrestling experience between the three insanely popular brothers, not one of them has ever lost his mask – a tradition which continues to Dos Caras’ son Alberto Del Rio, who voluntarily unmasked en route to heading to WWE.
2. Rey Misterio, Jr. – In July, we counted down wrestling’s Top 5 Innovators. Misterio placed on my list then, and he finishes high on my list of top masked men for all of the same reasons. He revolutionized lucha libre by introducing American psychology, he revolutionized American wrestling by spearheading the WCW cruiserweight division, and, on top of it all, he has held major championships in WWE on multiple occasions when nobody every expected that he would. Rey Rey may be the most consistently popular masked wrestler in US history at this point, to say nothing of his accomplishments elsewhere.
1. El Santo – Bazar referred to Santo as the “Hulk Hogan of Mexico.” I’ve heard that phrase used before, and, quite honestly, I think it sells Santo short. He was exponentially more popular south of the border than Hulk Hogan ever was in the United States. He was a legitimate cultural icon and movie star, statues of him were erected around his grave, and some still celebrate the anniversary of his death as a minor holiday. Hogan, though by far the most popular US wrestler of his era, was never the beloved crossover superstar that Santo was for virtually the entire country of Mexico. His son, El Hijo del Santo, has more than carried on that legacy by also becoming one of the most popular wrestlers in lucha libre history, though legal disputes over the Santo name may prevent a definitive third generation El Santo from ever arising.
I’m not as learned about masked wrestlers as my colleagues, so bear that in mind.
5. Vader – Okay, I’m counting what Vader wears as a mask, because… well, it is one. Vader was a big guy that could move with a surprising amount of quickness and genuinely looked imposing. You didn’t need to see him in action or even hear him speak to know that this guy was going to mess people up by overpowering them. That he could perform some of the moves he did still surprises me.
4. Dragon Kid – A new favourite thanks to Dragon Gate USA, but he’s quick, athletic, somewhat reminiscent of a Japanese Rey Mysterio. He series of matches with Masato Yoshino shows he can make his style work in a more grounded, less ‘spotty’ way — and produce some fantastic matches. There’s a reason why he was on the poster for the first DGUSA pay-per-view.
3. Jushin “Thunder” Liger – Not necessarily my first experience with a Japanese wrestler that used a quicker-paced, cruiserweight style, but definitely the one I remember most. While I loved watching PPVs as a kid for the main events usually, I always knew that any time Jushin “Thunder” Liger was in the ring, it would be an exciting match. I’ve since seen some of his work from an adult perspective and it holds up nicely. He worked his ass off to put on exciting, visually spectacular matches.
2. Kane – While he’s gone most of the last decade without a mask, Kane’s mask helped define his look and character for the first stages of his career. It made him colder and scarier, and helped him win the WWF Championship after they booked themselves into a corner by scheduling a First Blood Match. It’s the look that most think about when Kane is mentioned and is something that people still want to see come back before he retires.
1. Rey Mysterio – It’s hard not to put Rey Rey at the top. For most wrestling fans in North America (excluding Mexico), when you think of a masked wrestler, you think of Rey Mysterio. He helped define and build the cruiserweight division in WCW, even losing his mask, but returned with it in the WWE and has been one of the most popular wrestlers they have. He helped define the style of wrestling he does and continues to put on great matches (amongst some decent ones). While I hate that ‘Ultimate Underdog’ gimmick he’s saddled with, he always dazzles in the ring.
The Repo Man – Took back shit that you deadbeats didn’t pay for and rightfully so.
Aldo Montoya – Do you have the balls to wear a jock strap on YOUR face in front of 15,000 people? I didn’t think so.
Arachnaman – He isn’t Spider-Man, but he’s all we got.
5. Curry Man – The wrestler known as Curry Man has traveled the world and has great success in Japan, and even for a short time in North America in TNA Wrestling. The man in an enigma, successfully keeping his identity from all enemies, all we know for sure is that he is hot, he’s spicy, and that he tastes great.
4. Battle Kat – While Curry Man may be hot and spicy, he is no fighting Kat. Battle Kat did battle, and he was indeed a Kat (that we know of). From September of 1990 through October of 1990, Battle Kat went undefeated in the WWF, defeating such luminaries like The Brooklyn Brawler and Paul Diamond. His lengthy WWF stay came to a close; he worked the UWF and eventually went to that big scratching post in the sky.
3. SHNOBI – While a battling kat can be scary, there is nothing for terrifying than a fucking Ninja. I mean, ninjas are covert agents, mercenaries that specialize in unorthodox arts of war. Ninjas are espionage, sabotage, infiltration, and assassination. Who would want to fuck with this man? The answer, no one. That’s why he disappeared from the WWF, no one wanted to face him. Word is that he went back to the orient and fought in hundreds of Kumite tournaments.
2. Shark Boy – Ok, I thought of something for terrifying than ninjas, fucking sharks! The wrestling works was always a harbor for half man, half beast. Mantaur, Battle Kat, Arachnaman, but shit got real when the DNA splicing between man and seas came to life and Shark Boy was born. A man from the sea with the powers and looks of a shark that will come into the ring, raise hell, kick ass and leave. Oh Shell Yeah, You better watch Your Bass.
1. The Patriot – As an American, it is my duty to blindly hate anything or anyone that doesn’t look, talk, act or believe is the same things that I do to HATE THEM! And who is a sign of America that can be trusted? THE PATRIOT! The Patriot wears red, white and blue. He supports the old US of A, he has a thick southern accent, he will blindly hate anything and anyone that isn’t like him, fuck GI JOE, this man is AMERICANA and is the best masked wrestler of all time!