Thursday, October 29, 2015

Who Was That Masked Man?

It's that time of the year again. Pick out a mask and either ask for candy, pass out candy, or just go to a party. It's a long-standing tradition. For some in the wrestling business, a mask is part of their livelihood. From American stars like The Destroyer and The Masked Superstar, Japanese names like Tiger Mask and The Great Sasuke, to the many masked luchadores of Mexico, wearing a "hood" has helped create many a wrestling legend.

It's often been said that masked wrestlers have to work all the harder. After all, facial expressions cannot be seen outside of a mask. The masked wrestlers must utilize other ways of expressing themselves. The Masked Superstar is a great example of this. While many would say that his in-ring work spoke for him, no one can forget his intelligent yet calculating interviews. Bill Eadie worked hard to make what could have been a forgettable masked heel exactly the opposite. Before the matches even began, fans knew that Superstar's heroic opponent was in for a true battle. In the opposite direction, Mr. Wrestling II worked a similar way. Throughout most of his run, Wrestling II was able to capture the hearts of fans rather than strike fear into them. Famously captivating the mother of President Jimmy Carter as one of his biggest fans, the charismatic Mr. Wrestling II became a staple of southern-based wrestling promotions for over a decade.

Sometimes two is better than one, and in the case of The Assassins it meant double trouble. The familiar black and yellow masks were honestly a bit unsettling to begin with and their in-ring work backed up their villainy. There were a few wrestlers under the Assassin masks over the years, but Tom Renesto and Jody Hamilton are probably the most celebrated. Younger fans will remember Hamilton for his involvement with WCW as The Masked Assassin in the mid-1990s. Hamilton also released a great book about his many different roles in wrestling, including running a WWE developmental territory.

It's Mexican wrestling that is probably best known for masked stars. Lucha libre was built upon superhero-style grapplers who took to the mat and the air equally. It's hard to imagine in the United States, but several legendary luchadores became God-like in their popularity in Mexico. El Santo is one of those stars. Wearing his famous silver mask, El Santo ruled both lucha libre and Mexican pop culture for decades. Appearing in the ring and starring in many motion pictures, comic books, and other media, his popularity was so that his funeral in 1984 is said to have been comparable to a president or other top state figure. Both he and his legendary rival Blue Demon have had their masks handed down thus continuing their mysterious legacies.

Another masked luchador, Mil Mascaras, has seen popularity in Mexico, the United States, and Japan. While he garnered a reputation of being somewhat difficult to work with, it should not take away from his in-ring legacy. As has been discussed before on this very blog, Mascaras is the classic masked luchador who has been merchandised the most outside of Mexico. Thanks to an omnipresence on the covers of 1970's wrestling magazines and a glut of merchandise from Japan, the many masks of Mil Mascaras have been seen the world over with no end in sight.

Japan has created its own masked stars as well, with the look and style fitting well into the wrestling culture of the far east. Tiger Mask, in various incarnations, has been thrilling wrestling fans for over thirty years. As originally portrayed by Satoru Sayama, Tiger Mask toured around the world, perhaps most famously in matches against the equally agile Dynamite Kid. Jushin Liger, with his horned mask and long black hair, became another popular lightweight star and is still gaining fans such as in his recent NXT appearance. Both of these characters were ripped from the pages of Japanese manga books, thus instantly producing real life super heroes.

Of course, it was Rey Mysterio Jr. who carried the masked legacy into the modern day mainstream world of ECW, WCW, and WWE. Mysterio's underdog personality and fighting spirit made it easy for him to connect with fans. It could even be argued that Mysterio's lowest career point was a brief stint where he was unmasked. Once again, the mask became an irreplaceable part of a wrestling career and legacy, not to mention a huge cash cow for WWE once Mysterio was properly introduced by the company's legendary marketing machine.

WWE has not fared well in trying to recreate the Mysterio magic. Still, the popularity of Lucha Underground and other recent outlets prove that it can still be done in the United States. I would love to see the return of a Masked Superstar-style star. A masked villain who is as heelish as he is mysterious. It could be done, and would actually be a fresh idea after being on the shelf for so long.

Who were those masked men? Maybe you'll be inspired to hit the Halloween streets dressed in honor of one of them. After all, many wrestling masks were designed to instill fear in the hearts of opponents. Other wrestlers had faces that were designed perfectly to be right on masks themselves...

Happy Halloween, pencil-necked geeks!

No comments: