The Blue Blazer. Los Conquistadores. El Gran Luchadore. Mr. America. The Hurricane. Juan Cena.
If you saw any of these wrestlers in the ring, you would see a man in a mask. But the story would be a lot more than just another masked wrestler. Because while Rey Mysterio, Kane and even CM Punk have wrestled both with and without a mask, they have always been portrayed as the same person (let's leave the issue of "Impostor Kane" alone).
However, the wrestlers I mentioned in the opening of this article were a different story.
Owen Hart's portrayal of The Blue Blazer can't be recalled without mentioning that it had a very tragic ending. He was an excellent wrestler and a great personality. And, as with so many early deaths in the pro wrestling world, his was unfortunately a result of his dedication to the sport.
Temporarily putting aside the tragic story of Owen Hart, one can look at the gimmicks and see the common thread. Here were men using masks in order to hide their true identity. But while they wore masks, their personal characteristics were very obviously displayed to the fans.
In 2003, Hulk Hogan was forced by WWE chairman Mr. McMahon to sit out his contract without appearing on WWE TV. Soon, a new character was hired by the chairman's daughter, Stephanie—the then GM of SmackDown—a masked character, who looked mysteriously like Hogan, had the "Real American" theme and ended sentences with the trademark "Brother!" leaving almost no doubt as to the identity under the mask.
But try as he did to prove that Mr. America was Hogan, Vince McMahon ended up getting embarrassed on a weekly basis. This storyline was ended prematurely due to contract issues as well as possible legal technicalities with Marvel Comics over the names "Mr. America" and "Hulk Hogan."
Los Conquistadores have a different history. Initially a jobber tag team in the 1980s, they were revived by multiple tag teams later on. The most notable appearances occurred during a Tag Team championship feud between the Hardy Boys and Edge & Christian in 2000, with both teams winning gold while wearing the masks and spandex suits.
El Gran Luchadore was also involved in a championship storyline. This time, it was the WWE championship in a feud between John "Bradshaw" Layfield and Eddie Guerrero. Eddie won a match via count-out wearing the mask. The next week, it was the storyline-injured Kurt Angle—then GM of SmackDown—who interfered in a cage match on Bradshaw's behalf. While Angle cost Eddie the championship, he was "fired" as GM after his mask came off, revealing that he was faking his injuries.
Gregory Helms, a multiple-time cruiserweight and tag-team champion in multiple promotions, alternated between his mask-less character and a masked superhero gimmick—The Hurricane—on several occasions in the WWE. Emulating Clark Kent/Superman, Gregory often played the role of an interviewer who would suddenly disappear just before Hurricane sightings.
In 2010, John Cena was "fired" from the WWE because he failed to ensure that Wade Barrett, the leader of Nexus, won the WWE Championship from Randy Orton. While he would continue to make appearances as a spectator on RAW, attacking Nexus members, the WWE could not afford to keep him absent from its house shows. So, Cena's "cousin," Juan, would debut, wearing a purple Cenation shirt with a matching mask. However, Juan's career was short-lived, as Cena was soon "re-hired" by Barrett in order to continue the feud.
Masking the obvious is an interesting way to change the direction of characters whose current gimmick is either becoming stale or requires a sudden turn. It can also be turned around by having multiple superstars use the same gimmick, each adding his own unique flavor to it.
Can It Work in the Current WWE Landscape?
Unlike many gimmicks of the past, which do not fit neatly into WWE's current PG mold, this is something that can shine in the modern era. Masked superstars inherently draw the attention of WWE's new target demographic without directly irritating older viewers (in contrast to SuperCena, Hornswoggle and Brodus Clay).
Also, with WWE targeting social media to reach out to the fans, it can be interesting to see both the masked and unmasked gimmicks interact with the fans via Twitter or YouTube. It would be interesting to see how the superstar and the fans respond to each other in such an environment.
On an added note, merchandise revenue—off the sales of masks—cannot hurt the WWE if they choose to sell them.
Any superstar who is entertaining in the ring as well as on the mic can successfully pull such a gimmick off. It would be especially interesting if a wrestler is a babyface without the mask and a heel when masked, as it can easily play into an interesting storyline.
Personally, I would like to see Chris Jericho, Dolph Ziggler or CM Punk pull this off, as they all have a wide array of ring styles as well as mic skills that can see them play two characters at the same time.
Or, for a more comedic taste, Santino Marella (hopefully, without a title belt) or Heath Slater ("The One Masked Band, Baby!!!") could be suitable choices.
As long as we do not get a masked Hornswoggle or Khali, it can be a good twist to the tale.