In wrestling, a mask serves a couple of purposes.
It offers a sense of mystery about the competitor. It hides the emotion in the competitor’s face, much like a poker player who wears sunglasses so his or her reaction to the hand is concealed from the rest of the table.
In Japan and Mexico, the mask holds a great place of reverence in wrestling. In Mexico, luchadores are national heroes. In Japan, the mask often symbolizes the spirit of the animal that the wrestler is channeling.
Since the Masked Marvel debuted back in 1915, masks have changed. Early ones were quite plain and were seen only as a face cover. Today, many are quite colorful and extremely popular. Look around the audience at a WWE show and count the number of children donning Rey Mysterio masks.
With that in mind, let’s look at 10 of the best wrestlers (WWE and other organizations) to wear masks.
It’s possible that Vader could be much higher on this list, but he is not simply because of the mask he wore. It looked like something bought at a cheap S&M shop. And it did not do anything to conceal his identity.
Despite his choice in headwear, Vader was a beast in the ring. He held numerous titles in his career, including the WCW World Heavyweight Championship.
I think Mankind and Vader must have shopped at the same S&M store. That is one of the reasons why he is not higher on the list.
Mankind was one of the “Three Faces of Foley,” the characters Mick Foley used during his WWE run (the others did not wear masks). Mankind, however, was probably the most endearing to the WWE Universe because he always displayed a childlike innocence in the ring, even as a heel character.
But like Vader, headgear does not make the wrestler. Mankind/Foley held several titles in WWE and was part of the Rock ‘n’ Sock Connection with Dwayne Johnson. And who can forget his classic cage match with the Undertaker?
Even though Johnny Walker had been wrestling since 1956, it was not until 1972 that the Mr. Wrestling II character was created. According to Wikipedia, Walker was asked by Paul Jones to appear as a tag partner for Mr. Wrestling.
While under the mask, Mr. Wrestling II won the Georgia Heavyweight Championship 10 times and was considered one of the five most popular wrestlers in the United States. He counted among his fans former President Jimmy Carter and Carter’s mother, Lillian.
Five years ago, at the age of 73, Mr. Wrestling II came out of retirement to capture the Hawaii Championship Wrestling tag team championship with his protégé, Mr. Wrestling 3.
As if some people already were spooked by clowns, Doink did nothing to disperse that fear.
But did you know that Doink the Clown actually was several wrestlers? He was started by Matt Osborne in 1992 and through the years has been portrayed by at least four other wrestlers, including Steve Lombardi earlier this year on Raw.
Doink was both a face and heel during his career in WWF/E, known for playing cruel and silly practical jokes on fans and wrestlers. He held championships in several regional organizations but never captured WWF/E gold.
From the 1960s until the 1980s, the Assassins were a powerhouse in tag team wrestling. There have been several incarnations of the team (including a third Assassin) during that time, but the outcome was always the same: mayhem and victory.
In their post-Assassins career, some of the wrestlers gained notoriety in the WWF/E. Randy Colley was later known as Moondog Rex and Smash, and the late Hercules Hernandez was a powerful heel during his time in the organization.
Tim Woods was one of the most gifted wrestlers ever to don a mask. He actually wrestled with and without the mask depending upon the territory in which he was competing.
He was a star in the old Mid-Atlantic Championship Wrestling, where he held several titles and was involved in several feuds with Blackjack Mulligan and Baron Von Raschke. But he is perhaps best known for being in the 1975 plane crash that injured Johnny Valentine and Ric Flair. Two weeks after the crash, he was back in the ring competing.
Woods died of a heart attack in 2002 just as he was about to be interviewed for a WWE documentary about the plane crash.
Although his big-league career lasted only seven years, The Patriot made his mark in AWA, WCW and WWE. He held the WCW tag team championship with Marcus Bagwell on two different occasions as Stars & Stripes.
His all-American persona was a big hit with wrestling fans, especially when he was booked against characters with an anti-American storyline.
The Patriot still wrestles occasionally on the independent circuit.
What more can be said about the “Devil’s favorite demon” that is not already known? Kane is a former WWE and World Heavyweight champion and has held the WWE tag team championship on several occasions, including now with Daniel Bryan as Team Hell No.
In short, Kane made being evil look good.
His character has undergone several transformations, including a stint without the mask. But Kane without the mask seemed to lose some of the intimidation factor, so he re-donned it last year to a monster reaction from the WWE Universe. He has been on a roll ever since.
One of the smallest men to ever capture the World Heavyweight Championship, Mysterio’s luchadore character has been one of the most popular in WWE. Kids love him, and he returns that love during his ring entrances, going forehead-to-forehead with children wearing a mask and often giving one of his masks to a child along the rails.
Injuries have plagued Mysterio in recent years, but he continues to be a force in the WWE. His 619 and Dropping a Dime moves always draw huge pops from the crowd.
His current storyline now has him partnered with Sin Cara, another luchadore wrestler who is expected to be Mysterio’s heir apparent once Mysterio hangs up his boots.
He hardly wrestled in the WWF/E but is a member of the WWE Hall of Fame. He has held numerous titles for regional organizations. He has appeared in motion pictures. His native country of Mexico considers him a hero and even has put him on postage stamps.
His nephew is Alberto del Rio.
So with all that going for him, why did I put Mil Mascaras at the top of this list? Simple. Because if there had been no Mil Mascaras, there might not have been a Rey Mysterio, a Sin Cara or numerous other masked wrestlers.
Mascaras is credited with popularizing the use of masks worldwide. He is considered one of the greatest ambassadors for the lucha libre style of wrestling that so many Latino wrestlers use today.
Plus, Mascaras has taken great pains throughout his career to never reveal his face in public. His looks are known only to family members. He reportedly even plays golf in the mask.
Because of his loyalty to the mask and his trailblazing, that’s why I call him the greatest masked wrestler ever.
This list is based on wrestling history and is not just limited to WWE wrestlers.
Now, I know we cannot cover all of the wrestlers who ever wore a mask because there are hundreds who have done so. And I know that you probably have a few favorites of your own who did not make this list.
So use the feedback section to share your thoughts and make your case for your greatest masked wrestler.
Follow Bill Atkinson on Twitter at @BAtkinson1963.