Ringside Remembrances — My Favorite Masked Wrestlers
Jay Shannon draws upon four decades as a devout wrestling fan to look at the past, present and future of professional wrestling.
“One may understand the cosmos, but never the ego; the self is more distant than any star.” — G.K. Chesterton
The recent winter storms here in Middle of Nowhere, Nevada have had me and my grandsons surfing the cable channels. Cabin fever can have you watching some of the darndest things. We ended up on Galavision, the Spanish-language station. Why is that so odd? No one in the household, other than me, speaks more than a few words in Spanish. Anyway, after a round of bad Japanese cartoons dubbed into Spanish and more than a few soccer games, we ran across AAA. I’ve watched Lucha, off and on, for years. My boys hadn’t see it before. To quote my youngest grandson Tim, “Grandpa, those guys are SO ninja”. (I think that’s a sign of approval). The one thing that all three boys liked were the colorful masks. The boys asked me about wrestlers in the States that wore masks. To answer their questions, and to have a little fun for this week’s column, I present My Favorite Masked Grapplers.
Don Jardine (sometimes billed as Dan Jardine) was one of the first masked wrestlers that I remember seeing. He was absolutely amazing to watch. Modern day fans can still see his abilitities…through his star pupil (The Undertaker). Spoiler was an original member of the Legion of Doom in Georgia. He was one of Fritz Von Erich’s “Inner Circle” in the Dallas area. He was the first grappler in the States to regularly “Walk the Ropes”, a skill he passed along to Taker. Spoiler also had a brutal Claw Hold as his finisher. It was said to rival the Von Erich Iron Claw. Undertaker actually used the move for a short time in his career. Don wrestled both masked and unmasked in a career that ran more than three decades. He passed away in 2006 from complications from a heart attack and leukemia. He is still my favorite masked wrestler of all time.
Rodolfo Guzman Huerta was given a choice, early on, to play El Santo (The Saint), El Diablo (The Devil) or El Angel (The Angel). He chose El Santo. That was after spending almost a decade trying to find his identity in the ring. El Santo would become a Legend in Mexico as both a wrestler and an actor. He made very few trips into the U.S. but Southern California was graced with his presence, occasionally. El Santo’s movies have become the fodder for multiple late night horror shows, like Zomboo’s House of Horror Movies. El Santo would pass the legacy of his silver mask to El Hijo Del Santo, who still occasionally wrestles. One of El Santo’s grandsons tried to work as El Nieto (Grandson) del Santo. El Hijo, who owned the rights to the Santo name, took his nephew to court over the use. The story goes that El Hijo wanted the name for one of his own sons. The man who wanted to be El Nieto settled for the ring name of Axxel, but was allowed to identify himself as Un Nieto Del Santo (a grandson of El Santo). El Santo left this world in 1984 but left behind millions of fans. A new El Santo has surfaced in the United States, recently. It is believed that he is not directly related to the Mexican Icon.
Blue Demon (Sr.)
Alejandro Munoz Moreno was the Joker to Santo’s Batman. The two battled for years, all over Mexico. Their feud even spilled over the border to Southern California. Blue Demon formed a fantastic tag team with Black Shadow, known as Los Hermanos Shadow (Shadow Brothers). Like Santo, Blue Demon had a very successful film career. Demon retired in 1988, after finally beating another great rival, el Rayo de Jalisco. Demon passed the Demon persona on to his son, Blue Demon, Jr., who has had a successful in-ring career, as well. More on him, later. Sadly, Blue Demon passed away in December, 2000, after suffering a fatal heart attack while sitting on a park bench near his famous training center.
George Woodin began working under the name of Tim Woods. Nebraska promoter, Joe Dusek, is credited with giving Woodin his “Mr. Wrestling” identity. There is some speculation that Mr. Wrestling was supposed to be the American equivalent of El Santo. Those theories have never been validated. Woods/Mr Wrestling wrestled from 1963 to 1984. Mr. Wrestling wore a white singlet and mask to push his “Face” character. He acheived great success in Georgia, Florida, Texas and in the Mid-Atlantic territories. Woods was in the same plane crash that ended Johnny Valentine’s career and almost crippled Ric Flair. He was able to escape with only minor injuries. To avoid the possiblity of losing his wrestling license, he identified himself to authorities under his given name, George Woodin, and claimed to be a promoter. Woodin would go into semi-retirement following the crash. He wrestled his final match in 1984, against Mr. Wrestling II. Mr. Wrestling died on November 20, 2002 from a heart attack.
Mr. Wrestling II
Johnny Walker actually began his career fie years earlier than Mr. Wrestling. He wrestled his early career under his given name. By the early 70s, he had donned the whtie and black mask and taken on the identity of Mr. Wrestling II. His biggest fan was former President Jimmy Carter, a fellow Georgian. He was extremely popular from Mid-Atlantic down through Georgia and into Florida. His Running Kneelift has been dubbed the “Mr. Wrestling II Million Dollar Kneelift” and has been imitated by dozens of wrestlers. II went into semi-retirement in 1989 but has made occasional appearance. WIthin the last couple of years, he actually won championship gold in Hawaii (tag team). He was followed by a Mr Wrestling III (Hercules Hernandez) and the current Mr. Wrestling IV that works the California circuit.
Marcus “Buff” Bagwell had a great run in high school sports. After high school, he worked in his family’s lumber business. He decided to try his hand at wrestling and was trained by Steve Lawler and Bill Eadie (Demolition Ax). Bagwell was sent to the Global Wrestling Federation to get his some in-ring experience. His character was that of an exotic dancer turned wrestler. He came out in a tuxedo coat and Robin/Lone Ranger style mask. He would give roses to young girls, including one to my sister, Lucy. He only spent a year of so with that character (1990) before moving on to WCW as Marcus Alexander, later Buff, Bagwell.
Len Denton worked for many years in the Pacific Northwest. He also did an extended run in the World Class and Mid-South areas. In Mid-South, a clumsy Denton helped Jake “The Snake” Roberts create the DDT. Roberts had Denton in a Front Face Lock when Denton tripped. Roberts held onto Denton as the two fell. Denton was really knocked out by the move. Bill Watts asked Roberts if he could do the move again. Roberts stated that he wasn’t sure what he had done in the first place but the move moved into the arsenal of dozens of wrestlers. Without Denton’s help, Roberts may never have reached the level of superstar. Denton used a “Loaded Mask” and “Loaded Boot” gimmick during much of his career. He did work, unmasked, for a short time as a Talent Enhancer in WCW. By the mid-90s, he had returned to his native Oregon where he still works as a booker and wrestler for a small Portland-area company (North West Wrestling Alliance). In Dallas, he did have a partner (Tony Anthony). They were known as the Grapplers.
Wendi Richter ended Fabulous Moolah’s near-30 year reign as Women’s champion. Shortly after the first Wrestlemania, the relationship between Richter and the then-WWF began to dissolve. In what had been called “The Original Screwjob”, Moolah began wearing an all-black bodysuit and mask. She went by the name of Spider Lady. Spider Lady upset Richter for the Women’s title on November 25,1985. Richter was furious at the title change to Moolah and quit the WWF/E. It would be more than 20 years before Richter would return, to accept her spot in the WWE Hall of Fame. Moolah got rid of the Arachnidian persona immediately after capturing the belt. Moolah would leave this world on November 7, 2007. Moolah’s daughter said that the death may have been a heart attack or a “thrown clot”. The autopsy results were inconclusive but foul play was never suspected.
He started out at age 14 as El Colibri (The Hummingbird) in Mexico. It was his uncle, Rey Mysterio Sr., that allowed his nephew to use the Rey Mysterio name. Rey helped to bring Cruiserweights to the United States. He worked in WCW and ECW before coming to WWE. He has held the World title on two occasions, the Intercontinental title twice and the tag belts four times (with four different partners). He has been plagued with injuries but continues to perform. His Wrestlemania masks are almost always superhero-oriented (Daredevil, Flash, Joker).
Scott and Bill Irwin began their wrestling careers under golden masks with a red star over one eye. They were the Super Destroyers. They worked the gimmick primarily in the World Class territory but did make appearances, elsewhere. Eventually, they would discard the masks to become The Long Riders. Scott passed away in 1997 and Bill never used the gimmick again.
Towards the end of his last run in the WWE, Hulk Hogan was sent home by Vince McMahon to ride out the last part of his contract. Hogan didn’t want to stay home, so he created a red, white and blue wearing persona. The character sounded just like Hogan, sported the trademarked mustache of the Hulkster and used the exact same move set. The original plan was for Hogan and Vince to feud, with Vince sending numerous “hit men” to try and unmask the All-American hero. Hogan left the company before the character could truly be fleshed out.
Like so many masked identities on this list, Charlie Brown came about to hide a wrestler. Jimmy Valiant was feuding with The Great Kabuki and Gary Hart in the Mid-Atlantic area. When he lost a Loser Leaves Town match, Charlie showed up. Now, it didn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out who was under the cowl. Valiant full, bushy beard stuck out from under the mask. Charlie wasn’t around for long, but he made life Hell for Kabuki and Hart.
There have been two different men that have played the ultra-American hero. The first was Del Wilkes. He’s the one that I was fortunate enough to see working in Dallas’ Global Wrestling Federation. After being injured in the early 2000s, Del sold all rights to the name and character to Tom Brandi. Brandi continues to work the indies (primarily on the East Coast). Brandi also wrestles, unmasked, as Salvatore Sincere and Tom Brandi).
While there have been a couple wrestlers who took the name of the Almman Brothers Band character, Dusty Rhodes was the most famous. Big Dust lost a Loser Leaves Town match under a less than fair situation. He came back with a black mask, duster jacket and the Almmans singing him to ringside. He then feuded with J.J. Dillon, who had masterminded Dusty’s banishment. Eventually, the Rider would head into the myths of time and Dusty would return.
During a run in WCW, Jerry Lynn donned a mask and just used his initials for his identity. He tore through opponents and really impressed the fans. Eventually, he ditched the head covering and returned to his normal self.
The character was a not-so-subtle “borrowing” of the character of Spider-man. The only real difference was this version was dressed in bright blue and yellow. He would scale the ropes and twist around like Spidey. The character was amusing but didn’t really go anywhere.
When Michael Hayes and Jimmy Garvin decided to ramp the Fabulous Freebirds back up to a trio in WCW, they had a little problem. Buddy Roberts and Terry Gordy were not available. Even “Iceman” King Parson (an unofficial member) was still in Dallas, while they were in Atlanta. So, they turned to Brad Armstrong to create a masked Freebird. Fantasia was born. Brad camee out in this gawd-awful black feathered crow-like outfit. His first appearance was during a Clash of the Champions when he attacked the Young Pistols. Due to the possible copyright issues with Disney, Fantasia’s name was changed to Badstreet (the name of the Freebirds theme song, Badstreet U.S.A). The character was abandoned pretty quickly.
This character worked in the Mid-South company for a short time. He had the physique of a body builder and decent skills. He vanished after a short run in the group.
Jerry Stubbs and Arn Anderson buth used the gimmick during their careers. Stubbs was the more famous as the masked character. His physique led to the name being a natural. Stubbs also worked unmasked under his own name, as did Arn.
Before he worked under the name Chris Kanyon, there was Mortis. For those who never saw him, imagine Skelator (from He-Man) come to life. He came out in a skull mask and gothic clothing. He finisher was the Flatliner (a code for dying). Mortis would eventually become Chris Kanyon and later just Kanyon. Kanyon/Mortis died on April 2, 2010.
This man of mystery was “loosely based” on the character of Sub-Zero from Mortal Kombat. He was almost immediately rejected by the fans. They absolutely hated his cahracter. After a short run, he was repackaged as a “Coach” character. He worked for awhile with DUsty Rhodes in TCW before heading off to other non-wrestling adventures.
Dirty Yellow Dog
Both Barry WIndham and Brian Pillman portrrayed this mystery grappler. Brian lost a match to Barry and decided to have a little fun at Windham’s expense. Pillman would wait for the ref to turn around and then he would lift the mask to make sure everyone knew it was him. Barry, when he originated the charcter, was quite guarded as to his real identity (not that anyone was surprised by who was under the golden hood).
Junnkyard Dog needed an alter-ego, after being cheated. He slipped on a mask and searched through some 1950s music to find his new name. Stagger Lee The character was only around for a few months before JYD returned.
“Hacksaw” Butch Reed and a young Ron Simmons were united as the masked duo known as Doom. Woman (Nancy Sullivan-Benoit) managed the duo for awhile. Since the identities of the masked African Americans weren’t too difficult to deduce, WCW eventually had them ditch the ebony face coverings but keep the Doom team name. Reed would eventually go into semi-retirement and Simmons would join the WWE as Farooq (Asaad).
Chris Parks underwent a couple different identities in his first couple years in TNA. He eventually settled on Abyss, a twisted soul that had almost killed his father (James Mitchell) during his childhood. Abyss has gone back and forth between face and heel. He became the ward of Hulk Hogan, prior to the Immortal storyline. Abyss then appeared to turn on Hogan and become a huge heel. Abyss was the messenger of the arrival of “They”. They turned out to be Immortal. Abyss’ current status is in question, after Crimson drove Abyss’ nail-embedded board (Janice) into his back.
When Mick Foley jumped from WCW (where he portrayed Cactus Jack) to the WWF, Creative wanted him to bring forth a totally new character. What they got was a high-pitched screamer that ripped out handfuls of hair and talked about being tortured his whole life. He immediately set his demented sights on Undertaker. Their feud went through some of the most brutal battles, including the 1998 Hell in a Cell match at the King of the Ring PPV. That’s still one of the sickest matches that I’ve ever sat through. Over time, Mankind would somewhat mellow. Later, he would be replaced by Dude Love, Cactus Jack and eventually Mick Foley.
After going through multiple personalities, Glenn Jacobs was picked to play Undertaker’s brother. The storyline was that Undertaker’s baby brother had survived the horrible fire that took the lives of Undertaker’s parents. Kane, the little brother, was saved from the inferno by Paul Bearer (who was later revealed as Kane’s father). To cover the alleged scars from the childhood burning, Kane sported a black and red mask. He both feuded and teamed with his brother, over the years. Although D-X had stolen Kane’s mask, in the past, he kept wearing one until June 23, 2003. Kane lost a match against Triple H. As part of a pre-match stipulation, he had to remove his mask in the center of the ring. Initially, he had some patches of hair. Within a few weeks, he shaved his head completely (a look that he still sports). Kane has gone forward to hold the World title, twice, and the tag belts on multiple occasions. His career is beginning to wind down but he is still a force in the industry.
There have been several men who took on the mantle of the character from Road Warrior (the movie). The most famous of them was Sid Eudy aka Sid Vicious/Justice. Humongous was managed by Sir Oliver Humperdink in the Mid-South territory. He had a wicked feud with Jake “The Snake” Roberts. Roberts ended up sporting his own hockey mask for a few of their matches. The character was abandoned when Sid moved over to WCW to become one-half of the Skyscrapers.
Christopher Daniels came up withth e wildly-dressed grappler while working in Japan. The character was based on a Manga (Japanese comic books) character. After being “Fired” after getting that case following a “Feast or Fired” battle, Daniels recreated his odd persona in TNA. Curry Man got great reactions from the fans, especially the kids. Curry Man joined the Prince Justice Brotherhood (Prince Justice was one of Abyss’ early TNA names and he was originally slated to join the group). After PJB ran its course, Curry Man got the “Fired” briefcase in the second Feast or Fired match. Daniels would later show back up and the mask with the plate of curry on top went back into mothballs. Someday…maybe…he will return.
He was the creation of a video game. Suicide was the main playable character in the storyline mode of TNA Impact. Shortly after the game hit the shelves, a real-life version of Suicide showed up in the Impact Zone. Two different men (Christopher Daniels and Kazarian) have played the skull-masked grappler. There is a possibiliity that a third person was under the mask on a recent episode of Impact.
Leon White entered WCW as Big Van Vader. He wore a partial leather mask, usually red with black stitching. Vader went to Japan and later WWF. Upon entering WWF, White simply became known as Vader. After a mediocre run in WWF, Vader returned to Japan. White is a Legend and wrestling Icon in the Land of the Rising Sun. He still sports the wild headdress that emits smoke like a snorting monster.
The Finny Fighter worked both solo and tag team matches in TNA. He was trained by Les Thatcher. Sharky’s first gimmick was as the masked El Piranha in Heartland Wrestling Association. He also worked, unmasked, under several different names. He even tried to portray one of the Baldwin brothers in the ring, the lesser known Dean Baldwin. Dean trademarked the name “Shark Boy”. He went to court to sue the Miramax for their movie “The Adventures of Shark Boy and Lava Girl”. It was settled out of court and detailed were not released. In 2008, Shark Boy returned from a (storyline) coma. He suddenly thought he was “Stone Cold” Steve Austin. His character imitated many of Austin’s mannerism, with a twist. Everything was oceanically-oriented. He drank Clam Juice instead of beer. His yell was “Oh Shell Yeah”. Shark Boy was on a hiatus in 2009 when he lost almost everything in a house fire. Sharky returned during a match between Jay Lethal and Robbie E when Cookie was locked in a “Shark Cage”. How much he will work inside the ring is still in question, though he does a lot of work on TNA’s internet programs. Shark Boy also had a female counterpart, Shark Girl, who still shows up occasionally in the indies.
John Tenta’s list of wrestling teachers reads like a Who’s Who of wrestling: Dory Funk, Jr., Road Warriors, Giant Baba, Jumbo Tsuruta, Terry Gordy and Great Kabuki. Tenta went through many different identities during his career. While his most famous was The Earthquake, he did don a mask in the WWE and worked as the child-like Golga. Golga was a part of the group of wrestlers known as The Oddities. Around the turn of the century, Tenta retired due to his battle with cancer. He would pass in 2006 from advanced bladder cancer.
Blue Demon, Jr.
He is the first masked Mexican wrestler to hold the NWA World title. He won the strap from Adam Pearce. The match was shrouded in controversy, as Pearce’s foot was under the bottom rope at the time of the pin. The ref didn’t see Pearce’s foot under the ropes. Pearce would eventually take back the NWA title. Blue Demon, Jr. is the real-life son of the legendary Blue Demon. Blue Demon, Jr. is still a top contender to the NWA title.
He was one of Rey Mysterio’s biggest allies and toughest opponents. They worked together in WCW and ECW. Their ECW battles were some of the best high-flying matches ever seen in the US. Psicosis also had a somewhat short run in the WWE. After leaving the WWE, Psicosis lost his mask and took on a new identity…Nicho el Millionario. He worked for awhile in the NWA territories, especially the Las Vegas area. He has since headed home to Mexico where he currently works in the AAA organization.
Sweet Brown Sugar
Skip Young started out as a masked wrestler in the Florida area. When he moved to Dallas, he got rid of the mask but kept the Sweet Brown Sugar as his nickname. He was a talented high-flyer that was adored by the fans. Skip passed away earlier this year.
Long before he worked in the WWE as Demolition Ax, Bill Eadie sported multiple masks. He was one of the Machines (Super). More on the Machines in a moment. Before that, he was a brutal heel known as The Masked Superstar. As the Masked Superstar, Bill feuded with everyone from Bob Backlund to Andre the Giant. Bill also worked as one half of hte Mongols tag team. Bill still works shows as Demolition Ax.
Jushin “Thunder” Liger
The Japanese superstar came to the US in 1991 to help build the Cruiserweight division. He feuded primarily with Brian Pillman during that run. He went back and forth between the US and Japan from 1991 until 1996. In 1996, Liger “retired”. He returned in 2002 in New Japan. For most of the past decade, Liger has worked for New Japan. He has, however, made a few ventures to the US, including appearances in TNA and Ring of Honor. His character was incorporated into comic books in Japan, a sign of honor.
Andre the Giant was suspended from the WWF at one point for missing some of his bookings. The WWF needed a way to bring in the big Frenchman, without having him work as Andre. Creative came up with the idea of creating a trio, supposedly from somewhere in the Orient. Andre was known as Giant Machine. He was joined by Bill “Ax” Eadie (Super Machine) and Blackjack Mulligan (Big Machine). The group was managed by Captain Lou Albano. Over time, other “Machines”, including Hulk, Piper and Crusher Machine, joined the team. The gimmick only ran for three months but fans still remember The Machines. In fact, a Giant Machine action figure was produces as part of WWE’s Legends series.
The name literally means “1000 masks”. Much like Rey Mysterio, Mil never seemed to wear the same mask twice. They all had the same basic pattern but the color combinations would depend on where he was fighting and, according to some, his mood. Mil was known to be somewhat moody and difficult to work with. He worked just about every territory in the United States during his career. He was one of the first true High Flyers in the business.
Brought into Jim Crockett Promotions by Ivan Koloff, the two large men worked under red masks with hammers and sickles on their masks and trunks. The duo really never accomplished much in the ring, other than drawing huge heat with their Anti-American stance.
It was a trick by Ric Flair to get into the mind of Sting. The mystery person sent numerous cryptic messages to Sting leading up to his debut. Strangely enough, when Flair arrived as The Black Scorpion, he didn’t come alone. He brought several other Scorpions with him. The name came from an old horror movie from the 1950s. Once Scorpion was revealed, Flair returned to being “The Nature Boy”.
He has become the biggest joke in the history of wrestling. Fred Ottman was a decent tag team worker under the names of Typhoon and Tugboat. When he jumped to WCW, Creative decided to turn him into a huge force for good. He was given a silver-glittered Star Wars Stormtrooper mask, and a fur jacket and boots. Arn Anderson dubbed his voice to make him sound ominous. All the little blocks seems to have fallen into place…until Shockmaster made his WCW debut. Fred couldn’t really see through the goofy mask so when it came time for his entrance, he tripped over the bottom of the opening he was to step through. This could have been edited in most cases and reshot. The problem was…the show was live. The Stromtrooper mask went tumbling and Fred looked like a serious buffoon. The character was pulled almost immediately from an involved storyline that was created for him.
He is the real-life brother of Mil Mascaras. Caras had a very successsful career in both Mexico and the U.S. He is slightly less known that his famous brother. He was also a High Flier that seemed more comfortable flying around the ring than working a mat game.
The duo was composed of Jody Hamilton and Tom Renesto. They began working together in the early 60s. They toured the Southern Corridor as a heel team. They held numerous tag titles. Jody would go on to become a successful trainer and promoter. Jody is the father of ref, Nick Patrick.
There have been two men who use the identity of La Parka. The more familiar to US fans is Adolfo Tapia. He was the “Chair-man of the Board” in WCW. After leaving WCW, he returned to Mexico’s AAA. While there, he got into a legal battle with AAA owner, Antonio Pena. Pena had created a second La Parka while the original worked for WCW. The new version was initially called La Parka, Jr. When La Parka decided to jump to the rival CMLL, Pena challenged Tapia’s right to use the character. After months of court wranglings, Tapia decided to use the modified name of L.A. ParK. The name stood for “La Autentica Park”. The capital K on the end of ParK would make the sound Ka, so it would translate into The Authentic Parka. L.A. Park worked for CMLL for several years, as well as the indies. In March, 2010, AAA boss, Joaquin Roldan, found himself in a coup situation, led by his son, Dorian. Dorian said he was going to bring in help in this war. That led to the return of L.A. Park. Since returning, L.A. Park and La Parka have feuded, leading to several fantastic matches.
Dick Beyer had a forty-year run in the ring wars. He worked under two different masked names, Destroyer and Doctor X. Beyer worked mostly as a Face during his early career but in 1962, The Destroyer was born. Between 1966 and 1972, Beyer did dual roles. He was Doctor X in the AWA and Destroyer just about everywhere else. Beyer spent six years (1973-1979) working exclusively in Japan. After leaving Japan in 1979, he worked in Canada and the US. He retired in 1993.
Red River Jack
Sometimes called Texas Red, Bruiser Brody donned a white mask during a short run in World Class. He was one of the few masked men that I can remember bleeding while wearing the mask. It was seriously creepy to see the crimson spread across the mask. Brody was murdered in July, 1988.
When Owen Hart first started working for WWE, he didn’t want to be compared directly to his brother, Bret. He chose to go with a bird-like persona and wear a feathery robe and a blue mask. He was an awesome high flier. Eventually, he would set the mask aside to work under the Owen Hart name. Tragically, Owen had decided to bring back Blue Blazer for an Intercontinental title match against Godfather when he died from a fall from the rafters at Kemper Arena in Kansas City, MO. He died at the arena. The date was May 23, 1999.
Anytime I do one of these “lists” columns, I always seem to forget someone. In fact, while doing this column, one name would often bring several others to mind. To anyone I may have missed, my most sincere apologies. Masked men have always been a favorite. These days, there are great men like O’Cat, Mimic, Puma, Zokre, Phoenix Star and dozens more that have decided to carry on the long-standing tradition of masked grapplers. The green and black mask that I got during Patriot’s run in Dallas still sits on the shelf on my desk.
Remember, my e-door is always open for your memories and comments.