10 Spot: Greatest Masked Wrestlers

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Welcome back to another oft-delayed edition of the only article written by social media, the 10 SPOT! I promise I had a good reason this time for the delay, as I’ve been moving and searching for a new house and new job. While things aren’t exactly done with that aspect of my life just yet, they have settled down to where I can finally crank this article out for all of you! A big thanks to everyone who sent in their top 10’s for this article: it was a lot of fun seeing all of the names that came in for this week’s topic, the “10 Greatest Masked Wrestlers”. Votes came in for wrestlers from seemingly every era, territory, company & country and I think we came up with a pretty great list. Stay tuned after the feature for the next ’10 Spot’ topic and details on how YOU can help create the next article! Now then, let’s get into this week’s list….

4CRwrestling.com’s ’10 Spot’ presents:

“10 Greatest Masked Wrestlers”

 

As always, there were a number of honorable mentions. A lot of truly great names that got left off the list, some just barely missing the cut: The Masked Superstar, The Assassin, The Great Muta, L.A. Park, Hayabusa, El Samurai, Blue Panther, El Hijo Del Santo, Octagon, The Hurricane, UltraMantis Black, Delirious, The Mysterious & Handsome Strange, El Santo

10. Mil Mascaras

'The Man of 1,000 Masks'
‘The Man of 1,000 Masks’

 

For many, ‘The Man of 1,000 Masks’ is the first name (and perhaps the only name) that comes to mind when thinking about legendary lucahadores from days gone by. A wrestler who has influenced others all over the world, Mil has appeared in almost every major wrestling promotion over the last 45+ years. He broke much new ground for luchadores, from bringing the lucha style to Japan to becoming the first masked wrestler to compete in the “World’s Most Famous Arena”, Madison Square Garden.  He’s a member of almost every pro wrestling Hall of Fame in existence, including WWE’s, which is a testament to Mil Mascaras and his seemingly infinite influence of pro wrestling around the world.

 

9. (tie) Psicosis/The Destroyer

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Best known for his time in WCW, Psicosis/Psychosis has been one of lucha’s most enduring performers over the last 2 decades. He engaged in an all-time great rivalry with Rey Mysterio, Jr which spanned AAA, WCW, ECW & NJPW during the mid-late 90’s that still is fun to watch now.  Of course, some of you might also remember him as part of the ‘Mexicools’, but I’d prefer if you didn’t. A champion in almost every promotion that he’s appeared, he’s been a main fixture in AAA for years now and has been a part of some of their biggest angles.

 

A legend on both sides of the wrestling world, The Destroyer is one of pro wrestling’s true all-time greats.  While he did find much success here in North America—his feud with Freddie Blassie, becoming a World Champion in the AWA and wrestling some of the sport’s biggest names of all-time—he may have garnered even bigger notoriety in Japan. His 1963 match with Rikidozan reportedly drew 70 million viewers on Japanese TV! Matches with Mil Mascaras, Giant Baba, Stan Hansen & others during his stay in All-Japan—along with the aforementioned match with Rikidozan—helped to make Dick Beyer’s masked persona a household name in Japan.  A true Hall of Famer if there ever was one, The Destroyer is a name that may never get the recognition from future generations that he really deserves. But that will—and never should—take away from what he means to the history of pro wrestling.

 

8. (tie) Mr. Wrestling II/The Great Sasuke/The Spoiler

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One of the Mid-South territories most popular names of all-time, Mr Wrestling II definitely deserves a spot on this list.  A success no matter where he went, he held championships in Texas, Georgia, Florida and other places and you’d have found him with a title belt more often than not. Tremendous feuds with The Spoiler, The Assassin, The Masked Superstar and Jack Brisco were must-see and helped ignite the Crockett’s territory in the 70’s. His fame was so great that he was asked by President Jimmy Carter (at the behest of his mother) to come to his inauguration but when he learned that he’d have to unmask to attend, he nailed that idea with a “million dollar kneelift”. Still a name that is revered in the Carolinas, Georgia, Florida and everywhere that he competed and no doubt will be that way for generations to come.

 

Wrestler. Owner of Michinoku Pro. Politician. All can be used to describe The Great Sasuke, one of Japan’s most popular wrestlers of this generation. Whether it’s against Jushin Liger, Ultimo Dragon, Jinsei Shinzaki or many others, Sasuke’s breath-taking & high risk style has captivated audiences for years.  He also sports an impressive resume of title reigns, racking up gold in M-Pro, New Japan (including the J-Cup), DDT & FMW. Legend has it that he was slated to win the Light Heavyweight championship when the WWF resurrected the division in 1997 but some comments he made led to Taka Michinoku winning the gold instead. Even still, Sasuke enjoys abundant popularity the world over and can be found competing to this day in the company he founded over 20 years ago.

 

When Don Jardine donned the mask and became The Spoiler in the Texas territory in the 1960’s, he went from an also-ran to a main event star.  Combining strength, size and amazing agility and balance for a man of his stature, The Spoiler found much success throughout his career. Although he had a legendarily bad relationship with promoters, he held championships all throughout the country in many territories. He even had a memorable run in the WWF towards the end of his in-ring career, taking on stars such as Pedro Morales, Mil Mascaras & Chief Jay Strongbow. You can see his influence through the work of stars such as Kane & The Undertaker, who’ve both borrowed from him.  Great to see him make this list.

7. Kane

"Through hellfire & brimstone..."
“Through hellfire & brimstone…”

When this gimmick debuted at the ‘Badd Blood’ PPV, I honestly didn’t think it would last a calendar year. Here we are 16 years later and Kane is still not just a part of the company, but he’s become one of the company’s biggest and most decorated names of all-time. Whether he’s played the monster or the straight guy in the comedic pairing of Team Hell No, Kane has successfully adapted his character to the ever-changing climate of WWE. He’s held the WWE title, the World title, the ECW title and just about every other title that the company has to offer over the course of his career.

6. Tiger Mask I

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From my r(E)volution article on the Dynamite Kid/Tiger Mask rivalry: “On the last night of his latest 4 week run in New Japan, Dynamite was to face a new character, Tiger Mask. Based on a popular manga character, the initial thought when looking at Tiger Mask was that this was not to be taken too seriously. The first mask was very cartoonish and the story goes that those in charge of getting Sayama’s wrestling gear ready forgot the original mask on this night. But still, the match went on and a legendary story was soon to write its first chapter.” Who’d have thought that New Japan’s attempt to draw in the young audience would turn out to be one of the most influential juniors in wrestling history? Many stars of the last 15-20 years have stated just how big an influence Satoru Sayama’s revolutionary feud with Dynamite Kid had on their in-ring style. Sayama actually left NJPW just a few short years into his run as Tiger Mask, not liking the political aspects of pro wrestling. Still, his catalogue of matches with Dynamite, Kuniaki Kobayashi, Black Tiger and others left an indelible mark which influenced the future of the business.

5. El Generico

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Olé! The wrestler currently performing as Sami Zayn on NXT made his mark on pro wrestling for years as the masked El Generico. From PWG to ROH, Dragon Gate to DDT and tons of places in-between Generico worked hard to turn himself into one of the legitimate best on the planet. One of the last true babyface workers–in the same vein as Ricky Steamboat—and crowds everywhere loved Generico. Classic matches around the globe as well as an all-time classic feud with Kevin Steen cemented him a spot on the list, and he made almost everyone’s ballot. Here’s the real question though: just how successful is this guy going to be post-mask? I’d say the odds are in his favor, and as much as I dig Sami, a part of me will always pine for the days of “The Generic Luchador”. Olé!

4. Último Dragón

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I’m so glad to not only see Ultimo make this list but to also rank as high as he did.  He was someone that I feel didn’t quite get his due from the more casual wrestling fan, but Dragon is certainly one of the most accomplished juniors of all-time. He once held TEN championships at one time, a record that still stands and will undoubtedly stand for some time (if not ever). Most will be familiar with him through his run in WCW, which was unfortunately cut short due to a botched surgery. He later had a brief run in WWE but was never really utilized the best there.  Of course, he’s had tons of success in both his native Japan and Mexico and has even been a successful trainer for some of wrestling’s future stars (ever hear of Kazuchika Okada?). Right there with Sasuke, Liger & Mysterio in the discussion of best cruiserweights/junors of all-time.

3. Rey Mysterio, Jr.

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For me, the greatest masked wrestler of all-time. Ok, maybe the number 1 on the list is tied for that distinction in my book, but name another luchador who has transcended to the level on a worldwide scale that Rey Mysterio has? No one has, and it may be a long time before someone does. Anywhere in the world—Japan, Mexico, here in the US, Europe—wrestling fans know who Rey Mysterio is and just how big of an impact he’s had.  He was a sensation in his native Mexico upon his debut, dazzling crowds with his style of lucha libre. He garnered himself a number of 5-star matches from the Wrestling Observer his first few years in AAA. When he debuted in the US in late 1995 in ECW, he ignited a revolution of sorts in the cruiserweight/junior sector of pro wrestling here in America. We had never seen anything like Mysterio before and when he got to WCW, he became a nationwide sensation. Since debuting in WWE in 2002, he’s become a worldwide superstar, even rising to multiple World Heavyweight title reigns & a WWE title win. He’s easily the most recognizable luchador of all-time and one of the biggest stars in the biggest wrestling company in the world.  Rey garnered a few number 1 votes (including from yours truly) and no list of greatest masked wrestlers would be complete with him.

2. Vader

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For my money, the best “big man” in the history of the business. Fearsome, violent, brutal and one of the most destructive forces wrestling has ever seen. Vader was ranked on every ballot except one and was ranked fairly high on each one that he was listed.  After competing for a few years in the dying days of the AWA, Leon White headed to Japan where he was placed under a mask and became Big Van Vader. He was dominant, winning 3 IWGP titles as well as the IWGP tag titles and becoming a phenomenon in the process. During his time in New Japan, he at one point held a world heavyweight title on 3 different continents, something that may never be accomplished again. He also started competing in WCW and soon became a full-time fixture. He cut a vicious path through the company, paralyzing and concussing almost everyone in his path. He won the WCW World title 3 times and in 1996, he found himself competing in the World Wrestling Federation. After a few years there he went back to Japan and later won a pair of AJPW Triple Crown titles.  After winning titles all over the world and leaving a trail of broken bodies, Vader headed into semi-retirement in 2003. Matches against the likes of Sting, Stan Hansen, Mitsuharu Misawa, Kenta Kobashi, Cactus Jack, Shawn Michaels and others are legendary and need to be sought out if you’ve never seen Vader’s work.

1. Jushin ‘Thunder’ Liger

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The clear-cut number one, and no one was close once the votes were tallied. The only wrestler to appear on every single list and he ranked high on a majority of the ballots. I don’t think there’s been any junior heavyweight more influential as Jushin Liger and I hold he and Rey Mysterio as the 2 best in wrestling history at defining that division. He’s won titles everywhere—NJPW, M-Pro, CMLL, WCW, NOAH, Dragon Gate—and has become one of wrestling’s most popular figures worldwide in the process. He’s made tours of ROH, Chikara, PWG and other promotions here in the States in the last 10 years, which has given American fans a chance to see a true legend up close.  Many have cited his influence on their career and with good reason. I placed Liger no. 2 in my personal ballot but I have absolutely no problems with him taking the top spot. While he’s certainly slowed down in recent years, fans worldwide still love to hear “Ikari no Jushin” and see the legendary Jushin Liger continue to write his story.

Well, there you have it—the top 10 masked wrestlers of all-time as voted on by you! What did you think of the list? Let me know at @4CR_Billy and let the debates begin! Now, the next ’10 Spot’ will have a Halloween vibe…to be more specific, a “Halloween Havoc” vibe! That’s right—the next article will countdown the “10 Best Halloween Havoc Matches”! Want to participate? Send me your top 10 list to hashtag.wrestling2012@gmail.com or DM me on Twitter and help build the next article! Hope everyone had fun checking out the only article built by social media and come back next time for another edition of 4CR’s ’10 Spot’!

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3 thoughts on “10 Spot: Greatest Masked Wrestlers

  1. there is no way Masked Superstar should have been left out of the top 10. He was a pioneer, but not only that, he was a great ring technician, fantastic on the mic and just overall a great heel.

    Like

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