Tis the season when we dress up in
wacky costumes, celebrate all things creepy, and gorge on enough
candy to make at least ten new diabetes. When it comes to
straightforward costumes that sledgehammer the point home, they don’t
get any more simple and effective than a good mask. Shit, a lot of
times, that’s all you need. Complement it with a T-shirt and jeans,
and you’re good to go! While I’m sure they generate far more sales
during Halloween season, in the world of pro wrestling, masks are a
white hot accessory year-round.
The mask fits right into the
imaginative and vibrantly colorful environment that is wrestling,
where larger than life personalities command the stage. Nowadays, we
tend to associate it with iconic grapplers such as the great Rey
Mysterio. But in my early days of fandom, masked wrestlers were
mainly jobbers. Jabronis. Or as me and my Cousin Drew would call ‘em,
“the weak guys”. When you saw a cat like Agent Steel in the ring,
you automatically knew the dude standing across from him was picking
up the win in squash fashion. Slowly but surely, I was introduced to
the Konnans and Jushin Thunder Ligers of the wrestling world, guys
who not only wore more interesting masks, but were actually badass.
This is when I started to get the idea that masks had an even greater
importance to wrestling lore.
While they’re iconic enough in the
states and fairly common in the orient, wrestling masks are
undoubtedly most popular in Mexico. In simpler times, villagers were
masked up while performing in Saint’s Day parades. The masks were
often made of bone, wood, and cloth and could represent everything
from ancient Hispanic gods to demons and death itself. Many believed
that a mask not only hid your identity, but transformed you in a way
that unlocked the god-like powers and abilities of the entities they
represented. Lucha Underground, anyone?
The popularity of masks and their
transformative concept carried over to pro wrestling or lucha libre,
which is the second biggest sport in Mexico, just behind soccer. El
Santo, widely regarded as the godfather of lucha libre, donned a mask
in and out of the ring. Whether on the streets or on a movie set, he
never showed his face. Combined with his natural charisma and talent,
this dedication led to El Santo becoming the first Latin-American
superhero as the character was featured in comic books and dozens of
films. Moreover, Santo’s approach to shielding his identity in the
public trickled down through generations of lucha libre
Today, the mask is as popular as ever
in Mexican wrestling culture and the significance is played up in
kayfabe around the world. This is why mask vs. mask matches are
drenched in suspense and intrigue. Why Minoru Suzuki unmasking Liger
was seen as such a disrespectful, dickhead move. The mask is sacred.
Omnipotent. Once removed, a wrestler either loses a piece of himself, or is forced to take on a new identity, which in Suzuki’s case,
can be like opening your own personal can of whoop ass. Point being …
don’t fuck with the mask, yo!