In Mexico, after El Santo and Blue Demon, Mil Máscaras is like the equivalent of Hulk Hogan for many fans in the U.S. Unlike Hulk Hogan, who transitioned into a superhero character of sorts over the years, Mil Máscaras from the start was "created" as such and never faltered from protecting and promoting this mythical image bestowed upon him.
Aaron Rodríguez, The Man Who Became Mil Máscaras
Before becoming the legendary wrestling icon known as Mil Máscaras, Aaron Rodriguez was an avid weightlifter, blackbelt in judo, trained to became a bullfighter, took acting lessons, learned folkloric ballet, and even answered letters for the Mexican magazine called Muscle Power. Also, as a very accomplished amateur wrestler, he was chosen to be part of the delegation that would represent Mexico in the 1964 Summer Olympic Games held in Tokyo, Japan.
Rodriguez was unhappy with the subpar living conditions and the horrible food at the Olympic dormitories along with what he considered the minuscule pay being offered by the Mexican Sports Commission through the Olympic Wrestling Federation. He considered that he needed at least the equivalent of $521 a month in 2019 money in order to fully dedicate himself to Olympic Wrestling and therefore increase his chances of earning a medal for his country in the upcoming Summer Games. The head of the commission "General" Clark Flores responded by saying that he could only offer him $344 a month. Rodriguez was not going to accept this and did not lower his asking amount. In turn, Flores didn’t try to meet him halfway either.
With the negotiations at a standstill and pride not allowing either to budge, Rodríguez left the wrestling camp and later spoke with journalist and businessman Valente Pérez who was the owner of the magazine "Lucha Libre." Pérez along with Efraín Cárdena, and Héctor Valero were looking to create a new wrestling character and believed Rodríguez would be perfect because he was a good wrestler, expert at judo, and had a very well-conditioned body.
After several rejections and a skeptical attitude shown by Rodríguez, he finally agreed to become Mil Máscaras (which translates in English to "A Thousand Masks") when he saw that he no longer had a future in Olympic Wrestling. In the first photonovels used to introduce “Mr. Personality” Mil Máscaras to the fans, it is a muscular and shirtless Jorge Galindo and not Aaron Rodríguez wearing a black mask with an “M” emblazoned on the front. Galindo, ultimately declined the role though (some sources claim he just wasn’t connecting with the fans and so a change was needed), and instead became As De Oros (Golden Aces) and had only a three-year career in the squared circle.
The Creation of a Wrestling Icon
Expectations for this new character called Mil Máscaras grew rapidly because it was said that he was traveling all over the world and was soon to arrive in Mexico. Fans were caught in the hype and encouraged to send their ideas for masks he could use, with the chosen winners receiving a small cash prize. After three months training under Diablo Velasco, Arena Coliseo de Mexico saw Mil Máscaras explode onto the pro wrestling scene in 1964, and in 1969 the movie simply called "Mil Máscaras" gave this new superhero a backstory similar to Lester Dent’s pulp hero Doc Savage whom he created in the early-’30s.
Doc Savage is considered by many as a forerunner to modern superheroes, but unlike his predecessor "The Shadow" who had the power of ESP, Doc Savage’s powers were based on discipline and training. He reached almost perfection with his various skills and became a master in many sciences.
Doc Savage’s Oath:
Let me strive every moment of my life to make myself better and better, to the best of my ability, that all may profit by it. Let me think of the right and lend all my assistance to those who need it, with no regard for anything but justice. Let me take what comes with a smile, without loss of courage. Let me be considerate of my country, of my fellow citizens, and my associates in everything I say and do. Let me do right to all, and wrong no man.
The Legend of Mil Máscaras is Born
The eponymously named Mil Máscaras movie from 1966 starts out with what looks like war footage of apocalyptic proportions, and three "wise men" have rejected all of man’s violence by taking refuge on the "Green Island." They are experts in the fields of Anthropology, History, Sociology, Languages, Physics, Chemistry, and Biology. Although experts, they do not know how and in what way they can focus their knowledge for man’s benefit. They are very saddened to see how man has constantly used new discoveries and inventions for evildoing and destruction, and rarely for the advancement of humanity.
They believe that they must continue the good fight in order to obtain world peace, but alas, they fear that they will not live long enough to be able to see their almost utopian-like goal. So they propose they find a young person in whom they can illuminate and teach everything they know. One of them decides that an abandoned child from the war would be the best choice. The reasoning is that a child is noble and free of prejudices that may cloud his thoughts. This child would exemplify good, peace, and justice.
After a heavy bombing has partially destroyed a nearby building, they find a child still clutched in her dead mother’s arms, and the audience then witnesses the appearance of the future Mil Máscaras.
In the various movies that followed, Máscaras, seemingly a hero straight out of a comic book, uses his wrestling and superior intellect to defeat everything from dastardly gangsters to horror baddies like vampires, mummies, and even the undead. These are also common themes in his comic books similiar to El Santo and Blue Demon previously.
Nicknamed “Mr. Personality” in Mexico, Mil Máscaras was almost a perfect substitute for El Santo and Blue Demon, who had great success with their movies and other media tie-ins. Máscaras, while never as popular as Santo or even Blue Demon, makes a strong case for being the third in all-time popularity amongst Mexican Lucha Libre fans. His 17 movies and the constant push by the wrestling magazines helped him become a worldwide cultural phenomenon. Mil Máscaras has said that he’s been on the cover of 147 North American wrestling magazines, 300 Japanese, and over 1,000 Mexican ones along with winning 180 trophies taller than him.
Known for his for barrel-chested muscular physique and his seemingly endless array of masks that combined perfectly with his robes, Mil Máscaras distinguished himself from most other masked luchadors who wore masks as part of their job because he took it a step further and became obsessed with creating a mystique about him by routinely wearing his mask everywhere in public.
Mil Máscaras, along with Vince McMahon Sr. of the then WWWF, helped the New York State Athletic Commission to lift the ban on wrestlers competing with masks. The New York Penal Law 240.35 (4), in essence, prohibited people from using masks in public if not in connection with a masquerade party. Long story short, Vince Sr. wanted Máscaras to appear at Madison Square Garden because he was a huge draw everywhere else he worked and was desperate to book him. So he lobbied for a change, and the Athletic Commission bent the rules to accommodate Máscaras to wrestle "The Spoiler" Don Jardine on December 18th, 1972. Don Jardine, before this historic change in the rules, would wrestle maskless when booked at MSG.
In May 2020, the nearly two centuries old and criminal violation of the law which was subject to a possible 15 day sentence of imprisonment was repealed.
Recommended read: "The Spoiler" Don Jardine: The Man Who Trained the Undertaker
The Masks and the Mystique Surrounding Mil Máscaras
Mil Máscaras went to great lengths to hide his identity and cultivate a mysterious persona that kept him in high demand for several decades of his career. He says when asked about the mask, "I have lived my profession. If you run into me out on the street with my mask and you tell me that I’m Mil Máscaras, I will deny it. Even if you run into me without it, I would still deny being him."
From the very beginning, Máscaras was created as a superhero, a person of superior strength, intellect, and skills who would fight for good and defend the weak. From the start, Rodriguez took this character to heart, representing him all over the world and helped introduce the Lucha Libre style of pro wrestling to many different countries.
In 1968, he started traveling to the U.S. (mainly California), facing the likes of John Tolos, Ernie Ladd, Black Gordman, and Goliath. During the seventies, most Japanese fans weren’t accustomed to the quicker-paced style of wrestling Máscaras presented, but they learned to adore his performances in short order. In Japan, he was nicknamed Kamen Kizoku, which means the "masked noble" because the fans believed he represented the excellence of the Lucha Libre style, and his matches against "The Destroyer" Dick Beyer are legendary confrontations.
Watch: Mil Máscaras and The Destroyer collide in an epic bout
Mil Máscaras Took What Worked But Made Improvements
Mil Máscaras readily admits that his methods in the ring were not entirely unique and that there were, of course, other Mexican luchadors before him competing around the world. The key was trying to improve already existing moves like doing a plancha off the top rope when he had only seen people do it off the second. The difference was that he tried to make it look "beautiful" by extending his arms and making his body look like a bow. The tope done by most practitioners of Lucha is usually done like a flying head butt, but Máscaras crosses his arms for more impact and angles his body sideways in the air. The tope suicida, AKA suicide dive outside the ring, is a move he claims he did create, but overall he used traditional Lucha moves but tried to do them faster than what people were used to seeing. Máscaras takes on an unassuming attitude when told that he influenced so many future stars in Japan like Tiger Mask (Satoru Sayama), Jushin "Thunder" Liger, Ultimo Dragon, and The Great Sasuke.
Larger Frame More Suitable For American Market of the Time
At nearly six feet and always hovering around the 231-242 lb mark, Máscaras was larger than most Mexican and Latino competitors, and so obtained opportunities to face main-eventers across the globe who were traditionally not small in stature.
Promoters and fans loved that even though Máscaras didn’t have the body of a junior heavyweight, he indeed moved with the speed and grace of one. He became larger-than-life and very sought-after the world over. Popularity frequently breeds jealousy, insecurity, and even danger inside the squared circle. Máscaras claims that he had to learn several martial arts, including jujitsu, in order to protect and defend himself when opponents wanted to go in business for themselves and shoot on him.
Mil Máscaras, along with El Santo, became one of the few wrestlers allowed to work for rival promotions within Mexico like EMLL and UWA and the same went for countries like the U.S. where he worked NWA territories and in the northeast for the WWWF when it had broken off on its own. Máscaras worked his whole career as an independent and has remained a timeless and enduring wrestling icon who has forever signified clean living and a technical rule-abiding wrestling style.
His brothers competed as Dos Caras and Sicodelico. His nephew is "El Patron" Alberto Del Rio, who, before his stint in WWE, competed under the name Dos Caras Jr. Sicodelico Jr. is also his nephew and competed for WWE in 2009.
No Yob! and Other Accounts of Mil Máscaras Being a Pain in the Butt
Some of his fellow workers have said that this acrobatic, flashy, and flamboyant legend could sometimes be arrogant and uncooperative in the ring. Superstar Billy Graham, in his book Tangled Ropes with Keith Elliot Greenberg, doesn’t speak too kindly about Mil Máscaras although he admitted that he was possibly wrestling’s biggest Latino draw. "Like the legendary Santo, he took his masked gimmick very seriously, and used it to cross over to a movie career in his native Mexico. But he was never one of the boys. After the matches, he’d shower with his mask on. I understand protecting your image, but the guy was kayfabing us!"
Máscaras has commented about his secrecy, saying, "Masked wrestlers should always keep something mysterious, even with your friends. Santo and I could keep our status by doing so. It is a character that I represent, and I leave some things in the dark."
Superstar continues, "I’m not the first person to say that it wasn’t fun wrestling Máscaras. He was mechanical, and because of his mask, fans couldn’t read his facial expressions. How can you tell if a man is hurt if you can’t see the pain on his face? Máscaras was an absolute prima donna, prancing around on his toes and sticking out his chest. He hated to sell your moves; whatever you got, he gave grudgingly." Also, according to accounts in his book, Superstar was especially upset when even as the WWWF Champion in 1978, Máscaras still wouldn’t sell for him properly.
Máscaras, in an interview with Filmfax in 2012, has an interesting answer to others who accuse him of no-selling. "One problem is that in the U.S. some wrestlers focus more on their image than their skills. I understand because I understand the business. I don’t criticize them for that, but they should understand that for me, wrestling means something more. If a guy doesn’t execute a move, I don’t pretend that he did. If I miss a move, then I don’t ask anyone to make me look good."
His nephew, known as "El Patron" Alberto Del Rio tries to explain the allegations of his uncle being "difficult to work with" by reminding people that the real competition in wrestling is backstage and even more when Mil Máscaras was at his peak and everything about wrestling was presented as a legitimate sport. It was difficult for his uncle to job for others, and he was only trying to protect his position.
When Máscaras was honored in 2006 by the Cauliflower Alley Club, a fraternal organization for retired wrestlers, "The Destroyer" Dick Beyer presented Máscaras with the award and mentioned that "He was the best competitor I ever wrestled. He never gave you anything-it’s true- but I didn’t give him anything either. You talk about a shoot or half-shoot, that’s the kind of match that it was."
In an interview with The Hannibal TV, Beyer admits that early in his career, he had to fight to get anything out of Máscaras, but he eventually got the Mexican luchador to lose. They became friendly to each other afterward. Perhaps the saying of "You can’t demand respect; you must earn it" applies here.
"The Assassin" Jody Hamilton told his former partner and booker Tom Renesto, "F*ck him. Dump him," as explained in his book "Assassin" by Scott Teal. "Mil Máscaras was a pain in the ass. You have no idea. I never had much to do with him. I heard about all the things he didn’t like. He didn’t want to do this; he didn’t want to do that. He gave everybody the impression that he was doing them a favor by showing up to work."
Recommended read: "The Assassin" Jody Hamilton – Behind the Mask
As told in his book Have a Nice Day: A Tale of Blood and Sweatsocks, Mick Foley, wrestling as Cactus Jack Manson, was not looking forward to working with Máscaras at the Clash of the Champions X event that took place at Corpus Christi, Texas, in 1990. Mick recounts, "Máscaras sucked, and the match was going to suck. In my dealings with Máscaras in Texas, I had found him to be selfish, redundant, and lousy." This was Mick’s honest assessment of a man he admits had been a legitimate legend, sports hero, and film star in his native Mexico for a quarter century.
Mick was relieved when it seemed like Máscaras wasn’t going to show up because he had missed his flight into town. But it turns out that Máscaras eventually arrived a half-hour before the show, and according to Mick, Máscaras just didn’t want to sit around the arena for a few hours, so "the prima donna booked a later departure." There’s that word again!
Mick explains some details from the match. "Much as I had predicted, the match, to use a Jim Cornette term ‘sucked a dick’ but when the time was right, I made most of the audience forget that Máscaras even existed. I briefly took over on the used-up loser and threw him to the outside, where he gingerly landed. I then picked him up and gave him a weak backbreaker that he was so frightened to take, he actually put his hands and ass down on the ground, so that he finished the move in a sitting position. ‘Come on, Mil,’ I thought, ‘show a little pride in your work.’ At that moment, I wondered if having the ability to suck in your stomach and walk on your tiptoes for twenty-five years was really all it took to become a legend in this business."
"El Patron" Alberto Del Rio was also asked about this incident with Mick Foley and said that if Foley had issues with his uncle, "then that’s their deal."
Watch: Mick Foley, aka Cactus Jack, takes on Mil Máscaras at the Clash of the Champions X
Early in Chris Jericho’s career, he worked in Mexico from 1992-1995 and had the opportunity to work with "The Man of a Thousand Masks." As told in his book A Lion’s Tale: Around The World In Spandex, Jericho was amazed at finally feeling that he’d hit the big time by performing in front of 10,000 fans, but didn’t have much praise for Máscaras. He says that Máscaras in the dressing room before the match while standing on his toes and donning his mask, was bragging that he had trained Arnold Schwarzenegger on Venice Beach in 1968, was the best technical wrestler in Mexican history and was a superstar in every country in the world — even Luxembourg.
Jericho recounts, "After all his talk I was expecting something special, but in reality he was rotten. He didn’t want my partner or me to do any offensive moves, as he said the thousands of fans in attendance wouldn’t believe in us. Yet he did nothing in the ring besides flexing his saggy pectorals and dancing around like he had antalones in his pantalones. But the massive crowd went nuts for him anyway. After the match was finished, he kept his mask on the entire time he was in the building, even while standing in the shower."
A couple of years later, while wrestling for the WAR promotion in Japan, Jericho once again faced the legendary Mil Máscaras, but still expressed no love for the masked luchador. "He arrived with the same giant ego and piss-poor attitude that he’d shown me in Mexico." As further explained, according to Jericho, Japanese wrestler Genichiro Tenryu who founded WAR, believed that maybe Jericho could get a good match out of Máscaras. According to Jericho, he was wrong.
"I worked my ass off every night trying to make chicken salad out of chicken shit. I was especially ticked off after the match on the second-to-last night of the tour when he cornered me. ‘Nobody cares about you. They just care about me. Nobody paid to see you; they paid to see me. So no more of your moves tomorrow night because nobody wants to see them.’"
Jericho continues, "Too many blows to the head had left me with a ‘memory problem,’ and the next night I couldn’t remember if he’d told me to give him none of my moves or ALL of my moves. Just to be on the safe side, I gave him every damn move I could think of. He didn’t say a thing to me after the match, and I’ve never spoken to him since."
John Layfield Bradshaw in September 2012, while announcing an Alberto Del Rio match at WWE’s Night of Champions pay-per-view, called Máscaras "the most egomaniacal, selfish human being that ever lived."
"No Yob!" The Mil Máscaras 1997 Royal Rumble Incident
Perhaps the most well-known alleged incident of Mil Máscaras not cooperating was at the 1997 Royal Rumble held in San Antonio, Texas. This was according to Bruce Prichard on the podcast, Something To Wrestle With, which he co-hosts with Conrad Thompson. The struggling WWF wanted to attract the Tejano Latino market and decided to book some luchadors for the Royal Rumble, including the hugely popular Mil Máscaras, who had a deep following with the Latino community in the USA. Generations of these fans had cheered for him over the years, and including him in the Rumble was Prichard’s idea. He described Máscaras as "Arguably the second-biggest name ever out of Mexico, second only to El Santo." But a couple of seconds later in the podcast, changed his opinion and said that "He was the single biggest Mexican star ever and worked on top every place that he went all over the world… He was a mega-star and a huge name."
WCW was having a great response to the luchadors they booked, so WWF wanted to do the same. Prichard describes Máscaras as a unique old-school guy that had a mystique about him where he even kept his mask on in the dressing room in front of the other workers. He’d shower with it and, when finished, leave with a clean mask. Many times, being scared of someone perhaps following him and discovering his real identity, he’d even wear masks while at the hotel. Even without it, he had movie-star looks, always wearing his custom suits, and was a gentleman all the way. But according to Prichard, he didn’t "do jobs." He’d answer while moving his finger side-to-side and say "No Yob, No Yob!" and refused to do the favors for people and put them over.
During the Rumble, Máscaras essentially eliminated himself by leaping off the top rope onto Pierroth Jr., who was already outside. Prichard says that they figured this was the best way to handle Máscaras’ elimination from the Rumble so that the luchador could look good in front of the fans even though he knew he wasn’t going to win.
Máscaras, in an improvised 2002 shoot interview with Reality Check TV, claims that he was surprised that he was eliminated because the rules of Battle Royals and the Royal Rumble are the same everywhere: you have to be thrown out over the top rope by somebody and can’t eliminate yourself. He says that "He wanted to do something for the people."
Watch Mil Máscaras eliminate himself from the ’97 Royal Rumble
What Do You Think?
Mil Máscaras, in his interviews, comes across as a confident yet soft-spoken educated man who is well-traveled and is very aware of his superior abilities. And yet he maintains a somewhat modest demeanor when praised with accolades from his career. In his words, he still trains with the same drive "as if he was a rookie" and goes to great lengths to stay healthy, get enough sleep, and he never consumes tobacco or drugs. Máscaras seems to have huge respect for the sport that has given him so much and believes he knows how it should be presented to the public.
So is he a no-selling ("no yob!") self-centered egomaniac? Or are the accusations of him being difficult to work with greatly exaggerated and an unfair representation of his whole body of work within the industry?
Mil Máscaras still remains active in wrestling and communicates with his fans thought his official Facebook page.
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