Unmasking The Charade: Wrestlers Donning Masks Without Hiding Their True Identities
In Lucha tradition, the mask is one of the most sacred symbols of a wrestler. To lose it or have it removed is a great dishonor to the athlete. Most masked wrestlers protect their identity with great fervor. Take, for instance, Blue Demon Jr., who wants to run for office in Mexico — without showing his face. Famous Mexican Luchador and movie star El Santo is another example of a wrestler who never removed his mask, even when dining out in fancy restaurants!
However, there are other masked wrestlers whose identities haven’t been much of a mystery. Sometimes this is intentional, other times not, but it always ends up being quite amusing.
Here are ten of our favorite examples of wrestlers donning a mask to conceal their identity. As you’ll find, they weren’t fooling anybody!
1 – Midnight Rider
One of the most famous "mysterious man" cases was the Midnight Rider in the early ’80s.
After Dusty Rhodes was suspended from the NWA in 1982, a masked man suddenly appeared with a suspiciously familiar face. On February 9th, the Midnight Rider won the company’s top prize, pinning Ric Flair to win the belt.
However, the Rider was forced by Bob Geigel to either unmask (and risk his identity being known) or vacate the belt. As Rhodes was suspended at the time, he chose to surrender the belt back to Ric Flair.
Back To The Real American Dream
Rhodes returned to his previous incarnation after his suspension was served to much success. Rhodes would again become vastly successful in the promotion, with the Midnight Rider being a short footnote in the history of Dusty Rhodes and the NWA as a whole.
2 – Stagger Lee
Around the same time as The Midnight Rider, Mid-South Wrestling used a similar angle for one of their most popular stars.
Having been turned on by a newly-turned heel Ted DiBiase, the Junkyard Dog soon found himself on the receiving end of a loaded glove that would spell the end for him. JYD lost a loser leaves town bout alongside Mr. Olympia to DiBiase and Matt Borne (later known as the original Doink the Clown), forcing the Dog to leave the territory.
However, shortly after, a new wrestler sprung up by the name of Stagger Lee.
Named after the late 19th-century American murderer and popular folk song, this multi-colored masked man had many heels trying to prove the gimmick’s portrayer was none other than the Junkyard Dog. Here, he caused havoc for DiBiase and his Rat Pack faction.
From Stagger Lee To JYD
Nobody managed to unmask this man or prove his identity. After the suspension’s timeframe had expired, JYD returned to Mid-South as himself.
In hindsight, one of the more significant moments of Stagger Lee’s run is his disposal of an enhancement talent called Marty Lunde with a powerslam in under 2 minutes. Why is that significant? That journeyman would go on to his own success in wrestling under the name Arn Anderson.
3 – Charlie Brown from Outta Town
Even a mask could not hide the distinctive features of this popular NWA star.
In August 1983, ‘Boogie Woogie Man’ Jimmy Valiant lost a loser leaves town match to NWA TV champion The Great Kabuki. Not long later, Valiant re-emerged under a mask as Charlie Brown from Outta Town.
Jimmy’s distinctive and easily recognized beard was not shaved off, further adding to the obviousness of the man under the disguise.
The Boogie Is Up: Jimmy Valiant Revealed
The Boogie Woogie Man managed to win Kabuki’s title at wrestling’s first pay-per-view, Starrcade 1983. As the match was mask vs. title, Valiant’s win meant he was not forced to unmask, allowing the ruse to continue. However, Ric Flair tarnished the illusion later that night, accidentally calling him Jimmy Valiant in a show-ending promo.
After dropping the Charlie Brown alias, Jimmy vacated the belt.
4 – Giant Machine
A few months later, a new masked tag team billed from ‘the Orient’ made their debut alongside manager Captain Lou Albano. This group was called The Machines with members Super Machine (Bill Eadie) and Giant Machine (Andre The Giant). Heenan tried to prove that the Giant Machine was Andre, questioning how many 7’4″ Japanese wrestlers weighed over 500 pounds and spoke with a French accent.
Commentators stated that it was not for sure the Frenchman and that it could, in fact, be Giant Baba. WWF’s President Jack Tunney announced that Andre would be suspended indefinitely if Giant Machine were revealed to be the 8th Wonder of the World.
From Big Machine To Big Time Movie Star
Big Machine, played by Blackjack Mulligan, was soon added to the group so that Andre did not have to be as psychical in-ring.
Weighing a combined 1,129 pounds, their largest rivalry was against the Heenan Family’s Big John Studd and King Kong Bundy. Other tongue-in-cheek members joined, such as Animal Machine, Hulk Machine, and Piper Machine throughout the group’s history.
After the faction’s final match in November of ’86, the group went their own ways. Andre went on to turn heel a few months later, which build to his historic match against Hulk Hogan at WrestleMania 3.
5 – Yellow Dog
A gimmick previously used in Florida by Barry Windham, the Yellow Dog moniker was most memorable when performed by Brian Pillman.
After being on the losing end of a career-threatening match against the former Four Horsemen, Pillman was forced to leave WCW in 1991.
Pillman’s schedule was then fulfilled by the Yellow Dog – a wrestler with the same theme music, wrestling style, and stature of Flyin’ Brian. As well as troubling the second-generation Mulligan, he had a pay-per-view showing against Johnny B. Badd – memorable for the Dog starting a distasteful "******" crowd chant at the Little Richard impersonator.
Pillman’s Sneaky Switcharoo
Windham claimed, “It’s so obvious, Ray Charles could see it! The Yellow Dog is Flyin’ Brian! First, he masquerades as a chicken. Then he masquerades as a rat. Now he’s trying to get around the loser-leaves-WCW stipulation by wearing that stupid outfit! Well, I promise you this: It’s not gonna work! I’ll unmask him and prove to the world what a cowardly cheater Flyin’ Brian really is!”
The Yellow Dog often teamed with Tom Zenk. ‘The Z-Man’ even sometimes portrayed the Yellow Dog to put into question the suspect’s identity. When portraying the Dog, Zenk was accompanied by Pillman in order to try to prove Pillman was not the man under the mask.
After putting his mask on a few times, a fan campaign forced Pillman to reappear, and so disappeared the Yellow Dog. This run would show the later variety of personas Pillman would have, including the ‘Loose Cannon.’
6 – Mr JL
Cited by Dave Meltzer as “one of the most underrated workers of the last quarter-century,” Jerry Lynn has worked for pretty much every wrestling company over his storied career, including ECW, WWF/E, TNA, ROH, and AEW. Lynn also had a run in WCW in the mid-’90s as a part of their Cruiserweight division.
This division’s roster featured many masked Luchadores, including Rey Mysterio, Juventud Guerrera, Psicosis, and Justin Liger. So, adding to this, WCW put the Minnesota native under a purple mask as Mr. JL.
Lynn occasionally wrestled as himself (without the mask) but most often under the masked guise. All appearances on Nitro were as Mr. JL, with the future ECW world champion often losing to the stars WCW was keener on pushing.
From Underrated To Short-Lived
JL’s most memorable match was likely a pay-per-view showing where he lost to another short-lived WCW star Sabu, at Halloween Havoc 1995 in about three minutes. Here, Bobby Heenan claimed that JL could stand for "Jerk and Lunch."
On a Nitro aired on Christmas day, Lynn’s arm was broken in a match against Dean Malenko. After this, he was unceremoniously released from the company by Eric Bischoff, with his identity never revealed. At the time, likely only hardcore fans knew his identity, but soon when his talent was explored, he was known to a larger audience.
7 – ECW’s Unnamed Masked Man
In WCW, Rick Rude played the obviously identifiable Masked Phantom for a single night at Halloween Havoc ’91. Although Rude had recently been released from the WWF, had the same physique, and had his distinctive mustache showing, WCW still, in kayfabe, seemed to have no idea who the portrayer was.
Five years later, in ECW, the Ravishing one played another hooded figure. This time, however, in the storyline, it was heavily implied that this was Rick. It was surprising to see Rude, as he had not been seen for a significant length of time. Not resurfacing since leaving wrestling a few years before, Rude collected on a Lloyds of London insurance policy – meaning it was unlikely he would be physically involved.
This mysterious man spent a large amount of his time tormenting Shane Douglas upon arrival at ECW House Party in early 1997, including costing him a match at 1997’s Crossing The Line Again pay-per-view as well as spanking Douglas’s manager Francine.
Unmasked In A Rude Way
After a brutal clash at ECW’s first pay-per-view event, Barely Legal, Douglas eventually managed to defeat Pitbull #2 in a violent grudge match centered around both wrestlers attempting to break the other’s neck. Due to Shane’s retention of his ECW TV title, the masked tormentor was forced to unmask as per stipulation.
Donning a Rick Rude robe, it all seemed as if the former Intercontinental Champion was soon to have his face revealed. However, a member of the riot police at ringside unmasked to reveal Rick Rude. On this occasion, the masked man was actually Douglas’s tag partner, ‘Prime Time’ Brian Lee, who promptly turned on ‘The Franchise.’
This was Lee’s second role, where he portrayed a more famous wrestler, previously being Ted DiBiase’s Undertaker in 1994. Rude would only have one match in ECW (main-eventing Heatwave ’97) before moving on to commentary and time as an anti-ECW ally of Jerry Lawler.
Later that year, Rude became the only wrestler to appear on WWF, WCW, and ECW TV in the same week. You can learn more about this fascinating story in our article: Rick Rude – More Than Ravishing.
8 – The Blue Blazer
Few – except those in the know – knew that Stampede Wrestling stand-out Owen Hart played lower-card babyface the Blue Blazer in the ’80s.
Upon kayfabe leaving the WWF in 1999, Owen was repackaged as the Blue Blazer – but with a twist. Feeling ‘The Rocket’ needed a new character for the more hardcore television product at the time, he was given this gimmick as a more bombastic and irritable character aimed at kids to rival the Attitude Era’s bolder content.
After Owen kayfabe quit the WWF after (in storyline) breaking Dan Severn’s neck, in a similar style to Steve Austin two years earlier, the Blue Blazer emerged.
Owen reluctantly accepted this role, turning down proposed angles such as an affair with Deborah McMichael to protect his family’s reputation.
The Masked Persona That Should Have Never Been
He forged a comedic alliance with Jeff Jarrett, with Hart proving he was not the Blazer by sometimes managing Jarrett in the Blazer guise. Hart’s High Energy tag partner Koko B Ware once appeared as the Blazer whilst Jarrett and Hart were visible. Steve Blackman once even unmasked the Blue Blazer, revealing Owen’s face.
Despite his catchphrase "Take your vitamins, say your prayers and drink your milk" and holding tag title gold, Owen never truly managed to get over in the role.
Sadly, the Blue Blazer persona is one linked to the catastrophic stunt-gone-wrong at the Over The Edge pay-per-view in May of 1999, which led to the tragic passing of Owen Hart.
9 – Mr America
In 2002, a near-50-year-old Hulk Hogan returned for a short nostalgia run with the WWE – leading the nWo and winning the world tag titles with Edge and a shock run with the Undisputed title.
However, this soon turned into a longer run for Hogan, with the Hulkster coming out victorious in a chaotic brawl against Vince McMahon at WrestleMania XIX. After this, however, instead of sitting out the rest of his contract at home, ‘The Icon’ re-emerged in May ’02 as Mr. America in a Captain America-influenced attire.
The True American Icon
Everything stayed the same. The theme music was the same, the mannerisms were the same, and the mustache was the same, only thinly veiled by the mask. Nobody seemed to care about this in storyline except Mr. McMahon – who went out of his way to prove the masked man’s identity.
This led to some memorable moments, including a comedic lie detector test between the two on an episode of SmackDown.
In 2003, after a 6-man tag match, Mr. America took off his mask after the show to reveal his identity to the small arena crowd. Afterward, Hogan left the company over creative frustrations. The off-air reveal was used as the reason for Hogan’s kayfabe firing, and Mr. America never again resurfaced in the WWE.
10 – Juan Cena
Whilst never used in WWE canon, this gimmick has been visible on programming on a few occasions.
In 2010, after a loss to leader Wade Barrett, John Cena was forced to join the Nexus. Now a member of the group he had been fighting for months, the leader of the Cenation was defiant against the NXT call-ups.
Going into Survivor Series 2010, special guest referee John Cena would be fired if stablemate Barrett lost a WWE title match to Randy Orton. After officiating the Viper’s win, Cena was fired.
In typical wrestling fashion, he was back the following week. Cena went around tormenting every Nexus member until they were forced to reinstate the former Doctor of Thuganomics.
The Mask, The Man, The Legend
The original plan was for Cena to return under the guise of Juan Cena, a luchador wrestler donning a purple and yellow mask. However, this idea never made it to WWE TV and was ditched before the big time. The “Mexican” grappler had a few documented house show matches against Barrett and The Miz before the concept was canned altogether.
In 2019 the character made a one-off appearance during a WWE.com interview. After the Lucha House Party celebrated a win over The Revival, Juan jumped in front of the camera. He shouted in Spanish before reciting the LHP’s "Lucha, Lucha!" taunt before running off.
Rick Rude: A Ravishing Man with a Tragic End
“He refused to budge.”
Rick Rude was a unique, once-in-a-lifetime kind of wrestler. He went by the nickname “Ravishing” — and rightfully so. He had a solid moveset, great looks, and unbridled arrogance with the in-ring skill to back it up. He played hard in the ring but even harder out of it.
Mr Perfect Curt Hennig – A Great Life with an Unfortunate End
On camera, Curt Hennig was arrogant, and he backed up his Mr. Perfect persona brilliantly. However, outside of the ring, it was a different story.
Doink The Clown – A Troubled Life For the Man Behind the Paint
Doink the Clown found fame in early 1990s WWE, but there was, unfortunately, trouble along the way for Matt Borne, the man behind the paint.
Secret Life and Tragic Passing of WWE Wrestler “Crush” Brian Adams
Hailing from Kona, Hawaii, “Crush” Brian Adams was a dominant force who underwent many striking transformations over his 17-year career.
After retiring from the ring, he worked as a bodyguard for “Macho Man” Randy Savage and was excited about opening a fitness spa alongside Marc Mero in Florida. Instead, sadly, tragedy struck.
Owen Hart’s Death: What Really Happened, From Those There
VINCE McMAHON: “Earlier that day, I was shocked and surprised by what Owen said.”
On May 23rd, 1999, the wrestling world mourned the loss of Owen Hart. People behind the scenes on this unthinkable day reflect on the tragedy, answering the all-important questions.
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