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Posted in: Chair Shots
Chair Shots: Where Art Thou Masked Man?
By TripleR
Mar 23, 2013 - 9:50:58 PM

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It was announced this week that former independent star El Generico was now being known as Sammy Sane in NxT, and would be losing his trademark mask that made him so popular among wrestling fans. Between the WWE, TNA, and Ring of Honor, there is a total of 1 active masked wrestler on all three rosters- the Big Red Machine Kane. Sure both Rey Mysterio and Sin Cara are on the WWE roster, but Rey’s status is questionable at best, and Sin Cara is out once again with injury. So I ask you loyal readers, what has happened to the masked wrestler?

I don’t know about you, but I love masked wrestlers. I grew up with the likes of the Masked Superstar, Mr. Wrestling II, Big Van Vader, Jushin Thunder Liger and so many more. Hell, two of the most popular wrestlers of our time, Scott Hall and Chris Benoit, spent time under a mask. But in the past decade or so, it seems as though professional wrestling organizations either don’t want to invest in a masked wrestler, or just have no idea how to handle making one popular. It seemed to start with Eric Bischoff in WCW, and the downward trend continued from there.

At the height of WCW’s popularity, they had a flourishing Cruiserweight division, led by some of the best lucha libre stars from Mexico. The likes of Juventud Guerrera, Psicosis, Rey Mysterio Jr., and La Parka were putting on some of the best matches on television on a weekly basis. These men, so talented in the ring, were identified by their flamboyant masks and the rich history that surrounded them. In Mexico, a mask isn’t just a gimmick, it’s a lifestyle. The mask, for a lucha libre star, is their life blood, and it is treated with respect, honor, and dignity.

So it only made sense for the gigantic ego of Eric Bischoff to completely shit all over it. Easy E had the brilliant notion that these stars weren’t as marketable behind their masks, so one by one, he basically forced them to unmask, or no longer be employed by WCW. Given that this was the biggest exposure that many of these stars had ever achieved in the United States, they all complied, hesitantly. Rey Mysterio even went on record being vehemently against the idea.

“I was strongly against it! I don't think WCW understood what the mask meant to me, to my fans and to my family. It was a very bad move on their behalf. The fans wanted Rey Mysterio with the mask and losing it hurt me a lot. It was also frustrating that it didn't come as the climax to a feud with another masked wrestler, but in a throwaway match. The same thing happened to Juventud and Psicosis and psychologically wise it was a bad move by Eric Bischoff. I think the fans understand that I was in a position where I had no option. I either had to lose my mask or lose my job.” (quote courtesy of Wikipedia)

It didn’t help Rey that unmasked he looked like a 12-year old boy. The mystique of the masked wrestlers was gone. Guerrera, Psicosis, and Mysterio were never the same after removing their masks. It seemed to most fans, that a large portion of them had disappeared. What was even more perplexing was that Bischoff would put masks on already established stars, such as Jerry Lynn, dubbing him Mr. JL (a highly creative name if I’ve ever seen one).

Vince McMahon wasn’t any better though, and continues to show a complete lack of caring about the traditions of the masked wrestler. When Rey Mysterio was signed to the WWE, Vince had him put his mask back on, which is a complete no-no in the lucha culture. While Rey ultimately did receive approval to put his mask back on, it angered traditional lucha fans. But with the re-masking, Mysterio seemed to have a new spark inside of him. He became one of the most popular stars in the WWE, even achieving the ultimate goal of being World Heavyweight Champion. However Psichosis and Juventud remained unmasked when they entered the WWE, with the thought that having too many masked wrestlers wasn’t good for the roster. Along with Super Crazy, they became Mexican stereotypes, riding to the ring on lawn tractors going by the name of the Mexicools.

Since then, the WWE has had very little interest in pushing any masked wrestlers. Even their Big Red Monster Kane unmasked for a number of years, and just like the lucha stars, part of his mystique disappeared with the mask. In 2009, the WWE signed one of the top lucha stars in Mexico, Dos Caras Jr. While he briefly worked under a mask in FCW, shortly before his debut on the main roster, the mask came off, and Alberto Del Rio was born. Again, the history and the tradition of the masked wrestler meant nothing to Vince and the WWE. Without a thought, his mask was removed. While Alberto has gained good success in his time in the WWE, it troubles me that there is such little regard for wrestling culture by the WWE.

Sin Cara is a different story altogether though. A top name both Mexico and Japan, he was signed to the WWE with the full intention of keeping him under his mask, but now with a different persona than he had previously wrestled under. The problem though, was that the WWE Creative staff had absolutely no idea what to do with him. He was brought in with the highest expectations, but they did not realize that throwing flashy lights in the ring didn’t compensate for the fact that Sin Cara spoke no English. He was unable to connect with the audience, because he couldn’t speak to them. They just assumed that putting a flashy masked man in the ring would be all they needed. As we’ve all seen, that didn’t work. Sin Cara has been plagued by injuries, matches with continual botched moves, and expectations that even the best star would have trouble achieving.

When he went out with his first injury, they just replaced him with another superstar, a masked man from FCW known as Hunico. When the original Sin Cara came back from injury, a feud broke out between the two, one that was supposed to get the fans behind this mystifying star from Mexico. The problem remained; Sin Cara was unable to do anything more than point at his opponent in a menacing fashion. The feud ended in a Mask vs. Mask match; a match type that is Main Event worthy in Mexico. This match however was relegated to a taped edition of Smackdown, in Mexico City even. To show how little the fans cared, the ultimate unmasking of Hunico was met with utter indifference, both from the Mexico City crowd, and the crowd at home.

So where has it all gone wrong? You only have to look at some of the recent masked stars in all three organizations to know how popular a masked wrestler can be. When Shark Boy was wrestling for TNA, he was incredibly over with the fans, despite losing the large majority of his matches. Abyss was former TNA World Champion. El Generico had one of the largest followings ever in Ring of Honor, eliciting chants of “Ole” from the faithful RoH fans. And there’s no denying that popularity that Rey Mysterio has gained in his time in the WWE. It wasn’t more than a year ago, that the WWE was discussing having a Sin Cara vs Rey Mysterio match as Wrestlemania with the purpose of setting a world record for having the most masks worn in one place at a given time.

But for me, that’s where the problem comes in. All a masked wrestler is to the WWE is merchandise sales. The first thought shouldn’t be “How many masks can I sell?”, but instead “How can I give the WWE an intriguing masked wrestler with a story that will get them invested?” They had that opportunity when they signed El Generico to a contract. Instead, the WWE removes his mask, and put him into the WWE Random Name Generator, making him even more faceless than he was when he wore the mask. I hope he finds success in the WWE under this new name, I really do. But what I hope more than anything is that someone somewhere sees the importance of the masked wrestler to the landscape of professional wrestling.

What do you think loyal readers? Have the wrestling machines forgotten how to deal with a masked wrestler, or do they just not care anymore?

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Until next time,
Trip Out!

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