The 50 Greatest Wrestlers Of The Last 50 Years: Who Is #25?

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#25 Mil Mascaras

A man whose fame in his native Mexico is only eclipsed by the iconic El Santo, Mil Mascaras has risen to international acclaim and fortune thanks to his innovative in-ring style and wild popularity. A tremendous draw no matter what country he was working in, Mascaras has enjoyed one of the longest and most successful wrestling careers in history.

To understand Mascaras' innovativeness and popularity, you must understand the beginning of his wrestling career. Mascaras made his in-ring debut in 1965 and began working on the undercard. At the time a popular movie genre in Mexico was the luchador action film. Movies starring El Santo and Blue Demon were cheap to make and proved to be very popular with Mexican audiences. The kingpin of making these films was producer Luis Enrique Vergara, who had made a fortune through luchador films. In 1966 Vergara found himself behind the 8-ball after Blue Demon was injured and a financial dispute with Santo had caused the legend to walk away from his contract with Vergara. To fix the problem, Vergara picked up Mascaras to be his new star.

Mascaras was the first Mexican wrestler to star in a film without achieving great fame in the ring beforehand. In fact, Mascaras' career trajectory was the opposite of all of the other luchadores who starred in films. Instead of choosing an established star in the ring to be in the movie, Mascaras was a relative unknown. Mascaras would use his success as a film star to launch his in-ring career, as opposed to the other way around. Mascaras starred in his first film, the eponymous Mil Mascaras in 1966 and would go on to star in over 20 films throughout his acting career.

The Mascaras character that was made popular in the films would become popular in the ring as well. According to the original film, Mascaras "origin" had him as an orphan who was adopted by a team of sciences who used him as a guinea pig to test different formulas. By the time he became an adult he had trained his mind and body to physical perfection, and throughout his films he would combat different bad guys and assist needy citizens. His most successful film was when he teamed up with Santo and Blue Demon in the 1970 film The Mummies of Guanajuato.

Since Mascaras became known as a movie star first, the maneuvers he used in the films were flashy and entertaining, even if they were impractical to use in a "real" fight. Moves that are now seen in every wrestling promotion the world over, like the plancha and tope suicida, were first used by Mascaras because they were developed for his film character. His innovative maneuvers dazzled fans across the globe and would turn Mascaras into a top draw in every promotion he traveled to.

Throughout his wrestling career Mascaras became somewhat of a master at the Luchas de Apuestas match, a match where a luchador put his mask on the line. Mascaras would engage in his first long term feud with Benny Galant in 1966, eventually defeating Galant in a mask vs hair match that saw Galant shaved balled. From 1966 to 2007, Mascaras would win all 13 Luchas de Apuestas matches that he competed in, eventually taking the masks of six fellow luchadores.

Mascaras became known for being one of the most well-traveled wrestlers in history. Because he was so well-traveled, Mascaras held very few championships for a wrestler of his popularity. Similar to Andre the Giant and The Undertaker, Mascaras mere presence in a company almost transcended championships. As Mascaras proved countless times throughout his wrestling career, he never needed a championship to be a big draw.

Mascaras began his international career when he traveled to Los Angeles in 1968. Working at the famous Olympic Auditorium, Mascaras immediately became a top name in the territory thanks to his awesome in-ring ability and his popularity with Mexican-American fans. Throughout 1969 Mascaras would remain a staple in the promotion, winning the NWA Americas Heavyweight Championship and working top feuds with names like John Tolos and Ernie Ladd. In November of 1969 Mascaras challenged NWA World Heavyweight Champion Dory Funk Jr., wrestling the champion to a 60 minute draw.

In Mexico, Mascaras became the top draw of the 1970s south of the border, working feuds with top names like El Halcon, who he eventually unmasked, and El Canek. Mascaras matches were often recorded and rebroadcasted in the United States on Spanish language channels, helping to increase Mascaras' notoriety with Latin-American fans.

Mascaras would also establish himself as a top name in Japan, where his in-ring style was especially popular with fans. Working for All-Japan Pro Wrestling, Mascaras would engage in a feud with the masked American wrestler, Dick "The Destoyer" Beyer. While both men donned masks, they wrestled completely opposite styles. Mascaras bounced off of the ropes and took to the skies for his offense, while the collegiate wrestling star Beyer stayed focused on the mat game. The two would combine for some highly entertaining matches that would turn Mascaras into a star in Japan. Another key opponent for Mascaras in Japan was Jumbo Tsuruta. The mammoth Tsuruta and Mascaras would wrestle in several acclaimed matches, including a bout in 1977 for Tsuruta's NWA United National Title that won the prestigious "Match of the Year" award from Tokyo Sports.

In 1972 Mascaras made his debut for the World Wide Wrestling Federation, defeating The Spoiler in a short match at Madison Square Garden. Due to some archaic regulations, wrestlers were banned for wearing masks at MSG, but Mascaras was able to get the rule waived for him, and he became the first masked man in history to wrestle at "The World's Most Famous Arena." Mascaras would prove to be popular in New York, eventually becoming one of the top challengers for "Superstar" Billy Graham during his WWWF World Heavyweight Championship run.

Throughout the 1980s Mascaras would continue to be a top draw the world over, mostly working for AJPW but also appearing for the Universal Wrestling Federation in his native Mexico. In AJPW Mascaras would frequently team up with his brother, Dos Caras, who was equally gifted in the ring and the two would become a top duo in the company, often competing against AJPW owner Giant Baba and taking on the top gaijin tag team of Bruiser Brody and Stan Hansen.

Mascaras would prove to be an important weapon in Vince McMahon's national expansion battle in the mid-1980s. Since the World Wrestling Federation was going from a regional promotion to a national one, the company was frequently touring in locations that they had never run shows in before. Mascaras, who was a tremendous star in towns close to the Mexican border with large ethnic populations, proved to be a key figure as he helped draw big crowds to shows in California and Texas. Mascaras also became a big star for Carlos Colon's World Wrestling Council, adding Puerto Rico to the long list of territories that Mascaras had gotten over in.

Despite being in his 50s and now well-past his physical prime, Mascaras would continue to work frequently in Mexico and the United States, still proving to be a big draw. He worked for World Championship Wrestling in the early 1990s and made his first pay-per-view appearance in 1997 when he appeared at the Royal Rumble, where he eliminated himself from the match by performing a flying plancha to the floor.

Mascaras continues to wrestle, appearing several times in 2015 for different promotions, mostly in Mexico but occasionally has appeared in several United States indie promotions over the last several years. Now in his 70s, Mascaras still applies his craft all over the world.

While there is no denying Mascaras ability as both an in-ring performer and a draw, he has drawn plenty of criticism from wrestlers for his selfish behavior in the ring. Many wrestlers, particularly Americans, have complained openly about Mascaras refusal to sell his opponents offense and rarely jobbing to other stars. As Mascaras aged and a majority of his athleticism was zapped, he still often insisted on controlling most of the match and giving his opponents very little offense, which drew the ire of many younger performers who felt that they were doing a majority of the work to make Mascaras look good.

Despite those complaints, Mascaras' longevity and success as a wrestler cannot be understated. He is certainly one of the most iconic wrestlers in history, having appeared on three different postage stamps in Mexico and becoming a major star both in wrestling and in film. In addition, his in-ring style has influenced countless big names over the years, including Tiger Mask, Jushin Thunder Liger, Eddie Guerrero and Rey Mysterio. Mascaras was a tremendous star in every territory he wrestled in and is arguably the most well-known Mexican wrestler in world history.

Next week, #24 will be revealed, one of the most charismatic heels of the territory days.

The Top 50 so far (click link for description of the qualifications of the list):

50.Ted DiBiase
49. Superstar Billy Graham
48.Akira Maeda
47. El hijo del Santo
46.Gene Kiniski
45. Bruiser Brody
44.Mick Foley
43. Kurt Angle
42. Hiroshi Tanahashi
41. The Sheik
40. Sting
39. Perro Aguayo
38. Ricky Steamboat
37. Toshiaki Kawada
36. Jushin Thunder Liger
35. El Canek
34. Vader
33. Jack Brisco
32. Shinya Hashimoto
31. Roddy Piper
30. Genichiro Tenryu
29.Triple H
28. Abdullah the Butcher
27. Keiji Mutoh
26. Bob Backlund
25. Mil Mascaras


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