Sometimes, wrestlers do things that result in them being forbidden from being a part of whatever wrestling organization they are employed by. Sometimes they get suspended, sometimes they get injured, sometimes they just get beaten so badly that they need to go away for a while. But the lure of the ring is powerful, and few can resist it for long. So, how is a wrestler supposed to continue doing what they love without violating the established rules? Why, put on a mask and claim to be someone else, of course! Over the history of professional wrestling, many top stars have used masks to (poorly) conceal their identity in order to get around suspensions and the like, and here are some of the most memorable occurrences.
10. Giant Machine
You might think that it would be impossible to disguise someone as recognizable as Andre The Giant, and you would be absolutely correct. But that was kind of the point, after all. As the story goes, Andre was suspended by WWE for missing matches against The Heenan Family. Shortly after Andre disappeared, a new masked tag team debuted, calling themselves The Machines. The wrestler known as Super Machine would go on to fame in WWE as Ax, one half of Demolition, and Big Machine was played by legendary tag wrestler Blackjack Mulligan, but it was unclear who the third member, Giant Machine, a gigantic wrestler who looked strangely familiar, really was. The entire team drove The Heenan Family crazy, as they were unable to prove that Giant Machine was actually the suspended Andre, and things would only get worse for them as the team would also feature appearances by masked men under the names of Animal, Hulk, Piper, and Crusher Machine (who were all exactly who you think they were). Eventually, Andre’s suspension ended (in what was eventually revealed as a plan by Bobby Heenan that led to Andre turning on Hulk Hogan), and The Machines disappeared for good.
9. The Black Scorpion
Actually, the real story about The Black Scorpion was that nobody knew who he was, not even the people booking the shows at the time! The people in charge had come up with a great idea of a mysterious masked man who would claim to be someone from Sting’s past, and feud with WCW’s most popular wrestler. But while the story was great, the execution was lacking, as the Scorpion did lame magic tricks instead of actually fighting Sting. Oh, and also, nobody had actually decided who the Scorpion was actually going to be in the end, as they were sending out a placeholder in a mask to perform, while someone else spoke his (electronically altered) lines backstage. However, when the match between Sting and The Black Scorpion finally took place at Starrcade 1990, it was clear roughly five seconds after the match began who WCW had finally settled on. Of course, it could only be Sting’s greatest nemesis, Ric Flair, and indeed, after Sting defeated the Scorpion, he unmasked his opponent to reveal The Nature Boy himself.
8. Stagger Lee
Way back in the 80’s, the Junkyard Dog was legitimately one of the most popular wrestlers in North America. One of his best-remembered feuds was with the future Million Dollar Man, Ted Dibiase, in Mid-South Wrestling, where JYD would lose a “Loser Leaves Town” match, where the stipulation was that the loser was suspended from that territory for 90 days (hey, at least back then they didn’t pretend that a wrestler wouldn’t eventually make a big comeback). While he was serving his time, Mid-South promoter Bill Watts came to him requesting help against DiBiase and his stable. JYD would not violate the terms of his suspension, but he did suggest someone else who could help: the massive Stagger Lee, who looked very much like Junkyard Dog, but wore an identity-concealing mask. DiBiase’s cronies tried relentlessly to expose Stagger Lee as JYD, but ultimately failed, and the Dog returned to great ovation after 90 days had passed, while Stagger Lee mysteriously disappeared.
7. The Calgary Kid
After The Miz was fired in an overly complicated plot by Raw Guest Host Jeremy Piven to screw over John Cena (which failed, obviously), he wasn’t out of a job long. At a Raw in Calgary (where WWE, for reasons that are still beyond comprehension, spent most of the show mocking Canada), a masked wrestler named “The Calgary Kid” came out and wrestled Eugene, who hadn’t been on television in a long while, for a contract with the Raw brand. Pretty much anyone with two functioning brain cells could see what was going on, and indeed, The Kid won the match and the contract, then immediately unmasked to reveal The Miz. And yet WWE continues to wonder why Canadian wrestling fans are so bitter towards them all the time.
6. Mr. NXT
After losing the NXT Title to Adrian Neville, Bo Dallas lost what tenuous grip he had on reality, and would stop at nothing in a campaign to win back “his” NXT Title. He staged a sit-in, he threw fits, but nothing would get him what he wanted. Eventually, he was put into a match with another former NXT Champion, Big E, with the stipulation that if he lost, he could never return to NXT. Dallas lost, and his NXT career came to an end. However, a few weeks later, a masked man named “Mr. NXT” made an appearance on the show, and found himself in a match with Sami Zayn. Zayn defeated Mr. NXT and revealed him to be Bo Dallas, resulting in a lengthy scene where NXT Security forcibly removed Dallas from the arena and drove him away from Full Sail University in a golf cart, screaming the entire time.
5. Blue Blazer
A sad entry onto our list, the Blue Blazer, in his original form, was the gimmick Owen Hart came into WWE under. Years later, during the Attitude Era, Owen “retired” after injuring a wrestler in the ring, and the Blue Blazer returned. Of course, everyone was sure that it was Owen, but there were the usual body doubles (often played by Hart’s tag team partner, Jeff Jarrett) that attempted to dispute the claim that he was wrestling under the mask. The Blazer was pretty much a parody of Hulk Hogan in a ridiculous cape and mask, but Owen made it work, and the fans got behind it to such an extent that he was even set up to get an Intercontinental title match against The Godfather at the Over The Edge 1999 Pay Per View. Unfortunately, at that event, an equipment malfunction related to a stunt that would have seen the Blazer descend from the roof of the arena led to Hart’s tragic death.
4. Los Conquistadores
Stay with us, this one gets interesting. So, by order of Commissioner Foley, Edge and Christian were not allowed any title shots against the Hardy Boyz. At the same time, a new tag team debuted, called Los Conquistadores, a reference to a jobber tag team from the 80’s, who dressed in golden bodysuits and masks, and had a suspiciously limited ability to speak Spanish. Foley was suspicious, but after Edge and Christian provided proof that they were not under the masks, Los Conquistadores received a shot at the Hardyz, and defeated them for the titles. The next night on Raw, Los Conquistadores offered Edge and Christian the first shot at the titles. Shockingly, Los Conquistadores won that match as well, and unmasked to reveal…The Hardyz! Obviously, Edge and Christian were behind the original scheme, and were under the masks when they won the titles. It was then revealed that they were paying two anonymous wrestlers to pretend to be Los Conquistadores to fool Foley, but their henchmen were discovered by the Hardyz, who took their place in the match on Raw. Ultimately, Foley declared the Hardyz the rightful champions, foiling another one of Edge and Christian’s plots.
3. Midnight Rider
You had to know, when there’s a chance for crazy shenanigans in a wrestling ring, Dusty Rhodes wouldn’t be far away. As part of his long-standing war with Ric Flair and the 4 Horsemen, Dusty, as was his wont when he was truly enraged, took things too far and ended up suspended for 120 days. However, while Dusty was off serving hard time, the mysterious and masked Midnight Rider appeared in NWA, to continue the fight against the dastardly Flair. Everyone knew it was Dusty (they would have been hard-pressed to pretend otherwise), but the story was that those in charge of the NWA were secretly on Dusty’s side and would let him get away with violating his suspension as long as nobody could definitively prove that it was him. Of course, they never did, and another great story was added to the legend of Dusty Rhodes.
2. Mr. America
After WrestleMania XIX, Vince McMahon fired Hulk Hogan (for neither the first nor last time) for daring to defeat Vince at WrestleMania and then apologizing for everything and getting to be the bigger man. A few weeks later, Smackdown General Manager Stephanie McMahon hired a mysterious wrestler known as “Mr. America”, signing him to an iron-clad contract, allegedly sight unseen, which seems like a horrible business decision no matter how you slice it. To the surprise of nobody, Mr. America came out to “Real American”, wrestled exactly like Hogan, and was, in fact, Hulk Hogan wearing a blue mask with a star on it. Unfortunately, Vince couldn’t fire him due to the nature of Mr America’s contract, unless he could prove that it really was Hogan. This led to weeks of attempted hilarity, as Mr. America maintaining the illusion, even somehow beating a lie detector test. Unfortunately, Hogan and Vince had a disagreement about the direction of the feud, and Hogan ended up fired in reality as well as on TV, with WWE forced to play un-aired footage from a post-show dark match that had Hogan pulling off the mask as a way to write their way out of the angle.
1. Juan Cena
Yes, even John Cena has gone under a mask to evade a firing in order to perform at house shows. In 2010, in the midst of the Nexus angle, John Cena somehow got involved in a series of odd stipulations that first forced him to join the group, then attempted to make him aid leader Wade Barrett in defeating Randy Orton for the WWE Title. When Cena refused to assist, he was fired from WWE somehow. And then a week later he was re-hired, because someone in WWE panicked about the idea of him being off TV for an extended period of time. In the meantime, however, there were still live events advertising Cena’s presence, and rather than just utilize the phrase “Card Subject To Change”, the world was treated to the brief WWE career of Juan Cena, his apparently Mexican cousin. Frankly, he could have tried a little harder to be incognito, but then people might not have bought his newest shirt for the whole week that he was “fired”.