It’s almost Halloween, the spookiest time of the year, when children dress up as popular figures and beg for candy. Wrestlers also know a few things about playing dress-up, like all the times that Vince McMahon has tried to make Roman Reigns look like a main event player that people will pay money to see.
Recently, Bray Wyatt has been going through a divorce and seems to be taking it rather badly, morphing into his own dead sister Abigail on TV as a result. Hey, it’s better than buying a convertible, I guess. Clearly, though, he’s not fooling anyone with his disguise. We’re onto your trickery, Bray Wyatt!
That being said, there’s been many other times when a wrestler has been kicked out of a territory, only to have a mysterious masked man show up the next week, looking suspiciously like the previous guy. It almost makes you think that wrestling might not be 100-percent real. In fact, I remember back when Abraham Lincoln was a wrestler and he lost a loser-leaves-the-Union match to a very young Lou Thesz and then returned as The Honest Avenger a couple of weeks later to seek revenge. True story.
Here, then, are the 10 least convincing disguises ever put forth by wrestlers.
1. Mr. America
Considered the gold standard for goofy “lose and return a week later” storylines, 2003 saw Hulk Hogan feuding with McMahon leading into Wrestlemania, and then getting sucked into a bizarre storyline where he teamed with one-legged wrestler Zach Gowan. Well, Vince wasn’t having any of this, and decreed that Hogan would sit out the remainder of his WWE contract as punishment, only to be shocked by the appearance of the red, white and blue avenger, Mr. America.
To this day, we’re still not 100-percent sure who the masked man really was, despite lie detector tests administered on TV to determine his identity, but he did have a suspiciously familiar mustache under the mask. The only clues available were that he was some kind of “real American” and still managed to tan underneath his mask.
Ironically, the saga of Mr. America was never able to come to a formal conclusion, because No. 1 suspect Hulk Hogan got into his annual argument with McMahon about whether or not he should be WWE champion and how much he should be paid, and both Hogan and Mr. America departed before Summerslam 2003 and didn’t return for two years.
2. Mr. Madness
1991 was a strange year for Randy Savage, as he lost a retirement match to Ultimate Warrior at Wrestlemania 7 and seemingly rode off into the sunset of wedded bliss with Elizabeth at Summerslam 91. Sadly, that bliss was interrupted when Sid Justice got injured and Ultimate Warrior walked out on the promotion, leaving them with no top babyface to work the house show circuit.
So Vince did what he always did and called Randy Savage to save the day (Hulk Hogan and Roddy Piper both being unavailable due to prior commitments). However, they had the slight continuity problem of Savage being retired and thus unable to compete legally. I mean, you wouldn’t want to insult anyone’s intelligence, right?
After Jake attacked Savage at his wedding reception and unleashed a deadly snake on him, it was the mysterious Mr. Madness who had to swear revenge in Savage’s place. Mr. Madness never actually appeared on TV, aside from local promos where his face was blurred out, but when he appeared on house shows and TV tapings, it was just Randy Savage -- or someone using Savage’s music with a hyper-realistic Randy Savage prosthetic mask and his gear.
Either way, Savage was quickly reinstated on TV again and resumed his career, with Mr. Madness being rightly forgotten by everyone until he showed up on the recent WWE Unreleased DVD.
The Japanese are pretty wacky with their wrestling sometimes, and one of the ideas that New Japan came up with to extend the slowly failing health of Andre the Giant was a new team called the Machines.
It was originally comprised of Super Strong Machine (Junji Hirata) and other masked men, but soon the idea popped up in the WWF. The gag was that Andre needed time off to film The Princess Bride, so Bobby Heenan managed to get Andre suspended for missing matches, and soon enough the mysterious Japanese team The Machines appeared. With Bill Eadie doing the majority of the work as “Super Machine,” it allowed Andre to stand on the ring apron to save his health for later.
Soon enough Blackjack Mulligan was added as “Big Machine” (a Japanese wrestler who happened to have a Texas accent), plus “Hulk Machine,” “Piper Machine” and “Animal Machine,” while announcers speculated that the Giant Machine might even be Giant Baba, rather than Andre. The Machines actually ended up being the last team managed by Lou Albano for nearly a decade, as he retired in a six-man match with them.
Of course, eventually the Machines returned to Japan and Andre’s suspension ended with the help of new manager Bobby Heenan, just in time for Wrestlemania III. Good thing, too, because I don’t think Hulk Machine vs. Giant Machine would have done quite the same business.
They say death and taxes are the only certainties in life, but I’d also add “Dusty Rhodes gets suspended and the Midnight Rider shows up the next week” to that list. After doing that same bit in Florida and Mid-South in the early 80s, Dusty came up with the most arguably infamous version of the gimmick while in the NWA in 1988.
Previous tries at the gimmick had been moderately successful, and in fact the masked Rider had won the NWA World title from Ric Flair in 1985, but was forced to return the title because he refused to unmask. By 1988, however, the joke was wearing thin, and when Dusty was suspended for attacking NWA President Bob Geigel, no one was buying the Midnight Rider.
The Rider was actually “unmasked” during the US title tournament won by Barry Windham, revealing jobber The Italian Stallion under the hood, and the Midnight Rider never rode again. Because while the heels could never beat him, terrible gate receipts did.
This is another one where WCW kind of ruins everything. Stealing from a similar idea in Florida where Barry Windham got suspended and returned as the Yellow Dog, WCW resurrected the idea in 1991 for Brian Pillman.
Pillman lost a career-ending match to Windham (for reasons never adequately explained), and in a cute nod to history, returned as the Yellow Dog to get his revenge. Except he frequently unmasked to reveal himself, and pretty much lost every match he was in, somehow ending up being an even bigger loser as a result of his makeover. Thankfully, even the brain trust of WCW was smart enough to see it wasn’t working, and pulled the plug on it a couple of months later, bringing the unmasked Pillman back for equally unexplained reasons, and making him the face of the new light heavyweight division instead.
6. Stagger Lee
To say that Junkyard Dog was a popular star in Mid-South would be a supreme understatement. Despite frequently being painted as a racist later in his career, booker Bill Watts was all too happy to make JYD into his top star because he drew money like crazy.
Despite a total lack of talent, Dog had enough charisma to carry the territory on his back, and Watts knew exactly how to exploit that. One of the most famous story lines involving the Dog saw him get suspended after a run-in with the Midnight Express, leaving Bill Watts to face them without a partner.
Luckily, Bill knew a secret place out in the wilds of Louisiana where fearsome loner Stagger Lee lived, and they teamed up against the Express to make giant stacks of cash. Unfortunately the WWF poached the Dog soon after and he was never able to reach that kind of popularity again due to personal demons.
I mean, it’s Jimmy Valiant with a mask. This one’s up there with Mr. Madness for lazy and unconvincing.
Although this one was extremely short-term, it kicked off one of the greatest angles in WCW’s history, so it’s worth mentioning.
Rick Rude had departed the WWF in fall of 1990 over a very acrimonious argument about payoffs. Essentially he had suffered a serious injury and needed time off from his feud with the Big Bossman, but despite missing the shows, the promotion kept advertising him in the main event. So Rude argued that if he was being advertised and drawing the house, he should be paid main event money for those shows whether or not he was there. The situation got ugly and Rude told them to shove it, choosing to sit out the remainder of his contract.
After a year out of wrestling, he was finally clear to return with WCW, just in time for a brilliant real/fake situation where Paul E. Dangerously (Heyman) was arguing with WCW management about his role in the company and was getting increasingly frustrated in both TV and real life. WCW wanted to cut his salary and use him as a TV commentator, but Heyman wanted to be on TV as a manager and go on the road again. He was “suspended” from TV for various remarks that offended management and was seemingly gone for good.
So at Halloween Havoc ’91, things converged with the mysterious WCW Halloween Phantom squashing Tom Zenk, only to introduce his new manager, the new super-evil Paul E. Dangerously. This kicked off the Dangerous Alliance angle where Dangerously and his crew, led by Rude, terrorized the promotion for months. Until Heyman really was fired, for real this time, in 1992. But it was great while it lasted.
This one was more a case of scummy wrestling trickery than an actual storyline. In 1993, the Hollywood Blonds (Steve Austin & Brian Pillman) had won the WCW tag team titles from Ricky Steamboat & Shane Douglas and were engaged in a pretty good feud with them, having great matches every night. They were set for a rematch at the Slamboree ’93 PPV, but Shane Douglas was in the midst of fighting a pretty nasty shoulder injury.
So through various contrivances of the story, Steamboat and Douglas were prevented from getting further title shots, and instead the mysterious luchadors known as “Dos Hombres”, complete with cheesy gold bodysuits, got the shots instead. The fans “knew” that it was really Steamboat & Douglas under the masks, but in fact the team was played by Steamboat and Brad Armstrong most of the time in order to disguise Shane’s absence. They even advertised the match for the PPV, pretended that it was really Steamboat and Douglas, and then swapped out Tom Zenk for Douglas this time!
Not surprisingly, this led to some hurt feelings on Shane’s part, and he quit the company soon after and turned his petty bitterness into a whole new gimmick for himself in ECW. And he pretty much hasn’t shut up about it in the 20 years or so since.
And we wrap things up with one of the most famously lame masked men even by WCW’s low standards: The Black Scorpion.
When Ole Anderson took over booking for WCW in 1990, he had Sting as World champion and no real contenders to the title, especially with his bosses pushing for former champion Ric Flair to be demoted to a tag team wrestler and possibly turned into a gladiator for some reason. So Ole came up with a mysterious nemesis from Sting’s past who held dark secrets about him and could do terrible magic tricks: The Black Scorpion.
The only problem is that they had no idea who was actually going to play the character, with various geeks like Al Perez and Angel of Death wrestling under the mask and sawing people in half while they stalled for months looking for a payoff. Finally, after six months of this nonsense, Sting was set to defend the World title against the Scorpion at Starrcade ’90, and WCW was forced to do what they always did: Desperately call Ric Flair to come in and save the day.
Despite the fact that it made no sense, Flair was revealed as the trickster under the mask all along, and he got the title back two weeks later as a bonus for saving the show yet again. If you ask me, keeping WCW from going bankrupt in 1990 was his greatest magic power.