Rey Mysterio‘s mask is one of the most iconic things in wrestling. Just by catching a glimpse of his colourful mask and his eyes underneath, you know exactly who you’re watching and what he is about to do. It’s iconic, colourful for the kids and fully customizable, leading to some special costumes he has worn at places like Wrestlemania and All In, paying homage to characters from Film, TV and comic books.
It would be the most idiotic thing to make him take off the mask, right? Unmasking Rey Mysterio would throwing away money in merchandise sales and handicapping one of the greatest babyfaces in the history of wrestling. Surely nobody would be stupid enough to do that… right?
Unfortunately, WCW was that stupid. And here is the story about why WCW unmasked Rey Mysterio.
Why Did Rey Mysterio Unmask In WCW?
At Superbrawl IX in 1999, Rey Mysterio and Konnan lost a match against The Outsiders (Kevin Nash and Scott Hall), after Nash pinned Mysterio. The match had a set of stipulations – if Mysterio’s team won, Miss Elizabeth (the valet for the Outsiders) would have to be shaved bald. If The Outsiders won, Rey Mysterio would be unmasked.
Being unmasked for a Luchador is the biggest dishonour they can face. It is the ultimate humiliation and to take a mask is the biggest scalp another wrestler can have. Mask vs Mask matches (known as Luchas de apuestas in Mexico) are usually matches that end feuds between two heated rivals.
This match was not that. There was a rivalry between the NWO and LWO, but it was not at the level of a Luchas de apuestas match. There was no reason for him to put his mask on the line in such a nothing match. But the powers that be demanded it, so it happened and brought great shame upon the Mysterio family.
Eric Bischoff was the man who made the call to remove the mask from the Latino star. Despite it being incredibly marketable and a huge seller in WWE, Bischoff decided that a masked wrestler could not emote or sell as well as one without a mask, so decided to try and unmask nearly every wrestler at the time.
Speaking on his podcast “83 Weeks“, Bischoff said;
“I believe, because of the nature of our domestic audience, that watching someone wrestle, when a talent is in there, when there is a match occurring, and someone is getting their ass kicked, babyface or heel, in order to kind of convey the emotion that’s going along in that action, you’ve got to see the pain, you’ve got to see the expression on the talent’s face, and by having a talent under a mask where you, to the same degree, not be able to feel and sense and see and vicariously experience the situation that a heel or babyface is in, because you can’t see their face, 70% of selling happens from the shoulders up. “
Completely disregarding the entire tradition of Mexican wrestling and insinuating wrestling simply could not work with masked wrestlers showed Bischoff up as an idiot who does not understand wrestling. Mysterio agreed that it was a terrible decision and revealed in an interview with MLW Radio that he never understood why he was forced to remove the iconic face wear.
“I was strongly against it! I don’t think WCW understood what the mask meant to me, to the 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 the it didn’t come as the climax to a feud with another masked wrestler, but in a throwaway match.”
“I either had to lose the match, or lose my job”
He would later reveal, in an interview with Ariel Helwani, that it was Scott Hall who planted the idea of him losing his mask in the minds of the WCW officials. Hall was known as politicking a lot backstage and was firm friends with Eric Bischoff, as both men were part of the legendary New World Order. The stable were always in his ear and that lead to some horrible booking decisions, like the end of Starrcade 1997.
“From my understanding, there was a rumor that was spread out by one person and one person only – Scott Hall. Scott Hall was like ‘Rey what are you doing with that mask, you’re a pretty mother*****r man’. I was like ‘come on man, don’t start rumors’ and that led into another thing and you know, eventually they felt that it was time for me to wrestle without the mask. Now, we didn’t market the mask like it should have been marketed in WCW which later on, Vince capitalized on that because WWE has always been good at expanding the merchandise sales. In WCW it was never made, they never gave it that push that the mask deserved and the history behind lucha libre. Again, I believe it was one comment made by Scott which then a couple of years later ended up with me taking off the mask.”
Luckily he returned to wearing the mask upon his WWE debut in 2002. He had continued wrestling on the independent scene with his face on show up until his return, in some legendary matches including a three way match featuring CM Punk and Eddie Guerrero. Thank God Vince McMahon had some foresight and allowed him to return to donning his families’ legendary face covering, as he has become one of the most marketable wrestlers of all time and is a future WWE Hall of Famer partly in thanks of it.