In most of North America, the most prized possession a professional wrestler can have is a title, preferably a World Heavyweight Title. In Mexico, the most prized possession a luchador can have is his mask. Since Salvatore Lutteroth introduced lucha libre to the masses back in the 1930s, the mask has become synonymous with lucha. It’s a symbol of the colorful, comic book fantasy world lucha emulates from and it’s also come to serve as the defining trait of identity to many luchadors. To fight for your mask is the greatest of challenges; to win your rivals mask is the greatest of honors; to lose your mask could mean the end of your career. It’s why in the grand scheme of things mask vs. mask matches (one of the man forms of the Lucha de Apuesta match) is a bout with the biggest stakes in lucha libre.
Why am I telling you this? Because for the past several weeks I’ve been putting together a list of what I feel is the greatest mask vs. mask matches in the history of lucha libre. It’s been a long journey, filled with lots of interesting matches and lots of bouts that put the mask vs. mask match to shame (looking directly at you Imposter La Parka. Seriously, his mask vs. mask matches were so overbooked Triple H and Sting couldn’t believe it). At the end of it all though, I’ve found ten matches that, in my opinion, best illustrate just what a fight for your mask brings to lucha’s table. Obviously this list is based off my own opinion and there’s a very good chance your favorite mask vs. mask match was left off of here; unfortunately even with all my research it’s possible that I’ve missed one or two bouts that should be on here. I only ask you read this with an open mind and realize this is just one man’s opinion, not something that is set in stone. But enough explanations; let’s get down to brass tacks shall we?! And let us begin with a few honorable mentions as it were.
La Mascara vs. Averno (CMLL, Juicio Final, 2011)
Fails to make the list because it dragged on longer than the ending of Return of the King. At least it further serves as proof that Averno is really, really good and that La Mascara is plenty capable himself. If only they had trimmed fifteen minutes off this bad boy!
Blue Panther vs. American Love Machine (CMLL 36 Aniversario de Arena México, 1992)
I know; I can’t believe a match featuring one of the best mechanics in lucha history and Art Barr didn’t make the top ten either. Ultimately the match is a tad too sluggish for me, but it’s still really good and best of all added another chapter in a long, underrated rivalry that would culminate in the infamous When Worlds Collide tag team match. Poor Blue Panther; he may not have been an official member of that match, but he played a pretty big role in helping El Hijo del Santo and Octagon win. And yet no one remembers. It’s Blue Panther Jr.’s fault somehow.
Rayo de Jalisco Jr. vs. Cien Caras (EMLL, 57th Anniversary Show, 1990)
A hot crowd, two all time lucha legends and some intense brawling almost are enough to overcome this bout being the most ordinary mask vs. mask match in the history of the western hemisphere. Really it’s just more proof that these bouts have gotten better the more the lucha libre style has evolved over the years. With that, it’s time for the official list!
10. Dr. Wagner Jr. vs. Mascara Ano 2000 Jr. (AAA, Triplemania XX, 2012)
Ladies and gentlemen I have witnessed masterpieces, I have seen things overbooked into oblivion; hell I’ve even seen a grown man satisfy a camel (just kidding. Or am I?). This match right here is one of the few times I’ve encountered an overbooked masterpiece. You won’t mistake Wagner and Ano Jr.’s headlining match as a technical exhibition and on overall wrestling ability it’s likely beaten by a few of the honorable mentions. What this match has instead is an electrifying crowd, brutality, a whole lot of well used family drama and the good Doctor doing what he does best; electrifying in big match situations. Some of the most fun I’ve had watching wrestling was during this match; you know, except for the sad ending with the crying daughter. The lesson as always; your kids crying can turn you from the most diabolical hater since the so called Beautiful into the most sympathetic schmuck since Tommy Merlyn. Goodness me I just gave Vince McMahon the idea to use Roman’s daughter to get him over, didn’t I?
9. Dragon Lee vs. Kamaitachi (CMLL, Homenaje a Dos Leyendas, 2015)
You’re damn right these two lunatics managed to crash this list even though the match is barely even a year old. Ironically this match wasn’t even in my top three all time for the matches these two have had together (yes I did indeed rank all the Dragon Lee-Kamaitachi matches. I’m a lucha nerd dammit!), and in fact it would barely make the top five now that Lee and Kamaitachi have ended the feud with yet another jaw dropping masterpiece a few weeks ago. Even still, this is an extraordinary match with some awe inspiring athleticism and the early signs of two young wrestlers with a drive unlike anything I’ve ever seen in recent memory. Perhaps most importantly, this match and its result led to this feud not only continuing but erupting into the best wrestling feud of the past several years. It also gave us Kamaitachi fan! Always a plus I tell you.
8. Mistico vs. Black Warrior (CMLL, 73rd Anniversary Show, 2006)
If we were ranking these matches on greatest entrances this one would be number one; not even Michael Bay could’ve had a more explosive entrance for Mistico if he tried. The match itself, while not reinventing the wheel is killer too, the sort of breathtaking performance that helped make Mistico the biggest star in Mexico since Rey Mysterio and made everyone think that he was perhaps the next big crossover lucha star in America. May the record also show that this match may feature one of the two greatest mask tears in the history of mask vs. mask matches. Mistico doesn’t just rip into Black Warrior’s headwear; he nearly tears the whole damn thing off! Not since Atlantis vs. Kung Fu has there been a mask rip that sick. Poor Black Warrior huh?
7. Villano III vs. Pegasus Kid (UWA, 1991)
Perhaps the most unique mask vs. mask match on this list, as well as the only one not to originate from CMLL or AAA! If you’re a fan of all types of wrestling you’ll absolutely love this bout, which starts off with some really nice mat/submission wrestling before picking up speed in the second and third falls. You’ll end up annoyed with the audio quality of the match, but otherwise you’ll walk away thinking Villano III was an absolute jewel during his prime while marveling at the otherworld ability of Pegasus before shaking your head over what eventually happened to him. There are better mask matches than this one for sure, but none feature the unique structure and ever changing styles.
6. La Sombra vs. Volador Jr. (CMLL, 80th Anniversary Show, 2013)
I only have one knock on this match and it’s the same that Arena Mexico had that night; it wasn’t Ultimo Guerrero vs. Atlantis. The fact that CMLL chose to go with this match over one featuring the two biggest stars in the company not only went as poorly as you’d expect but actually led to Arena Mexico booing this match out of the damn building. If this match had actually stunk up the joint, we’d be talking about CMLL’s move being amongst the worst decisions ever, right up there with Warner Brothers’ choice to bring back Joel Schumacher for Batman and Robin and the time Dee Dee Ramone decided to make a rap album. Mistakes were made Dee Dee!
And yet despite the crowd’s disinterest in this bout, it turned out to be one hell of a contest. I mean these two guys do anything and everything to each other, putting on a showcase of high flying and speed mixed in with years of bad blood that these two former partners shared. The crowd may prevent it from going to extraordinary heights, but it also doesn’t affect the match as much as one might think and does little to take shine away from the greatness of two of the best luchadors alive today. Best of all, it helped make the number five match on this list even better.
5. Atlantis vs. La Sombra (CMLL, 82nd Anniversary Show, 2015)
Like Kamaitachi vs. Dragon Lee, this match took place not even a year ago. Unlike Kamaitachi-Lee, it’s almost perfect in every way, starting with the buildup. Remember how I said that Sombra-Volador match led to this one? Well that’s because the crowd reaction from that match led to Sombra turning rudo and falling in line with Rush, La Mascara and Marco Corleone to create that loveable band of rouges known as Los Ingobernables, putting him right in Atlantis’ cross hairs. So in the end CMLL’s bad decision doubled as a good one! Perhaps not, but the fact that this match turned out to be the perfect stage for Sombra to showcase what he could do (do not think it’s coincidence WWE snatched him up shortly after this match) as well yet another opportunity for Atlantis to turn back the clock is enough for me to forgive them for that shortsighted move. By the way; this is the worst of the Atlantis mask vs. mask matches to make this column and you could make the argument its top three. There is no one more dependable to put on a great mask vs. mask bout (hell, a great Apuesta bout period) than this man. Forget Triple H; all hail Atlantis!
4. Mascara Sagrada vs. Black Cat (AAA ‘Triplemania II-B, 1994)
This is legitimately one of the hardest matches in the world to find, so hard that I couldn’t find all of it (best I could do was find some highlights from an old Rob Viper video. Ain’t he the best?!). Even still I’ve seen enough (and read enough) to know that one of Dave Meltzer’s favorite bouts of 1994 was damn good, a heated contest between two of the most underrated workers in lucha libre history. If you somehow do manage to catch this whole thing, be sure to watch out for that ending, which features Sagrada playing Black Cat’s own game to ultimately get the win and save his mask. Best ending out of all the matches on this list, without question. Yeah I said it!
3. Atlantis vs. Ultimo Guerrero (CMLL, 81st Anniversary Show, 2014)
There are only two wrestling companies to ever hold a show that drew $1 million at the gate. The first is (shockingly) WWE; the second is CMLL with this event headlined by Atlantis and Guerrero just over a year and a half ago. Boy did it live up to the hype, hype that was so big that the previous year’s main event was almost ruined because of it (yes, that Sombra-Volador match was just the year before). Everything in this match just works; the crowd is absolutely electric, the UG (as us kids call Guerrero) was his typically crisp self and my goodness what else can you say about Atlantis at this point? The man, even in his 50s, is phenomenal yet again here and dare I say gives his greatest performance ever? Sometimes matches/events don’t earn the money; CMLL earned every penny of the $1 million they made that evening.
2. El Santo vs. Black Shadow (EMLL, 1952)
I can guarantee you that less than 1% of the people who read this column have ever seen this match, let alone heard of it. Hell I’ve never seen this match and barring the invention of time travel that doesn’t affect the balance of the space time continuum I never will. The fact that this match between the legendary El Santo and the very underrated Black Shadow took place all the way back in 1952 means that it, like many of the matches from that era, is lost in time, a memory only to those who were there and wrestling fans long before the era of television. For goodness sakes Negro Casas wasn’t even alive back then though I’m sure he was winning many matches somewhere. It’s the GOAT we’re talking about here; if anyone can win matches while not existing it’s the dude who wrestles better than guys forty years younger than him.
So why on earth is this match, a match hardly anyone has ever seen, number two on this list? Simple; because I don’t have to have seen it to know how important it was. Santo-Black Shadow, a match that went over 70 minutes mind you, is perhaps the most significant match in lucha libre history. It established the important of the mask and the Apuesta match in Mexico by having Santo unmask Shadow, one of the top lucha libre stars at the time (and who’d remain so for years after). It helped solidify Santo as a huge star, leading to him becoming one of the most iconic wrestling stars in history. It launched the beginning of the Santo-Blue Demon feud, the most legendary feud in lucha libre. Perhaps most importantly Santo-Shadow was such a draw that it led to Salvatore Lutteroth exploring the idea for Arena Mexico due to EMLL not having enough room to sit everyone who wanted to see this match. With all of that to consider, I don’t need to see the match to know that it’s the second greatest mask vs. mask match in lucha libre history. Its impact and its legendary status is more than enough to prove its worth.
1. Atlantis vs. Villano III (CMLL, Juicio Final, 2000)
I have already written so much about this match that it feels redundant to ramble on even more about it. Let me just say that it takes a special match to defeat the most important match in lucha libre history, and this battle between Atlantis and Villano III is just that. For my money it’s one of the five greatest matches of all time, a beautiful mix of guts, mat work and in ring storytelling that sealed Villano III’s legacy and solidified Atlantis as one of the greatest lucha libre stars ever (not to mention the greatest mask vs. mask performer ever). I’ll never forget the pop at the end of that match as long as I live, nor Villano’s joyful reaction even in defeat. This is truly a match where no one lost.
Click the links to watch the matches!
Villano III vs. Pegasus Kid (warning; watch on mute or with music. Audio is poor)
La Sombra vs. Volador Jr. (skip to 9:35 to begin match)
And scene. Hope you all enjoyed this as much as I enjoyed writing it. I will now go brace myself for the inevitable outcry over me missing a match that deserved to be on here before returning tomorrow with…something. Good times! Till then, how about an El Santo pic? Better yet, how about an El Santo/Blue Demon pic? Those do always slay me.
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