Thursday, May 23, 2013


      It was hot and it was itchy and there was no way I was getting rid of it.  Thankfully, it didn’t require a trip to the free clinic. 
America's Heavyweight Champ
     I was living in East Los Angeles, it was October 31, 1971, and on this Halloween, the highlight for my 3 year old self wasn’t a big bag of candy, it was the fact that I was wearing a lucha libre wrestling mask for my costume.  And it wasn’t just any wrestling mask; it was a replica of the kind that Mil Mascaras wore.  Unlike the following Halloween, where my parents dressed me up as The Devil (complete with a long pitchfork) and dropped me off at a conservative Church function, this Halloween was memorable in a way that wouldn’t require later therapy.
    Halloween has always been a favorite holiday for me and this time was no exception.  The mask seemed to transform me in a way that few other costumes have since, and in addition to the fact that it made me feel empowered, almost like a superhero, I loved the positive attention I received from other trick or treaters.
     It probably wasn’t surprising that I’d feel that way, for the Luchadores of Mexico seemed to be more than just wrestlers.  They did in fact project the image of being true to life superheroes.  For along with the masks they would often wear colorful robes or ring jackets and often capes as well.  And in the case of Mil Mascaras, he was often portrayed as a Superhero type in the movies he starred in, whether he was fighting gangsters, Mummies, or other Supernatural creatures.
     I wonder if he felt the same way when he’d don one of his many colorful masks?  For while Aaron Rodriguez would distinguish himself as an amateur athlete, both as a competitive bodybuilder and as a National level Judo competitor in Mexico, it was as Mil Mascaras that he would reach legendary, perhaps even heroic status.  And while on that Halloween he had only been wrestling in the U.S. for 3 1/2 years, he had certainly already become a hero of mine.
      Initially wrestling under the name Ricardo Duran, Rodriguez would soon adopt the identity of “Mil Mascaras” the Man of a Thousand Masks, debuting in Guadalajara, Mexico in July of 1965.  Larger than many of  his fellow Mexican wrestlers, he competed as a Light Heavyweight and won his first EMLL Mexican National Light Heavyweight title in Mexico City on June 12, 1967 from El Espanto, who had in turn won the title from Lucha Legend El Santo.  Mascaras would win the title yet a second time from El Nazi on October 15, 1967 before eventually vacating the title on March 22, 1968 as he set his sights on wrestling in the United States.
    And I was only one of many who would be grateful that Mascaras always had great ambition.  For when Mil Mascaras arrived in Mike LeBelle’s Southern California territory in the Spring of 1968, he brought with him an exciting repertoire of high flying lucha moves and wrestling holds and counters.  His charismatic presence and wrestling skills combined with his colorful wrestling attire (which included beautiful capes, ring jackets, and an incredible selection of masks) to help him make an immediate impact and attract a huge following.  He was truly a ground breaker, as he would experience success that other masked luchadores, including the Legendary El Santo and Blue Demon, hadn't experienced in the United States. Wrestling in singles matches as well as teaming up with former WWA World Champion Pedro Morales in tag matches, it would only be mere weeks before Mascaras defeated Buddy Austin 2 falls to 1 in a tournament final at the Los Angeles Olympic Auditorium for the vacant America’s Heavyweight Championship (L.A. area) on June 6, 1968.
     Mascaras would hold the title for 3 months before losing it to El Mongol and leaving the area before returning to L.A. in the early part of 1969.  He quickly resumed his winning ways and regained the title by defeating the Sheik on April 25,1969.  By this time the WWA World Title had been retired for 5 months and the America’s title was now the most prestigious title in the area which was now affiliated with the NWA.  Over the next couple of years he would feud with such wrestling greats as Freddie Blassie, John Tolos, The Sheik, and Black Gordman over the America’s title and Mascaras would hold the belt a total of 5 times.  And in addition to those bouts for the area’s top single’s title, he would also wrestle Dory Funk Jr. to a draw and would also wrestle to a draw with “The Destroyer” Dick Beyer, beginning a friendly yet competitive rivalry.

     Also during that same 2 years Mil Mascaras would be a co-holder of the America’s Tag Team titles, winning it twice with tag partner Alfonso Dantes and a third time with Ray Mendoza from tag team legends Black Gordman and the Great Goliath.  He also rounded out his collection of titles in the area by being a part of the America’s 6 man tag team champions on 3 occasions. 

      Dubbed “The Superman of Wrestling” by LeBelle territory publicist Jeff Walton, Mascaras would capture the hearts and minds of the Los Angeles wrestling fans and would soon capture the attention of wrestling promoters and fans worldwide.  Mascaras continued his International exposure by wrestling and winning his first match in Japan against Kantaro Hoshino on February 19, 1971.  He immediately established himself as an attraction in Japan and went on to tour the country numerous times over the next few decades. While creating a legacy for himself in the Land of the Rising Sun, he also paved the way for other Mexican wrestling stars to regularly tour the country, something that contributed to an ongoing talent exchange that would help evolve the International wrestling scene. While he faced the top Japanese stars like Antonio Inoki, Giant Baba, Jumbo Tsuruta, and Tiger Mask II in single or tag matches, and even challenged NWA World Champion Harley Race in 1980, his most memorable matches in Japan were the ones he had against fellow masked legend “The Destroyer.”

    Picking up right where they left on in L.A., their encounters never failed to captivate the Japanese audience or those who still discover those classic matches on video nearly 40 years later.  The 2 top International masked wrestlers in history put on displays of technical mat wrestling that were memorable not only for fans, but to the participants themselves. 
     “He was the best competitor that I ever wrestled,” Beyer said when the Cauliflower Alley Club honored Mascaras in 2006.  “He never gave you anything ‘it’s true’, but I didn’t give him anything either.  You talk about a shoot or half-shoot, and that’s the kind of match that it was.” (1)

      Mil Mascaras was in such demand that he would travel constantly around the world to wrestle, commanding top money as he was a great box office draw.  While he ventured there less frequently, he never neglected his home country of Mexico and one of his returns there included a match with Lou Thesz on July 26, 1975 for the UWA Heavyweight title that resulted in a draw.

     1975 would also see Mascaras winning the IWA heavyweight title, a title that he would successfully defend against such standouts as Ernie Ladd and former WWWF Heavyweight Champion Ivan Koloff. While in the U.S. he was most popular on the West Coast and in the Southwest, thanks to the sharing of wrestling film among promoters as well as the extensive coverage that Mascaras received in the wrestling magazines, other parts of the U.S. clamored to see the masked star as well. 

    On December 18, 1972, New York’s Madison Square Garden would lift its ban on masked wrestlers allowing Mil Mascaras to make his MSG debut against the Spoiler, whom he defeated with his signature flying bodypress in a little less than 8 minutes. The WWWF and MSG would both play host to Mascaras on several other occasions, including two occasions where Mascaras challenged Superstar Billy Graham for the WWWF Title in what were exciting matches in December of 1977.

    With all of his travel, being constantly on the move to fulfill his many wrestling bookings around the world, we saw less and less of Mascaras in Southern California.  But he would still manage to find his way out to our area a couple of times a year. Those were always highly anticipated events, especially among those fans, who like me, were of Latino Heritage.

     He was the Latino that I could look up to at the time.  In the 70’s most of the Latinos who appeared on television were portrayed as uneducated, often in roles of gardeners and maids and with success just outside of their reach.  And up to that point in real life, the only Latino that the young males in our family looked up to was our Uncle Jessie.  He was muscular and strong and was a good street fighter.  As young kids, we found that appealing and admirable.  It wouldn’t be long however, that I correctly realized that my Uncle Jessie also happened to be a chronic Dumbass who couldn’t keep himself out of jail. 

     Mascaras on the other hand, carried himself with dignity, was almost Regal in his manner (some would say arrogant), was successful at what he did, appeared on television, was strong and muscular, and (in his movies at least) drove kick-ass cars and got hot chicks!  And I didn’t recall ever seeing him being led away in handcuffs.

   So in between his visits to L.A.  I would enjoy the weekly wrestling television broadcasts from the Olympic Auditorium, always enjoying what I witnessed, but always hoping to hear of Mascaras’ next visit.  And when my Stepfather’s supply of the magazines that he kept under his mattress would run low, I always knew that I could go to the hall closet and pull out his “Ring” Boxing magazines and the few Pro Wrestling magazines that he had.  I would enjoy reading about the wrestlers that I was both familiar and unfamiliar with, and also hunt for anything that I could find on Mascaras.

    With such titles as “Mil Mascaras: ‘The Time had come to tell all’ ; What he looks like without his mask”  and "What I look for in a Woman: By Mil Mascaras",  I would be captivated by the words of fiction that were written as well as the pictures of my masked hero.
      And as could be expected, when Mascaras did visit Southern California, the box office ticket sales would dramatically increase wherever he appeared.  The air would be filled with excitement and anticipation, with many fans wearing replica masks as they cheered “The Superman of Wrestling” as he challenged the area’s top heel.

     However, while I was thrilled to watch his matches on television, sadly, I never got to see Mil Mascaras wrestle in person before the LeBelle Wrestling territory closed at the end of 1982 or before the Olympic Auditorium ceased hosting wrestling matches regardless of which promotion was running them.

     I saw less and less of Mascaras over the years, although he appeared on occasion on the undercards of the occasional U.S. promotion televised program.  In the early 80’s at the age of 16, I purchased tickets for a WWF event at the L.A. Sports Arena, mere months before the angles that led up to the very first Wrestlemania were to begin.  With front row seats, The Sports Arena event would be a spectacular and memorable event for my cousin and I, with “Mr. T” in the audience being taunted by the wrestlers, “Dr. D” David Shultz slapping a fan around not long before he did it to John Stossel, and Hulk Hogan would successful defend his World Title against Big John Studd.  But the main attraction that lured me there, causing me to take 3 or 4 buses to get to the venue, was Mil Mascaras participating in a 6 man tag match with the Samoans against WWF Tag Champs Adrian Adonis and Dick Murdoch, along with manager Lou Albano.  Although Mascaras was in a tag match and would probably spend less than 10 minutes in the ring, it was a thrill to see him in person for the first time!

     Nearly 20 years later, long after I thought the opportunity had passed me by, I had the opportunity to meet Mil Mascaras in person in the Spring of 2004.  I didn’t quite know what to expect, as in the interim, with the advent of the internet, the demise of kayfabe, and my progress from a kid into a mature adult, I had heard different things regarding Mascaras and I wondered if the experience might taint my memories of him. 

     In spite of some of the things that I had heard, he was humble, gracious, friendly, and with a perpetual smile, seemed genuinely honored to hear that he had provided so many with such great memories.  It was a dream come true to meet him and perhaps more importantly, he allowed my fond memories of him to remain intact, and sealed his legend in my eyes.  I would also witness him wrestle in a match a couple of months later, and being just shy of his 62nd birthday, he looked incredibly fit!

     While famed Southern California venues like the Olympic Auditorium are no longer playing host to wrestling or to Mil Mascaras, his accomplishments in the wrestling world have not ceased.  In 2009 he was inducted into the NWA Hall of fame and in July of 2011 he participated in a match to commemorate the 40th anniversary of his debut in Japan.  The following year he would be inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame in April of 2013.  2 months later, just 1 month shy of his 70th birthday, Mil Mascaras would defeat rising star Samuray Del Sol.  And just one month before the time of this writing, Mil Mascaras won a match in Japan on April 11, 2013.

     Mil Mascaras… The Man of a Thousand Masks, a Thousand holds, and countless more memorable wrestling moments. - RR

You can view a 1973 match between Mil Mascaras and the Destroyer on my Youtube channel by clicking this link:

Mil Mascaras in 6 man tag action at the Los Angeles Olympic Auditorium:

(1) Race & Hennig go over at Cauliflower Alley Club Banquet- By Greg Oliver - Slam! Wrestling - June 11, 2006


  1. Thank you for the fantastic memories. I grew up in the Los Angeles area and watched wrestling from the Olympic every week with the great Dick Lane calling the action. I didn't get to the Olympic very often buy always made the monthly matches at the old Municipal Auditorium in Long Beach. What a fabulous era for wrestling.

    1. Chuck, thanks for sharing those thoughts and I'm glad you enjoyed the piece. Can you tell that I'm very bad about noticing comments that are left. I think that's amazing that you attended the Long Beach shows as I come across very few people that had attended the matches there. Most people I come across attended mostly at the Olympic. If you're interested, I run a facebook group page that focuses on that territory and era. It's called "Olympic Auditorium and So Cal Wrestling Classics." If you're interested, put in a request to join and I'll add you promptly. Take care.