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"WHO WAS THAT MASKED MAN?"

by Robin Young

I first saw the incredible Mil Mascaras 28 years ago, and quite by accident. It was a rainy Saturday afternoon, and I was feeling bored. Antsy. It seemed to me, that under the circumstances, a bit of television exploration might be just the antidote for my weekend ennui. Since the VHF channels in those days numbered only 2 to 13, I decided to throw caution to the winds, and blaze a trail in the heretofore no man's land of UHF. First up was a kiddie show. In Spanish. Next, a variety program. Also in Spanish. My hopes were rapidly dampening, as neither of these examples of "foreign" programming were precisely my cup of tea. But then, as luck would have it, I scored a bullseye with my next turn of the dial.

I found myself staring at a ring which was occupied by two brawny combatants, intent on doing each other in. Since I had discovered wrestling only a few months earlier, and was now for better or worse, an insatiable fan, I happily sat back and drank in the images before me. Despite the fact that here too, the announcer spoke only Spanish, I soon learned that this was the Olympic Auditorium in downtown L.A. As the show unfolded, I recognized faces and names I had seen only in my treasured wrestling magazines.

Fred Blassie, ruggedly hewn, as if from Mount Rushmore, became an instant favorite. God what charisma! The Golden Greek, John Tolos, was Fred's nemesis at the time, and he impressed me as well. Like Blassie, he loomed larger than life, and possessed a movie star aura. The relentless tag team comprised of Black Gordman and the Great Goliath amazed me with their unity, toughness and intensity. They made me believe. Ray Mendoza, although "slight" at 210 lbs., was nevertheless a paragon of babyfaced virtue and mat wrestling skill. There were others too. But none captured my imagination quite the way that the Man of a Thousand Masks did.

From the first time that I set eyes on the spectacular Mil Mascaras, to the present day, he has held a very special place in my heart. No other wrestler had his regal bearing, his leonine grace. His movements combined the ritual finesse of a bull fighter with the deadly economy of the panther. Every move he made, was visual poetry. He never seemed to sweat as he maneuvered around the squared circle with his predatory fluidity. His masks were as varied as his repertoire of holds, and just as dynamic. His grace was made all the more potent because he owned, quite simply, the best body in the business. Thirty years later, I'm still in awe of him!

So, when I heard that Mascaras would be coming East for a short barnstorming tour, I made the necessary adjustments in my schedule. After analyzing his planned itinerary, I decided to connect with him at ROCK FANTASY, a heavy metal specialty shop owned and operated by Steve, who's as much a fan of wrestling as he is of hard rock. The store is located in Middletown, N.Y., so after packing my girlfriend and tape recorder, my pilgrimage began.

The drive was swift, and the scenery enjoyable. But my mind was on Mascaras. I glanced at my lady love, and thought of the fact that she was not a wrestling aficionado at all, yet after viewing one of my Mascaras tapes, had become an immediate fan. Infinite proof of both her taste and his greatness. We arrived in Middletown at 5:30 p.m. half an hour before the masked one's ETA, and set about getting instructions to Rock Fantasy. It was within walking distance of our parking space, so, after a false start or two, we found it with time to spare. As we entered the store, we were amazed by its vibrancy and character. Here was the definitive marriage of rock and wrestling. The walls were covered with T-shirts and photos and CDs. At the far end were pin ball games and the like. Every wrestling figure I had ever seen, and quite a few that I hadn't.

I introduced myself to Steve, who immediately made me feel at home, and pointed out the many candid shots of himself with various celebrities and grapplers. Also conspicuously present were several Wrestling- Then & Now Annuals. Marjorie and I went outside to test our equipment (the tape recorder, the tape recorder. Get your minds out of the gutter!). Shortly, a car pulled up with Mil Mascaras in the back seat. I looked over at my lady who was still adjusting the recorder, and said, "The man is here." He wore a red, white, and blue Adidas warm up suit, and his signature mask, the silver and black with the red "M" emblazoned on his forehead. He was flanked by Mike Frigeria of Atlantic Power Pro Lucha Libra Entertainment (PO Box 238, Pocono Lake, PA. 18347. Phone: 570-646-9702) and Martin Marin of WPW, a California-based promotion for which Mascaras wrestles. A couple of die-hard fans who had traveled from Philadelphia just to see the hooded legend, joined me on the sidewalk to offer the man salutations. He greeted us all with warmth and handshakes, and as I held the door for him, he entered the store. After getting an informal tour of the place, Mascaras set up shop behind the glass counter upon which were stacked photos and masks which proved to be catnip for the throngs of admirers who patiently waited for their "audience" with the Great One. It pleased me to see how genuine and charming he was. And I couldn't help noticing that his physical condition is still incredible! The amazing musculature was very much in evidence and my lady remarked that his skin was fabulous! Since it had been decided earlier, by mutual consent, that our interview would take place after the autograph session had concluded, I chatted with Martin and Mike. Marin is a wrestler as well as titular head of WPW. He told me how he had been trained by legendary luchadore Dr. Wagner, Sr. He explained that his in ring persona is that of a rudo, or heel. He feels that he is a natural born villain. He is also a natural born nice guy. As is Mike, who was responsible for bringing in Mascaras for a three or four day blitz, which also included an appearance at a Chiller Theater Convention, and a wrestling card in New Jersey. I later heard (from Mike) that Mil worked a 15 minute match with a young indy wrestler that left the latter both dazed and confused. And stretched! Mike Frigeria is the man to contact for all things Lucha. Figures, tapes, photos, masks, wrestling movies, and personal appearances, are all in his bailiwick. I was interested to note that the fans who came to see Mascaras, ran the age gamut from 8 to 80.

They all had a look of awe that I fully understood. Mil was kept quite busy signing pictures, posing for Polaroids, and answering any and all questions. Here is a man who truly enjoys being with his fans. And they with him. At closing time, Mil walked to the back of the store to peruse the wrestling tapes and figures, and I took the opportunity to point out the Wrestling- Then & Now Annuals that were perched on a nearby shelf. He looked through them, and as he spotted the names of old companions, asked of their whereabouts. I answered as best I cold. We then began to prepare for the interview. Mil needed no coaxing, as he is friendly, forthcoming, and always at ease. Despite rumors to the contrary, he is in no way aloof. In fact, he couldn't be warmer. As he related various humorous anecdotes, he became increasingly more animated and punctuated his narrative with playful jabs to my shoulder.

He told of a particularly close call in Nigeria. As the bell signaled the start of the match, Mil found that his giant opponent refused to cooperate. Mascaras tried to maneuver the man, but to no avail. He was dead weight. And if that weren't enough to fluster a lesser man, Mil sensed that he was about to be "tested." His instincts, honed to perfection by years of mano a mano combat in wrestling, judo, and other martial arts, proved correct. His recalcitrant adversary went behind Mascaras, and the battle was joined. When the rosin dust was settled, the Masked Man was neither bloody nor bowed. His ill-advised ring mate was not quite so well off however. He sported a broken arm and leg, along with, one would guess, a newfound respect for the masked Adonis. Later, at his hotel room, Mil answered a frantic knocking at this door.

The promoter rushed in, obviously deeply perturbed, and requested that Mil grab his suitcase and follow him no questions asked. They hurried out the back door, jumped into a waiting car, and raced for the airport, where Mascaras boarded a plane and left Nigeria, barely ahead of a sizable lynch mob out for the masked man's blood. He also told of promoters requesting that he slow down his in-ring performance for fear that the other wrestlers couldn't keep up. He politely but firmly refused, quite logically explaining that the people came to see him working in his style. And for Mil, ever the perfectionist, nothing less would do.

Our interview was a pleasure for me and I wish we had even more time. Mascaras is a truly magnetic and fascinating man. I could easily query him for days! After a photograph session, in which my lady love happily posed with Mil, Mike, Marin, and I, we all said our good-byes. I had come to Middletown to see a man who I had deeply admired for 30 years. A man that I felt was the Nureyev of the grappling game, a man above and beyond his contemporaries. I wasn't disappointed. He was everything I had hoped he'd be.

And more.

Vaya Con Dios, Mil Mascaras.

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