In Mexican wrestling the mask is sacred, and its loss in the ring is the ultimate insult. The first Mexican wrestler to lose his mask was El Murciélago Enmascarado, The Masked Bat, and it all happened eighty years ago.
Mexican wrestling (“lucha libre”) is a scripted affair, with storylines, heroes, and villains. It has enormous cachet in Mexico, and the greatest wrestlers (“luchadors”) become cultural icons. Part of the drama and mystique of the sport involves the luchador mask. It is the wrestler’s pride, identity, and security. The most famous Mexican wrestler in history, El Santo, was actually buried in his mask. But sometimes, just sometimes, the wrestler puts his mask up for a high-stakes wager: lose the match, lose the mask.
Where did it all begin? Mexican wrestlers have worn masks since the early days of lucha libre. It was originally inspired by a visiting American wrestler, Corbin James Massey – known as Cyclone Mackey – who performed in Mexico under the name The Masked Marvel in 1933. The mask was a great gimmick, and lucha libre adopted it as a way to increase the drama and excitement of the match.
El Murciélago Enmascarado, The Masked Bat, was one of the first to wear a mask. (He was the fourth wrestler in Mexico and the second native Mexican to don such a disguise.) He was a bad guy, one of lucha libre’s villains. He dressed in a black vest, a black mask, and black trunks, and apparently he sometimes hid live bats inside his vest to startle the audience.
I know what you’re thinking: he sounds like a Batman ripoff. Well, The Masked Bat was wrestling a full year before Batman debuted, so if anything Batman ripped him off. (I have no evidence of this aside from chronology; I’m sure it was just a coincidence.)
In 1940, two years after his debut (and one year after Batman), The Masked Bat competed in a match that would change lucha libre forever. He and another wrestler named Octavio Gaona had been involved in a series of grudge matches, and this culminated in a wager: if Gaona lost, he would shave his head in shame, and if The Masked Bat lost he would remove his mask and reveal his identity.
The Masked Bat lost, and revealed himself: Jesús Velázquez Quintero, a wrestler from Guanajuato. The betting match (“lucha de apuesta”) became a staple of lucha libre – even today, it is seen as the highest honour to win such a match, higher even than becoming champion. The un-Masked Bat continued wrestling for many years, and then became an actor and screenwriter. You can see him wrestling, without a mask, in the first clip below, or if you’d like something meatier I suggest checking out The Aztec Mummy, a 1957 film in which he played a masked villain.