Born on July 15, 1942 in San Louis Potosi, Mexico, Aaron Rodriguez would distinguish himself as an amateur athlete, both as a competitive bodybuilder and as a National level Judo competitor. The skills he learned as a judoka and the physique he developed as a bodybuilder would both become contributing factors in developing the Professional Wrestling Persona known the world over as Mil Mascaras.
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.
Mil Mascaras would arrive in Mike LeBelle’s Southern California territory in the Spring of 1968 bringing 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. 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 Champion (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, and Black Gordman over the America’s title and Mascaras would hold the belt a total of 5 times.
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 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.”
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.”
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 December of 1977.
In spite of being constantly on the move to fulfill his many wrestling bookings around the world, Mascaras would often find time for the occasional visit back to Southern California. And as could be expected, the box office ticket sales would dramatically increase wherever he appeared. The air would be filled with excitement, with many fans wearing replica masks as they cheered “The Superman of Wrestling” as he challenged the area’s top heel.
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.
Mil Mascaras… The Man of a Thousand Masks, a Thousand holds, and countless more memorable wrestling moments.
Rock Rims – “The Flying Body Press”
For further reading on Mil Mascaras plus video links for some of his matches:
“The Superman of Wrestling” – By Rock Rims http://www.theflyingbodypress.blogspot.com
Also thanks to the folks at Kayfabememories.com including “The ClawMaster” and Steve Yohe for the work they do on compiling match results for the old L.A. territory