Flying through the air with the greatest of ease to drop opponents in a single bound is the hallmark of the original masked luchador, Mil Máscaras. With his debut in the mid-1960s the legendary wrestler blazed a trail for hooded grapplers everywhere.
An aspiring martial artist, Aaron Rodriguez Arellano, was born in San Luis Potosi, Mexico in 1942. One of three brothers, he grew up admiring luchadores like El Santo. Máscaras would soon emulate his hero when he entered a wrestling ring for the first time in the mid-1960s in Guadalajara, Mexico. With a solid, muscular physique and an acrobatic style, the 5’11” grappler immediately stood out. While tending to duties inside the ring, Mascaras was also performing in front of the camera. In 1966, he starred in the self-titled film, Mil Máscaras, an origin tale which introduced him to the world. Modeled after the era’s pulp fiction of the time, the film helped to create the lore that Máscaras was an orphan who’d been scientifically engineered to save the world. He starred in over 17 films with his fellow luchadores, always playing the masked superhero saving people from evildoers.
Before 1968, Máscaras acrobatic style had not been seen outside of Mexico. With the success in his native country, it was only natural that he bring this lucha libre form of wrestling to international audiences. He had his first U.S. match at the Olympic Auditorium in Los Angeles, California. While everyone else was fighting on the ground, Máscaras flew through the air. The audience was mesmerized by his colorful masks, showmanship and signature moves including the plancha suicida and the flying cross chop which he invented. Máscaras was now an international star.
His popularity took him throughout the United States where he worked for various companies and won numerous titles and belts as a solo and tag team wrestler. However, Máscaras is most famous for being the first luchador to wrestle in New York City’s Madison Square Garden in 1972. The arena had previously outlawed hooded wrestlers but lifted their ban so he could wrestle The Spoiler — a match he inevitably won. His unique style also propelled him to other countries like Japan where he wrestled throughout the 1970s with All Japan Pro Wrestling. There he inspired legions of young boys, including Japanese legend Tiger Mask, to wear a hood and take to the mat.