For Shun Skywalker, the Mask Made the Man

Nobody can deny that one of the most important parts of the overall spectacle of pro wrestling is the look and presentation of the wrestlers performing the spectacle. Indeed, a wrestler with mediocre talent and a great look can sometimes go further in their career than a great wrestler with a plain affect.

Fortunately for the just-dethroned Dragon Gate Pro Wrestling Open The Dream Gate champion and leader of the MASQUERADE unit, Shun Skywalker, that isn’t so much of an issue, as he has both the wrestling skill, and a look that tells you what he’s all about. The fact is, he was the youngest ever Open The Dream Gate champion at age 25, and just went through a marathon this past weekend at Dragon Gate’s two-night Kobe World Pro-Wrestling Festival, traditionally DG’s biggest shows of the year, taking on two other stable leaders: King Of Gate 2021 tournament winner Kzy, of the all-singing, all-dancing, weed-infused Natural Vibes (he succeeded); and the perennial ace of the company, HIGH-END’s leader YAMATO (Shun fell on this defense).

Sometimes wrestlers get there immediately. Oftentimes, they do not. Shun Skywalker is definitely in the latter category. Indeed, it was a little bit of a long road to get there.

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Shun Watanabe, as is his government name, debuted for Dragon Gate on 4/22/2016 in a loss to Big R Shimizu (currently known as KING Shimizu), although Cagematch lists a dark match time-limit draw from 12/21/2015 for Watanabe against Futa Nakamura, himself a now-former Open The Dream Gate champion under the nom de ring of Ben-K. Watanabe would mostly wrestle dark and tag matches through 2016, rarely on the winning side, often taking the loss. All that changed on 11/3/2016, at Gate Of Destiny 2016 from Osaka EDION Arena, when Watanabe won a trios match teaming with fellow trainees Futa Nakamura & Hyou Watanabe (no relation) v. Kaito Ishida, Punch Tominaga & Takehiro Yamamura of the Over Generation stable, Watanabe pinning Tominaga with a moonsault.

After that win, this generation of rookies graduated from dojo status and took on new identities. On 11/10/2016 at Tokyo Korakuen Hall, Shun Watanabe would become Shun Skywalker, and decided on a masked identity, to match the lucha-styled wrestling he was performing as part of Dragon Gate. However, his first outfit looked like… this.

Now, the outfit isn’t awful? The shininess is hardly the worst part of it. However, the bodysuit look doesn’t really fit, especially what look like arrows pointing towards his junk.

It’s the mask that’s the real problem. To begin with, the all-black face covering doesn’t quite work, because you can quite clearly see his eyes, nose and mouth when pressed against the mask. Second, the mask design is a total lift of that of classic luchador Tinieblas (and Tinieblas Jr. for that matter), with added fangs that seem to serve no particular purpose.

The altogether package however? Pretty creepy! Is he going for a lizard motif, despite going by Skywalker?

It should be noted, however, that you can see tassels at the bottom of the mask, and that would be an element that remained in every variant to come.

Thankfully, this initial version didn’t last very long, a little over three months in fact. On 1/27/2017, Shun Skywalker debuted a little different look in Toyohashi, Aichi, in a loss teaming with Jimmy K-Ness JKS against a Tribe Vanguard tandem of YAMATO & Kzy.

This… is an improvement! The mask doesn’t make him look like creep, and we get the open-mouth design that would follow in every other variant. The pattern on the face looks OK at best, maybe could have gone for another pass in the design phase. The suit being mostly white (which looks purple above, due to arena lighting; keep that color in mind for the future…), and keeping the crotch arrows, somehow screams “superhero” more than “wrestler” to me, but never say never the twain should meet. The ears are exposed on this one too, another piece of the puzzle that would remain constant in the rest of the changes.

The second design lasted much longer than the first, about nine months, when Shun made another change to the look of his mask on 12/20/2017. This one was an important step forward, except for one HUGE flaw.

On this one, gone are the black see-through coverings, and instead we have distinct eye-holes with patterns around them. There is also a jewel in the center of his forehead, in the “third eye” position. These two are also elements that would remain in every other alteration to come for Shun’s mask. The real problem? That beak. He settled on a bird motif, rather than what looked like a creepy lizard, but the bird beak just looks dumb. It throws the whole mask off, and makes him look like a comedy wrestler (of which Dragon Gate has more than a handful). Puts me in the mind of that brief period of time when Iron Man’s armor had a nose on it (Invincible Iron Man #68 from June 1974, true believers!)

Shun did seem to like this design, however, as he kept with it for the most part until Kobe World 2018, bar a one-time variant where he wore a gold bodysuit, and made the color swatches on the mask be complimentary, as you can see below.

You can also see that the bodysuit has a different design on the chest rather than the crotch-arrows. Even though the coloring is a bit too garish, it’s kind of a wonder he didn’t stick with this version, as that chest design looks good (and let’s be honest, marketable!).

At Kobe World 2018 on 7/22/2018, Skywalker made another important change to his look. The mask was more or less the beak design, except he took the step of losing the body suit, going with tights and arm-sleeves for the first time as Shun Skywalker.

I know I was just praising the chest design on that variant just two paragraphs ago, but that was then and this is now. The bodysuit never really, erm, suited him, and as my thesis above stated, made him look a bit of a creep in the early days. Here, we are crossing the threshold into what would be his final look, bar a few minor alterations to come.

Within a few weeks, Shun Skywalker would be part of his first-ever unit in Dragon Gate, which would be a big step for his career, given the importance of stables in the Dragon Gate ecosystem. Indeed, one could make an argument that the Unit Must Disband stipulation match is the absolute biggest apuestas match within the company, one that can change the direction of the promotion entirely, moreso than most companies in Japan. On 8/7/2018, Shun joined the veteran Masaaki Mochizuki as well as rookies Hyou Watanabe and Yuki Yoshioka in forming the Mochizuki Dojo unit. The unit itself wouldn’t last in that current form but nine months, with Shun leaving on 5/6/2019, but that’s for another article. What I’m getting at is on the date, Shun wore a version of his mask without the beak, with an outfit cobbled together from the gold bodysuit variant, but only the one time.

It wasn’t long, however, until Shun did in fact abandon the beak look entirely. On 9/9/2018, Shun faced Willie Mack for not one but two titles, the HOH Twitch Television title as well as the CWFH Heritage Heavyweight strap. Here, Shun debuted what would, essentially, be his final mask design.

The designs around his eyes would pretty much be finalized in this design, with a few minor variations here and there as time went on, as below.

That said, this was pretty much It. Shun Watanabe finally had his look down, nearly two years after debuting the Shun Skywalker gimmick. As a wrestler, he had the skills, and now he had the look. What he still lacked, was an edge.

The edge came how it often does with wrestlers from Japan: with an excursion to Mexico. Following a losing streak in late 2019, that culminated in losing to his then-partner Ben-K, Shun went to Mexico, working numerous promotions including IWRG, DTU and Toryumon Mexico, as often as he could, given that the COVID-19 pandemic affected lucha libre as much as it did everything else in the world in 2020. It was not in vain, however. Shun Skywalker had his first taste of championship success in IWRG, winning the 2020 Rey del Ring tournament, beating one of IWRG’s top stars Hijo de Canis Lupus in the Final. Unfortunately, he was not able to parlay this into winning IWRG’s Rey del Ring championship, a shot he earned via winning the tournament, as he fell to champion Demonio Infernal when the match came. Shun would also reunite with former Mochizuki Dojo stablemate Yuki Yoshioka whilst in Mexico, competing in a #1 contenders tag tournament for IWRG’s Intercontinental Tag Team titles, but would crash out to Hijo de Canis Lupus & Dragon Bane in the quarterfinals. In the meantime, Shun experimented with colorizations around the eyes, but the design stayed pretty consistent even through excursion.

On 11/3/2020, Shun Skywalker would make a shock return to Dragon Gate, challenging the leader of the R.E.D. unit Eita for the Open The Dream Gate title, a successful challenge at Kobe World 2020, on 11/15/2020 (delayed from its usual summer date due to the pandemic). Shun wore an all-white outfit for the match, which added some new patterns to his tights, a symbol of things to come.

Those things to come would be the formation of a new unit, with Shun as leader, announced on 12/2/2020, with members Kota Minoura, Dragon Dia and Jason Lee, to be joined by a mystery member on 12/15/2020 along with the reveal of the unit’s name and look.

When the day came, the new unit was revealed, with new mystery member La Estrella (whose identity is still the subject of speculation), as MASQUERADE. The theme of this stable is based on the Venetian Carnival, complete with jester masks and velvet cloaks, as well as an elaborate group entrance, with the wrestlers’ ring gear in purple and silver.

As you can see above, in the MASQUERADE era for Shun, he’s added some tassels to his tights, to complement the tassels on his mask.

With this as his unit’s chosen identity, it’s clear that the idea of masking himself as a wrestler has become his overriding direction for the stable. As he goes, so goes his unit. He is masked, his unit is called MASQUERADE. Thus far, the unit has been a success, with Shun forming it as the Open The Dream Gate champion, and the tandem of Dragon Dia, Jason Lee & La Estrella winning the Open The Triangle Gate belts since MASQUERADE’s inception. Who knows how long the unit will last; one of the biggest lessons one can learn from pro wrestling stables is “Nothing lasts forever.” Even the nWo wasn’t f-f-f-for life.

Indeed, that Shun’s reign ended this weekend is proof of that. But at 259 days, five successful defenses, and two Match of The Year candidates in one weekend while only being 25 years old, Shun will undoubtedly be back holding his company’s top title, sooner rather than later.

As fashion conscious a wrestling promotion as will ever exist, sometimes, Dragon Gate members’ first masks aren’t all that. Shun Skywalker was no exception to that. It took a while, but he got there, and once he did, it paid dividends. I can’t draw a completely straight line between Shun Watanabe changing his costumes and his success as Open The Dream Gate champion & stable leader, but let’s just say, “It didn’t hurt.”

Special thanks to @leon_oldtype on Twitter and The Cubs Fan for helping with dates and references.

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Geoffrey D. Wessel

Geoffrey D. Wessel has written about Japanese wrestling off and on since the last century. He currently runs the Strong Style Story blog at http://strongstylestory.tumblr.com and hosts the associated podcast, as well as a podcast recapping AEW Dynamite, and another one mocking the beautiful game of soccer. He also keeps trying to write comics, and has a graphic novel coming from Dark Horse in 2022. He currently lives in suburban Chicago. You can find him @StrongStylStory and/or @gdwessel on Twitter.

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