An often used gimmick by the WWE is an all-American hero as the company has tried several times to replicate the 80s success of Hulk Hogan. The WWE’s 1997 attempt at an all-American hero, The Patriot, is the focus of this latest ‘Well That Didn’t Work‘ piece.
Very few things in wrestling are ever original with many gimmicks a modern take on a previous one that was successful many years before.
WWE is no different. The promotion have made various attempts, since Hulkamania helped make them a global phenomenon, to replicate that success by trying to create a new Hulk Hogan. It’s no secret that Vince and Linda McMahon gambled everything on WrestleMania 1 and a lot of its success can be attributed to Hulk Hogan. It’s no surprise, then, that so many attempts have been made to create a new all-American hero.
It was tried in 1993 when Lex Luger was pushed to the moon with a bus tour across America but the fans just didn’t buy into it then and very soon Luger was relegated down the card before leaving and reappearing in WCW on the first episode of Nitro.
Fast forward to 1997 and the wrestling landscape had changed. World Championship Wrestling were now in pole position thanks to the edgy nWo, made up of Holywood Hogan, Kevin Nash and Scott Hall. It forced the WWE’s hand and the promotion moved away from an era littered with superstars that had gimmicks ranging from Clowns through to Hokey players and Dentists.
Despite how the wrestling world had changed, it didn’t stop the WWE from trying the all-American gimmick again in 1997 when the masked Patriot joined the company.
Del Wilkes, the man that portrayed the Patriot had had a near decade long career in wrestling – competing both stateside and in Japan – before finally making his way to the WWE in early 1997.
He was brought in to feud with the recently turned heel Bret Hart. Hart had just started the anti-American Hart Foundation and it was the masked Wilkes that was brought in to fight on the side of America.
Thanks to interference from Shawn Michaels, The Patriot was able to pick up a win over Bret Hart on Raw but was unsuccessful in his title shot at ‘In Your House: Ground Zero’ and was on the losing side, along with Vader, in a flag pole match against Hart and the British Bulldog at ‘In Your House: Badd Blood’.
It was the beginning of the end for Wilkes with the company and a tricep injury ruled him out of Survivor Series, where he was supposed to be part of Team USA alongside Vader, Marc Mero and Goldust taking on Team Canada, made up of The British Bulldog, Jim Neidhart, Doug Furnas and Phil Lafon.
In early 1998 he was released from his contract with the WWE. He is now a car salesman in Columbia, South Carolina.
The problem, though, for The Patriot in 1997 is just how much the wrestling world had changed. The days of good guy versus bad with America vs rest of the world slant to it were in the past. A well trodden path during the days of the territories, where a heel manager would bring in a range of dastardly foreign heels to face the promotions number one babyface, was just not going to work in 1997.
Fans demanded more and with the fans lapping up the edgier nWo and increasingly warming to the anti-hero Stone Cold Steve Austin, good guy American superstar was doomed to fail and did with Del Wilkes time at the WWE coming a decade too late.
You can read all previous ‘Well That Didn’t Work’ pieces here.