In a week’s time, it will be the 20th anniversary of WWE In Your House 17: Ground Zero. In the event’s penultimate match, Bret Hart, then WWE Champion, locked horns with The Patriot. The challenger only had a short-lived run with the WWE and thus seems like perfect time to look back on his run with the company.
As part of our previous Raw Rewind series and, more recently, my role on the Wrestling 20 Years Ago podcast, I looked back on the wild happenings within the WWE during 1997.
While, for me, 1995 is the most interesting year in the WWE’s history – a combination of crap in-ring work and the company on the ropes – but 1997 isn’t far off it.
Eric Bischoff’s nWo dominated WCW was still on the top of the world, well, the Neilson ratings. And while the problems that would later blight the company were starting to bubble, the crowd had yet to fully tire of the nWo’s act, despite it being, by this stage, increasingly watered down with inferior acts.
Over in the land of the WWE, Vince McMahon would announce on Raw that fans deserved something better than the classic good guy vs bad guy narrative, they had the makings of a super hot act in Stone Cold Steve Austin, D-Generation X would soon find itself formed and, oh, a 20-year contract for Bret Hart would come back to haunt him.
A few years previously, WWE was awash with acts that were based on the idea that they were using the WWE to get ahead in their (kayfabe) vocation. Whether that was a country star (Jeff Jarrett), a hockey player (The Goon) or a plumber (TL Hooper), the WWE was seen by its acts as a stepping stone and, arguably, worse by its fan base.
But by 1997 things had changed. Some of the acts of old were still there, but only the popular ones, such as The Undertaker, Bret Hart, Owen Hart and Shawn Michaels. But they were supplemented by emerging talents such as Hunter Hearst Helmsley, The Rock, Stone Cold Steve Austin and Mankind.
It appeared that the cartoon gimmicks of old were a thing of the past and had been replaced by a new and edgier product.
But then The Patriot appeared on our screens.
In fact, it was in a match against Rockabilly but least said of that the better.
But, yeah, as the WCW fired on all cylinders with the nWo and the Hart Foundation waged war against America, the WWE thought the obvious answer was a masked all-American hero.
A former college footballer in South Carolina, Del Wilkes rose to fame as The Patriot in the Global Wrestling Federation in the early 90s. A firm fan favourite, he was the first winner of the promotion’s Television Title.
Wilkes would spend the period between 1992 and 1997 split between two promotions – All Japan Pro Wrestling (AJPW) between 1992 and 1994 and 1995 to 1994 and WCW during the two runs in Japan. He’d win multiple tag team gold – twice in WCW with Marcus ‘Buff’ Bagwell and in Japan with Jackie Futon.
But, an All-American hero in 1997 WWE, really?
Yes, yes really. Wilkes debuted in June and soon found himself, unsurprisingly, thrust into a programme with the Canadian babyface/American heel Bret Hart. Hart has rebelled against the change in the WWE and, more importantly, the fans.
So, as the fans desperately sought an edgy face to cheer – something that would eventually culminate in Stone Cold Steve Austin – the WWE saw fit to throw The Patriot their way.
The Patriot was, as the name would suggest, a man who stood up for America. He wore a mask with American stars and stripes and carried the American flag. He also came out to the theme tuned that would also be used by Sgt. Slaughter and, more famously, Kurt Angle.
In terms of his feud with ‘The Hitman’, he would go on to defeat Hart on television in a match on July 28, 1997, but that was thanks to interference from Shawn Michaels. It would all play towards the ‘Ground Zero’ In Your House PPV where Hart would defeat The Patriot via submission.
From then on, Wilkes’ run at the top of the card would come to an end. Scheduled, unsurprisingly, to be part of Team USA at the 1997 Survivor Series, an injury would rule him out and he’d be replaced by Steve Blackman in a makeshift team also featuring Vader, Goldust and Marc Mero against Team Canada. Team Canada would be made up of the British Bulldog, Jim Neidhart and Doug Furnas and Phil LaFon. But it was a show best remembered for other events…
By the end of the year, with Wilkes still on the shelf, Sgt. Slaughter would adopt his theme for D-Generation X: In Your House and by the start of 1998 he’d be gone.
It was almost that wrestling fans, by 1997, expected and wanted a lot more than an all-American masked hero. The fans didn’t care, the WWE spotted that and quickly realised that the end was nigh for the character.
Looking back, the majority fans probably won’t remember The Patriot but for a short while, he was the babyface hero who was challenging for the WWE title. The issue was, it was a ‘blink and you miss it’ time at the top of the WWE card.
3 thoughts on “Flying the Flag: The Short-Lived WWE Run of The Patriot”
Didn’t he also used to wrestle for USWA in Memphis?
Fared much better in Global and WCW…again caught up in the mass of talent at WWF.
His drug problem….slimmed down to a trip to the METH CLINIC, Daily. Also a cup of coffee and 2 Red Bulls……his wife, Cathy Collins Wilkes 706-802-2449.