Remembering ‘The Patriot’ Del Wilkes

Brian Damage

First of all, if you are reading this and live within the United States…Happy Independence Day! Secondly, while I usually take a small breather from the blog on Sundays, I did feel the need to talk about the untimely passing of Del Wilkes…the wrestler most known as ‘The Patriot.’ Del Wilkes passed away on July 1st of 2021 of a massive heart attack. I was going to include this little write up on This Week in Wrestling, but since it is July 4th…what better time to honor a true patriot in Del Wilkes than today.

Del Wilkes was a consensus All American while playing college football for the University of South Carolina. He attempted a career in the NFL latching on with both the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Atlanta Falcons in 1985 and 1986 but didn’t last. Wilkes decided to pivot his life into a career in professional wrestling and began training with South Carolina native Fabulous Moolah and with AWA promoter Verne Gagne.

He initially wrestled beginning in 1988 under his real name, but would later wrestler under the name of The Trooper (A police gimmick) for Gagne’s AWA. He handed out little badges to kids at ringside and after defeating his opponents wrote them out tickets. The Trooper teamed with DJ Peterson to win the AWA world tag team titles, they held the belts until the promotion folded in 1991 and were recognized as the final AWA tag team champs.

After the AWA folded, Wilkes had a tryout with the World Wrestling Federation in 1991…but did not sign with them. Instead, Wilkes joined the upstart Global Wrestling Federation, donned a mask and was called the Patriot. A gimmick created for him by the late Joe Pedicino and the Masked Superstar/Demolition Ax Bill Eadie. As the Patriot, Wilkes became the top guy of the company winning a tournament to become the first ever GWF television champion as covered by our own B. Dangerous. He would win the GWF’s top title the GWF North American championship twice and was involved in a bitter feud with The Dark Patriot.

Wilkes would do a tour of All Japan Pro Wrestling as the Patriot and would have some of the biggest success of his career. He teamed with Jackie Fulton who also wore a mask and was called ‘The Eagle.’ The team would go on to win the All Japan All Asia tag team titles. The Patriot would have several great matches against the likes of Toshiaki Kawada, Dr. Death Steve Williams and Akira Taue.

While atop star of the GWF and a star for All Japan….Wilkes got his first real big break in the United States wrestling for WCW. Wilkes continued competing under the mask of the Patriot. He formed a tag team with a young Marcus Alexander Bagwell called Stars and Stripes. The team went on to win the WCW world tag team titles on two occasions. Wilkes left WCW in 1995 and returned to Japan citing the awful backstage environment of the company at that time.

The Patriot would spend the next two years overseas for All Japan Pro Wrestling. In 1997, however, Wilkes would get another break in the U.S…..this time for the WWF. He would continue to use the Patriot gimmick and was thrust into a program with WWF champion Bret ‘The Hitman’ Hart. He came out to the entrance music that would eventually be given to Kurt Angle. The Patriot would unsuccessfully challenge for the WWF world title. Wilkes WWF career was cut short when he suffered a torn biceps injury and was ultimately released in 1998.

That injury signaled the end of Del Wilkes wrestling career. Wilkes would battled some personal demons in his life during and after wrestling including using drugs like cocaine and abusing anabolic steroids. Despite the issues he suffered during his post wrestling career…Del Wilkes got himself clean and sober and found a regular 9 to 5 job as a car salesman in South Carolina.

The drama of the world of pro wrestling still lingered for Wilkes who was involved in a heated battle with former friend and fellow wrestler Tom Brandi over the gimmick of the Patriot. Wilkes insists that Brandi stole the gimmick from him while dealing with drug and legal issues. Brandi swears he purchased the gimmick legally. The hatred Wilkes had for Brandi lasted up until the day he sadly died.

While Del Wilkes never reached superstardom here in the States…he certainly left a lasting impression on fans, friends and family. Del Wilkes was just 59 years old….may he rest in peace.

8 thoughts on “Remembering ‘The Patriot’ Del Wilkes

    • TOO brief, because man was that Heel Bret in the US only gimmick SUPER HOT & OVER like rover. That could have legit had a nice longer series of matches than they did.

      Liked by 1 person

  1. RIP Del Wilkes…another one gone WAY too soon..
    I will say the irony of him leaving WCW due to the backstage environment being too toxic to him in ’95 only to sign with the WWF in ’97 with the same likewise environment should not be lost on anyone, other than him apparently.

    Like

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