Del Wilkes, who wrestled as masked grappler The Patriot in AWA, WCW, WWF, and other promotions throughout his career, joined Pro Wrestling Illustrated contributor Brady Hicks on the most recent episode of the In the Room podcast. Wilkes discussed a number of topics in his lengthy interview, including the new long form documentary DVDby EllBow Productions chronicling his life and career. Wilkes also talked about his work in WCW and WWF/WWE, explaining some of the bumps in the road he experienced while involved with those promotions.
While in WCW from in 1993 to 1995, Wilkes won that company’s tag titles twice with partner Marcus “Buff” Bagwell. Pointing out that The Patriot’s notoriety waned towards the end of his time in WCW, host Brady Hicks asked Wilkes if he felt like his legs had been cut out from under him by decision makers within the promotion. Wilkes explained that there was a paradigm shift in WCW that basically sapped the momentum of many of the company’s top performers once big names from WWF came on board.
“They get the big coup and they got Hogan away from Vince, they bring in Savage of course, the Nasty Boys and Beefcake, Duggan—just that big group of guys that had been working for Vince all that time,” explained Wilkes. “So now all of the sudden the focus of the company totally shifts and it goes away from the guys who were there prior to Hogan and it foes to the WWF influx and now it’s all about them. And it’s all about Hogan and the friends of Hogan… It wasn’t long after that that I packed my bags and left anyway, for that reason.”
After leaving WCW, Del Wilkes went to Japan and wrestled as The Patriot. He said that working in Japan — where he tagged with Johnny Ace, who is better known today as WWE senior producer John Laurinatis — was his favorite experience in the wrestling industry. He expressed particular appreciation for All Japan Pro Wrestling founder Shohei Baba, known far and wide by his in-ring moniker Giant Baba. Wilkes said that wrestling in Japan involved a “stiffer, more snug kind of work,” but added that some of the risks he took in the ring there likely shortened his career.
Wilkes also talked about his work in WWF where he squared off against Bret “The Hitman” Hart during Hart’s stint as an anti-American villain. He praised Hart for his work in the feud, explaining that Hart’s ability to work as a heel helped to tell a convincing story. Del Wilkes proudly noted that it was his own work in other companies that garnered a good fan response in the WWE, convincing Vince McMahon that he should not tweak or change The Patriot character.
“If you think about it, I was one of the very few guys [who] ever went to work for Vince with an established character that he didn’t change,” Wilkes said. “Vince wanted to create the characters for his guys, but I was allowed to go in and work as The Patriot and work as that character. Once he saw the reaction that I was getting from the fans, then he decided to not mess with it, really.”
Del’s wrestling career ended in 1998 and his many years of injuries forced him into retirement. A mounting addiction to painkillers led to run-ins with the law, and according to a 2004 article by USA Today, Wilkes had been arrested 20 times by 2002 on charges stemming from his drug use. He ultimately served a nine-month prison sentence from 2002 to 2003 for passing forged prescriptions. Now 53-years-old, Wilkes told In the Room host Brady Hicks that he is unable to wrestle because he has undergone an extensive amount of knee replacements and orthopedic surgeries.
As noted above, Del Wilkes is the subject of a new biographical DVD entitled The Man Behind the Mask. Filmmaker Michael Elliott spoke to this writer regarding his decision to undertake a film about The Patriot.
“I wanted to work with Del to tell his story not only because it’s a great story, but as a child and teenager The Patriot was one of my favorite wrestlers,” said Elliott. “Back then I didn’t know about Japan, so when he showed up in Global, WCW, and the WWF I was instantly hooked. Del has a story of success all through his life until he fell hard due to his problems with pills. I think it’s a story fans will fall in love and gain new respect for The Patriot.”
Much of Del Wilkes’ most significant work in WCW and WWF can be viewed via the WWE Network by using the search “The Patriot 1997.” Some of his more noteworthy matches archived on the network include his best bouts against Bret Hart.
[Images via @DelWilkes; PWMania; and WWE via Old School Jabronies]