Del Wilkes, also known as The Patriot, passed away earlier this week, but in honor of Independence Day, it feels like an appropriate time to shine some light on his memorable career.
In a recent interview with Sean Ross Sapp of Fightful, Wilkes recalled how he had to challenge Vince McMahon on the idea that a masked character could get over with the WWF audience when he was in talks to bring his legendary character to the promotion. Citing his successful runs with All Japan Pro-Wrestling and World Championship Wrestling, Wilkes told McMahon that he knew fans everywhere could (and would) get behind The Patriot.
“The day I flew up and met with Vince, Vince wasn’t convinced that a masked guy could really get over with the WWF crowd at that time, with the WWF fanbase,” said Wilkes. “And we had a long discussion about that, and I said Vince, I just totally, with all due respect, I totally disagree with you. This character has gotten over everywhere I’ve worked. It’s always been one that’s gotten a great response from the fanbase and the people have gotten behind it. And I think it can work here as well.
“And so he, in sort of a hesitant way, agreed to let me continue doing that. I’m one of the few guys that went in there with his own gimmick that Vince didn’t create and was able to keep that character and leave with it as well.”
Wilkes then described how, based on the positive response he was getting from the fans, McMahon paired him in an on-screen program with the company’s world champion Bret Hart. While they worked remarkably well together, Wilkes’ body had started breaking down, and he knew that his injuries would probably bring his prominent run to a premature end. Still, Wilkes explained that he did his best to perform as long as he was physically able to do so.
“So he said okay, let’s see how this thing goes and I think he saw the kind of reception I was getting night after night and the way the people were responding to me. So then that’s when he came to me about the idea of pairing Bret and I up in this Canada and America feud.
“I didn’t know how long it would last. I even, and Bret stooged me off, I knew I was gonna be married up with Bret with this angle we were doing and I just told him, I said there’s a couple things I just probably am not gonna be able to do in the ring. And of course, the next thing I know is, I’m talking to Vince and Vince wants to know why I’m limited and why I think I can’t do this and that. And I knew that I was, but I was gonna go as long as I could, and I did as long as I could physically perform.
The full interview is available here: