The Patriot's WWE tenure didn't last long but he was involved in a memorable feud with Bret Hart during 1997. Hart had started his Anti-American gimmick along with the Hart Foundation and The Patriot, real name Del Wilkes, lived up to his character and represented the United States.
Wilkes had worked for WWE in the early 1990s and he talked about his return in 1997 when he spoke to Wrestling Inc. on our WINCLY podcast.
"I felt like it was the right place to be," Wilkes said of returning to WWE in July 1997. "I'd spent a number of years working for All Japan and worked in the states for Global Wrestling Federation. Then of course the two-time tag team champions in WCW as Stars and Stripes with [Marcus] Bagwell. But I was nearing the end of my career and it was good to be able to come back home and do it in the WWF on a grand stage. There couldn't be any better way to make my debut that night with Austin and Sid, Heartbreak Kid and Ken Shamrock and then having a stare down with the Hart Foundation."
After having a brief run with WWE that ended in 1992, Wilkes wrestled for All Japan and WCW before returning five years later. He revealed who brought him back to WWE.
"Well I talked with Jim Ross several times and Bruce Prichard reached out to me when I was in Global and first started doing The Patriot character," said Wilkes. "Bruce was there in Global and [Jim] Cornette contacted me and reached out to me. So, I had several people from WWF who reached out to me and eventually I set up a meeting with Vince. We talked one-on-one for about three hours and I walked out of there with a three-year contract offer.
"Within two days I contacted Vince and said I'm all on board and signed the contract. The rest is history."
Wilkes was thrown right into a main event feud with his return as he was the one standing up for the US in a feud against Bret Hart. Wilkes talked about working with Hart and The Hitman's ongoing tension with Shawn Michaels.
"I'm working with Bret Hart every night for this America-Canada program and there's issues between Bret and Shawn Michaels. Working so close with Bret, I get to hear his displeasure with the direction of the company and with Shawn. So, there were a lot of different things going on at that time that made it a really interesting time to be a part of that company," stated Wilkes.
He continued that Hart thought that Michaels had Vince McMahon's ear backstage. WWE started going in a new direction with the start of the Attitude Era and Hart blamed Michaels and Triple H for being a part of that.
"This is an industry that is built more to appeal to kids, but we're gonna give this more adult-oriented appeal and content. Bret didn't like it and to be honest, I didn't really like it either. He didn't feel that pro wrestling should stoop to that," said Wilkes.
He then added that when he would get to Raw, he would look at the run sheet for the show and would only let his kids watch the specific times that he was on TV because he didn't want them watching the rest of the risque product.
Wilkes and Hart wrestled at an In Your House in September 1997 that was just two months before the Montreal Screwjob. The finish of the Wilkes-Hart match was eerily similar to the Montreal Screwjob without, of course, the screwjob. The finish of the match saw The Patriot apply a sharpshooter on Bret, who reversed it and locked in one of his own to force Wilkes to submit.
Wilkes was asked if he noticed that after seeing the Montreal Screwjob take place at Survivor Series.
"Sure, absolutely. It was the first thing that came to mind but it was completely different circumstances, obviously," Wilkes said before adding that people still being unsure if the Screwjob was a work or shoot is a good thing.
"I think it's good that many question if it was a work. There's nothing wrong with that and that used to be the way the business was. Everybody would claim that it was fake…"
He then told a story about a state trooper telling him that he thought a Manny Fernandez vs. Wahoo McDaniel match was on the level and that wrestling is doing something right if people are still unsure.
"The bottom line is that if it was a shoot and was the real deal, you gotta guy leaving your company and you can't walk out with the belt. You've gotta get it off him some way and if he wasn't willing to work with you, then you've gotta do it the best way you possibly can and so be it," said Wilkes.
To purchase Del Wilkes DVD "Behind The Mask" please visit https://www.delthepatriotwilkes.com/. Wilkes full interview with Wrestling Inc was included as part of a recent episode of our WINCLY podcast. It can be heard via the embedded player at the bottom of this post. In it he discusses his relationship with Vince McMahon, feuding with Bret Hart, the Montreal Screwjob, his issues with drugs, if WWE should offer health insurance, the legacy of The Fabulous Moolah, the current WWE product, his memories of a young Eric Bischoff, AEW, Johnny Ace's creativity and more.