Flashback Friday: The Patriot

Today is a day you can’t forget. As much as you’d like to dream that it never happened, 9/11 will always be remembered. Flashback Friday is meant to celebrate a wrestler’s career and who better to commemorate than The Patriot this week.

The Patriot’s career wasn’t glamorous, but his gimmick was original and well recognized across professional wrestling. Billed from Washington, D.C., The Patriot stood tall at 6’2″, weighing 275 pounds. Actually born in Columbia, South Carolina, The Patriot’s birth name is Del Wilkes and before his wrestling career started, he was one of the best college football players in the country.

Playing for the University of South Carolina, Wilkes was an All-American and in 1984 helped set school records for touchdowns (49), points (371) and total offence (5,095 yards). Although Wilkes was having one of the most decorated careers in the school’s history, a little supplement called anabolic steroids were a huge reason for this.

In an 2014 article with The Post and Courier, Wilkes talked about his experience with drugs saying, “It was easy getting my hands on steroids. You could go into any gym and get them. It was like buying multi-vitamins. It was a big part of what we were doing.”

Steroids were like candy during the 1980s, so it’s no surprise that he was bulking up because they were so easy to obtain. Following his collegiate career, Wilkes had a few NFL tryouts but unfortunately couldn’t make any teams. His career quickly transitioned to professional wrestling because it was something that he always loved growing up.

His wrestling career began in 1988 in the American Wrestling Association (AWA), where he debuted as “The Trooper.” His gimmick had him hand out tickets after he defeated his opponents, and although it worked in America, it didn’t transition well when he took his career to Japan in 1990.

“I probably shouldn’t have been there,” Wilkes told The Post and Courier. “I wasn’t quite seasoned enough or experienced enough.”

Following a return from Japan, “The Patriot” gimmick was born. Working with Global Wrestling Federation (GWF), Wilkes was now a fan-favourite and captured the GFW North American Heavyweight Championship and GWF Television Championship during his stint with the promotion. After a quick stint with GWF, The Patriot returned to Japan, and was received much better than his previous stint. Teaming up with fellow American Jackie Fulton, who performed as “The Eagle”, the newest tandem captured the All-Asian Tag-Team Championship in 1993 and held onto the belt for three months.


Continuing to have success as The Patriot, World Championship Wrestling (WCW) came calling. After his American tag-team went over in Japan, Wilkes teamed up with Buff Bagwell to form “Stars and Stripes.” Although his time in WCW barely lasted a year, “Stars and Stripes” captured two WCW Tag-Team Championships before leaving in May 1995.

With his professional wrestling career ending quickly in the United States, Wilkes returned to Japan, where he had previous success only a few years prior. His second return to Japan was not as memorable as the first because he was never able to win any hardware, and was consistently wrestling as a mid-carder. With little traction in his career at this time, it could have been a good time for retirement, but instead, World Wrestling Federation (WWF) signed him and immediately put him in some important storylines.

The Patriot came into WWF as someone who stands up for America. During a time where a Canadian (Bret Hart) held the WWF Championship, The Patriot was sent to bring the title back to American soil. He defeated Hart in a non-title match after Shawn Michaels distracted him in July 1997, but was never able to secure the title. Following his title shot, The Patriot was scheduled to be part of Team USA at Survivor Series 1997, but a torn tricep took him out of action, and ultimately ended his career in WWF.


“It was a big deal to be able to come back and work in the states for Vince (McMahon). To get a win over Bret Hart on Monday night was big. But I knew at that point it was a matter of time. I was battling injuries. I couldn’t stay healthy,” Wilkes told The Post and Courier.

Although Wilkes’ career ended in 1998 with WWF, his issues continued afterwards. Continuing to take drugs, it was his pill addiction that became his enemy.

“A couple of pills before a match one night several months later had blown into 100 or 120 pills or tablets a day. It got completely out of control…You get hooked on the pain medication. It comes from the same plant that heroin comes from. It has the exact same qualities that heroin does, which is the most physically addictive drug there is. When you have a drug problem with opiates or heroin, and you try to come off of it cold turkey, the sickness you have to go through is unbearable,” Wilkes said to The Post and Courier. 

Wilkes’ pain addiction became so serious that he got arrested over 20 times, but his final sentence is what changed his life. After serving a nine-month prison sentence, Wilkes got sober and has lived a healthy lifestyle ever since.

Although his highest rank in Pro Wrestling Illustrated came as No. 55 in 1991, he was still recognized as the Most Inspirational Wrestler that year. He may not have had the most decorated wrestling career, but a lot of lessons can be learned from his story. After going through so many ups and downs during his career and overcoming his addiction, it’s very fitting that his gimmick was “The Patriot.”

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