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Bruce Prichard on Why The Patriot Was Brought in to Face Bret Hart for the Title at Ground Zero, Explains Why It Didn’t Headline the Show

September 14, 2019 | Posted by Jeffrey Harris
The Patriot - Del Wilkes, Bruce Prichard

– On a recent edition of Something to Wrestle, Bruce Prichard discussed the 1997 WWF Ground Zero: In Your House event. The card featured then WWF champion Bret Hart vs. The Patriot in a Submission Match for the world title. Prichard explained the impetus behind the match and bringing in Patriot (aka Del Wilkes) to face Bret Hart for the title. Below are some highlights.

Bruce Prichard on bringing in The Patriot for a title match against Hart: “Well, I had been talking about bringing Del for quite some time. And Del had had tryouts with WWE before when he was — [Conrad interjects and asks if Prichard first met him in Global Wrestling Federation] — That’s where I first met him, but we had actually prior to that, even prior to Global — [that was the] first time I really worked with him, but he had come in and done tryouts when he was the Stormtrooper or State Trooper, or whatever the hell he was, with Verne [Gagne]. And he’d come, and he just was colorless, odorless, tasteless. Great body. Great look, but just not a lot of personality. And in my opinion, the mask and the gimmick, and The Patriot put some personality into Del. I brought Del up from the moment I came back in 1992. Del during that time was happy doing his — he had a great deal in Japan and had been doing stints back and forth in Japan for All Japan Pro Wrestling (AJPW) So Del wanted to continue that, and Del wanted to go on and continue doing Japan dates and not work in the states because it was just too taxing on him; the time away from home.”

“And the timing was right. And we’re looking for babyfaces. We’re looking for people to come in. I called Del. His deal in Japan was coming to an end, and he was getting ready to renegotiate. I said, ‘Before you do that, come up and talk to us.’ So, Del came up, and Vince really liked him and thought, ‘With this Patriot gimmick, with everything we have going, this maybe one of those situations where we can bring a guy in, slide him right in on top. He had the look. He could work. And let’s try out. And that’s how Del came in at the time, and Jim Cornette was a big proponent for Del. Jim also was a Del Wilkes fans and thought The Patriot coming in would also be a good opponent for Bret. So, that’s how all that happened.”

The physical issues Del Wilkes was dealing with at the time: “And I think that in theory, all that works. What didn’t work was that we didn’t realize, and Del has told this story many times in interviews and what have you, Del was damaged goods when we got him. Del had shoulder issues and some other nagging injuries from Japan that he had never taken care of. And then he had that little respite, and then he came back, and the injuries just reared their ugly head. And we weren’t informed ahead of time that all these injuries were there. So, it was a tough and quick tour for Del Wilkes as The Patriot in WWE.”

Prichard on why Patriot vs. Bret Hart for the world title wasn’t the main event at IYH: “Well again, I don’t subscribe to ‘the last match is the main event.’ That’s not so. And I think this was one of those. If anything, it was a double-main event with Shawn [Michaels] and Taker and Bret and Patriot. And somebody’s got to go on before that. We knew where we wanted to go ending with Shawn and Undertaker, so Bret and them went on before that. I don’t think Bret closing that show was the right way to go. So, main event is a term that people think, ‘Well, the main event’s the last match!’ No, it’s not. It’s not always the last match.”

Bruce Prichard defending not putting Bret Hart on last as champion when Hulk Hogan would always go on last for PPVs when he wasn’t the world champion: “At this point, and at this point in the business, we’re comparing apples to pomegranates. And we had also at this point had figured out that, ‘OK. Trying to look at Bret as Hulk was not the right thing to do.’ You had to look at Bret as Bret. And that was the period that everything we did, we did make that comment, ‘Goddamn. If this was Hulk, what would you do?’ The issue with that was that even if it was Hulk at that point, we probably would’ve done something different because what had worked for so many years needed to change, and that was evident in the business. And I think WCW with the nWo and everything that they did pushed that to make all of us change the way we did business.”

Bruce Prichard on how Patriot was booked going into the match: “I think because we went with the theory and we went with the build, ‘We’re going to bring him in on top, and they’re going to accept him as a top guy because that’s how we’ll bring him in.’ Maybe if we had more time to build, it would’ve meant more. But it was rushed. It was rushed, and it was also put in a position where you look at the other attractions on the show that you feel, ‘OK. You can have this match where maybe you’re a little bit less attractive and not look at as is this going to be the one match that everybody wants to see?’ No, but it’s a championship match people will be interested in. Yeah, it just was a rush. It was a rush without a doubt.”

If you use any of the quotes in this article, please credit Something to Wrestle with a h/t to 411mania.com for the transcription.