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wrestling / Columns

Evolution Schematic 07.04.07: Tatanka (Version 2.0)

July 4, 2007 | Posted by Mathew Sforcina

Writer’s Notes

As much as I tried, I wasn’t able to bring myself to do anything substantial this week, due in part to a bad day at work, in part due to the black cloud over the industry, and in part due to using up my creative juices helping to book Bayani’s PWG. It’s hard work thinking up an excuse to bring Trish back to wrestling you know.

But then again, it’s the 4th of July. Like anyone in the US is reading me sober. And really, when you get down to it, what’s more American then rehashing earlier work and picking on the Native Americans? But don’t worry, next week I will start a brand new, multi part ES. A very, very long multi part ES, My God Mean Gene, WHOOO!

Yes, I’m insane.

Overview

Fun Fact: Tatanka, Chris Chavis, is a Native American.

Of course, you already knew that. Because Chris, Tatanka, has embraced his heritage and lives his life by the tenants and in honor and heritage to his forbearers and tribe, the Lumbee (not Lumpy) Tribe/Nation and later by his adopted tribe of the Lakota, who initiated him into their clan in 2006. Nothing wrong with that, hell, it’s a lot better than the drives and moral system that most people use.

And it’s worked for him. Longest Undefeated Streak in WWF History, beloved around the world, and bringing respect to his people.

Of course, it’s also led to him selling out, betraying his people, and slowly fading away into nothing, only to eventually come back, not really do anything except get pissed off and once again vanish.

But in the end, has it balanced out?

Depends on your viewpoint.

Origins- His, not his people’s.

Chris was born in Pembroke North Carolina, the heart of the Lumbee tribe’s land. The 40 thousand odd people who make up the current descendants mostly live in the south-east of the state, and Pembroke is seen to be the center of the tribe in terms of their culture today.

Thus, he was brought up in the heartland of his people, and thus his strong ties to them is natural, anyone brought up in their people’s heartlands would, you’d expect, feel such a close tie. What was not automatic however was his impressive skills, on the sporting field, in the classroom and in the US Army Cadets. He rose through the ranks in all 3 areas, and was a successful and popular student.

After University, Chris entered the world of Professional Body Building and achieved some success, his natural athletic ability becoming honed by the rigorous training needed for such a demanding field. This would become essential in later years.

It seemed, for a while, that Chris would continue to play football, as he had done so successfully at University, but he chose not to go after the dream, despite many offers. For Chris had another dream in mind, one that would allow him to bring much more focus to himself and thus his people.

Yes, this would be wrestling.

Debut- WWA, NAWA, SAPW. Your general Indy career back then.

“The War Eagle” Chris Chavis debuted in 1990, fighting in several independent companies around the New Jersey area, and quickly rose in the ranks, his athletic ability and heart made him a formidable opponent, Chris winning most of his matches, and also gaining gold here and there (including winning a Heavyweight Title off Ken Shamrock). Chris’ rise was quick and sudden, and was noticed by many, including the WWF head office. Very soon, Jack Tunney and his office had signed Chris to join the WWF.

Phase 2- WWF, 1991, Chris Chavis.

Chris began as, well, Chris Chavis, defeating several journeymen in the WWF. But quickly, he realized that this was the WWF, and he needed to think bigger.

Phase 3- WWF, 1992, Tatanka.

Chris, wanting to make a bigger impact, then changed a few things about himself. Since he was now on an international platform, he had to think about making impacts not only with his in-ring ability, but his whole life. While he was proud of his own tribe, he now felt that he was representing all Native American tribes, and all Native American people.

So he took the name Tatanka, and vowed to represent all Native American Peoples, and hoped to lead a bright new future for the WWF and his brothers. He also dyed a red band in his hair at this point, the red symbolizing the bravery and blood shown by all the Native Americans throughout the years.

Now, while it is true that Native Americans don’t, normally, like being lumped together in one big group, each tribe is different and unique, they still share a basic, common history and heritage, and their differences and individualism between tribes is one of the reasons it is so strong and so important, the tapestry is rich. Therefore while on one level it could be seen to be disrespectful to try and represent ‘all’ Native Americans, on another, their differences can be respected while you work together as a group.

Of course, this didn’t really matter much, given that everyone loves a winner.

Phase 3b- Before Goldberg, Before Hussan, There Was Tatanka.

Tatanka began his WWF career by beating Warlord on February 18th, 1992. He continued to gain wins leading up to Wrestlemania VIII where ‘The Model’ Rick Martel, looking for an easy victim to get himself a Wrestlemania Win, challenged Tatanka to a match. Tatanka showed real fire and ended up beating Rick in short order.

Rick was enraged, and after waiting a little while to scope the man he had underestimated go on to win several matches without losing, Rick made his move. Rick attacked Tatanka after a match, blinded him with his Arrogance cologne and then stole some of Tatanka’s feathers to really hammer home the insult. But Tatanka ended up inflicting the injury, beating Rick in all of their matches, Rick unable to beat Tatanka in the ring but always getting away with the last laugh, still holding the feathers, the insult still weighing on Tatanka’s mind. Tatanka focused on getting wins and building his reputation while waiting to get his hands on Martel again, who had gotten into an ongoing problem with Shawn Michaels over Sherri.

After beating The Bezerker at Wembley Stadium for Summerslam, people were starting to notice that the already popular and loved Tatanka was undefeated, and began to really get behind him. So much so that Martel had no option but to give in and give Tatanka another match, this one at Survivor Series. And while Doink made some kids cry by popping their balloons in the crowd, Tatanka beat Martel one last time and was able to get his fathers back and reclaim the lost pride.

And then Tatanka continued to improve his perfect win/loss record, winning match after match.

40 Man Battle Royal? Tatanka wins.

Non-Title match against the current IC Champ, Shawn Michaels? Tatanka wins.

Damien Demento? Tatanka wins 3 nights running.

Razor Ramon? Tatanka wins!

Royal Rumble? Yokozuna wins.

Ah. Well, the Rumble doesn’t count for Wins and Losses. It’s an achievement, not a match. But regardless, Tatanka’s record in one on one matches was still perfect, and no one had pinned him, or made him submit. So Shawn Michaels, always on the look out to make himself look better, came out to attack Tatanka after a match and after getting chopped out of the ring, was signed to fight Tatanka at Wrestlemania IX for the IC title. After all, Tatanka held wins over him before.

Leading up to the show, Shawn dumped his long time manager and girl Sherri Martel, and on the night, debuted his new girl, Luna Vachon. But Tatanka was prepared, and had Sherri with him when he came down to the ring, Sherri getting into the mood by dressing up like an Indian out of respect (or maybe just because she knew it made her look good). But the women did not get involved as Shawn, frustrated at his inability to beat Tatanka, and upset over looking bad in front of the fans, his old girl and his new girl, ended up roughing up the ref to get himself DQed and thus keeping his belt, and keeping Tatanka’s record spotless.

Tatanka continued to fight and win, his record remaining empty in terms of losses (outside of Royal Rumbles), but not getting title shots given that no-one wanted to put the belt up against him, which would weigh on Tatanka’s mind, but for now, he was happy to remain undefeated. He got a major win in the lead up to the first (PPV broadcast) King Of The Ring tournament, beating Giant Gonzales. But then…

At the King Of The Ring, Tatanka, through sheer dumb luck, drew Lex Luger. Now, while the two did have vaguely similar backgrounds, Bodybuilding into Wrestling, Lex held more experience from his days in WCW, plus the fact that he had a steel plate in his forearm that he was using to knock people out. So much so that at the time, Luger was also undefeated in the WWF. So it was going to be very interesting, since someone’s undefeated streak would be coming to an end.

Or not, as neither man managed to do what no-one else could, and the two fought to a time limit draw. Luger proved how sneaky and bad he was by KO’ing Tatanka with the unpadded forearm (he had to wear one while fighting as decreed by Jack Tunney) after the match.

After the event, Tatanka was continuing his streak when he was attacked by Bam Bam Bigelow, who took a page out of Martel’s playbook and, after attacking Tatanka with a steel chair, took something of Tatanka’s. But this time, he went one step further and cut off several locks of Tatanka’s red hair. In Pro Wrestling, cutting someone’s hair is the ultimate insult, and for Tatanka, there was no difference. Tatanka took some time off to prepare for battle, and came back bigger, badder and a lot more pissed off. And he and Bam Bam fought in many battles, Tatanka consistently getting the upper hand but not relenting, wanting to punish Bam Bam for his crime.

Tatanka, teaming with the Smoking Gunns beat Bigelow and the Headshrinkers at Summerslam 93, Tatanka pinning Samu. And then a fortnight later, a funny thing happened.

Phase 3c- Tatanka, getting…booed?

See, Jerry Lawler, fresh off winning the exclusive rights to being King in the WWF off Bret Hart, was feeling pretty damm good about himself. So much so that, as USWA Champion, challenged Tatanka, offering him a title shot. The WWF had an arrangement with USWA at the time, given that USWA was minor compared to the WWF, they didn’t see them as a threat, like with ECW and ROH. So Tatanka was allowed to wrestle, and he did, answering the challenge.

And there, deep in Lawler territory, on September 13th, Tatanka fought Jerry for the USWA Title. And got booed out of the building, the fans all hardcore Lawler supporters. But Tatanka, despite being confused, managed to put his head down and get the job done, and managed to beat Lawler and win the title.

But Lawler had a rematch clause, kinda. And began the worst fortnight of Tatanka’s life.

Phase 4- Tatanka…Loses?

See, the following week, Lawler and Tatanka fought against each other in an 8 man Survivor Series tag match, with the special stipulations that if Tatanka was pinned, he who pinned him would win the title. And despite Tatanka fighting valiantly, the numbers were just too much, and Lawler was able to get a cheap pinfall on Tatanka, and thus win the title back off him.

But this shook Tatanka, as for the first time in a long time, he had been pinned.

A week later, Tatanka’s broken concentration returned with a vengeance, as he was fighting Anti-American Finnish Environmentalist Ludvig Borga. The two were set to fight in another Survivor Series style match at, well, Survivor Series, Borga leading a group of Anti-Americans while Tatanka was to team with now Ultra-Patriot Lex Luger. But Borga put an end to that, as with the help of a massive chair shot, Ludvig pinned Tatanka to end his record breaking nearly 2 year winning streak. Then, to further add injury to injury, Yokozuna (one of Ludvig’s partners) came out and nailed 2 Banzai Drops, breaking Tatanka’s ribs. Tatanka was injured, and would not be seen for a few months.

Phase 5- Tatanka’s back with a vengeance.

Tatanka returned in late 1993, demanding of Jack Tunney a WWF Title shot against the man who injured him, Yokozuna. He also wanted to get his hands on Borga.

This marked a change in Tatanka, arguably for the better. While he had his undefeated streak, while Tatanka was not a coward, he was…conservative. He forgo possible title shots, he didn’t push himself against the premier names, either out of greed, or more likely careful planning. Tatanka, while undefeated, be it consciously or unconsciously, didn’t demand title shots, he was happy to fight whoever was picked. And since the squeaky wheel gets the grease, he didn’t get title shots, but rather a certain level of talent that he had a good shot against, so much so that he won for nearly 2 years in a row.

But of course, now, that was different. Wins and losses were no longer the goal. This was about revenge, about lessons, not numbers. With that came a slightly different style, Tatanka now taking more chances in the ring, which helped the WWF Officials agree to his requests, given that in place of the popular, solid if slightly conventional wrestler was a popular, driven and slightly risk-taking wrestler. And thus Tatanka, after beating Diesel and proving he could beat big men, was given a title shot in early January 1994 against Yokozuna. Tatanka fought his hardest, and on several occasions he came within a second of winning the title, but in the end Yokozuna’s manager, Mr. Fuji, caused a DQ to allow Yoko to keep his belt. But the lesson was learned, Tatanka was back and ready to step up.

And then Ludvig went and “broke his ankle”. And thus he was forced to pull out of his scheduled match against Tatanka at the Royal Rumble. Of course, the fact that Ludvig never returned to the WWF either shows that he was really, really scared of Tatanka or that the injury was, as Tatanka claimed, a lie, or that his injury was quite severe. Or maybe both. Regardless, Bam Bam, who still didn’t like Tatanka despite being involved with (beloved) Doink, was quite happy to replace Borga in the match, up until the moment Tatanka pinned him. However, Bam Bam got a measure of revenge later in the night when he was able to eliminate Tatanka from the Royal Rumble, as they (along with The Hart Brothers) were the first men to ever fight a match before the Rumble then wrestle in the Rumble itself.

Tatanka was then given a great honor, as 2 former Native American Legends (former wrestlers, not former Native Americans) Chiefs Jay Strongbow and Wahoo McDaniels, along with a Chief of Tatanka’s Lumbee tribe, held a ceremony on an episode of Raw and gave Tatanka a symbolic gift, a ornate Chief Headdress in honor of his achievements and his representation of his tribe. This was extremely important, as gifts of this type were held in the highest honor in the Lumbee tribe, and the speeches from the men who paved the way for Tatanka were also glowing.

But really, giving another thing for people to steal from Tatanka may not have been the best idea. But at least the next man to have problems with Tatanka didn’t actually steal it. Irwin R. Schyster, as the WWF’s resident Tax Man, had a legitimate issue with Tatanka. Tatanka had begun, out of honor and respect, wearing the headdress before his matches, then reverently placing it on the turnbuckle while he wrestled. This constant reminder of how Tatanka was, you know, liked, weighed on IRS, who insisted that Tatanka had to pay a gift tax on the gift. Tatanka then, quite rightly, responded, pointing out that as a full blooded Lumbee Tribe member, he got special dispensation from the government in regards to some taxes, and thus he did not have to pay the tax. IRS said he did. Tatanka said he didn’t. IRS beat him up and said he had to, Cheat. Tatanka beat IRS up then said that he didn’t, bitch. IRS then responded by tying Tatanka up in the ropes, wearing the headdress, beating up Tatanka’s mentor Chief Jay Strongbow and then tearing the headdress up, stuffing some feathers into both Tatanka and Strongbow’s mouths.

To say this annoyed Tatanka would be an understatement.

Tatanka, despite IRS running whenever he could, got his hands on IRS several times and each time beat the hell out of him in revenge. But while he continued to do this, Tatanka also wanted title shots, shots that he felt he deserved and that, like they were to Strongbow and McDaniels, were being denied to him. Thus, he entered the King Of The Ring tournament, sure that winning it would put him back into the title picture, given the way Yokozuna had had to cheat to retain the belt months before.

But unfortunately, while he was able to get past Crush in the qualifying round, Tatanka fell to the eventual winner of the 94 KOTR tournament, Owen Hart.

And then came the darkness.

Phase 5b- You’ve Sold Out!

Tatanka and Lex Luger, despite their turbulent past, had become fast friends at this point, both loving America in their own way and respecting each other. But in the lead up to Summerslam, Tatanka began to make hard claims. He claimed that Luger had once again turned his back on the fans and sold out, to the Million Dollar Corporation. Luger denied this, although Tatanka seemed to have more and more circumstantial evidence against Luger. So much so that the two men were to fight at Summerslam. And in the match, the two had a stand off when Ted DiBiase came out, distracted Luger, and allowed Tatanka to roll up Luger for the win.

Tatanka then beat up Luger, solidifying his own turn to the dark side.

Phase 6- (Some sort of reference to Indian Casinos that can’t be construed as Racist here).

So why did he do it? Again, it came down to title shots. Tatanka was upset over how, despite having an incredible undefeated streak in the books, having champions scared of him, and being wildly popular, and after asking for them, he didn’t get title shots. He was being overlooked and, in a way, discriminated against. And in order to be a hero to Native American’s everywhere, he needed the world title. And, with Ted DiBiase’s help, he could get them. A warrior has to be focused on the end goal, with no exceptions or distractions.

Logical, sane and with some degree of truth to it, the fans immediately turned on Tatanka, booing him mercilessly and not listening to him. Tatanka became a loyal member of the Corporation, willing to sacrifice himself at Survivor Series to give fellow Corporation members Bam Bam Bigelow (who had made up with Tatanka, both respecting each other due to the ferocity of their battles in the past, as Tatanka had made up with IRS, IRS apologizing for what he had done and Tatanka being the bigger man and forgiving him) and King Kong Bundy the opening they needed to pin Lex Luger to win their Survivor Series style match.

Tatanka and Bam Bam, having worked so well as a team (and Bundy having his hands full with The Undertaker), entered the Tag Title Tournament in late 1994 to early 1995 to crown new Tag Champions after, ahem, Two Dudes with Attitudes (Diesel & Shawn Michaels) split up and refused to defend the belts. Tatanka and Bam Bam worked well as a team despite not teaming much before hand, beating Men On A Mission in the opening round and then the Headshrinkers in the second. This led them to the finals, where they fought the also thrown together team of Bob Holly and the 1-2-3 Kid, but in a slight upset due to miscommunication between Tatanka and Bam Bam, Holly and The Kid ended up winning. Blaming Bam Bam for the loss, Tatanka and DiBiase walked out on him, leaving him to get into a fight with Lawrence Taylor at ringside.

Tatanka at this point was obviously blinded by the lifestyle that DiBiase could provide, as he wasn’t getting title shots, and yet he didn’t seem to mind. Or, alternatively, Ted had laid out the game plan. Get the title on Sid, the Corporation’s newest and biggest acquisition, and then they could spend the rest of time playing tradies, swapping the belt between each other. This would explain why Tatanka caused a DQ in the main event of the first ever In Your House PPV, when despite Sid kicking out of Diesel’s powerbomb, Tatanka ran in for the DQ.

This led to Diesel wanting to get at both Sid and Tatanka, along with Bam Bam, who obviously wanted to get at Tatanka and anyone else in the Corporation. This led to a rather unusual main event for a WWF PPV, a tag match, pitching Sid and Tatanka against Diesel and Bam Bam. At King Of The Ring 1995.

And that match ended up ruining any chance Tatanka had of getting a World Title shot, since despite Diesel’s bad elbow, Tatanka got pinned by Diesel after an elbow drop. Admittedly he had taken a massive powerbomb just prior, but it was still humiliating.

And when Sid was unable to wrest the title off Diesel in a Lumberjack match at the second In Your House, the Corporation’s, and thus Tatanka’s, window closed.

Tatanka continued to wrestle, but he did not get any more major shots, getting overshadowed by Sid, The 1-2-3 Kid and Xanta Claus. He did get into the 1996 Royal Rumble, which could have started a resurgence, but despite eliminated future ECW World Champ Aldo Montoya, he couldn’t make much of it, being eliminated by Diesel.

He and The 1-2-3 Kid lost their opening round match in the 1996 Tag Title Tournament to Razor Ramon and Savio Vega. Tanaka then lost to The Undertaker on an episode of Raw. And then, in what was Tatanka’s last chance, he lost to Bret Hart despite the Kid’s help on March 18th. This was the last time Tatanka would be seen on WWF TV.

Phase 7- A ten year break to clear the head.

Tatanka then took a long break from Pro Wrestling to get his head straight. He realized what he had done, who he had hurt, and had to make amends, possibly helped by Ted DiBiase to find Christianity. After a few years, he returned to the Independent circuit, winning a few titles. But for nearly 10 years, he was off the radar.

Phase 8- Yeah, just one match…

Until Eugene held his first ever ‘Eugene Invitational’ for ‘his’ Olympic Gold Medals on an episode of Raw. And since the event was being held in the Mohegan Sun Casino, a hometown hero would have to be a Native American. So, Tatanka answered the call. The match ended in a no contest after Kurt Angle, the guy who won the medals in the first place, interfered. The following day, Tatanka announced to the world that he had signed a deal with WWE.

He disappeared for a while, to train and prepare for this new challenge, but eventually, he made his debut.

Phase 9- Smackdown’s ‘Newest’ Star…

In late 05 Tatanka made his ‘debut’ at a WWE Live Event, to make sure he still had what it took and so on. Teddy Long felt so, and brought him to Smackdown. He re-debuted on air at the 06 Rumble, being a surprise entrant at #15. He performed well, but was eventually eliminated by the NM part of MNM, a.k.a Nitro and Mercury.

This annoyed him, as any elimination is want to do to whomever suffers it, and when he was given a chance to take MNM on, Matt Hardy needing a partner at No Way Out in a non-title tag match, he jumped at it, and he and Hardy ended up beating MNM. This, as you would expect from a pinfall victory over the tag champs, got the team a tag title shot on the next Smackdown. They failed to win the tag belts.

Tatanka then, while not disappearing into the night, did become part of Smackdown’s landscape, not standing out, but not dropping off the face of the earth. He got a win over Booker T due to the Boogeyman’s…existence, he got some wins on Velocity, he was eliminated from the Money In The Bank Qualifying Battle Royal, stuff like that. Not that impressive, it seemed, although it impressed some people.

Phase 10- “The Rebirth Of Tatanka” (Yet again…)

Namely, the Lakota Tribe. They felt that Tatanka’s years of service to, in part, their tribe was worthy of tribute, and thus they inducted him into their nation. This was a huge honor for Tatanka, and after he went through the various rituals and such needed, came back to Smackdown with a new purpose, a new drive.

Not that it did much good, except for some wins over Simon Dean, he didn’t do much. He got eliminated from the WWE vs. ECW Battle Royal, he got mass…slau…kil…beaten badly by The Great Khali and then shoved in a body bag, then Sylvan a few weeks later beat Tatanka after using Tatanka’s tomahawk, a huge insult. But Tatanka got his revenge the following week.

And then things went all pear shaped.

Phase 11- The Bad Luck Cycle

Because the week after his victory over Sylvan, August 11th 2006, Tatanka lost to Gregory Helms. Not in itself a terrible thing, but Tatanka’s foot was under the rope when the pinfall was counted.

The next week, Ken Kennedy won with tights.

The next week, Sylvester Terkay beat him while he argued with the ref over a bad call.

The week after that, Miz beat him with Miz’s feet all over the ropes.

The week after THAT, Chavo Guerrero beat him. The last name there tells the story.

2 Weeks later, Sylvan ‘cheated’ by having the fans wildly cheering him and thus throwing Tatanka off his game plan.

Then the week after that, Miz again won with shenanigans.

And then, the second last straw, the week after, Elijah Burke beat him thanks to Terkay’s assistance.

The final straw was two weeks after this second last straw, when Tatanka teamed with Bobby Lashley to take on William Regal and Dave Taylor. And Regal won thanks to feet on the ropes. And this set Tatanka off. He didn’t mind losing if he was beaten, but he was being held down, screwed over, etcetc. So he, naturally, attacked the ref. And then, when Lashley tried to stop him, Tatanka attacked him too, ending his attack with one of the more blatant and brutal nut shots in Smackdown history.

Phase 12- A new Tatanka. A Raccoon Tatanka.

The next week Tatanka debuted his new look and new attitude. Black face paint on the top, white on the bottom. Tatanka, sick of the abuse and cheating going on around him, had called upon his forefathers and they awoke a vengeful warrior inside of him. He challenged Lashley, who was in the ring at the time, to take on a whole nation of warriors.

Apparently Lashley refused, given that the two never crossed paths again. Tatanka would go on to fight and lose against Chris Benoit in a non US Title match, draw against Jimmy Wang Yang on the first SD of 07 and thus miss out on getting a RR Title shot, then beat Yang the week after.

He was then fired, along with a whole bunch of other superstars.

Today- Once more into the breach of obscurity.

Although Tatanka has made a couple Independent appearances, he has once again, for the most part, dropped off the map. If this exile lasts another 10 years like the previous one we can only wait and see, although he’ll be getting on a bit if he does wait that long.

Conclusion

Tatanka has embraced his heritage, and become a embodiment of his people and his greater heritage. And like any heritage, that comes with both good and bad. But throughout it, he’s remained true to himself and his people. And is that not worth respect?

Regardless, he’s still given us “Tatanka…Buffalo!”. And isn’t that enough of a gift?

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Mathew Sforcina
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