Born in Pembroke, North Carolina, this Native American is part of the Lumbee tribe. Chris Chavis’ in-ring persona of “Tatanka” is a Lakota term meaning “Buffalo”.
Chavis’ career started off on the right foot: powerlifting. He competed in many bodybuilding competitions, winning several during this period of his career.
Also during this time, Chavis was offered a free agent contract to play football with the Miami Dolphins; an opportunity most would have died for. Chavis however declined the offer purely because his annual income from Bally’s Health and Tennis Corporation where he worked at the time exceeded the figure paid for the football contract.
In 1989, Chavis eventually left Bally’s and wound up meeting wrestling legend “Nature Boy” Buddy Rogers (former manager of Jimmy “Superfly” Snuka). Rogers encouraged Chavis to begin training to become a pro wrestler through his friend Larry Sharpe that ran a wrestling school in New Jersey.
Once he was properly trained and ready to rumble, Chavis ended up working for a new promotion known as “South Atlantic Pro Wrestling” under the moniker “The War Eagle” Chris Chavis. He made quite a splash, earning the respect of the fans and ultimately defeated Heavyweight Champion Ken Shamrock.
Before long, the World Wrestling Federation came knocking and promoted the “War Eagle” with many victories, most against jobbers at the time. Chavis later re-invented his image under his now famous name of “Tatanka” and dyed a red stripe along his hair to resemble a Mohawk of sorts. He would emit a loud Lumbee war cry before beginning his match and would also perform a tribal dance after his victory.
Tatanka’s first big feud was with Rick “The Model” Martel who had stolen some of Tatanka’s sacred eagle feathers to add to his snazzy wardrobe. The two engaged in many battles with Tatanka emerging victorious and re-claimed his feathers at the 1992 Survivor Series Pay-Per-View.
At WrestleMania IX, Tatanka got a shot at the Intercontinental title belt against the then-champion “Heartbreak Kid” Shawn Michaels. Tatanka won the bout by countout, but never actually wore the strap around his waist. Worthy of note is the fact that at this point in time, Tatanka had gone through an undefeated (by pinfall or submission) two year streak which unfortunately was soon to be broken.
He then became involved in a feud with the late Ludvig Borga who ultimately pinned him on televised episode of WWF Superstars. The two were slated to settle their differences at the Royal Rumble, but due to an injury, Borga was replaced by the late Bam Bam Bigelow whom Tatanka defeated.
In 1994 an interesting series of events transpired involving Tatanka and one of the big heel tag teams at the time, Money Inc. Tatanka started off feuding as a face against Irwin R. Schyster (Mike Rotundo) but then turned heel once it was learned that the “Million Dollar Man” Ted DiBiase had successfully bribed Tatanka. Tatanka attacked fan favorite Lex Luger and the two became involved in a series of matches with Luger emerging victorious the majority of the time.
1995 was fairly unremarkable for the Native American and in 1996 he ultimately decided to leave the WWF. He was apparently offered a very lucrative offer from WCW head honcho Eric Bischoff which Tatanka refused.
In 1997, Chavis emerged in the independent Universal Wrestling Federation (UWF) as a face, but eventually turned heel and successfully acquired the UWF’s Heavyweight Championship. Unfortunately for Tatanka, the federation shut down its operations in 1998 with him still as champion.
After a long absence from the ring, Tatanka re-emerged in the WWE in 2005 on an episode of Raw which most anticipated would be a one-shot deal. Due to his popularity, he eventually because a full time staple in the WWE and was involved in some tag team bouts with the likes of Shelton Benjamin and Matt Hardy and feuded with Simon Dean and Sylvain Grenier in singles competition.
In 2006, Tatanka became involved in a bizarre angle where he went on a long losing streak. In a tag match with fellow face Bobby Lashley, Tatanka lost by pinfall to William Regal who cheated by putting his feet on the ropes. Out of frustration and a desire to contest the decision, he tuned heel by attacking both Lashley and the referee.
He then appeared on Smackdown the following week with half his face white and half black stating that he was being persecuted against by the WWE much as his Native people had been.
He then departed ways with the WWE in 2007 with the intent of a potential future return.
After about a year, Tatanka appeared in more independent wrestling circuits and even for a brief stop on Total Nonstop Action (TNA).
From 2011 onwards, Tatanka mostly wrestled for independent federations in Europe, grappling in Germany, Denmark and Scotland.
In 2015, the WWE announced on their website that Tatanka had been given a contract to be a part of their “WWE Legends” program. He also appeared as a face participating in WrestleMania 32’s Andre the Giant Memorial Battle Royal, but was not victorious.
Tatanka has certainly cemented his place in the history of the WWE with his charisma, athletic ability and physique. It has often been debated amongst fans why his 2 year long undefeated streak was never really overly promoted by the WWE, now or then. Some speculate it could be because he never had a WWE championship belt; others claim it is racism; others argue that he had previously lost by countout and still others claim that Tatanka was just not “over” enough with the fans. Regardless, the man’s contributions and achievement to this sport cannot go unrecognized.
Special thanks to Dr. Stephen Balsky for contributing the above wrestler profile.
Dr. Stephen Balsky is a chiropractor currently in practice in his native Toronto, Ontario, Canada. He has been a wrestling fan since age 13 and is very passionate about the product, especially the “old-school” 80’s – 90’s era. He completed his Masters of Business Administration (MBA) degree in 2015 and currently is also working part-time as a professor in both business and healthcare.