Published on April 11, 2015 by Amy
Christopher “Chris” Chavis (born June 8, 1961), is a Native American professional wrestler; he is best known for his work with the World Wrestling Federation (later known as World Wrestling Entertainment) as Tatanka from 1991 to 1996 and from 2005 to 2007. His ring name is a Lakota word that literally means “bull buffalo”. He is part of the Lumbee tribe.
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Chavis started competing in powerlifting. He competed in his first bodybuilding contest, Mr. Virginia Beach, placing second. He won many competitions during his time in bodybuilding, but decided against competing on the national level and possibly turning pro. From 1985 to 1990 he worked for Bally’s Health and Tennis Corporation, becoming a divisional manager.
During the 1987 NFL Players Association strike, he received many tryouts for the National Football League, from teams such as the Miami Dolphins, Detroit Lions, Washington Redskins, and the Los Angeles Raiders. He decided to pursue a career with the Dolphins. Chavis was one of 20 hopefuls offered a deal out of approximately 2,000 tryouts. The Dolphins offered him a free agent contract with the availability to increase after the first year. He declined, since his income at Bally’s exceeded the value of the contract.
Early career (1989-1990)
In 1989, Chavis left Bally’s to pursue an accounting career. He met “Nature Boy” Buddy Rogers in Florida at a video store while looking for wrestling tapes. Rogers had Chavis call Larry Sharpe, who ran a wrestling school in southern New Jersey called “The Monster Factory”. He had his first match, as Tatanka, against Joe Thunderstorm in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, on January 13, 1990.
Rogers introduced Chavis to George Scott, the booker for the World Wrestling Federation (WWF) during the 1980s. Scott was starting his own promotion called the North American Wrestling Association, later known as South Atlantic Pro Wrestling. Chavis wrestled under the name “The War Eagle” Chris Chavis and was voted 3rd runner up for Rookie of the Year in Pro Wrestling Illustrated for 1990. Also in 1990, he became the South Atlantic Heavyweight Champion by beating Ken Shamrock. Not long after, he was signed to a WWF contract.
World Wrestling Federation
Undefeated streak (1992–1993)
Chris Chavis started his WWF career in late 1991 under his given name. Soon after, he took on the ring name “Tatanka”. After wrestling in tryout matches at house shows, Tatanka made his television debut as a fan favorite on the February 1, 1992, episode of Superstars, defeating Pat Tanaka in his debut match. As Tatanka, Chavis performed a war dance to the Lumbee tribal war cry that preceded his entrance to the ring, and had a red stripe dyed in the middle of his hair.
Tatanka was pushed as undefeated on WWF television; he did not suffer any defeat by pinfall or submission, but he lost several matches at house shows, the first being a countout loss to Rick Martel on June 4, 1992, in Fort Wayne, Indiana. Tatanka’s earliest rivalry on television was against Rick Martel; it culminated in Tatanka’s pay-per-view debut at WrestleMania VIII, with Tatanka winning the match. On May 18, 1992, Tatanka reached the peak of success by winning the 40-man Bashed in the USA battle royal. He renewed his “feud” with Martel, who had stolen sacred eagle feathers from him to add to his wardrobe, going on to defeat Martel again at Survivor Series to reclaim the feathers.
At WrestleMania IX, Tatanka received his first televised title shot in WWF against Shawn Michaels for the WWF Intercontinental Championship. Tatanka won the match by count-out. Since a title could not change hands on a count-out, Michaels retained the title. On the October 30, 1993, edition of Superstars, Tatanka suffered his first televised defeat in the WWF, losing to Ludvig Borga (Borga had hit Tatanka in the back with a steel chair while Mr. Fuji distracted the referee). After the match, he was attacked by WWF Champion Yokozuna and was subsequently out of action for three months. Tatanka returned to WWF in the beginning of 1994.
Million Dollar Corporation & departure (1994–1996)
Tatanka was honored by previous Native American professional wrestlers Chief Jay Strongbow and Chief Wahoo McDaniel and by Lumbee tribesman Ray Littleturtle on an edition of Raw. Littleturtle presented him with a full-length Lumbee tribe chief headdress. Tatanka engaged in a storyline feud with Irwin R. Schyster, who insisted he pay a gift tax on the item. Strongbow briefly served as Tatanka’s mentor and manager during the duration of the feud.
During the summer of 1994, Tatanka accused Lex Luger of selling out to Ted DiBiase, which resulted in a match between the two. Afterward, DiBiase entered the ring with a red, white and blue bag full of money. Luger kicked the bag out of DiBiase’s hands resulting in Tatanka attacking him and turning him into a villain at SummerSlam, joining DiBiase’s Million Dollar Corporation. He spent the remainder of the year feuding with Luger which topped off in a cage match on Raw that saw Luger come out the victor.
In spring 1995, Tatanka had another feud with Bam Bam Bigelow, who just turned face. As a result he teamed with Sid Vicious at King of the Ring (1995) to lose to Bigelow and Diesel. Following a hiatus at the end of August 1995, Tatanka returned to the WWF to compete in the Royal Rumble match at the Royal Rumble 1996 event, where he was eliminated by Diesel.
On March 19, 1996, Tatanka wrestled his final televised match in WWF, losing to the WWF Champion Bret Hart in a non-title match. Tatanka would leave the WWF in the spring of 1996, citing family and spiritual issues. At the time, the WWF and major rival World Championship Wrestling (WCW) were in a major talent war, and WCW President Eric Bischoff offered him a lucrative deal, but Chavis declined. He continued to appear for independent promotions, which allowed him to continue to wrestle while maintaining a lighter schedule.
Independent circuit (1997)
In 1997, Chavis wrestled for the independent New York-based promotion Ultimate Championship Wrestling (UCW), where he wrestled Bruce Hart of the Hart wrestling family, Falcon Coperis, King Kong Bundy, Jim “The Anvil” Neidhart and Marty Jannetty. He went from playing the role of a face to a heel when he turned on Falcon Coperis and Tommy Cairo to align himself with the likes of the UWF faction of the organization which included Jim Neidhart, Bruce Hart, and eventually Marty Jannetty. Chavis captured the UCW Heavyweight Championship title and handed then-champion Falcon Coperis his first championship defeat. Chavis left champion when the organization folded its professional wrestling division in 1998.
Return to WWE (2005–2007)
On August 1, 2005, Chavis returned to Raw as a face once again which was intended to be a special one-time appearance to face Eugene in the “Eugene Invitational”, a three-minute match with Kurt Angle’s Olympic gold medal on the line. Tatanka lost the match when Angle attacked Eugene with 27 seconds remaining, causing a disqualification.
Chavis returned to a full-time schedule for WWE as “Tatanka” at the tail end of 2005, debuting at a December 27 house show, teaming with Shelton Benjamin in a win over Carlito and Jonathan Coachman. He returned to television in the Royal Rumble match at the January 2006 event, where he was eliminated by Joey Mercury and Johnny Nitro. The next month he began appearing on Velocity before being moved full-time to the SmackDown! brand.
As a face, Chavis teamed with Matt Hardy to defeat MNM, the then-Tag Team Champions, in a non-title match at No Way Out. They were granted a title shot on the next edition of SmackDown!, but lost. On the April 28 SmackDown! a vignette played announcing that “a new warrior would soon be forged in Tatanka.” Over the next three weeks footage aired of Tatanka being (legitimately) adopted into the Oglala Sioux Tribe (Lakota). When he returned to wrestling Tatanka defeated Simon Dean with his new finisher, “Wakinyan” (from the Lakota word for “Thunder”).
Tatanka engaged in a mini-feud with Sylvain Grenier, trading victories with him, before he was moved into an angle where he entered into a losing streak due to what he perceived to be bad decision-making by referees during his matches. This escalated until the October 27 SmackDown! when Tatanka, alongside partner Bobby Lashley, lost a match to William Regal and Dave Taylor when Regal pinned Tatanka by illegally using the ropes after. (During the pin Dave Taylor got his hands in the last second.) After the match Tatanka argued the decision again, then he turned heel by attacking the referee and then Lashley when he tried to calm him down. The next week he appeared on SmackDown! with a new style of warpaint, covering the top of his face in black and the bottom in white, and cut a promo on Lashley saying he owed neither him nor the crowd an explanation for his actions. He compared his recent losing streak to the years of persecution that his people had suffered over the years and said that he “called upon his forefathers to unleash a new warrior in [him]“.
He asked for and was released from his WWE contract in January 2007, but not before ending his losing streak by defeating Jimmy Wang Yang, his first victory in months. WWE.com noted this event with these parting words: “Tatanka is an accomplished veteran of the squared circle. The Native American made a splash upon his entrance to the WWE in the early 90s, remaining undefeated for two years.” Tatanka stated on his official website that he requested to be released and mentioned he was not done with WWE as he would like to return someday.
Second return to the independent circuit and Total Nonstop Action Wrestling (2008–2009)
In 2008 Tatanka toured Ireland and France with the American Wrestling Rampage tour. He also wrestled for All Star Promotions in the United Kingdom. He competed in All Star and American Wrestling between August 29 to October 31, 2008, in the Tower Circus area of Blackpool Tower. He also appeared in Total Nonstop Action Wrestling for Jay Lethal’s invitational tournament, defeating him with an End of the Trail.
Second return to WWE (2010)
Tatanka made an appearance on the Old School Raw on November 15 backstage along with Ron Simmons, Dusty Rhodes, IRS, and The “Million Dollar Man” Ted DiBiase.
Third return to the independent circuit (2011–present)
Tatanka made an appearance in Danish Pro Wrestling (DPW) and lost to Chaos after he was hit by a DDT. He was given a standing ovation after the match.
Tatanka also made headlines in Scotland while appearing for Scottish Wrestling Entertainment, renewing his partnership with the Million Dollar Man Ted DiBiase in Dundee. Tatanka was due to return to Scotland to wrestle for the SWE at the Dewars Centre in Perth on the 25th of August 2012.
On August 8, 2012, Chikara announced that Tatanka would be making his debut for the promotion in the following month’s 2012 King of Trios tournament, where he will team with the 1-2-3 Kid and Aldo Montoya as “Team WWF”. In their first round match on September 14, Team WWF was defeated by The Extreme Trio (Jerry Lynn, Tommy Dreamer and Too Cold Scorpio). The following day, Tatanka defeated Sugar Dunkerton in a singles match.
Tatanka made another appearance in Danish Pro Wrestling (DPW) and defeated Chaos after hitting Wykea after a long and enduring match. He was given a standing ovation once again.
He also wrestled in Germany, in June 2013 for ACW (Athletik Club Wrestling) and GHW (German Hurricane Wrestling).
Tatanka won the MFW tag team championship in Silver Creek, New York, alongside Primal Warpath March 1, 2014.
On May 2, 2014, Tatanka won the DPW Tag Team Championship along with Rick “The Prick” Dominick.
Chavis is married to his wife Michelle. Together, they have two daughters, Christiana and Rhea, and a son, Joseph Tatanka Chavis. He lives with them in Tampa, Florida, and is a spokesperson for the Beaming Hope Church. Chris was married to Dawn Chavis Doyle in 1989 in a snowy Valentines Day wedding in Hampton, Virginia. He has a younger brother, Sean Chavis, who is currently serving in the U.S. Navy as a Chief Air Traffic Controller.