Well That Didn’t Work: Tatanka Turns Heel


Craig Wilson

In a recent post, Brian looked at how a heel turn has aided the career of a superstar. That’s not always the case and several superstars have suffered as a result of a poorly executed turn. The focus of this ‘Well That Didn’t Work‘ is the turning heel of Tatanka when he joined the Million Dollar Corporation.

Chris Chavis burst on to our screens in the early 90s performing a Native American gimmick under the moniker ‘Tatanka’ as a fan favourite.

He would go on a lengthy undefeated streak in the WWF including a victory over former tag and IC champion Rick Martel at Wrestlemania 8 and a countout victory over Shawn Michaels at Wrestlemania 9. The character was a firm hit with the WWF fan base and featured prominently in programming at the time.

His first on-screen loss came against Ludvig Borga in an angle ahead of Survivor Series 1993, an event that Tatanka was to feature in the main event of but the beatdown from Yokozuna after the Borga defeat ruled him out of action until 1994.

Upon his return he entered into a programme with IRS due to unpaid taxes on a full-length Lumbee tribe chief headdress presented to him by previous Native American professional wrestlers Chief Jay Strongbow and Chief Wahoo McDaniel.

By the summer, Tatanka was determined that Lex Luger was in the pocket of The Milion Dollar Corporation as a Luger heel turn was teased. In the end, after more than two years as a fan favourite it was Tatanka that in fact was in Dibiase’s pocket as he joined the Corporation to little or no reaction from the fan base.

In one fell swoop the WWF had taken a popular mid card superstar that was over with the fans and turned him heel. There was little pay-off to the turn from it as the Native American was relegated to all but jobber status before leaving the promotion.

To this day it still feels like the wrong man turned heel. Had it been Luger, as was teased, he could have played a sellout gimmick lashing out at the fans for not taking to him and that could have pushed him back into the main event scene and kicked off a feud with Bret Hart, the then WWF Champion.

In the end, the heel Tatanka feuded for a time with Luger which culminated in a steel cage match on Raw. By the following spring he was feuding with the freshly turned face Bam Bam Bigelow. By March 1996, Tatanka, Luger and Bam Bam were all gone from the WWE.

Now, I’m not saying that Tatanka had the potential to be the World Champion or a main eventer. No, but he was an over midcarder that was turned for no really obvious reason and in the process lost virtually all of the interest in him. The perfect example of a  heel turn for the sake of it that just didn’t work out for anyone involved in it or the subsequent angles and storylines.

4 thoughts on “Well That Didn’t Work: Tatanka Turns Heel

  1. Yeah, it was a swerve that didn’t work and seeing Tatanka in a suit didn’t feel right. It was just lame and it only damaged Lex Luger’s run in WWE which was…. eh… at best.


      • I don’t think Luger deserved to be in the main event in the WWE. Especially over guys like Bret and Shawn in those days. Even Razor Ramon was more popular than Luger and was a top mid-carder. Diesel was even more interesting than Luger despite the fact that his run as WWE champ was OK at best.


  2. WWE really screwed over Chris Chavis. They truly did not know what they had in him. He had the tools to be a major star if only Vince could have gotten totally behind him. And unlike Jay Strongbow,
    Chavis is an actual Native American, and having several Cherokee friends growing up, U can tell you, Tatanka was crazy over with the fans. I was at a show in Cape Giradeau, Missouri back in 1993, and when his music hit, the 11,400 fans in attendance lost their freaking minds. But to put a suit on him? It just felt weird to watch. I truly thought Chavis was destined to become WWE champ, or at the very least a multiple time IC titleholder. Yet one more talented athlete that they had zero fuck all idea of how to properly promote. Chavis deserved so much better. I thought he should have gone to WCW, but they probably would have had him dressing up like a rapper busting out horrid hip hop smack.


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