Full Career Retrospective and Greatest Moments for Tatanka

Erik Beaston@@ErikBeastonFeatured ColumnistJanuary 21, 2015

Credit: WWE.com

Tatanka was a character that, in hindsight, never should have worked as well as it did.

A Native American warrior, he debuted at a time when gimmicks were running rampant on WWE programming. There were clowns, repo men, Japanese sumo wrestlers...and whatever the hell Max Moon was supposed to be. Rarely did the characters work.

That is why it was such as surprise when Tatanka not only worked, but thrived, likely due to the fact that he was legitimately Native American, a member of the Lumbee tribe. He enjoyed a year-long undefeated streak, which saw him go over the likes of Rick Martel, Bam Bam Bigelow and even Shawn Michaels, that only ended when Yokozuna and Ludvig Borga conspired to beat him.

A very popular part of WWE's midcard throughout the first half of the 1990s, Tatanka was one of the company's workhorses, appearing on nearly all of the house shows and wrestling regularly on both Raw and syndicated programs.

Even as a heel, the competitor remained a valued part of the WWE roster, performing as part of villain "Million Dollar Man" Ted DiBiase's Corporation.

Tatanka and WWE parted ways in 1996 after many productive years. He made an unlikely return a decade later, starring for the SmackDown brand.

One of the most under-appreciated stars of his era, Tatanka deserves recognition for what he was able to accomplish at a time when a lesser performer would have failed miserably.

Here now is a look at his career, told through his greatest matches and moments.

Feud with Rick Martel

The first major feud Tatanka appeared in was with ring veteran Rick Martel in 1992.

At WrestleMania VIII, in the Hoosier Dome in Indianapolis, Tatanka made his debut at the Showcase of the Immortals, defeating Martel in singles competition.

But the Model was not done with the hot young star. In an attempt to frustrate and torment the competitor, Martel stole a ceremonial, sacred feather from Tatanka's wardrobe. As a result, the feud intensified, leading to a rematch at the 1992 Survivor Series event.

Again, Tatanka won.

Despite the one-sided nature of the program, Martel was the perfect partner for Tatanka to work with that early in his career. A phenomenal wrestler with a great deal of experience and success, Martel was able to acclimate the youngster into the WWE environment flawlessly.

WrestleMania IX

In the weeks leading into WrestleMania IX, Tatanka scored numerous victories over Intercontinental champion Shawn Michaels in non-title and tag team bouts. As a result, he quickly became the top contender to WWE's secondary championship.

At WrestleMania IX, the Native American competitor would receive that title opportunity, battling Michaels in the show's opening contest.

The contest was that night's best, with Tatanka hanging with his talented and critically-acclaimed opponent every step of the way. 

The bout ended in a countout, dampening what was an otherwise strong match.

Unfortunately, it was the end of Tatanka's chase of the IC title, a story that was never really resolved. Even worse is the fact that the competitor would never again have the opportunity to wear singles gold, something that had to be frustrating for him.

Million Dollar Turncoat

Questions regarding the loyalty of Lex Luger to the millions of fans who supported him abounded. It was heavily rumored that Luger had sold out to Ted DiBiase and the Million Dollar Corporation. Tatanka, Luger's well-established on-screen friend, heavily criticized Luger for what he perceived to be fact.

The differences between then, and the intensifying tension, led to a match at SummerSlam 1994.

In that contest, Tatanka defeated Luger when DiBiase interfered. In a shocking turn of events, it turned out Tatanka was the one who had sold his soul for the almighty dollar.

In the weeks and months that followed, the Native American would continue his feud with Luger, more often than not getting the upper hand.

Eventually, Tatanka began partnering with Bam Bam Bigelow. Together, they dominated the competition, advancing all the way to the finals of a tournament to crown new WWE Tag Team champions at the January 1995 Royal Rumble.

In a phenomenal match against 1-2-3 Kid and Bob Holly, the duo came up just short of capturing the gold.

Tatanka would spend the remainder of his WWE stint as a prominent member of the midcard before leaving the company in 1996.

Coming Home

In 2006, a surprise entry into the Royal Rumble match allowed Tatanka to return to WWE. His performance on that evening earned him a spot on the roster as he joined the SmackDown brand shortly thereafter.

At No Way Out in February, he teamed with Matt Hardy to battle MNM for the WWE Tag Team Championships. They came up short but Tatanka proved that, even 15 years after he first arrived in Vince McMahon's wrestling empire, he could still convincingly compete for championship gold.

He would stick around for a few months but, by year's end, would again be gone from the company.

Legacy

Tatanka was a competitor the likes of which serve as the backbone of any roster. He was a solid midcard worker who occasionally flirted with the main event. He could be counted on by management to show up and do his job.

That he did his job well only made him that much more valuable to a company light on star power and at the beginning of a war for wrestling superiority with World Championship Wrestling.

While he will never be confused with Bret Hart, Lex Luger, the Undertaker or Yokozuna, Tatanka was one of that period's featured and most popular babyface competitors.

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