Did WWE Accidentally Hire Tatanka, Instead Of Masato Tanaka?

Hamish Woodward

When Tatanka made his return to the WWE in 2005, fans were not sure what Vince McMahon was thinking. In fact, many thought that they meant to sign Masato Tanaka to a deal instead, following an incredible performance at ECW One-Night Stand 2005.

Tatanka hadn’t wrestled for the WWE since 1996, having left the company to go out on the independent circuit on his own. The Native American wrestler even retired in 2003, making his return even more surprising. It seemed clear that the WWE made a mistake in re-hiring Tatanka, but the true mistake they made is absolutely hilarious.

Tatanka Returned To The WWE During A 2005 Open Challenge

Tatanka left the WWE in 1996, but made a shock return to the company during a 2005 open challenge. The Native American superstar retired in 2003, citing family and spiritual issues, but made a one-night-only return to the WWE in 2005.

The former WWE wrestler answered Eugene’s “Hometown Open Challenge”. While Kurt Angle claimed that there were no Native American wrestlers who could answer that week’s challenge, the crowd exploded when Tatanka returned for the first time in nearly a decade to do battle with Eugene over Kurt Angle’s Olympic Gold Medal.

While he didn’t last the three minutes required to win the Gold Medal (Kurt Angle interfered to attack Eugene, after he used Angle’s signature moves on Tatanka), the Native American performed well in his return match, and had fans excited to see more of him in the ring.

Sadly, he wasn’t brought in on a full-time basis after that match. He stayed out the ring until later that year, when the WWE brought Tatanka back for a short-term run on the house show circuit.

WWE Brought Back Tatanka Before The 2006 Royal Rumble

Tatanka returned to the WWE later that year to wrestle on four house shows. In a complete shock, Tatanka was brought back into the company in late December 2005, teaming with Shelton Benjamin in a series of tag team matches against Carlito and Johnathan Coachman.

Coachman was a non-wrestler, but was set to appear in the 2006 Royal Rumble as an active wrestler. These matches were to get him ready for some time in the ring, although Tatanka’s inclusion originally seemed very surprising.

Little information in known about these matches. It has been reported that the team of Tatanka and Shelton Benjamin beat Carlito and Coachman in all four matches, although we don’t know who got the pin fall victory, or how Tatanka looked in his performances. However,it clearly did enough for the WWE to bring Tatanka back again, this time on a more full-time basis.

Tatanka Returned At The 2006 Royal Rumble

It would not be long until Tatanka made his full-time return to the WWE. The Native American wrestler was a shock entrant into the Royal Rumble match in 2006, with the crowd jumping to their feet as soon as his familiar war cry shook through the arena.

In the match that was eventually won by Rey Mysterio, Tatanka entered at number 15 in the match. He did not manage to make any eliminations, but moved around the ring well and excited the fans by hitting all his classic signature moves, including his Tomahawk Chops. Tatanka was thrown out of the match by MNM (Joey Mercury and Johnny Nitro), signing to the Smackdown brand soon after this appearance.

He quickly returned to WWE TV, first wrestling on Velocity before starting a tag team with Matt Hardy. He and Hardy defeated MNM at No Way Out 2006, but failed to win the WWE Tag Team Championships from the same team later on Smackdown.

Despite a heel turn later on in the year, Tatanka spent just under a year in the WWE. He was released from his contract on January 19, 2007, ending his return in disappointing fashion and achieving very little in his year back in the ring.

However, this may have been because the WWE actually hired the wrong man when they brought back Tatanka, with a former ECW Champion the real object of their desire following the ECW One-Night Stand event.

Masato Tanaka vs Mike Awesome Occurred At ECW One Night Stand 2005

After years of pesterin by Rob Van Dam, Vince McMahon finally relented in 2005 and agreed to bring back ECW – in some form. He had purchased the company in 2003, two years after the Paul Heyman-led enterprise had gone bankrupt, ending a run unlike any other in wrestling history.

The WWE put on the ECW One-Night Stand event in June 2005, bringing back all the biggest legends from the world of ECW. The Sandman, The Dudley Boyz, Tommy Dreamer and more starred in this celebration of hardcore, taking place in the classic Hammerstein Ballroom arena that had become so synonymous with the hardcore brand.

One of the matches that adorned this incredible show was a long-awaited rematch between two former ECW Champions – Masato Tanaka vs Mike Awesome. The pair feuded from 1999 to 2000 over the ECW Championship, putting on some of the most incredibly brutal and exciting matches the promotion ever put on.

Due to the way Mike Awesome left ECW in 2000 (Walking out of the company as the world champion to join WCW), the fans at the arena did not like him at all. ECW One-Night Stand 2005 played host to the rematch between Mike Awesome and Masato Tanaka.

The bout was less than ten minutes long, but jammed packed with enough action for an entire show. Top Rope powerbombs, table bumps, brutal throws across the ring and even a series of unprotected chair shots to the had made this one of the most dangerous looking, and thoroughly entertaining matches the WWE has ever put on (although one of Joey Styles’ comments about Mike Awesome is absolutely horrific looking back).

Given how well both men performed, it would make sense that the WWE would make an attempt to hire them back, to help start up the ECW brand again on WWE TV. But did they make a mistake, and hire Tanaka instead of Tanaka?

Did WWE Hire Tatanka Instead Of Masato Tanaka?

It is possible that WWE made the mistake by rehiring Tatanka, when they meant to rehire Masato Tanaka. Due to how similar their names are, and how close together ECW One-Night Stand and Tatanka’s re-debut was, it looks even more likely that this was the case.

ECW One-Night Stand took place on June 12th, 2005. This was one of the best events they have ever put on, with Masato Tanaka’s performance being a true stand-out on the show. Less than two months later, Tatanka returned to the WWE on August 1st, 2005 as part of Eugene’s open challenge on Smackdown.

It seems likely that the WWE signed Tatanka by mistake – likely that somebody told John Laurinaitis was told to rehire Tanaka, and he misheard the instruction and went back in the archives to find the mid-1990s mid-card act that had not starred in a major wrestling promotion for the past decade, and had even retired from the business two-years prior.

This was a very silly mistake, but it wasn’t the only time he did this.

While it does seem very unlikely that John Laurinaitis would be so stupid as to hire to the wrong wrestler, it may shock you to know that he already did that once, two years prior to Tatanka’s WWE return.

Zach Gowen was a key part of the WWE in 2003. The one-legged wrestler engaged in a memorable feud with Brock Lesnar, as well as being involved in storylines with Hulk Hogan, Roddy Piper and Matt Hardy, which was a huge push for a young wrestler with just a few years in the business.

Gowen had wrestled in TNA prior to his signing with WWE, and was the most famous one-legged wrestler in the business – but Johnny Ace didn’t know this. He simply hired the first disabled wrestler he could find, not realizing that he hadn’t signed Zach Gowen until he had already brought in another, much worse one-legged wrestler into the WWE.

“I guess the story is that, from what I hear – please don’t take this as Gospel because I’ve never heard from either of these two gentlemen – but, I guess Jim Ross heard about me and told Johnny Ace to sign the one legged wrestler.” Zach Gowen said in an interview.

“So Johnny Ace [John Laurinaitis] called Steve Keirn, who ran a school down in Florida and Steve Keirn said, “Yeah I’ve got a one legged wrestler here.”  So they signed that guy.  Steve Chamberland thinking he was me.  I think they signed him when I was actually on TNA on a live pay-per-view.”

“So he goes back to the office and Johnny Ace goes, “Yo.  I signed the one legged guy.”  But I was actually on TV at the time.  How he got the wrong one legged guy, I’m not sure because that guy’s like 6’3, 275.” So not gospel, but where there’s smoke there definitely appears to be fire.”

Jim Ross On Tatanka’s Return To The WWE

Jim Ross spoke on his podcast, Grillin’ JR, about the return fo Tatanka in 2006, making no comment on the idea that he was mistakenly hired back in place Masato Tanaka.

He noted that the WWE wanted to recapture the “Lightning in the Bottle” that they had with Tatanka in the 1990s, but that they did nothing to help build up Tatanka in the eyes of the fans, and failed to introduce him to a new audience in a good way.

“Just trying to recapture lightning in a bottle, see if something might work. You know, he’d been gone for long enough to become fresh again, allegedly. But you know, we didn’t do a lot for him to build momentum, you know, being a surprise. And it undershot his goals. I don’t remember Tatanka being in bad shape whatsoever, but everybody’s got their opinion, right? But he came back cold. Again, we’ve used that term now about three times in this show already.”

“Yeah, but you got matches with no backstory, no momentum. Well, we’ll do the surprise, you know, first-time-ever. Oh, geez, stop my pain. Anyhow, I thought it was… I just think that there was just… You know, To talk, he got… He didn’t get anything except a surprise entrant entry. And WWE, they had at one time when I first went to WWE in ’93 and I did WrestleMania IX, and Tatanka was red hot. Red hot. But that was 13 years earlier, right? So it shouldn’t be a hard thing to figure out. It was just too long.”

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