Kamala (wrestler)

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Kamala
KamalaWrestler2009Cropped.png
Kamala in 2009.
Birth name James Harris[1]
Born (1950-05-28) May 28, 1950 (age 67)[2]
Senatobia, Mississippi, United States
Spouse(s) Sheila Stover (m. 1974; div. 2005)
Professional wrestling career
Ring name(s) Bad News Harris[2]
Jim Harris[3]
Kamala[4]
Kimala[5]
The Mississippi Mauler[6][7]
Sugar Bear Harris[3]
Ugly Bear Harris[3]
Billed height 6 ft 7 in (201 cm)[4]
Billed weight 380 lb (172 kg)[4]
Billed from Uganda[4][8]
Trained by Tim Hampton[9]
Debut 1978[9]
Retired 2010[9]

James Harris (born May 28, 1950) is an American retired professional wrestler, better known by the ring name Kamala. As Kamala, Harris portrayed a fearsome Ugandan "headhunter" who wrestled barefoot and wearing war paint and a loincloth, and approached the ring wearing an African mask and carrying a spear and shield. He is best known for his appearances with the World Wrestling Federation in the 1980s and early-1990s.[1][2][4][10][11][8]

Early life[edit]

Harris was born on May 28, 1950 in Senatobia, Mississippi.[3] He grew up in Coldwater, Mississippi, where his family owned a furniture store. He has four sisters. When he was around four, his father was shot dead during a dice game. The family struggled to pay the bills.[12] He became a habitual burglar in his teens and, in 1967, local police suggested he leave town. As Harris put it, "Back then if you didn't leave like they said, you would be found dead somewhere."[12] He relocated to Florida, where he picked fruit.[12] At age 25, he moved to Michigan, where he met wrestler Bobo Brazil. Harris then began training as a wrestler, under Brazil's friend, "Tiny" Tim Hampton.[12] He moved to Arkansas to continue training and escape the snow in Michigan.[12]

Professional wrestling career[edit]

Early career (1978–1984)[edit]

Harris debuted in 1978, facing the Great Mephisto. Harris originally wrestled as "Sugar Bear" Harris, then "Ugly Bear" Harris and "Big" Jim Harris.[3]

In the early-1980s, Harris travelled to the United Kingdom, where he wrestled for Joint Promotions as "The Mississippi Mauler", a character with some similarities to his future Kamala character.[6][7] In June 1981, he competed in a tournament for the vacant WWA World Heavyweight Championship, losing to Wayne Bridges in the final in Wembley Stadium in London.[13][14]

While acquiring a new costume in Memphis, Tennessee, Harris was asked by Jerry Lawler and Jerry Jarrett to adopt a new gimmick. Harris agreed, and, together with Lawler, created Kamala (originally spelled Kimala), drawing upon ideas for a character originally developed for Harris by The Great Mephisto. Jarrett and Lawler decided that portraying an African wrestler would help Harris succeed, despite his limited technical wrestling ability and poor interview skills. There are two stories on the origin of the name; Jarrett said he took it from a National Geographic Magazine article he'd read, about a Doctor Kimala, a researcher in Uganda.[12] Lawler says it was derived from Uganda's capital, Kampala. The character was a vicious and simple-minded Ugandan cannibal, with face and body paint copied from a Frank Frazetta painting.[5][15]

In 1982, Kamala began wrestling for Bill Watts' Mid-South Wrestling promotion. He was managed by Skandor Akbar and Friday (Frank Dalton), forming part of Akbar's villainous Devastation, Inc. stable. In Mid-South Wrestling, he was given the nickname "The Ugandan Giant" and the backstory of a bodyguard of former President of Uganda Idi Amin.[16][17]

World Wrestling Federation (1984)[edit]

Kamala in 2009.

Kamala had several runs in the World Wrestling Federation (WWF) in the 1980s and 1990s. His first began in 1984. As a heel, managed by a masked "handler" in safari clothing known as "Friday" (who was played by a variety of different people depending on where they were performing) and "Classy" Freddie Blassie, he competed in a series of matches against André the Giant, including a high-profile steel cage match, which he lost after André twice sat on his chest. Kamala also appeared, along with Blassie and Friday, in a segment of the WWF's Tuesday Night Titans, where he (in kayfabe) ate a live chicken on the air; a cutaway shot was shown of feathers flying out of Kamala's mouth to create the illusion.[18]

Various promotions (1984–1986)[edit]

Kamala left the WWF in late-1984. He went on to appear with multiple promotions throughout the United States and Canada.

In November 1985, Kamala made his first tour of Japan with All Japan Pro Wrestling. Wrestling as "Giant Kamala", he formed a tag team with fellow gaijin King Cobra.

World Wrestling Federation (1986–1987)[edit]

Kamala returned to the WWF in 1986 with the masked handler now named Kim Chee (and usually portrayed by Steve Lombardi), and managed by The Wizard. In this run, Kamala battled Hulk Hogan and Jake "the Snake" Roberts, the latter feud beginning after Roberts exposed Kamala's fear of snakes. He was then managed by Mr. Fuji and formed a tag team with Wild Samoan Sika, before leaving the WWF in late 1987.[4]

Various promotions (1988–1992)[edit]

He then wrestled for the Memphis-based United States Wrestling Association, feuding with Jerry Lawler and Koko B. Ware, and winning the USWA Unified World Heavyweight Championship four times.

World Wrestling Federation (1992–1993)[edit]

Kamala returned to the WWF in 1992, along with Kim Chee, and managed by Harvey Wippleman.[4] In an interview, Harris spoke about the payouts for SummerSlam 1992. He said he received $13,000 and heard his opponent, The Undertaker, had received $500,000.[3] Wrestling journalist Dave Meltzer responded to this claim, saying: "I'm not saying he's lying, but that's hard to believe ... for there to be that big of a disparity wouldn't make any sense."[19] In November 1992, Kamala lost to The Undertaker in the first televised coffin match at Survivor Series.[20]

After losing to The Undertaker, Kamala abandoned Wippleman to take the newly ordained Reverend Slick as his manager. Slick set out to "humanize" Kamala, by such means as teaching him to bowl (in a segment taped for Coliseum Video). He had a match scheduled against Bam Bam Bigelow at WrestleMania IX, but it was canceled without explanation before the event began.[20][21][22]

World Championship Wrestling (1995)[edit]

At Hulk Hogan's suggestion, Kamala joined World Championship Wrestling (WCW) in 1995.[3] He was introduced as part of Kevin Sullivan's Dungeon of Doom stable, whose goal was to end Hogan's career. In his first WCW pay-per-view appearance, he defeated "Hacksaw" Jim Duggan at Bash at the Beach. He lost a singles match to Hogan at Clash of the Champions XXXI. He was part of the "Dungeon of Doom" team at Fall Brawl, which lost to Hogan's team, "The Hulkamaniacs".

Semi-retirement (1995–2002)[edit]

Kamala participated in "The Gimmick Battle Royal" at WrestleMania X-Seven and was eliminated by Sgt. Slaughter.[23] On July 26, 2004, he made a surprise return to World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE), participating in a Raw Diva Search segment on RAW, in which the female contestants were instructed to try to seduce him.[24] Kamala faced Randy Orton on the August 11, 2005 edition of SmackDown! (accompanied by Kim Chee) but the match was interrupted by a message from The Undertaker to Orton, and ended in a no contest.[25] Kamala appeared at the 2005 Taboo Tuesday event, as one of the choices for Eugene's tag team partner.[26] He lost the fan vote to Jimmy Snuka, but came to the ring after the match to deliver a big splash to Tyson Tomko.[27] On June 25, 2006, at Vengeance, he accompanied Eugene to the ring (along with Doink the Clown and Hacksaw Jim Duggan) to take on Umaga. Umaga quickly won the match, after which he attacked Eugene, Doink, and Duggan. Before Kamala and Umaga could fight, Umaga's manager, Armando Estrada, intervened.[28] Kamala was defeated by Umaga in a match on the following night on Raw.[12]

Independent circuit (2002–2010)[edit]

Kamala had a lengthy run on the independent circuit.[9] In September 2006, he wrestled to a non-finish with Bryan Danielson, in a match for the ROH World Championship at a National Wrestling Alliance event in Bridgeport, Connecticut.[29] Kamala appeared at Total Nonstop Action Wrestling's Slammiversary pay-per-view in June 2008, as a guest at Jay Lethal and SoCal Val's storyline wedding.[30] His last match was in 2010.[9]

Personal life[edit]

Harris was married to Sheila Stover from 1974 to 2005. After the couple divorced, Harris married Melissa Guzman. Harris lived with his niece Ashley in Senatobia, Mississippi until moving to Oxford, Mississippi.[12][31]

In July 1993, Harris was called away from a WWF tour after an Oakland, California show when his youngest sister and her stepdaughter were shot to death. The killer attempted suicide, but only severely disfigured himself. After his WWF release that August, Harris pushed for the man's arrest and conviction. He was sentenced to life imprisonment, and died in 2013.[32]

Since 1993, he has been writing, performing, and producing his own music. He has written over 100 songs. Some discuss his frustration with the working conditions he experienced in the wrestling industry, most notably the low pay.[12] He released his debut album, The Best of Kamala Vol 1, through his official website. The album features a ballad dedicated to the memory of Stanley "Tookie" Williams.[33]

In 2015, Harris completed his autobiography along with one of his wrestling managers, Kenny Casanova, to help him offset medical costs. Kamala Speaks was funded on Kickstarter and self-published in December 2014. It tells his life story, his wrestling career, and the loss of both of his legs to diabetes.[34]

Health issues[edit]

On November 7, 2011, Harris had his left leg amputated below the knee due to complications of high blood pressure and diabetes, a condition he has had since 1992, but not accepting dialysis treatment, forcing him to retire.[35] In April 2012, his right leg was also amputated below the knee and a campaign was launched seeking donations to cover his financial needs.[36][37] Harris told Bleacher Report in 2014 that he relies on a disability check, sells handmade wooden chairs, and recently wrote a book about his life.[34][19][38]

In July 2016, Harris was named part of a class action lawsuit filed against WWE which alleged that wrestlers incurred traumatic brain injuries during their tenure and that the company concealed the risks of injury. The suit is litigated by attorney Konstantine Kyros, who has been involved in a number of other lawsuits against WWE.[39]

On November 19, 2017, Harris underwent "life-saving" emergency surgery to clear fluid from around his heart and lungs at a hospital in Oxford, Mississippi.[40][31] Following it, he was put on life support due to complications.[40] The next day, his daughter said he showed signs of improvement, but remained on life support.[31] On November 22, 2017, it was reported that Harris was able to breathe on his own yet is unable to talk and remains under intensive care.[41]

Bibliography[edit]

  • Kamala Speaks: The Official Autobiography of WWE Wrestler James "Kamala" Harris (2015) – with ‎Kenny Casanova

In wrestling[edit]

Kamala performing a shoulder claw on Sgt. Slaughter in 2009.

Championships and accomplishments[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b Kristian Pope (2005). Tuff Stuff Professional Wrestling Field Guide: Legend and Lore. Krause Publications. p. 253. ISBN 1-4402-2810-8. 
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h Harris M. Lentz III (2003). Biographical Dictionary of Professional Wrestling, 2d ed. McFarland & Company. pp. 179–180. ISBN 978-1-4766-0505-0. 
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p Laroche, Stephen. "Jim Harris: The man behind the Ugandan Giant". SLAM! Wrestling. Retrieved 2008-09-16. 
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h "Kamala". WWE.com. WWE. Retrieved February 18, 2018. 
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  6. ^ a b Bret Hart (2009). Hitman: My Real Life in the Cartoon World of Wrestling. Ebury Publishing. p. 205. ISBN 978-1-4070-2931-3. 
  7. ^ a b Simon Garfield (2013). The Wrestling. Faber & Faber. p. 83. ISBN 978-0-571-26545-9. 
  8. ^ a b c d Steven Pantaleo (2015). WWE Ultimate Superstar Guide. DK Publishing. p. 114. ISBN 978-0-241-23501-0. 
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  10. ^ a b R. D. Reynolds (2010). The Wrestlecrap Book of Lists!. ECW Press. p. 60. ISBN 978-1-55490-287-3. 
  11. ^ a b David Shoemaker (2013). The Squared Circle: Life, Death, and Professional Wrestling. Penguin Publishing Group. p. 136. ISBN 978-1-101-60974-3. 
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  15. ^ a b c Jerry Lawler (2002). It's Good to Be the King...Sometimes. Simon and Schuster. pp. 222–223. ISBN 978-0-7434-7557-0. 
  16. ^ a b c Dewey Robertson; Meredith Renwick (2006). Bang Your Head: The Real Story of the Missing Link. ECW Press. p. 113. ISBN 978-1-55022-727-7. 
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  21. ^ Invasion of the Bodyslammers. Coliseum Video. 1993. OCLC 28384779. 
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See also[edit]

External links[edit]