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Remembering the Late Wrestling Superstar ‘Kamala’

Another great has left us. The Ugandan Giant Kamala, whose real name was James Harris, died this weekend at age 70. Despite being from Mississippi, he had many fans convinced that he was just an uncivilized savage. A lot of people who got to know him had nice things to say. It seems that most considered him a gentle giant.

Kamala feuded with the biggest (literally and figuratively) stars in wrestling. His first WWF stint featured matches against Andre The Giant. In 1986, Kamala returned to the World Wrestling Federation. Again, a string of three bouts against a rival at Toronto’s Maple Leaf Gardens culminated with a steel cage match. This time, the opponent was Hulk Hogan. These two wrestled twice at Madison Square Garden. Both cards were sold out. A match between Hogan and Kamala at Boston Garden also brought a sold-out crowd. There were even bouts between Kamala and King Kong Bundy. It was very odd for two major stars who were both bad guys to battle at that time, but this only added to the intrigue.

I can remember being on vacation in 1987 and watching wrestling from a store television as Paul Roma and Jim Powers were on the receiving end of top rope splashes from Kamala. My eyes were glued to the action. Kamala’s team was counted out, but it didn’t matter. The message was sent. This man needed to be feared. Hulk Hogan had a title defense on NBC against Sika less than two months later. It seemed like an odd and random match.

Years later, I found out that Sika was a substitute for Kamala. This would have been an awesome match with incredible hype. That was the night when Hulk Hogan became friends with Randy Savage after Elizabeth ran back for help. She was brutally shoved down by the Honky Tonk Man. Hogan came out and was triple-teamed before gaining the advantage. I remember a comment about how Hogan could possibly lose his title after he already had been worn down. You couldn’t really buy in. However, if Kamala was his opponent, you could believe!

In September of 1987, Kamala left the WWF over frustrations with his pay. He claimed that they would tell him none or only a small amount of his action figures sold. Between the crowds he drew with Hogan and his action figures, Kamala should have been well compensated. I wish he had stuck around longer for selfish reasons. His third WWF stint was much different. Kamala became a good guy, but lost most of his matches. The character became a joke. It made no sense. The character didn’t know how to roll over opponents and pin them. He had been doing it for years. Pretty ridiculous. Even for wrestling. There was one other major feud before his face turn. Kamala battled the Undertaker. Their match at Survivor Series was the first-ever televised casket match. They also met a few months earlier at Summerslam. Kamala claimed that he was paid $13,000 for that bout, while Undertaker’s pay was $500,000.

Although his wrestling run as a good guy was awful, there is one funny moment that lives on. Kamala learning to bowl is pretty funny.

There were numerous health battles in Kamala’s life. Each leg was amputated below the knee in recent years. Last week he was diagnosed with COVID-19. Four days later, he was gone. His death apparently took place in Brooklyn. I had no idea that he was there. If his health was better and we were in different times, it would have been very cool to see him. Definitely one of my favorite characters ever. Rest in peace, big man.

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