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Kamala (wrestler)

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 (WWF) in the mid-1980s and early 1990s.[1][2][4][8][10][11]

Kamala in 2009
Birth nameJames Harris[1]
Born (1950-05-28) May 28, 1950 (age 69)[2]
Senatobia, Mississippi, United States
Sheila Stover
(m. 1974; div. 2005)
Professional wrestling career
Ring name(s)Bad News Harris[2]
Jim Harris[3]
The Mississippi Mauler[6][7]
Sugar Bear Harris[3]
Ugly Bear Harris[3]
Billed height6 ft 7 in (201 cm)[4]
Billed weight380 lb (172 kg)[4]
Billed fromUganda[4][8]
Trained byTim Hampton[9]

Early lifeEdit

Harris was born on May 28, 1950 in Senatobia, Mississippi. 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, leaving the family impoverished. As a youth, Harris worked as a sharecropper to help support his family.[3][12][13][14]

Harris left high school in the ninth grade and became a habitual burglar. 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." He relocated to Florida, where he drove trucks and picked fruit. At age 25, he moved to Benton Harbor, Michigan, where he met wrestler Bobo Brazil. Harris then began training as a wrestler, under Brazil's friend, "Tiny" Tim Hampton. He moved to Arkansas to continue training and escape the snow in Michigan.[14][13]

Professional wrestling careerEdit

Early career (1978–1982)Edit

Harris debuted in 1978 under the ring name "Sugar Bear" Harris. He spent most of his early career in the Southern United States, also using the ring names "Ugly Bear" Harris and "Big" Jim Harris. His first manager was Percy Pringle. He won his first championship in NWA Tri-State in 1979, teaming with Oki Shikina to win the NWA Tri-State Tag Team Championship. In 1980, Harris joined Southeastern Championship Wrestling as "Bad News" Harris, winning the NWA Southeastern Heavyweight Championship in 1980.[3][15]

In 1981, Harris travelled to Europe for seasoning. Following a stint in Germany, he 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.[3][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 Arena in London.[16][17]

Continental Wrestling Association (1982)Edit

Harris returned to Senatobia in the United States in 1982 after sustaining a broken ankle. While visiting his friend The Dream Machine at the Mid-South Coliseum in nearby Memphis, Tennessee to borrow ring attire, Harris met Continental Wrestling Association promoter Jerry Lawler, who offered him a job. Harris, Lawler and Jerry Jarrett developed a new character for Harris, "Kimala" (later adjusted to "Kamala"), drawing upon ideas for a character originally developed for Harris by The Great Mephisto. The character was a vicious Ugandan headhunter with face and body paint copied from a Frank Frazetta painting. His backstory was that he was a former bodyguard of deposed President of Uganda Idi Amin who had been discovered by J.J. Dillon during an excursion to Africa. A promotional vignette aired on WMC-TV featuring a spear-wielding Kamala seemingly emerging from a steamy African jungle; the vignette was actually filmed on Jarrett's farm in Hendersonville, Tennessee, with the steam effect created using dry ice. To establish Kamala as a monstrous character, Jarrett instructed him to wrestle in a brawling style with chops and biting. To preserve kayfabe, Harris wore robes and refused to speak English while in public in Memphis.[3][5][18][12][13]

Kimala made his debut in the CWA in May 1982 with Dillon as his manager, losing to Lawler by disqualification in a match that sold out the Mid-South Coliseum. In June, he defeated Lawler for the AWA Southern Heavyweight Championship, which he held until August that year. Toward the end of the year, he feuded with the imposter "Kamala II"[15]

Mid-South Wrestling (1982–1986)Edit

In late-1982, Kamala began wrestling for Bill Watts' Mid-South Wrestling promotion. He was managed by Skandor Akbar and Friday (originally portrayed by Buddy Wayne, then by Frank Dalton), forming part of Akbar's villainous Devastation, Inc. stable.[19][20] In April 1983, he wrestled André the Giant in a highly promoted bout at the Louisiana Superdome.[3] During 1983, he faced The Junkyard Dog in a series of "battle of the monsters" matches.[21]

World Class Championship Wrestling (1983–1985)Edit

In March 1983, Kamala debuted in the Dallas, Texas-based World Class Championship Wrestling promotion. In October of that year, he challenged Harley Race for the NWA World Heavyweight Championship, losing by disqualification. In the same month, he began a lengthy feud with the Von Erich family, repeatedly facing brothers David, Kerry, and Kevin. In May 1984, he faced The Great Kabuki at the David Von Erich Memorial Parade of Champions, a tribute to David, who had died suddenly in February. Kamala continued to appear regularly with WCCW until late-1985.[15][22]

World Wrestling Federation (1984)Edit

Kamala in 2009.

At the instigation of André the Giant, Kamala debuted in the World Wrestling Federation (WWF) in July 1984. He was managed by Freddie Blassie and a masked "handler" in safari clothing known as "Friday" (played by a variety of people). In a memorable segment on the television program Tuesday Night Titans, Kamala seemingly devoured a live chicken (with a cutaway shot of feathers flying out of his mouth shown to create the illusion).[3][15][23]

After defeating a series of opponents including B. Brian Blair, Salvatore Bellomo, and Chief Jay Strongbow, in August 1984 Kamala challenged Hulk Hogan for the WWF World Heavyweight Championship, wrestling him to a double count-out. In October 1984, he began a series of matches against André the Giant, among them a steel cage match which he lost after André twice sat on his chest. Kamala's final appearance was in a battle royal in November 1984.[15]

Various promotions (1984–1986)Edit

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

Throughout 1985, Kamala wrestled for the Minneapolis, Minnesota-based American Wrestling Association. He was established as a "monster" by winning a series of handicap matches. He feuded with Sgt. Slaughter, who he defeated in a "Ugandan Death Match" in April 1985 but lost to in a "Boot Camp" steel cage match in June. At the SuperClash supercard in September 1985, Kamala lost to Jerry Blackwell in a bodyslam challenge. Toward the end of the year, Kamala repeatedly challenged Rick Martel for the AWA World Heavyweight Championship but failed to win the championship.[15]

In July 1985, Kamala wrestled for Jim Crockett Promotions at The Great American Bash, unsuccessfully challenging Magnum T.A. for the NWA United States Heavyweight Championship.[15]

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. He made a second tour in February 1986 as "Kimala".[15]

In early-1986, Kamala had a short-run in the Montreal, Quebec, Canada-based International Wrestling promotion, where he was managed by Eddie Creatchman.[3][15]

Return to WWF (1986–1987)Edit

Kamala returned to the WWF in July 1986, now managed by The Wizard and the masked "handler" Kim Chee (usually portrayed by Steve Lombardi).

From November 1986 to February 1987, Kamala faced Hulk Hogan in a series of matches for the WWF World Heavyweight Championship, marking the pinnacle of his career.[12][15][18][24]

In February 1987, Kamala formed a tag team with the "Wild Samoan" Sika. In the same month, he began a feud with Jake Roberts, during which Roberts repeatedly exploited Kamala's purported fear of snakes.[15][4]

Kamala abruptly left the WWF once more in September 1987 over frustrations about his pay.[15][12]

United States Wrestling Association (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.

Second Return to WWF (1992–1993)Edit

Kamala returned to the WWF on May 9, 1992, with Kim Chee and Harvey Wippleman acting as his managers. In June 1992, he unsuccessfully challenged Randy Savage for the WWF World Heavyweight Championship. Throughout mid-1992, he wrestled primarily on house shows, with his regular opponents including The Undertaker, Bret Hart, The Texas Tornado, and The Ultimate Warrior.[4][15]

Kamala lost to The Undertaker by disqualification at SummerSlam in August 1992. Kamala later claimed that he was paid $13,000 for the bout while The Undertaker was paid $500,000. Professional wrestling journalist Dave Meltzer questioned 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."[3][12] In November 1992, Kamala lost to The Undertaker at Survivor Series in the first ever televised casket match.[25][26][27]

In January 1993, Kim Chee and Wippleman began mistreating Kamala, leading him to break away from them and align himself with Reverend Slick. Slick set out to "humanize" Kamala, leading to a series of skits in which he introduced him to activities such as ten-pin bowling.[3][25][28][29] Kamala feuded with Kim Chee throughout early 1993. In March 1993, he began a series of matches with Bam Bam Bigelow. The two were scheduled to face one another at WrestleMania IX, but the match was cancelled due to time constraints.

In May 1993, Kamala lost a King of the Ring tournament qualifying match via countout to Mr. Hughes on an episode of WWF Wrestling Challenge. He went on to compete primarily at house shows until being released by the WWF that July.[15][12]

In December 1993, Kamala was announced as a participant in the 1994 Royal Rumble Match. However, during the bout the announcers noted that Virgil, as an alternate participant, had replaced him.[citation needed]

Semi-retirement (1993–1995)Edit

After leaving the WWF once more, Harris stepped back from professional wrestling. He began working as a truck driver using two semi-trailer trucks he had purchased following his series of matches with Hulk Hogan.[3][18] He only wrestled in independent shows and part-time for USWA. In December 1993 he wrestled in India where he won the vacated IAW Tag Team Titles with Dusty Rhodes defeating Leo Burke and the Mongolian Mauler.[30]

World Championship Wrestling (1995)Edit

At Hulk Hogan's suggestion, Kamala joined World Championship Wrestling (WCW) in 1995. 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".[3]

Return to United States Wresting Association (1996)Edit

On January 24, 1996 Kamala returned to the USWA for the final time where he teamed with Brian Christopher and PG-13 to defeat Tracey Smothers, Doug Gilbert, Jesse James Armstrong, and Robert Gibson in an Iron Man match.[31] He was inactive from wrestling for a few years.

WWE Sporadic Appearances (2001, 2004-2006)Edit

Kamala participated in "The Gimmick Battle Royal" at WrestleMania X-Seven and was eliminated by Sgt. Slaughter.[32] 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.[33] 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.[34] Kamala appeared at the 2005 Taboo Tuesday event, as one of the choices for Eugene's tag team partner.[35] He lost the fan vote to Jimmy Snuka, but came to the ring after the match to deliver a big splash to Tyson Tomko.[36] 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.[37] Kamala was defeated by Umaga in a match on the following night on Raw.[13]

Independent circuit (2002–2010)Edit

Kamala returned to wrestling and had a lengthy run on the independent circuit.[9] He lost to his nemesis Jerry Lawler at International Wrestling Cartel On July 20, 2002.[38] From 2003 to 2004 he made appearances for Memphis Wrestling.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.[39] He defeated Lanny Poffo at Great North Wrestling event Wrestling Supershow at the Ottawa SuperEX in Ottawa, Canada.[40] 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.[41] His last match was in 2010.[9]

Personal lifeEdit

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.[13][42]

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. Harris went on to help raise his surviving niece.[12][13]

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. 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.[13]

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.[43]

Health issuesEdit

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.[44] In April 2012, his right leg was also amputated below the knee and a campaign was launched seeking donations to cover his financial needs.[45][46] 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.[43][12][47]

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 was litigated by attorney Konstantine Kyros, who has been involved in a number of other lawsuits against WWE.[48] The lawsuit was dismissed by District of Connecticut judge Vanessa Lynne Bryant in September 2018.[49]

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.[50][42] Following it, he was put on life support due to complications.[50] The next day, his daughter said he showed signs of improvement but remained on life support.[42] On November 22, it was reported that he was able to breathe on his own yet was unable to talk and remained under intensive care.[51]


  • Kamala Speaks: The Official Autobiography of WWE Wrestler James "Kamala" Harris (January 17, 2015) – with Kenny Casanova
Kamala performing a shoulder claw on Sgt. Slaughter in 2009.

Championships and accomplishmentsEdit


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  24. ^ James Guttman (2010). World Wrestling Insanity: The Decline and Fall of a Family Empire. ECW Press. p. 69. ISBN 978-1-55490-269-9.
  25. ^ a b Mike McAvennie (May 8, 2007). "Kamala Matata". WWE. Retrieved February 19, 2018.
  26. ^ Pamela Dell (2012). Undertaker: Life of the Dead Man. Capstone Publishers. p. 24. ISBN 978-1-4296-8679-2.
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  29. ^ Brian Shields (2010). Main Event: WWE in the Raging 80s. Simon & Schuster. p. 133. ISBN 978-1-4516-0467-2.
  30. ^ Missing or empty |title= (help)
  31. ^ Missing or empty |title= (help)
  32. ^ "WrestleMania X-Seven Results". WWE. Archived from the original on 2007-11-19. Retrieved 2008-09-16.
  33. ^ Keith, Scott (2006). Wrestling's Made Men: Breaking the WWE's Glass Ceiling. Citadel Press. p. 88. ISBN 0-8065-2771-4.
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  35. ^ "Taboo Tuesday 2005 Results". WWE. Archived from the original on 2008-07-05. Retrieved 2008-09-17.
  36. ^ Sokol, Chris (2005-11-02). "Taboo Tuesday delivers decently". SLAM! Wrestling. Retrieved 2008-09-17.
  37. ^ Zeigler, Zack (2006-06-25). "The streak continues". WWE. Archived from the original on 2008-03-31. Retrieved 2008-09-16.
  38. ^ Missing or empty |title= (help)
  39. ^ Dolan, Adam (October 2, 2006). "NWA Pro Wrestling In Bridgeport, CT Live Report: Kamala Challenged for the ROH Title (Not A Typo), Rock N' Roll Express vs. Midnights, Crowbar & More". Pro Wrestling Insider. Retrieved November 27, 2017.
  40. ^ Missing or empty |title= (help)
  41. ^ Waldman, Jon (2008-06-08). "Slammiversary: No gimmicks needed for thumbs up PPV". SLAM! Wrestling. Retrieved 2008-09-16.
  42. ^ a b c "Kamala Medical Update, Hospitalized Due to Complications from Diabetes". Pro Wrestling Sheet. November 20, 2017.
  43. ^ a b "Kamala Speaks: The Official Autobiography of James "Kamala" Harris". WOHW Publishing. Dec 13, 2014. Retrieved Dec 13, 2014.
  44. ^ "A message from Kamala". Retrieved 2013-01-13.
  45. ^ "'Ugandan Giant' Kamala To Have Foot Amputated", by Daniel Pena,
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  49. ^ Robinson, Byron (September 22, 2018). "Piledriver: WWE uses 'Hell in a Cell' as springboard to future shows". Montgomery Advertiser. Retrieved October 23, 2018.
  50. ^ a b "WWE LEGEND KAMALA FIGHTING FOR HIS LIFE AFTER SURGERY". TMZ. November 20, 2017. Retrieved November 20, 2017.
  51. ^ "Some positive news about the health of WWE legend James 'Kamala' Harris". Cage Side Seats. November 22, 2017. Retrieved November 24, 2017.
  52. ^ "Professional Wrestling Hall of Fame, hall of famers". Archived from the original on October 26, 2016. Retrieved October 22, 2016.
  53. ^ "NWA Southeastern Heavyweight Title History". Solie's Title Histories. Retrieved 2008-09-16.
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  55. ^ "USWA Unified World Heavyweight Title History". Retrieved February 19, 2018.

External linksEdit