The 37-year pro wrestling career of one of the most memorable heels of the 1980s has come to an end. James Harris, otherwise known as Kamala the Ugandan Warrior has officially retired. His career comes to an end after it was announced that his foot has been amputated.
Slam Wrestling reports that Harris had his foot amputated last week. The report states that Harris’ foot was amputated due to diabetes and other medical issues that faced the big man. His days of terrorizing opponents in the ring are over.
While Kamala has kept a rather low profile the last few years, he always had a place in the heart of this longtime wrestling fan. Kamala was one of the heels that I truly feared as a kid, yet grew to appreciate as I got older. His character was unique and so believable as a kid that I honestly felt he could walk into the ring and kill Kerry Von Erich or Jerry Lawler on any given evening.
[adinserter block=”2″]I first came to see Kamala like I would most great pro wrestlers of my childhood, though wrestling magazines. Kamala gained immediately notoriety in Memphis, Tennessee feuding with Jerry Lawler. His pictures started showing up in the magazines and it was hard not look at such a monster with such awe and even a little fear. The spear, the mask, the war paint, I was scared and intrigued. I was a kid and had no idea what a warrior from Uganda would look like, but to me, it was Kamala.
Once World Class Championship Wrestling hit the Philadelphia, PA market I got to see Kamala on weekly television. I was an immediate fan. For a man his size, he was faster than anyone I saw in the WWF or in Jim Crockett Promotions. His wars with Kerry Von Erich were real exciting and I began to appreciate him as a wrestler. Now that I was past seeing him in magazines, I became an immediate fan of watching him in the ring.
Kamala hit the WWF for the first of several runs in 1984. He was different and while he may come off as a corny character to today’s generation of pro wrestling fans, he was believable to me. I was ecstatic at the possibilities of him wrestling Hulk Hogan and Andre the Giant. Unfortunately this was a short run which only produced a short series with the giant. One memorable match took place in Toronto’s Maple Leaf Gardens in a Steel Cage and remains a cult favorite as it has been released on WWE home video a handful of times.
Kamala’s most memorable run came when he returned in 1986. It was during this run in which he would finally feud with Hulk Hogan. I read a lot of pro wrestling magazines as a kid, but one picture on Inside Wrestling of Kamala holding Hogan’s head on a spear remains the most memorable of all covers. Once again, I was real excited for this series. I never expected Kamala to win the title, but as a kid I wondered how in the world Hogan could stop someone as vicious as this guy?
Unfortunately their series never blew up into anything more than a house show feud. They had a match here in Philadelphia on a Sunday afternoon show in 1987 which was pretty disappointing. The match went under 7 minutes and never lived up to the high expectations I placed on it. They also had a handful of matches in Madison Square Garden that I later saw via tape, matches which also were nothing to write home about.
Kamala stuck around but I always felt that the WWF dropped the ball in a big way with Kamala. I just think his run with Hogan could have been much bigger. Unfortunately the timing was off with bigger opponents like Paul Orndorff and Andre the Giant on the horizon. Kamala stuck around, tug with Sika, had some matches with Jake Roberts, but left before the end of the year.
Kamala stuck around the business and bounced back and forth between the Memphis territory, back to the WWE, and a stint well past his prime in WCW. Call me crazy, but I still got excited about seeing the big man go even if he was a shell of his former self. There was one angle he did in Memphis in which he started singing lounge tunes (which he did outside of wrestling) which is hands down one of my favorite angles and gimmicks of that time period. Unfortunately that and others only turned Kamala into more of a joke than the savage warrior that I grew up with.
We have watched that contributed a lot less to the business go into the WWE Hall of Fame over the last several years. Is Kamala a Hall of Fame wrestler? I guess it all depends on what the criteria is. If the criteria is Drew Carey, than absolutely! If the criteria is Koko B. Ware, than absolutely. If the criteria is Ric Flair or Shawn Michaels, unfortunately the answer is no.
[adinserter block=”1″]WWE Hall of Fame or not, he is certainly in my Hall of Fame. He was one of the most believable heels of the era and was a big drawing card in territories like World Class, Memphis, Georgia, Mid-Atlantic, and Mid South. Regardless, I just hope at some point someone takes the time to acknowledge the impact that this giant had on the business, albeit for a short time.
I always have a soft spot for the big monsters in pro wrestling. Unlike a lot of my fellow bloggers, I looked forward to last month’s Big Show vs. Mark Henry match and similar matches in recent years. They usually aren’t pretty, but I grew up in a different era. It was always something special to see the giant monster go toe to toe with a fellow giant or super babyface. That soft spot comes from watching guys like Kamala. Those are some great memories.