Kamala: A Lookback at the Career of a Legend


Fans familiar with any of the monster heels that stood tall in the landscape of pro wrestling’s past must be familiar with one of the most fearsome of them all: the Ugandan Giant, Kamala. Standing at an impressive six feet, six inches, and hailing from “deepest, darkest” Uganda, Africa, Kamala was a force to be reckoned with. Menacing, powerful, unorthodox, and unpredictable, he captivated audiences with his ceremonial entrance mask, ritualistic belly slapping, and intimidating presence. In an era of kayfabe, Kamala legitimately frightened fans and made us believe he indeed was a head hunter doing the dirty work of devious managers and handlers.

It was well-established in the eighties that if Kamala was on the card he was either going to pummel a local competitor or take the top drawing baby face to the limit for that evening’s main event. This domination would last for decades as the Ugandan Warrior’s career spanned well into the 2000s. To say that Kamala’s career was a successful one would be a deafening understatement.

Kamala: A Monster Run

The Origin Of The Ugandan Savage Kamala

In the late 1970s and entering into the 1980s, James Harris was a mid-card wrestler working for various territories. Going by names such as “Sugar Bear Harris” and “The Mississippi Mauler”, he wasn’t what many wrestling fans would’ve considered a top-tier draw. However, when he met Jerry Lawler one evening backstage at a wrestling event his career shifted. The King knew with a little character tweaking, that Harris had the makings of a mega draw. A few short weeks later, the legend of Kamala was born (originally spelled Kimala and pronounced with an “i”). With ominous and intriguing vignettes announcing his pending arrival, The King of Memphis was put on notice.

At that time Lawler was infamous for creating “monsters”, or plucking big men from obscurity and turning them into rivals to further sell the fact that the King couldn’t be dethroned! Every Monday was a sellout at the historic Mid-South Coliseum. This inaugural stint in Memphis launched Harris’ career as The Ugandan Giant, and he never looked back.

Tribal Traveler

In the famed territory days, monster heels would often leave their respective location after a short run at the top. This was often done in agreement by booker and performer to keep the character fresh and leave fans wanting more down the line. This way fans wouldn’t grow tired of the act. The territory system was healthy enough for a wrestler to move about nomadically to spark invigorating interest wherever they would land. Kamala would bounce from territory to territory over the next several years, and with tremendous success at each respective stop.

He famously joined the ranks of Devastation Incorporated, a stable led by General Skandor Akbar, in both World Class Championship Wrestling, and Bill Watt’s Mid-South, respectively. It was in Mid-South where Kamala would slam Andre the Giant many years before Hulk Hogan bragged about being the first to do it! Every stop on his journey to further exploit the weaknesses of the uber, upper card babyface heroes would ignite a new breeding ground of destruction for the Ugandan Warrior. Kamala was a top draw in each territory and the cornerstone of Devastation, Inc.


Kamala had many different stints within the McMahon empire. However, in the fall of 1986, Kamala was on a collision course with Hulkamania. It was a hot ticket and the rivalry would last for four months. The same “monster factory” of heels formula that highlighted the run of top babyfaces on a smaller, territorial scale was paying huge dividends for Hulk Hogan’s credibility as the champ of the national World Wrestling Federation.

Kamala was the type of opponent Hogan needed during this time frame; with the dreaded Wizard (King Curtis Iaukea) backing him. The question became “was Kamala going to be the one to topple Hulkamania?” Despite Hogan battling several behemoths, no one else had quite the mystique as the Ugandan Savage. Although Kamala had had a previous stint in the WWF, this run was far more impactful simply by being thrust into a feud with the Hulkster. Stepping in the ring with the golden goose of the golden era was the spot every WWF Superstar longed to be in. Despite never defeating Hogan, Kamala proved he had the presence and larger-than-life persona to go toe to toe with the most popular of all Vince McMahon’s stars.

One More Main Event

Many could argue that upon Kamala’s eventual return to the World Wrestling Federation in 1992 that the intrigue of the character was gone, but James Harris was once again placed in the main event. After all, when a company is putting a lot of proverbial eggs in one casket…er basket, such as they were with the Undertaker, only the most trusted performers to oppose the rising stars will do. The Undertaker was rising in popularity, had himself battled, and even defeated Hogan, and was quickly becoming a top draw for the company. It speaks volumes, then, of the confidence that management had in Kamala to put him. As an aging ring veteran, in a spot with a superstar that was clearly on a trajectory to the moon. If the Deadman could bury Kamala it would only further add to Taker’s carefully crafted storyline of being indestructible.

The program exposed Kamala’s deepest fear and made for excellent television. James Harris may not have invented the Kamala character, but he certainly perfected it. With all of the facial expressions of confusion, fear, and the other nuances that made him, eventually, endearing to a generation that grew up watching him. These performances solidified his ability to engage the audience with masterful storytelling without ever uttering a word. That’s a silent movie-esque quality which is very rare in the realm of pro wrestling. Kamala truly did his talking in the ring.

The program was a headline and one that has to rank as, at the very least, one of the Undertaker’s first credible threats early in his famed run. It seemed that the Ugandan express went off the rails after the feud with Taker ended at Survivor Series ‘92. Still, James Harris poured a lot into all he did on camera and tried to make the most of what the character was given. Let’s not rehash the poorly executed face turn fueled by vignettes of Kamala bowling alongside the Reverend Slick. Many fans felt this was a poor attempt to reinvigorate the character, but, to use a bowling analogy, it rolled right into the gutter of “wrestlecrap” infamy.

Following his last full-time run in the WWF, he wouldn’t pop up on a national stage again until he became a part of the atrocity that was The Dungeon of Doom in WCW. That was not a good period for Kamala, although he did get to work with Hogan again, but on a much less impactful scale.

The Legend In The Limelight Again

Kamala would enjoy a sort of resurgence through various appearances on WWE programming which were sporadic from the early to mid-2000s. It was apparent that our once menacing savage was now a novelty act. He even had his first-ever Wrestlemania moment in the gimmick battle royal at Wrestlemania 17. Was this a celebration of gimmicks, or a jab at the individuals who spent years perfecting their respective characters? You be the judge! However, other opportunities would arise that would see Kamala celebrated as the legendary performer he had grown to become. He even found his way onto the indy scene and also made surprise appearances such as clashing with the likes of Brian Danielson in ROH! It was as much a celebration of James Harris as it was of the character. It seemed that he was relishing in the spotlight and enjoying the fruit of his labor.

The Last Encounter for Kamala

The man famous for the moon and stars adorning his belly would ultimately meet his most challenging opponents in the form of medical issues. His health began to decline and he had succumbed to several setbacks, even losing both legs in a battle with diabetes. Yet, Harris posted content on various platforms promoting his music, his love for woodworking, and reminiscing about his time as Kamala. He opened up about setbacks in wrestling, encountering racism, and how he triumphed through it all. Despite many obstacles, Harris spoke glowingly of his time portraying Kamala; it was a role he mastered.

Sadly, James Harris passed away in August of 2020. Friends and colleagues immediately began to show an outpouring of support via tributes on social media following his passing. Like many stars of that era, the legacy of Kamala will only grow stronger through the celebration of his career.

Stay tuned to the Last Word on Pro Wrestling for more on this and other stories from around the world of wrestling, as they develop. You can always count on LWOPW to be on top of the major news in the wrestling world. As well as to provide you with analysis, previews, videos, interviews, and editorials on the wrestling world.