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Harris was born in Senatobia, Mississippi and grew up in Coldwater, Mississippi, where his family owned a furniture store. The family collected welfare to help pay the bills. He got into trouble with the local law enforcement for breaking and entering and was asked to leave town. In 1967, he relocated to Florida to pick fruit, where he briefly attended college and worked as a plumber. At the age of twenty-five, Harris moved to Michigan, where he met wrestler Bobo Brazil. Harris then began training as a wrestler under a friend of Brazil's, Tiny Tim Hampton. He moved to Arkansas to continue training, as he wanted to get away from the snow in Michigan.
Professional wrestling career
Harris trained alongside Michael Hayes, Percy Pringle, and Terry Gordy. He debuted in 1978, facing The Great Mephisto in his first match. Harris originally wrestled as "Sugar Bear" Harris before adopting the ring names "Ugly Bear" Harris and "Big" Jim Harris.
He wrestled in the United Kingdom for several years to develop his wrestling skills. He developed the character of The Mississippi Mauler, which had some similarities to the Kamala gimmick that later made him famous. Harris then returned to the United States. While acquiring a new costume in Memphis, Tennessee, Harris was asked by Jerry Lawler and Jerry Jarrett to adopt a gimmick. Harris agreed, and, together with Lawler, created Kamala (originally spelled Kimala) by drawing upon a character originally developed for Harris by The Great Mephisto. Jarrett and Lawler decided that having Harris portray an African wrestler would help him succeed despite his limited technical wrestling ability, and would explain his poor interview skills. The name came from a National Geographic Magazine that Jarrett read, which discussed a Doctor Kimala, who was conducting research in Uganda. The character was a Ugandan cannibal with a painted face and body who wrestled barefoot and in a loincloth. Kamala wrestled for Mid-South Wrestling, Memphis, and World Class Championship Wrestling in Dallas throughout the early 1980s. In Mid-South Wrestling, Kamala was nicknamed "The Ugandan Giant" and was managed by General Skandor Akbar. He was originally billed as a former bodyguard of President of Uganda Idi Amin.
World Wrestling Federation
Kamala's had several runs in the World Wrestling Federation during the 1980s and 1990s. His first run came in 1984 as a heel, where he was flanked by Akbar and "Classy" Freddie Blassie, and competed in a series of matches against André the Giant; during their feud, Kamala lost a high-profile steel-cage match to André after André twice sat on Kamala's chest. Kamala also appeared — along with Blassie — in a segment of the WWF's Tuesday Night Titans, where Kamala (in kayfabe) ate a live chicken on the air; a cutaway shot was shown of feathers flying out of Kamala's mouth, creating the illusion of what he just ate for "dinner."
Kamala returned to the WWF in 1986, this time managed by his "handler", Kim Chee (who was usually portrayed by Steve Lombardi), and by King Curtis Iaukea (as The Wizard). In this run Kamala battled Hulk Hogan and Jake "the Snake" Roberts; the latter feud began after Roberts exposed Kamala's fear of snakes. Kamala also teamed with Wild Samoan Sika before leaving the WWF in 1988.
He then wrestled in the Memphis-based United States Wrestling Association, where he feuded with Jerry Lawler and Koko B. Ware and held the USWA Unified World Heavyweight Championship on four occasions. Kamala returned in 1992 along with Kim Chee, this time managed by Harvey Wippleman. After a loss to The Undertaker in the first televised Coffin match at Survivor Series in 1992, Kamala left Wippleman and turned face under the tutelage of the newly ordained Reverend Slick. Slick set out to humanize Kamala, on one occasion by teaching him to bowl on a Coliseum Video.
World Championship Wrestling
After once again leaving the WWF in 1993, Kamala returned to his previous job of driving a truck for two years. On January 29, 1994, he did appear at a card in a school in Hamilton, Ohio in a challenge to see if any of a group of local personalities could slam him. (A woman who used the name of "Coyote Kim" did succeed in pushing Kamala over after she distracted him with a photo). After Hulk Hogan called and asked if he was interested in working for World Championship Wrestling (WCW), Kamala had a short stint with the promotion. He was 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 1995. He had a singles match against Hogan at Clash of the Champions XXXI but was defeated. He then competed as part of the Dungeon of Doom at Fall Brawl 1995 to face Hogan's team of Hulkamaniacs. The Hulkamaniacs won the match, and Kamala did not appear on a WCW pay-per-view again. He left the promotion in October 1995, as he was on a pay-per-appearance deal and WCW was not interested in offering him a contract.
Extreme Championship Wrestling
Kamala made a brief appearance for ECW during early 1998. He was used on 5 ECW house shows before he disappeared back to the indies in Memphis. His short-lived run in ECW is often mistaken for Uganda, a Kamala-like gimmick who appeared in ECW in the early 1990s.
World Wrestling Federation/Entertainment
Harris participated in the "Gimmick Battle Royal" at WrestleMania X-Seven and was eliminated by Sgt. Slaughter. On July 26, 2004, Harris made a surprise return to World Wrestling Entertainment, participating in a Raw Diva Search segment in which the female contestants were instructed to try to seduce him. Kamala made an appearance on the August 11, 2005 edition of SmackDown!. Former manager Kim Chee came to the ring with him, but his match with Randy Orton ended in a no decision when a message from The Undertaker interrupted the match. Kamala also appeared at the 2005 Taboo Tuesday event, where he was one of the choices for Eugene's tag team partner. He lost out to Jimmy Snuka but came down at the end of the match and delivered a big splash to Tyson Tomko. 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. Kamala faced Umaga on Raw the following night and lost the match.
In 2003, Kamala also worked at Juggalo Championship Wrestling where, accompanied by The Masked Negotiator, he defeated jobber, Tom-Dub in a "Loser Leaves JCW" match. At the 2008 Gathering of the Juggalos Kamala was scheduled to make a one night return to JCW's first Bloodymania show, to take on C.J O'Doyle, but no-showed the event, leaving his opponent as a referee in 1 match the entire night
Harris continued to wrestle independent shows on the West coast: in September 2006, he went to a non-finish with Bryan Danielson in a match for the Ring of Honor title. He has also recently embarked on a new career as a singer, releasing his debut album, The Best of Kamala Vol 1 through his official website. The main track of his album is a ballad to the memory of Stanley "Tookie" Williams.
Harris was married to Sheila Stover from 1974 to 2005. After the couple divorced, Harris married Melissa Guzman. Harris also lives with his niece Ashley in Senatobia, Mississippi.
Since 1993, he has been writing, performing, and producing his own music. He has written over 100 songs. Some of his songs discuss his frustration with the working conditions he dealt with in the wrestling industry, most notably the low wages. In an interview, Harris spoke about seeing the payment amounts for the wrestlers who competed at SummerSlam 1992. He said that he received $13,000 while hearing that his opponent, The Undertaker, had received $500,000.
- Signature moves
- "Bad News"
- "Sugar Bear"
- "The Ugandan Giant"
- "The Ugandan Headhunter"
- "Ugly Bear"
Championships and accomplishments
- GLWA Heavyweight Championship (1 time)
- NWA United States Tag Team Championship (Tri-State version) (1 time) - with Oki Shikina
- PWI ranked him # 144 of the 500 best singles wrestlers of the "PWI Years" in 2003.
- SXW Hardcore Championship (1 time)
- TAS Six-Man Tag Team Championship (1 time)