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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Remembering Eddie Guerrero 12 Years Later

Viva La Raza. I lie. I cheat. I steal.

If you can believe it, Eddie Guerrero tragically died 12 years ago today. He would’ve been 50 years old and who knows, maybe he would’ve been on a part-time legends deal with the WWE, still mustering up enough strength to do a PERFECT frog splash.

When Eddie Guerrero died, the whole wrestling community stopped. Every single one, not just WWE.  Raw, Smackdown, TNA, OVW, and ROH all had touching tributes for Latino Heat. Eddie was one of the best in-ring performers of all time. All-time. Ric Flair said Eddie was a Top 10 opponent. Kurt Angle said Eddie was the second best wrestler of all time behind HBK. Y2J said when Eddie was on, there no was better performer in the world.

For me, there are two Eddie moments that will stick out. The first one is when he beat Brock Lesnar for the WWE Title. A lot of people will call this their favorite Eddie moment and rightfully so. I thought Eddie had ZERO chance to dethrone Brock but boy was I wrong as this is one of the most memorable title wins in the championship’s history.

However, my favorite moment came in a loss. I’m talking about Eddie Guerrero’s frog splash off the cage vs. JBL for the WWE Title. The Eddie / JBL rivalry was one of the best rivalries of the 2000s. It made Smackdown must-watch TV and this frog splash is Eddie’s “iconic moment.” The look he gave before doing the move is one I’ll never forget. It looked personal. The slapping of his chest. Cole and Taz screaming “Don’t do it.” This was the passion that fans grew to come and love.

No doubt about it, Eddie Guerrero was one of the greats. He was taken too soon from this world, but his spirit still lives on. Thank you, Eddie.

Remembering “The Brain”

On Sunday we lost one of the iconic stars from professional wrestling’s glory days. Bobby “The Brain” Heenan passed away at age 73. He had been sick for many years. Heenan was diagnosed with throat and tongue cancer years ago. For a long time I thought about his inevitable death and kind of prepared myself. After a while, I started to think that it might never come. At least not in my lifetime. Bobby outlived many of the superstars he managed. His good friend and colleague Gorilla Monsoon died almost 20 years ago. Heenan continued to meet fans and take pictures until he was forced to cancel a recent appearance. I had thought about maybe meeting him eventually. He didn’t do any appearances nearby that I was aware of, and maybe that is for the best. Bobby didn’t look anything like the entertainer I remembered from my youth. Hulk Hogan signed autographs at the Westchester County Center last month. I didn’t go. If Heenan was there I probably would have gone to tell him what he means to me and fought through my sadness of what cancer and surgeries had done to him.

When Bobby first came to the WWF in 1984 he quickly became hated by joining forces with the top villains. I can remember his men giving Andre the Giant a haircut and carrying his hair around to humiliate him. Heenan was an excellent talker and salesman. He had me convinced that Andre (who had turned evil and was paired with Heenan to cement his new bad guy image) would finally end Hulkamania. WrestleMania III sold out and set an attendance record. It has been stated that Bobby earned seven figures for his role. That is remarkable for the time frame. Especially considering that he didn’t perform in the ring at that time. Later in 1987 Heenan and his men viciously attacked Ken Patera. They whipped him and left marks on his back. I had nightmares.

By 1989 I had become a fan of Bobby’s. Obviously wrestling was fake, or scripted. I appreciated his humor. In 1990 I went to a WWF event in New Jersey. Years later I looked up what matches took place. I had forgotten the main event. Ultimate Warrior against Randy Savage. Macho Man to many. Heavyweight title on the line. Two huge names from not only that time but wrestling history. It was a forgettable contest, but I remembered Bobby Heenan’s Barbarian taking on the Big Bossman. Heenan was chased around the ring by his enemy. One of my many great Heenan memories is how he used to insult Bossman’s mother. It was hilarious. He had so many jokes. You could not wait to see Bobby get the beating that he had coming. Bobby would make you laugh taking bumps, but his feuds were legendary.

Often Bobby’s humor was at the very least borderline inappropriate, but back then society was not so politically correct. Stories of his ribs off camera can be even more inappropriate. If I ever did get to speak with Bobby, he probably would have been happy to hear that my two favorite shows were Prime Time Wrestling and The Bobby Heenan Show. That was basically a humorous variety program that was way ahead of its time. I had labeled a VCR tape in advance, planning to record numerous episodes. Unfortunately, there were only four episodes shown. Vince McMahon later said that the USA Network was not happy when he took the last 30 minutes of Prime Time and gave it to Heenan for his own program. They wanted a full two hours of wrestling. Heenan appeared on Later with Bob Costas shortly after WrestleMania V. This was absolutely amazing. How many people could match wits with Bob Costas? Bobby more than held his own.

These days WWE as it has been renamed occasionally brings back old performers as a nod to old school wrestling. Sadly Bobby was not a part of any new programs in the last ten years. Possibly a combination of things. His health had taken a toll on him. He did not speak clearly and then finally could not speak at all. Plus, it was sad to see what he looked like compared to his appearance 30 years ago. Around the same time, however, I started to relive my youth. WWE showed old episodes of Prime Time on their 24/7 package. People began uploading their old VCR tapes to sites. Eventually WWE Network came out and shared some of their library. In one of the tribute videos to Heenan I noticed that he would wear different college shirts during his stint on the new Prime Time with Vince McMahon. Bobby was also a sports fan. We had a lot in common. This man has probably influenced me more than any other person I’m not related to. Likely in ways that I don’t even realize. He will always be a huge part of my life.

R.I.P. Bobby

Anthony Young: The Passing Of Baseball’s Lovable Loser By Joe Saponara

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*** Written By Joe Saponara****

I went to Shea Stadium on June 27, 1993. This was one of my first times there. Anthony Young was pitching. He had lost 26 straight decisions. This had the potential to be number 27. That had never happened before. The Mets jumped out to a 2-0 lead in the first. It looked like things might be different on that particular Sunday afternoon. They were not. In fact, things were very normal. Young and his team still held an advantage after three innings. The shutout and lead disappeared in the fourth. St. Louis went on to win. Another L for Anthony. The streak eventually ended, and that game I attended ended up being his last loss of the streak. It is still the record today. I kept my ticket stub for years, but eventually lost it. I’m sure it would not be worth very much, but I wouldn’t sell it anyway.

Here is the thing about Anthony Young: he really was not that bad. No great player, but probably at least average. A potentially decent guy should not have lost 27 straight decisions. Despite having been a starter, Young later filled in for John Franco. He even converted 12 straight save opportunities during the losing streak. Young tossed 23 2/3 scoreless innings in that span. Closers are generally not in position to pick up a victory. Usually it is a save if things go well or a blown save and loss if you fail. An article recently described him as “beloved”, and he was considered a fan favorite. Indications were that Young was a nice guy. He handled the streak with class. One former teammate called Young a true gentleman. His career ERA of 3.89 is almost baffling. Stats were starting to take off. Many people think numbers suddenly went crazy after the strike of 1994, but that season saw plenty of offensive production. Colorado had started play in the NL. That place was a pitcher’s nightmare. New stadiums were built small for success by hitters. There was always a question of whether or not balls were juiced. Some players certainly were. Matt Williams hit 43 home runs through 115 San Francisco Giants games in 1994. That pace equals 60.6 homers through a complete season of 162 games. The strike ended play prematurely in August. Anybody with an ERA under 4 did not seem like one of the worst pitchers around. Young definitely was not in that category. I remember calling Ian Eagle in 1993 and suggesting that Young could succeed with New York’s other baseball team. Years later the Yankees won with former Mets Doc Gooden and Darryl Strawberry. I knew George Steinbrenner would enjoy sticking it to his cross-town rivals. Gooden and Strawberry had found glory playing at Shea, but their careers (not to mention lives) were filled with rough patches. Each man needed a revival. I thought Young would have been a good fit for the Yanks. I’m sticking to that belief.

Young finished with a career record of 15 wins and 48 losses. Unfortunately, there was more bad luck ahead for him. He was diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumor. Young passed away on June 27, 2017. He died exactly 24 years after I watched him pitch at Shea and set the record at 27. People will remember him for different things. Those who knew him will likely remember Young as a father, friend, or regular good guy. Some might think of Young as a youth leagues coach. Sadly, many will probably just hear his name and think of him as a loser. To me, he will always be that talented pitcher who simply could not catch a break.

Rest in peace, Anthony.

20 Years Ago Today The World Lost An Icon: R.I.P. Tupac Shakur

We are left with what could have been for the legendary artist.

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“If god give me breath for 20 more years I see myself changing the world.” – Tupac

Reading that quote hurts more than ever today, September 13th, 20 years to the day since the passing of the hip-hop legend, Tupac Shakur. Now we are only left with what could’ve been for the Death Row rapper, who left us way too early, at the young age of 25.

2Pac is still one of the most influential figures in hip-hop twenty years after his death, releasing music years following his alleged passing (some people think he’s still alive).

I feel cheated that we didn’t get to experience the rest of what Pac had to give socially, musically, and across other entertainment platforms. Being the son of a Black Panther, Shakur broke down barriers that allowed other African-Americans to follow in his footsteps years later. Pac was the first rapper to give a great performance in a movie, playing Bishop in the 1992 film, Juice, which opened eyes to a whole new audience.

I think about if Kanye was killed at 25 how much we would’ve missed out on his advancement of the culture. Pac had that aurora about him. Greatness was ahead. I couldn’t tell you exactly what, but this man and his relentless work ethic would’ve changed the world more than he had the chance to already do.

The west coast rapper’s music is timeless, and his records still bump two decades later. All Eyez On Me has moved over 10 million copies, making it one of the best rap selling albums ever. Shakur was ahead of his time, and the issues he spoke about are still prevalent in society today.

One of the most complex individuals ever, Shakur’s legacy is forever ingrained in hip-hop, as his music and actions helped define the golden age of rap in the 90’s.

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The Juice actor’s influence also transcended pop culture with his lyrics, persona, tattoos and ideology still being used 20 years later. It was more than just music.

It’s a shame the West coast vs East coast beef came to the murders of Pac and Biggie. I do think it woke up the rest of the community that the tension had to end for the genre to progress.

Today, I wear my Tupac shirt proudly bumping his braggadocios records for what he did accomplish, but my mind always wonders to what could have been, for the creative genius that is Tupac Amaru Shakur.

The Las Vegas boulevard shooting remains a mystery to this day.

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Makaveli may have lived for just a quarter century, but his spirit carries on in us for a lifetime.

R.I.P. Tupac Amaru Shakur

Check out the new trailer for the upcoming Tupac biopic, All Eyez On Me below.