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 ‘The Fink’: WWE’s Howard Finkel Gone at 69

Many celebrities and athletes are called legends. The term is thrown around way too often. However, few people earned that title more than ring announcer Howard Finkel. We lost him today at age 69. The cause of death was not announced, but in 2018 Finkel was slowed by a serious stroke.

He was hired by the World Wide Wrestling Federation more than four decades ago. In fact, he became the company’s first employee. WWE Chairman and CEO Vince McMahon confirmed this on twitter today. Kids growing up in the 1980s and 90s were fans of the WWF. It became WWE in 2002 following an agreement with the World Wildlife Fund.

Howard was much more than a ring announcer. He came up with the name for Wrestlemania, and was affectionately known as a walking encyclopedia for his terrific memory. WFAN’s Maggie Gray described him as the soundtrack of our childhood. She mentioned him voicing an introduction for Jimmy Traina’s podcast. He also recorded an introduction for Frank Isola that was played on WFAN. “The Fink” can be seen on youtube doing introductions for a wedding party. Other WFAN personalities have been talking about their interactions with Howard over the years. He was definitely a major part of so many lives.

I grew up watching Finkel on television, and also attended events at MSG when he was working. In the last 10-15 years I have spent countless hours watching wrestling from my youth. Howard is almost always there. He was a big Mets and Jets fan. Finding out that Howard enjoyed listening to WFAN was exciting for me. Obviously that was something I could relate to. Also, it made me think that Howard actually might know who I was!

The Jets were a playoff team in 2010. That season technically finished in early 2011. Their regular season concluded on January 2. I assumed they would be playing on NBC against Indianapolis the following Saturday, but wanted confirmation. Howard Finkel confirmed it. I tweeted to him asking how he knew that for sure, and he answered me. Howard followed media members who covered the Jets. He was locked in. I had not been on twitter for very long at the time.

NBC then announced that the Jets-Colts game would indeed be Saturday night on NBC a few minutes after that. Finding out for sure was good so I could tell my friend, but getting a tweet from Howard was definitely a thrill. He loved wrestling and sports. Howard was one of us, and we wanted to be him.

RIP Howard. Heaven must have needed you to introduce some really big matches.

The Sinking WWE Continues to Frustrate Its Fans

Luckily, I have not watched much new wrestling in the last 25 years. When I do, I’m always reminded why I’ve lost interest and found other things to do with my time. Don’t get me wrong.

Watching stuff from about 30 or 35 years ago is still enjoyable. Obviously WWE does not really need to target me. I’m already gone. The problem is that their current fans seem to hate today’s product. Although there are obvious differences between today’s world and how things were when I grew up, some ideas from the glory days are worth trying again. I think the company would have a lot of trouble selling monthly PPVs with the old format, but now people can see them with their monthly subscription to WWE Network. It is very hard to believe that most fans would continue to fork over about 50 bucks each month for a lousy product.

However, I guess the fact that people keep complaining means they have not completely stopped watching. Even things that are not necessarily major issues make me shake my head at just how stupid and unreasonable Vince and whoever else makes decisions has become when compared to my youth. Years ago it was revealed that certain words are forbidden. The list includes phrases like “professional wrestling” and “title shot”, which were synonymous with wrestling when I grew up. Also words such as “wrestler” and “belt”. I even see that for some strange reason the word “interesting” is on this list.

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Clearly Vince McMahon is a psycho. Decades of classic wrestling were defined by rivalries. A great feud captivated an audience. Then, people were not even allowed to say the word. Yes, “feud” also made the list.

On to more pressing issues. Months of great battles had audiences coming back for more. Feuds, or storylines, were key. Tag team wrestling was exciting. Guys were paired together for years. These things seem to have gone by the wayside. WrestleMania goes for 7 hours. Are we still allowed to say that word? Vince’s son-in-law has to wrestle for 40 minutes as other matches are cut or shortened. WWE has about 57 championships. I would say that the belts have been devalued, if I could say that. WWE decided to address this by creating another championship. Talent is on different shows. In the 1980s, we didn’t have certain superstars who only competed Sunday on Wrestling Challenge. Now, WWE has created a Wild Card Rule. Thank goodness certain performers can cross over to the other show.

Monday, fans complained that there was no match for the first 50 minutes of Raw. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a regular wrestling program that went so long with no match. The only possible exception coming to mind is the Slammy Awards, but that should not really count. Maybe there wouldn’t be such a problem of too many performers if they actually had matches in the first hour. Every time I am unfortunate enough to be stuck in front of a television when Raw comes on, it begins with somebody babbling in the ring. This makes for a boring first 15 minutes as people look at their phones. It’s not unpredictable, or interesting. Someone’s music starts to play. Another person walks out and joins in meaningless chatter. It seems like the “main event” is also usually more speaking in the ring.

They do the same things, constantly. Weeks go by. Then, months. Eventually, years. Same garbage. They can change writers, fake GMs, and whatever else. It never gets any better. I actually wonder if they are intentionally making their fans miserable because the loyal crowd is apparently not going anywhere regardless of how terrible the product is. Brock Lesnar goes months without defending championships. Nobody cares. Actually, they brag about it. How is that good for business? Look up how many times Hulk Hogan and other top stars in say 1987 would wrestle. Usually over 300 times in a year. Possibly up near 400. Guys performed twice on Saturday and Sunday. Finally, WWE hypes up their women. Then, they sign a 10-year deal with Saudi Arabia. The female superstars are not allowed to compete there.

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Watch the old WWF. See how much better it was. Maybe somebody in charge of today’s mess will do this as well. We can dream.

Viceland’s ‘Dark Side of the Ring’ Wrestles With WWF’s Greatest Controversy: ‘The Montreal Screwjob’

The new documentary series about professional wrestling produced by Viceland has been terrific. Dark Side of the Ring has aired two episodes so far, and they were great. Although I enjoyed their first episode about “Macho Man” Randy Savage and Miss Elizabeth, there wasn’t a whole lot to review. I know the story. It has been told before. Both of them died years ago. Still, it was good to take a trip down memory lane. I heard from someone who is too young to have seen the matches from 30 years ago, and he praised the episode.

My main complaint would be the incorrect information that was posted for some of the events. I don’t understand why they repeatedly get things wrong when you can look up dates and locations so easily. Even their second episode had an obvious mistake about where and when a match took place. However, episode two was very well done.

For years I have suspected that Bret Hart was in on what took place back in 1997. The Montreal Screwjob is without a doubt the most famous event in wrestling history. Questions were not answered in this episode. Actually, I am even more confused. It didn’t end there, either. After the episode, referee Earl Hebner said that he believes Bret Hart knew what would happen. My research has had me going in circles. Writer Dave Meltzer has stated that Bruce Prichard (who was described as Vince McMahon’s right-hand man) did not know about the finish.

However, he has also claimed that Prichard knew on another occasion. Former wrestlers have given their opinions that it was a work. George ‘The Animal” Steele had said that this was his belief in a video, and Scott Hall also thought that the incident was planned. Hall pointed out how the camera zooms in on Vince after Hart spat on him. However, I soon learned that the live broadcast had ended. In fairness, I had lost interest in the business years earlier and was not watching at that time.

One of the most intriguing parts of this episode was the commentary by Jim Cornette. He was on the booking committee, and claimed to have come up with a finish where Bret Hart is screwed. Vince Russo became head writer for the WWF in 1997. During this episode, Russo declared that the finish was his idea. Recently, Russo tweeted that he would be willing to take a lie detector test and thinks that they should be required during interviews for the series. Cornette, who hates Russo, has promised to urinate on his grave. This has evolved into one of our country’s great mysteries. Even if it did take place in Canada. Just go with me here. I say the whole thing belongs to McMahon and his company, which has headquarters in Connecticut.

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There are so many different comments and perspectives. I can’t endorse this show enough. The uncertainty of whether or not Bret Hart was a part of this plan has fueled the fascination with what happened. That’s why I’ve thought that it could be a work. It seems like there has been an unimaginable amount of money to be made. DVDs and books have been sold. This documentary is covering the subject 22 years later, and the topic is still white hot.

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Upcoming episodes look very interesting. The next one will focus on Bruiser Brody’s murder. Catch up, and come along for the ride moving forward. All three episodes can be seen Wednesday night, when the latest episode debuts.

R.I.P. Bruno Sammartino: The Passing of an Ultimate Legend

Wrestling icon Bruno Sammartino has passed away at age 82. His two title reigns lasted a combined 11+ years. Bruno held the championship for 2,803 days during his first reign, which is the longest in company history. Your parents and grandparents may not have watched wrestling in decades, but chances are they know about Bruno. If they’re Italian, they definitely know. Bruno probably got them into wrestling and was the reason it became popular.

Therefore, he is probably one of the major reasons you watch it today if you’re a current fan or watched it 30 years ago if you’re old like me. Either because Bruno brought the business success or because he initially made your family interested and watching wrestling became a family tradition.

If you are fairly young and watch his matches for the first time today, you’ll probably be shocked at his style. Lots of punching and kicking. Bruno was certainly not a high flyer. Obviously wrestling has changed dramatically in the last 50 or 60 years. The fact that he was so loved and his bosses wanted him to remain champion for years is even more impressive when you consider that he wasn’t flying off ropes like today’s wrestlers. I remember him mostly as an announcer.

Bruno wrestled some matches during the mid and late 1980s. Vince McMahon wanted to cash in on his popularity when Hulk Hogan was not on the card. Sammartino appeared in Boston and New York as either a wrestler or Piper’s Pit guest. Even at 50 and 51 years of age, Bruno’s name carried weight in Northeastern cities. Few stats convey his popularity better than selling out Madison Square Garden 187 times.

After leaving the WWF, Bruno had his differences with McMahon. I’m glad that they eventually made peace. In 2013 Bruno took his rightful place in the WWE Hall of Fame. It was good to see him getting the proper recognition. Hopefully, he enjoyed the spotlight. People have been quick to praise him for being a great guy. Whether it’s somebody calling WFAN or men involved with wrestling on Twitter, there have been stories about how nice he was. It seems like Bruno treated both fans and people in the business with respect.

RIP Bruno. Thanks for everything.

Reviewing HBO’s Andre The Giant Documentary

After watching HBO’s documentary about Andre The Giant, I must say it was well done. In today’s world, you can watch so much old wrestling (and just about anything else). Seeing this years ago probably would have taken it from a home run to grand slam. It’s not 2005 anymore. I have seen lots of interviews over the years. Sure, more wrestling would have been nice. Obviously they had time constraints. My point is these things can’t be held against anyone associated with putting it together. Considering everything, Andre The Giant gets an A.

I was pleased with how much time was devoted to WrestleMania III. The interviews and wrestling footage really helped set the scene for how anticipated this event was. People who were not born yet gained a better understanding. They also did a good job with behind the scenes stuff. At that time, I didn’t know about Andre’s injuries and struggles. When you’re 9 or 10, you are just enjoying it from the innocent and naïve fan’s perspective. There were some spoilers, but no sites to check out. I pretty much just liked to watch the show and see what would happen.

One historian spoke about knowing wrestling was fake or scripted and still breaking it down with friends from a strategic standpoint. Andre was built up. How could Hogan defeat the man that was undefeated for 15 years? At least that was what they claimed. Andre turning bad or heel only added to his intimidation. Now he was an angry giant. Even as a friendly and gentle giant, nobody could beat him. I wondered who could possibly beat Hogan if Andre couldn’t. The giant had been off having surgery or recovering. We hardly saw him. Instead of witnessing a man who had physical problems, the hype and reputation seemed to grow.

They got into Andre passing the torch. His family. Relationships with people who were involved in wrestling. Troubles when traveling on planes. The Princess Bride. Pretty much everything.

There were two minor issues I had with the documentary. One was that very little was mentioned about Andre’s late career other than his match with Hogan. Winning WrestleMania II’s battle royal that included NFL players comes to mind, but Andre getting his hair cut by Bobby Heenan’s men was incredible. They humbled the giant. Amazing storyline. Andre eliminating Hogan in a battle royal shortly before facing Hogan in 1987 wasn’t included, either. He also busted open Lanny Poffo during that match. This helped cement him as the evil giant and made people think he could win his huge showdown for the title.

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Andre beat Hogan a year later in one of the most memorable matches ever, but surrendered his championship to Ted DiBiase. There was talk about him now being booed instead of cheered. He turned back to a good guy in 1990 after dropping the tag titles. Teaming up with a partner late in his career came up as a topic, so they could have done a better job there.

The other thing I noticed was how much time they spent talking about Hulk Hogan and wrestling changing. Less time on that could have meant more about Andre’s feuds and opponents. They went way too deep into that. At one point I forgot that it was a documentary about Andre. I’m just an honest person. I had to present the negatives. Call me fair and balanced. Obviously there was a lot more good than bad. If you have not seen it yet, be sure to watch the documentary on HBO.

Previewing The Heavily Anticipated Andre The Giant Documentary On HBO

After a week off, I have a lot to say this week. My first article is about the upcoming HBO documentary. Andre The Giant will be featured on Tuesday night. I was already pumped, but recently read someone’s review and am now even more excited. We can expect plenty about wrestling history, and because Andre very rarely spoke out of character it should be mostly about him in the ring or just wrestling in general.

Even during his later years, Andre was a big draw. The word describes him literally and figuratively. He was definitely big. Vince used him for 1987’s huge main event in Michigan. Largest indoor crowd at the time, and that attendance record stood for many years. Definitely one of the biggest events in wrestling history. This set the stage for huge crowds and PPVs in the future.

Both Ric Flair and the XFL had a 30 for 30. It gave me a small taste of wrestling from my childhood, but this will be so much more. The XFL 30 for 30 was really about football and business. My interest in wrestling ended well before the XFL existed. Ric Flair was not one of my favorites, and his prime was spent wrestling for the WWF’s rival promotion. This documentary will be right up my alley. It should combine childhood memories with footage from times when I wasn’t old enough to stay up or appreciate what was happening.

Hopefully Bill Simmons did a good job on what is likely his final project for HBO. Vince McMahon and Hulk Hogan will have plenty to say. Plus, Phil Mushnick is already complaining. That’s an added bonus! Don’t forget to check it out. Tuesday night at 10PM. Andre The Giant on HBO.

Ronda Rousey Was Spectacular In Her Debut Match At WrestleMania

It’s hard to live up to the hype, but on the rare occasion where the initial hype is surpassed, that’s where magic happens. That is exactly what happened in Ronda Rousey’s debut on the Grandest Stage of Them All, WrestleMania. Once Ronda made her WWE debut at the Royal Rumble, a target was immediately put on her back. Could her historic success in UFC translate to the WWE? Ronda had to go from real fighter to sports entertainer, which is no easy task. Fighting is not the only thing she has to worry about. Selling moves, engaging with the crowd, mic skills, and ring presence are now a priority. I’ll be honest, when I first heard Ronda’s debut would be a mixed tag team match with her and Kurt Angle taking on Triple H and Stephanie McMahon, I was nervous. Triple H and Kurt would have to carry the match because Stephanie rarely wrestles and this was Ronda’s first match. Could Ronda find a way to shine in the match? I wasn’t sure at first. Then, the match happened…

And it completely stole the show. Wow. That match was very entertaining and well executed. I had little hopes going in and I am so glad I was wrong. That match exceeded expectations completely. Ronda’s training paid off because she looked like a real WWE superstar in the ring. She sold all of her bumps. She had the crowd in the palm of her hand when she kept teasing the arm bar on Stephanie. SHE FOUGHT TRIPLE H! TRIPLE H SOLD HER SHOTS! Credit to Triple H and Stephanie. They put on a clinic on how to put talent over. This is why NXT is on fire because Triple H is calling the shots. It’s a preview of what WWE will look like one day when Hunter is in charge. Back to Rousey. You could not ask for a better debut. It’s clear that she can hold her own in the ring. Now, she has to prove it on the mic. Mic skills will improve with more reps, but Ronda would benefit greatly from a manager. If Ronda has a mouthpiece doing most of her promos, she will come off as a prizefighter and an unstoppable force. With a manager, Ronda Rousey could main event next year’s WrestleMania with Charlotte Flair. That is the best case scenario if this experiment works. Hmm I wonder who could be her mouthpiece…