THE SOCCER REPORT

U.S. Women begin World Cup title defense, Ronaldo's Portugal wins Nations League

The U.S. Women's National Team look to defend their FIFA Women's World Cup title and become back-to-back champs.

The Summer of Soccer is underway with the 2019 FIFA Women's World Cup, UEFA Nations League and international friendlies all part of the schedule this past weekend. The action is about to kick into another gear with the start of the Concacaf Gold Cup and South America's Copa America this week. Here is the week in soccer:

FIFA Women's World Cup

The premier women's international soccer competition kicked off in France with a 4-0 win by the hosts last Friday to open the competition. France is one of the favorites, and pressured to win, due to their role as the home team. The French women are also looking to match their male counterparts that became World Cup champions last summer at Russia 2018.

Germany, another of the favorites, opened their campaign with a 1-0 win over China while 2011 Champions and 2015 Runners-up Japan were held to a scoreless draw against what could be a Cinderella team in Argentina. England and Scotland faced off for the first time at the World Cup, men or women's, with the Lionesses winning 2-1 while potential dark horse Canada picked up a 1-0 win over Cameroon.

The defending champion United States joins the fray on Tuesday (2:00 p.m. CT, FOX) in what will likely be a multiple goal clinic against Thailand. For all the basics on the Women's World Cup, check out this article.

UEFA Nations League

The first ever Nations League, an attempt to get rid of "meaningless" international friendlies, looks to have been a rousing success and it could not have finished in a better way in terms of garnering media attention. European football's golden boy Cristiano Ronaldo led Portugal, the current European champions, to a second European title in three years with a 1-0 win over the Netherlands.

Concacaf Gold Cup

The biannual tournament to determine the champion of North America, Central America and the Caribbean - the region governed by Concacaf - kicks off on Saturday. The United States enter as the defending champions but it is Mexico, the nation with the most titles in the competition, who enter as the favorites to win it all.

Mexico fared well with a 3-1 friendly win over Venezuela in Atlanta on Wednesday followed by a 3-2 win over Ecuador on Sunday up in Arlington, TX. The United States enter with doubts after a 0-1 loss to Jamaica in Washington D.C. and a 0-3 loss to Venezuela in Cincinnati.

CONMEBOL Copa America

South America also has a tournament kicking off this weekend in the revered Copa America. Hosts Brazil are always in the spotlight because of their star-studded squad and will be expected to win despite losing Neymar to injury this past week. Of course, as it has been for several editions now, the main storyline will be if Lionel Messi can finally lift a trophy with Argentina. With what many consider as the best in the world (and best all-time by others) in his prime, the time seems now or never for Messi to conquer the quadrennial tournament as well of the hearts of his country - and what a story it would be to do it on rival turf.

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I met James Arthur Harris a pretty long time ago, it had to be before 2001, because I was at the gate waiting for his flight from New Orleans to land. I was supposed to pick him up, drive him to the Holiday Inn Crowne Plaza on Loop 610, wait for him to change into his work clothes, and get him to the George R. Brown before 3 p.m.

I had never met him, but it would be easy to pick him out in the line of passengers filing off the plane. He'd be the big guy, 6 ft. 7 and weighing more than 400 pounds. Because our schedule was tight, I was hoping he wasn't already in his work clothes. You'll understand why.

When Harris worked, he wore a leopard loin cloth, bare feet, bright painted stars and moons on his huge pot belly, and white face paint under his scary witch doctor mask. He also carried a spear and shield.

James Harris, who died this week at age 70 from COVID-19 complications, performed in wrestling rings around the world as Kamala the Ugandan Giant. Or Kamala the Ugandan Head Hunter. This day, he came to Houston to sign autographs at TriStar Sports memorabilia shows.

"Kamala was a huge draw to our shows in the '90s. His character was mysterious and intriguing. Fans lined up to get his autograph and pose for photos with him. He was one of our biggest draws," said Tristar senior vice president Bobby Mintz.

I checked Harris into the Crowne Plaza and waited in the lobby while he went upstairs to take off his shoes and socks, paint stars and moons on his belly … and become Kamala the uncivilized cannibal from the jungles of deepest Africa.

You couldn't get away with this stereotyped character today. But this was then, and Kamala was one of the hottest performers in the wrestling world.

You should have seen the looks on people's faces when the elevator door opened, and out came Kamala, in full ring regalia. We got into my car and made it to the George R. Brown in time for his autograph session. The line already was 100 wrestling fans deep. I sat next to Kamala for three hours, muttering grunts and nonsense sounds because, of course, Kamala did not speak English.

James Harris was born and died in Mississippi. He broke into pro wrestling in 1978 under the name Sugar Bear Harris. He also wrestled as Ugly Bear Harris, The Mississippi Mauler and Bad News Harris.

It was Jerry Lawler, owner of Memphis independent wrestling scene in the early '80s, who gave Harris his new gimmick and name Kamala. He would be billed as Kamala the Ugandan Giant, former bodyguard to the brutal dictator Idi Amin. Lawler picked the name Kamala after the capital of Uganda. Actually, the capital of Uganda is Kampala. It doesn't matter.

Kamala was money, as they say, he put butts in seats. He used a devastating karate chop to opponents' heads and pinned them, 1-2-3. Soon he was hired by Mid-South Wrestling, where the circuit included the Sam Houston Coliseum in Houston. In 1986, he became a main event wrestler for the WWE and headlined shows against Hulk Hogan coast-to-coast.

As we sat at the autograph show, one of my jobs was to assure young fans that Kamala was really a nice person, so don't be scared.

That night, I threw my one and only dinner party. I invited about 20 people to meet Kamala. I prepared a casual buffet, the main course was lasagna. I had two large trays, one with vegetable lasagna, one with sausage and ground beef.

The guests showed up, and Kamala posed for photos and signed autographs. He let my friends wear his witch doctor mask. He hoisted some of the guests and pretended he was body slamming them for their photos. He was the most gracious and gentle giant you could imagine. Until …

I was taking the lasagna trays out of the oven. I brought Kamala into the kitchen so he could eat first, and return to mingle with the guests. I asked him, which would you like, vegetable or meat lasagna? He said meat, and picked up the entire tray, sat at the kitchen table and ate the whole thing. I told the other guests, eat lots of garlic bread.

Kamala retired from wrestling full-time around 2000. He bought a truck and hauled gravel, asphalt and dirt from Mississippi across the southern U.S. If he knew a town had an independent wrestling show, he'd re-route his route so he could pick up extra money dusting off his Kamala persona for one night. That's how he made an appearance at the Texas All-Star Wrestling show in Humble in 2003.

Kamala fell into bad health with diabetes and high blood pressure. He had both legs amputated. Despite headlining wrestling shows around the world, Kamala never earned much money. In his later years, he made wood chairs near his home in Oxford, Mississippi. He also recorded an album, Kamala's Greatest Hits: Vol. 1, and wrote his autobiography, Kamala Speaks.

After the dinner party, which did not make Maxine Mesinger's society column in the Chronicle, something I'm still bitter about, I drove Kamala back to the Crowne Plaza. I told him, be in the lobby at 9 a.m., we'll get breakfast on our way to the airport. I asked him, what would you like for breakfast. Pancakes? Bacon and eggs? Fruit?

He said, and I'll never forget this, "When it comes to food, I isn't choicy."

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