Number 174 – Randall “Tex” Cobb

Cobb_173356741
From Boxrec.com

Randall Cobb (tied for 161)
Bridge City, Texas, USA
December 10, 1953
6’3″ / 220-264 lbs
42-7-1-1(35) from 01/21/1977 to 06/07/1993 (16y6m)

1-4-0-0(0) against the top ten
1-2-0-0(0) against lineal champions
0-2-0-0(0) against hall-of-famers
0-1-0-0(0) for the lineal championship

Top ten opponents: W-UD-10 Bernardo Mercado, L-SD-10 Ken Norton, L-MD-10, L-TD-4 Michael Dokes, L-UD-15 Larry Holmes

0 total score (1 + -3+ 0 + 2)

I want to start out acknowledging that it’s a bit odd for a man who lost twice to Michael Dokes to be ranked directly above him. The nature of using a formula to build these rankings will inevitably lead to situations where some parts of the list will appear outwardly counterintuitive. And of course, even with my efforts to take as much opinion as possible out of the equation, there still is plenty about this project that is subjective, including the annual Ring top ten rankings this whole thing is built around. If someone disagrees with where the math has led me, I can’t really complain. There will always be good arguments for and against the placement of almost anyone on this list. But I do stand by my project and the conclusions I have drawn. And I will mention once again that the higher we go in the rankings here (and the longer the list of accomplishments we get for each fighter), the more accurate things will look. When fighters only have one or two big wins to their credit, the differences between them are tougher to figure out.

Anyway, with that disclaimer aside, I’m excited to write about this guy. Randall “Tex” Cobb wasn’t anywhere close to a great fighter. But he might be a bit underrated as a fighter. And he is definitely one of the most quotable fighters – no, one of the most quotable people – in the public eye.

Cobb grew up in Texas. He played high school football, then discovered karate while studying at Abilene Christian University. He became obsessed with the art, dropping out of school at 19 to study full time. Randall picked it up fast, earning a black belt in just a few years. And he craved the excitement of combat. In the mid 1970s, the best way for a karate practitioner to enjoy full contact competition was through kickboxing. So, in 1975, he became a professional kickboxer. He compiled a 9-0 record as a kickboxer (although would lose two fights later on), and showed a lot of promise in combat sports. So much promise in fact, that he found himself getting into boxing, which was generally more lucrative than kickboxing and karate. He was brought to Philadelphia from Texas, and began working out at Joe Frazier’s gym.

Cobb only had two amateur fights, losing both, and made his professional debut in January 1977. But the professional side of the sport would suit him far more than the amateurs, and through the summer of 1980, Cobb would build a record of 16-0(15), and find himself in the ring with former contender Earnie Shavers.

Shavers had been ranked as high as number 5 just a few months before, but had been stopped in consecutive fights by champion Larry Holmes (not a surprise) and new contender Bernardo Mercado (big surprise). Some of the luster had been removed from Shavers by these losses, but he was still arguably one of the top 20 heavyweights in the world, and he still owned one of the hardest punches ever.

The fight itself was sloppy and somewhat anticlimactic. Shavers flashed his power in the sixth round, scoring a knockdown, but was otherwise slow, and tired quickly. Cobb wasn’t much better, throwing windmill punches that didn’t appear to do much for most of the bout. He finally seemed to have Shavers hurt in the eighth, and the referee mercifully stopped the fight. Afterward, Shavers continued his fade, and Tex Cobb managed to go from being an obscure kickboxer to beating a recent heavyweight contender in less than 20 fights.

Discussing the fight later on, Cobb flashed the wit that would later become one of his trademarks; “No one hits as hard as Shavers. If there was a fighter that hit harder than Shavers, I shoot him!”

“Earnie Shavers could punch you in the neck and break your ankle.”

Cobb followed this win up by facing another faded contender, Ken Norton. Ken was actually returning from a 15 month retirement, having last been seen being obliterated in one by Shavers, and then drawing with fringe contender Scott LeDoux.

Like the Shavers fight, this one was sloppy and close. Both men were tired going into the later rounds. Cobb likely held a lead at the halfway mark, but the skills and veteran wiles of the older man helped him close the gap, and it was a toss-up fight going into the final round. In the tenth, Norton came alive, landing multiple sharp uppercuts to win the round, and earn the split decision – handing Cobb his first loss.

The man known as Tex didn’t let the loss slow him down. Four months later, he was back in the ring, this time against rising contender Michael Dokes. The quick handed Ohio native was ranked number 4 by The Ring going into the fight, and was the understandable favorite against Cobb. Despite Dokes’ vast advantages in amateur experience, speed, and boxing skill, the fight was nearly even for ten tough rounds. Cobb showed improved defense, as he caught many of Dokes’ combinations on his forearms and gloves, and he imposed his greater size on Dokes, wearing him down as the fight progressed. Dokes likely deserved the majority decision, but Cobb acquitted himself well, and gained fans in the loss.

Eight months and two fights later, Cobb would take on another top ten contender in Bernardo Mercado. This time, Cobb would see his hand raised after ten close rounds over the powerful Colombian. Cobb found himself ranked in the top ten by The Ring, ending 1981 at number 9.

Two more fights, and a full year later, and Tex would get his name called by the lineal Heavyweight Champion of the World, Larry Holmes.

At this point, Larry had just defeated Gerry Cooney in one of the biggest fights in history, one with significant (and unfortunate) political and racial ramifications. Holmes had suffered a few scares, but nobody could argue that he wasn’t the best heavyweight in the world by a significant margin.

Cobb was technically a top-ten contender (barely), but Holmes had already defeated half of the rest of the then-current top ten, and pretty much all of those he had beaten would have been favored against Tex. Going into the bout, Holmes was an 8-1 favorite, which was probably overly generous to the Texan.

On November 26, 1982, at the Astrodome in Houston, Larry Holmes put on an absolute clinic for fifteen one-sided, monotonous rounds. Over and over, Holmes speared his slower opponent with his legendary jab, and easily evaded most of the awkward rushes Cobb attempted. Throughout the contest, ringside commentator Howard Cosell vigorously lamented the lopsided nature of the bout, expressing his disgust with everything about it. So upset was Cosell, that he retired from boxing commentary after this bout. While his frustration was understandable, he had also burned plenty of bridges over the years, and Cobb himself noted after the match that helping to end Cosell’s career was worth the loss. “If I eliminate heart disease, if I walk on water, if I come up with a cure for crippled kids, I can’t image a greater gift to mankind. That is my greatest accomplishment.”

Holmes-Cobb_4757446
From Boxrec.com

Tex made the interview rounds after the Holmes fight, charming much of the public with his wit and willingness to joke about a one-sided defeat. Among the better quips from these discussions were, “Larry Holmes didn’t beat me. He just won the first fifteen rounds” and “I wasn’t talking to Holmes in there. Every time I felt like saying something to him I found it hard because he kept putting his left hand in my mouth.” When asked about a possible rematch, Cobb responded, “I don’t think his hands could take the abuse.”

Tex Cobb certainly appeared to be at peace with the outcome of his shot at the lineal title. However, he also took some time getting back into the swing of things, enjoying a ten month layoff before returning to the ring to face the rather unheralded Mike Jameson. During that layoff, Cobb tried his hand at another profession – acting. He had a significant role in the war movie Uncommon Valor, displaying some of his combat skills against Patrick Swayze.

Cobb would fight four times in 1984. The first three bouts were easy wins over journeymen, but in his final fight of the year, Tex faced then-struggling prospect James “Buster” Douglas. Buster was still nowhere near the boxer who would score the greatest upset in boxing history, and had suffered a one-round no contest, and a ninth-round TKO loss in his last two fights. Douglas was actually a late replacement for the much-better-regarded contender Trevor Berbick, but he took advantage of the opportunity, scoring a majority decision win over Cobb.

Cobb would return four months later, dropping a disappointing prematurely-shortened split technical decision to his former foe Michael Dokes. This time, Dokes would suffer a cut over his eye, caused from an accidental head butt, and the bout would be stopped and scored in his favor after the fourth round.

Two months later, Cobb would lose a wide decision to Eddie Gregg, and five months after that, would lose by shocking first round knockout to 7-4 journeyman Dee Collier. Four straight losses, to increasingly less talented opposition, culminating in a blowout against a club fighter who would have been no match for the version of Cobb that defeated Earnie Shavers. To add further insult to injury, Cobb’s previously granite jaw completely failed him against Collier, who was not known for possessing a significant punch.

It was clear to many that a chin-first style combined with many legendary late nights, and a plethora of outside interests, conspired to age the former contender. Cobb took a year and a half off, and focused on acting, appearing in five films and three television episodes in 1987 alone. Cobb’s size, intimidating appearance, and natural charisma made him a go-to heavy in Hollywood.

He returned to the ring in early ’87, fighting nine times in March, April, and June, compiling an 8-0-1(8) record against limited opposition in that span. Then he spent the rest of the year engaged in the aforementioned extracurricular activities, and returned once more in March 1988 to face former champion Leon Spinks.

Neon Leon was even more past his prime than Cobb, and was likely never as good as his career-defining victory over an ancient Muhammad Ali a decade prior. Leon was a rare fighter who could out-party Cobb, and was even less diligent in his training. Spinks had lost six of his last eight bouts, dating back to 1985, but both were the most significant dance partner each other had faced in the last couple years. Both men promised to look like their old selves, but instead they both just looked old. Cobb started off a bit better, and banked some early rounds, but both fighters were staggering around the ring and falling into constant clinches in the second half of the bout. It was sloppy and not particularly entertaining. Cobb edged the majority decision, but neither of them could be described as winners that night.

Perhaps realizing acting was less painful, Cobb would stay out of the ring for the next five years, continuing to make appearances in movies and television.

In 1992, he jumped back into the ring, starting with a first round stoppage win over 300 pound journeyman Sonny Barch. But Cobb was still a partier, even at this point in his life, and both men tested positive for cocaine after the fight. The victory was nullified, and changed to a no contest.

A Sports Illustrated article written the next year alleged that the Barch fight was fixed, and that the cocaine in their systems was imbibed together just before the fight. Cobb sued the magazine for libel, and would eventually be awarded a combined 10.7 million dollars in 1999, though that would be overturned by a federal appeals court in 2002 due to a lack of “actual malice” on the part of the magazine.

Despite the debacle of the Barch fight, Cobb would push ahead with his comeback, and step back into the ring just a month later, and then again a month after that. He would actually face a total of ten opponents through the end of 1992 and into mid-1993. All but the Barch fight were victories for Cobb, and all but one of those would be by way of knockout. However, Barch was actually the most accomplished foe among that lot, and only four of the ten had winning records. After his final win, Cobb retired from the fight game, returning to acting throughout the 1990s, appearing in multiple television shows and movies.

In 2008, at age 57, Cobb graduated from Temple University with a bachelor’s degree, commenting about his graduation, “It was nice to have that opportunity to wear a robe, to step up there and not have to worry about bleeding.”

Randall Cobb was not a great fighter. He was arguably on the edge of world-class for maybe four years in the early 80s, and much of that had to do more with his inhuman durability and mental toughness than his boxing technique. Nevertheless, the skills he did possess took him surprisingly far, all the way to a shot at what was then still the greatest title in sports.

But despite missing out on pugilistic greatness, he made up for it with his wit, charm, and character. He may not crack the All-Time Heavyweight Top 10 for his in-ring exploits, but he’s probably one of the top two or three most quotable boxers of all time, and also arguably has the most impressive IMDB page.

There’s so much more to Tex Cobb than I’ve mentioned in this piece. Please check out more from writer Pete Dexter about his relationship with Cobb, including the night Randall saved his life.

You can also check out just what made Cobb so charismatic with this footage of his interviews with David Letterman.

2 thoughts on “Number 174 – Randall “Tex” Cobb

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