RANDALL ‘TEX’ COBB would have been a great Olympian, fighting in one of those Cold War classics from the Seventies or Eighties. After the carnage in Tokyo when Ricardo Torres Jnr beat Cuba’s Dainier Pero, they should be made obligatory. Cobb would have relished a fight with Teofilo Stevenson or the great and neglected Soviet, Igor Vysotsky. It never happened and we had to accept the big Texan raising hell with a generation of very good heavyweights. And he was very good at raising hell. He beat Earnie Shavers and he built a stand-up routine from his 15-round fight against Larry Holmes at the Astrodome in Houston in 1982. He fought a very good Holmes, survived the distance, took a brutal beating and had the jokes to prove it. It was also Holmes at his most vicious, something he often hid behind humour.
It was after the Shavers fight that Tex refined his theory about boxers and laziness; he insists that he could never work a real job, labouring away for hours on end. Boxing is the perfect sport for the lazy in Tex’s theory. “Take Shavers, laziest man alive,” he said in a lost interview from 1989. “He wanted to win so bad, he’d do anything to keep from having to work. He punched me below the belt and as I leaned over he head-butted me and then he grabbed my head and began punching me. The ref finally steps in and says, ‘Aw, Earnie.’”
He pauses there to laugh and you know there is a classic Tex punchline coming. And there is. I would have loved to have been doing that interview. “I say to the ref, ‘Don’t bother the man, he’s busy.’ Earnie had to let me go, he was laughing so much. Sweetest man ever lived.” Shavers was stopped in eight rounds one night in Detroit in 1980; Shavers went to hospital after the fight. Big Tex with his damaged face certainly knew his way around a late-night ER.
The fight with Shavers was the first fight in an impressive sequence; three months later Cobb dropped a split to Ken Norton and just a few months after that, Michael Dokes scraped home after 10 rounds. Dokes was unbeaten in 20, being groomed, a rising star in the fight game. Dokes, we too easily forget, was a terrific fighter before the crack pipe ruined his life.
On the night, one judge had it even, the other two went narrowly for Dokes. It was an escape, make no mistake. It was also a harsh and priceless lesson – Dokes won a version of the world title the following year, just six fights later. Cobb has no regrets about his role in the business and he finally quit in 1993 after 51 fights; Cobb won 42, lost just seven times. It is a typically overlooked record from a time when so many boxers were coming, going and vanishing. He was the ugly face, which is harsh, of the Lost Generation. He lived in tough heavyweight times. “Shavers hit me so hard, I’m surprised I’m alive,” said Cobb. It seems that a lot of people were surprised he lived so long, took so much punishment in the ring and seemed to be in the wrong place so many times. He once faced-down a bar packed with men brandishing baseball bats and announced: “I sure hope this is the softball team.” It was not, and Cobb left with a broken arm.
It suits the Randall Tex Cobb image to focus on the fights (the boxing version) that delivered the best lines, not necessarily the best wins. Make no mistake, the man with the unforgettable face, could really fight and he enjoyed it. In all fairness, that is why he had the unforgettable face. “I never cared who was in the other corner,” insisted Cobb. “I just never wanted to go to work.” After the Holmes loss, Cobb spent the entire purse of 600,000 dollars going wild in Australia. It makes no difference if the story is true or false, it just seems pure Tex.
“They called me a fat, cowardly, cocaine-snorting, fight-fixing cheat. Who they calling fat?” said Cobb. He was clearly a delight for the hacks and that self-deprecatory humour is always a winner. “I can’t take it serious – all I do is hit people.” And get hit.
Obviously, the one-liners from the Holmes fight are now boxing legend, but his part in the 45-minutes of savagery are often forgotten. He took so many punches and stumbled and rolled and talked during the fight that it takes on a cinematic quality; a raw version of a Rocky movie. “Larry never beat me, he just won the first 15 rounds.” Holmes still shakes his head and smiles when Cobb’s name is mentioned.
Peter Dexter, friend and author, once said of Cobb: “I know him, he won’t cheat himself. And after it’s over – it doesn’t matter how many times he’s hit in the face – he’ll be able to look in the mirror and not be afraid of what he sees.” Cobb had his arm broken in the baseball-bat brawl defending Dexter.
I would suggest that makes Tex a rarity in the modern heavyweight business – an old-school fighter and a man not afraid of his own reflection in a mirror.