Besides needing an injection of talent, the heavyweight division could use some characters such as Tex, the Bluffs Butcher and the Bayonne Bleeder.
Randall “Tex” Cobb, a former kickboxer and football player at Abilene Christian, once was suspended from the team when the coach saw him, clad only in jockstrap, standing on a dormitory roof. He had an English crossbow and was shooting flaming arrows at another dorm, screaming: “Get ready to die.”
Cobb also has done some acting, appearing on television and in several movies, including the “The Golden Child” with Eddie Murphy, in which he played a henchman of Satan.
He had a brawling style in the ring and had compiled a 20-2 record, with 19 knockouts, by the time he challenged Larry Holmes. Two of his wins were an eighth-round knockout of Earnie Shavers and a decision over Bernardo Mercado. His losses were on decisions to Ken Norton and Michael Dokes.
The first time I saw Cobb fight was against Mercado on the night Holmes beat Renaldo Snipes in 1981 at Pittsburgh.
In the last few rounds, Mercado would charge out of his corner and throw a flurry of punches, then fade. At one point, Cobb told Mercado, “I don’t know what they’re giving you, but I wish they’d give me some.”
Cobb was supposed to challenge WBA champion Mike Weaver, but he got a broken arm while rescuing his friend Pete Dexter, then writing for the Philadelphia Daily News, from a sticky situation outside a South Philadelphia bar.
The story was that some guys at the bar were upset with something Dexter had written. So Dexter, accompanied by Cobb, went to the bar. Upon their arrival, the bar emptied, but soon some guys returned with bats.
“If this isn’t their softball team,” Cobb said, “we’re in trouble.”
When he signed to fight Holmes on Nov. 26, the day after Thanksgiving, in 1982 in the Houston Astrodome, Cobb was asked if he’d ever been knocked down.
“Once by a 119-pound Mexican,” he said. “Someone was swinging him by the heels.”
The fight was televised by ABC, and sportscaster Howard Cosell complained that he would have to be away from home on Thanksgiving.
“I know,” said Cobb. “His wife sent me a thank you card.”
A couple of days before the match, I said to Cobb, “You’ve got to watch out for Holmes’ left jab.” “No sh**, Ed,” he replied.
While Cobb suffered a cut lip, a cut on the bridge of the nose and was badly swollen about the left eye, I never felt the fight should have been stopped because Cobb kept fighting. Every time Holmes would let up, Cobb would land a punch and force Larry to open up.
Steve Crossen, the referee, told me that he did go to Cobb’s corner after the 10th round with the idea of possibly stopping the bout. He said Cobb looked at him and said, “You’re white, why don’t you do something about this?”
The fight was a one-man show. Two judges scored all 15 rounds for Holmes, and a third gave him 14 rounds. Cosell complained loudly that the bout should be stopped and that he would never broadcast another fight.
After it was over, Cobb said, “I might fool around and learn how to fight.” Shortly thereafter, he appeared on David Letterman’s TV show and said, “I’ve had Saturday nights worse than the fight with Holmes.”
Ron Stander was called the “Bluffs Butcher” because he lived at Council Bluffs, Iowa, across the river from Omaha, Nebraska, where he challenged Joe Frazier in 1972.
I recall that a day or two before the fight, “Bluffs Butcher” T-shirts dropped from something like $4.50 to $1.98.
Stander went into the fight with a 23-l-1 record, with 15 knockouts, while fighting mostly nondescript opponents in places such as Omaha, Sioux Falls, Elgin and Oklahoma City,
A beer drinker, Stander trained in a tiny ring in the basement of a bar. He did not look as if he had given up beer. In fact, he had not.
No one gave Stander a chance to beat Frazier, who was fighting for the second time since he had beaten Muhammad Ali.
“You can’t feed the kids on fantasy,” Stander’s wife said.
On another occasion, asked about her husband fighting for the heavyweight championship, she said, “You shouldn’t enter a Volkswagen in the Indianapolis 500 unless you know a shortcut.’
The marriage did not last.
Omaha was an old stockyards town, and Frazier cut Stander up like a side of beef. After four rounds Stander had run out of gas, the fight was over, and he could have a cold one.
Chuck Wepner cut so easily that he was known as the Bayonne Bleeder, a sobriquet he hated.
I thought Vic Ziegel, writing in the New York Post, came up with better tag when he called Wepner “Chopped Chuck.”
Interviewing Chuck at Bayonne, N.J., after he signed to fight Muhammad Ali,. I was sitting in his kitchen when his wife came in and took a vacuum cleaner that was in a corner.
“I pay $336 dollars for a vacuum cleaner, and my wife and her sisters dry their hair with it,” Wepner said. “Unbelievable!”
By the time he fought Ali in 1975, Wepner had a record of 30-9-2 with 12 knockouts. In six of the losses, the fights were stopped because of cuts.
“Yes, I’ve had over 200 stitches, but you have to remember I got 72 in the Liston fight,” he told me while I accompanied him on his route as liquor salesman. “In that fight, I was just too dumb to quit.”
Wepner, who was knocked out in the third round by George Foreman in 1969, was stopped in the 10th round by Sonny Liston in 1970.
“The doctor said, ‘How many fingers am I holding up,’” Wepner recalled. “I said, ‘How many guesses do I get?’”
Three fights before he challenged Ali, Wepner fought Randy Newman in New York’s Madison Square Garden for the heavyweight championship of New Jersey. Don’t ask.
In the seventh round there was blood all over, and referee Arthur Mercante moved in to stop the fight.
“Don’t stop it,” Mercante recalled Wepner saying. “I said, ‘Chuck, it’s his blood.’”
For the Ali fight at the Coliseum in Richfield Twp., Ohio, Wepner and his manager Al Braverman and trainer Paddy Flood stayed at a Motel Cleveland near the Thistledown race track so they could play the ponies.
At a news conference at the motel, Braverman told reporters that he was using a special salve on Wepner’s face to keep him from cutting. “No chemist has ever been able to completely break it down,” he said.
“Won’t they complain about using a foreign substance,” someone asked. Braverman’s answer: “It’s not a foreign substance. It’s made right here in the United States.”
Wepner stepped on Ali’s foot in the ninth round while throwing a punch, and it was ruled a knockdown. The was the highpoint for Chuck, who was cut up and stopped in the 15th round.
Three guys like Tex, the Butcher and the Bleeder could provide some much-needed laughter in what is a deadly dull division. By the way, that trio could have beaten a lot of today’s heavyweights.