Tex Cobb was Tyson Fury – One of the nicer things being said nowadays about lineal heavyweight champion Tyson Fury is that he’s a knucklehead. To say that he has rubbed some people the wrong way would be a great understatement. And that’s a shame because at his best moments he’s so drop-dead funny that he could have all of England laughing along with him. One wishes he were more like Tex Cobb.
For the uninitiated, Randall “Tex” Cobb was a heavyweight boxer who competed from 1977 to 1988 and then resurfaced four-and-a-half years later on the tank town circuit for an encore that expanded his record from 33-7-1 to 42-7-1 without putting much coin in his pocket. He came out of Abilene, Texas, and dabbled in football and kick-boxing before turning his focus to conventional boxing.
Tex Cobb had his first pro fight in El Paso and his second pro fight, by some strange alchemy, in Philadelphia where he appeared on a card that included three future world champions – Vito Antuofermo, Eddie Mustafa Muhammad, and Matthew Saad Muhammad. With Texas largely bereft of useful sparring partners in his weight class, Cobb elected to stay on in Philly, a town renowned for its fierce gym wars. At Joe Frazier’s gym he worked under the watchful eye of the great trainer George Benton who would recall that Cobb’s defense consisted of a granite chin.
Cobb would say that the only time that he was ever afraid was when he was told that he would need to take the subway to get to Frazier’s gym from his room at the YMCA. “Coming from west-central Texas, ‘subway’ was just a word to me,” he told boxing writer Michael Katz. “All I knew about it was that it was the place to go if you wanted to get robbed.”
To discourage would-be robbers, Cobb stood on the subway platform in his cowboy hat and boots and performed loud karate moves.
Cobb’s best year was 1980. After scoring three wins over fighters of little repute, he upset fearsome Earnie Shavers, winning by TKO 8, and ended the year losing a split decision to Ken Norton. Two years later he got his big chance when he was pitted against defending heavyweight champion Larry Holmes.
Cobb vs. Holmes was ultra-monotonous and by some accounts the most lopsided fight in the annals of heavyweight championship boxing. Round after round, Cobb plodded forward as Holmes peppered him with his rapier-quick jab. At the end, two of the judges scored all 15 rounds for Holmes. The other arbiter was more compassionate. He scored it 14-1.
The legend of Tex Cobb was born that night. Exiting the ring, his face covered with purple blotches and his left eye nearly closed, his first words were “let’s party.” Asked about the possibility of a rematch, he said that he didn’t think Holmes’ hands could stand the abuse. “Larry Holmes didn’t beat me,” he would say. “He just happened to win the first 15 rounds.”
The bout, contested before a sparse crowd on a Friday night in the Houston Astrodome, was televised by ABC with Howard Cosell calling the action. In the history of sports broadcasting, there never was a man as polarizing as the bombastic Cosell.
Cosell, who had covered boxing for 25 years, lambasted the match on the air as a travesty and vowed that he would never cover boxing again. He was true to his word, which Tex Cobb would come to number his greatest achievement. “Getting Cosell to quit,” he said, “was my gift to mankind.”
Styles make fights and Cobb was involved in a few doozies. He gave as good as he got in a furious 1985 slugfest with Michael Dokes that was stopped in the fourth round when Dokes suffered a two-inch gash over his right eye from an accidental head butt. They had met four years earlier when Dokes was still undefeated. In that match, Cobb’s late rally came up a tad short and Dokes escaped via a majority decision. But Tex would always be remembered more for his wit than for anything good he accomplished in the boxing ring.
Asked if he had ever been knocked out, Cobb replied “only once by a little Mexican guy in a bar….but I don’t think that counts because someone was swinging him by his heels at the time.” Asked about a potential match with Gerry Cooney, Cobb said he would only take the fight if the terms were right. “What are your terms?” he was asked. “Twenty-five cents and a loose woman,” he replied. These retorts were invariably followed by a raucous laugh that Bernard Fernandez likened to the sound of an elephant having an asthma attack.
Cobb once said that being a professional prizefighter is the easiest job in the world: “You run for 45 minutes, you train for an hour and a half and the rest of the time you hang out and talk tough,” he told LA Times sportswriter Richard Hoffer. But he found an even easier job when he discovered acting.
Cobb made guest appearances on several TV shows and appeared in a number of movies. His most memorable roles were that of a psychotic Vietnam War veteran in the 1983 film “Uncommon Valor,” and that of a grime-covered, cigar chomping, biker/bounty hunter in the 1987 Coen brothers cult classic “Raising Arizona.”
Tex Cobb played the fool, but he was no fool. In 2008, thirty-nine years after dropping out of Abilene Christian University, Cobb graduated from Temple University with a BA in sport and recreation management.
It’s unlikely that we will ever see Tyson Fury in a cap and gown. Having quit school at the age of 11, he has too much catching up to do and while a number of British sports celebrities have received honorary degrees, it’s far-fetched to think that Fury would ever join their ranks. But even if the big galoot never wins another fight, he still has time to win back most of those he has alienated, and he can do it without totally abandoning the snarky anti-establishment posture that endeared him to so many people before his antics veered too far off course. The Brits take great pride in their prizefighters – England, after all, is the cradle of pugilism — and Father Time has a way of erasing old grievances.
POSTSCRIPT: Randall “Tex” Cobb, who turned 66 in May, or turns 63 in December depending on one’s source, has fallen off the map in recent years. The last we heard he was living somewhere in the Pacific Northwest. We hope he’s doing well.
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