Tex: The Incredible True Story of a Boxing Outlaw
"The Big Texan"
Everything’s bigger in Texas—including the personalities. There was hardly a bigger personality in the history of boxing than Randall “Tex” Cobb. As the nickname suggests, Cobb grew up in Abilene, Texas, the son of a factory laborer and homemaker. His prowess in the ring is just one facet of an amazing and unusual life story. He was a man of many trades and a master at quite a few. Whether it was playing football, acting in motion pictures, graduating magna cum laude from Temple University, writing and singing country western songs, or receiving a black belt in karate, Tex was a walking Swiss army knife!
Looking The Part
I’ve never met ‘Tex’ the Texan but he, ostensibly, looks like the toughest man I’ve ever seen in my life. With a massive cranium, extensive jaw, pancaked nose, and piercing eyes peeking out of a heavy brow ridge, he appears to be one customer you don’t want to mess with. He also had the size to round out the intimidating package presented to the world. At ‘6 3” and 240 lbs, Cobb was a formidable sight to be seen. It wasn’t the squared circle that first piqued his interest, however. It was the gridiron where he first exploited his bruising body.
A standout at Abilene high school, Tex would go on to play college ball at Abilene Christian. However, he was remembered more for getting into bar brawls and one particularly bizarre incident in which he stood atop a dormitory roof and shot flaming arrows from a crossbow at people walking by; he was wearing nothing but a jockstrap. It’s safe to say that the college life wasn’t for him, so he dropped out at age 19 to pursue a career in karate. His new career pursuit saw him living in a dojo and cleaning the mats just to earn his keep. After earning his black belt, Cobb was itching to compete in combat sports and decided to become a full-contact kickboxer, winning his first nine bouts all by knockout.
In his first ever professional kickboxing match in El Paso, TX, Cobb knocked out the El Paso Golden Gloves heavyweight champion and was immediately noticed by boxing handlers. He was signed to a pro boxing contract two weeks later by a matchmaker and boxing guru by the name of Paul Clinite. It was obvious that his skills were raw and that he needed to refine his technique to be successful in the professional ranks (as powerful as he was). Clinite provided Cobb with old boxing reels of Joe Louis and came up with the idea that he fight in the “shuffle step” style of the “Brown Bomber.” After mastering the fundamentals and the basics of boxing at a local El Paso gym, Cobb was sent to Philadelphia to train with the legendary “Smokin” Joe Frazier at his gym.
A Good Start
After losing his first two amateur fights, Cobb turned pro and knocked out Pedro Vega on January 19, 1977, in his first prizefight. He then went on a 13-fight winning streak and scored a fight with Earnie Shavers, a world class contender and one of the hardest hitting fighters in the history of the sport. On August 2, 1980, at the Joe Louis Arena in Detroit, MI, Tex was able to TKO Shavers in the eighth round, surprising the boxing world. His next two fights against Ken Norton and Michael Dokes would see him lose a split decision and majority decision, putting a momentary stop to the momentum Tex was riding after the Shavers fight.
Cobb vs Holmes
Determined and resilient as ever, Cobb bounced back. He won his next three fights and secured the opportunity of a lifetime; a shot at the heavyweight crown held by Larry Holmes. On November 26, 1982, Tex squared off with Larry Holmes for the WBC heavyweight championship at the Astrodome in Houston. Cobb ended up on the wrong side of a 15-round drubbing at the hands of the champion, which caused famed sportscaster Howard Cossell to remark that he’d never cover a professional boxing match for the rest of his life. Tensions were high and questions were now being raised about the outlaw of the 15-round fight following the death of Duk Koo Kim at the hands of Ray Mancini, two weeks before the Cobb-Holmes bout. In true Tex fashion, he responded by saying, “Hey, if it gets him to stop broadcasting NFL games, I'll go play football for a week, too!” and “this was my gift to the sport of boxing.”
That's All She Wrote
The Holmes fight would wind up being the apex of Cobb’s boxing career, as he lost four fights in a row between ‘84 & ‘85. This losing skid would cause him to take a two-year hiatus from boxing to reevaluate his decision to continue with the sport. When he returned to the ring, he went on a 20-fight win streak against “tomato cans,” including a win over the former champ Leon Spinks who was well past his prime at that point. Randall Cobb decided to hang up the gloves in 1993, compiling a record of 42 wins, 7 losses, 1 draw, and 1 no contest.
“I love acting. It's easy for me. All you do is look in the camera, smile, and lie with charm. I learned how to do that watching Don King promote fights.” This quote summarizes Cobb’s acting chops to a tee; clearly he wasn’t trying to become an award-winning thespian. In a land full of phonies, Tex remained himself and never shot above his station when it came to acting roles. He mostly played villains, henchman, and tough guys throughout his film and television career. By accepting the fact that he didn’t possess leading man looks, he was actually able to carve out a long and successful career on the big & small screen, starring in movies like Raising Arizona and acting in TV franchises like Miami Vice.
Was Tex Cobb the greatest boxer in the world? No. Was he the best actor in Hollywood? No. However, the interesting thing about Tex is that he was well above-average in the many pursuits he dabbled in. He wasn't the best boxer, but he fought for a world title. He wasn’t the best actor, but he managed a steady career as one for over 30 years. He’s no John Lennon, but his songwriting ability has made him quite a bit of money and he’s well-known around Nashville. He’s unapologetically himself and a large part of his appeal, in my opinion, is his unorthodox mixture of bravado, self-efficacy, humility, ability, and honesty. The American people despise perfection; we like our public figures to present themselves as having flaws like the rest of us. This is why Randall “Tex” Cobb will be remembered for a long time as one who did it his way.