People admire winners so much sometimes they overlook the losers, who often deserve more of our respect than champions.
For every Muhammad Ali, for instance, there are hundreds—perhaps thousands—of athletes like Randall “Tex” Cobb.
Cobb was a talented heavyweight boxer. But he was not a great boxer, and the few people who are familiar with his career today probably think of him as a loser because he never won a championship belt. In fact, Cobb’s probably most famous for his disastrous 1982 World Boxing Council’s world heavyweight title fight at Houston’s Astrodome against the great champion Larry Holmes.
Over the course of 15 rounds in the ring, Cobb was mercilessly pummeled by Holmes, who was taller, far more skilled and outreached Cobb by nearly 12 inches. It was a bloody, lopsided fight—so much so, that the legendary and controversial sportscaster Howard Cosell vowed never to cover another professional boxing match and retired.
Cobb, 32 years old at the time, could’ve slunk away into obscurity after that horrific bout and nobody would’ve blamed him.
But he didn’t. He came up swinging instead—not with his fists, but with his wit.
Immediately after the fight, a badly battered but grinning Cobb demanded a rematch. “Like tomorrow night,” he said. “And then the night after that, and then the night after that. The s.o.b. has to get tired sometime.”
Later, when Cobb learned about Cosell’s threat to quit, the disgraced boxer described it as his “gift to the sport of boxing.” And when Cobb was asked about the rematch, he joked that Holmes’ “hands couldn’t take it.” Questioned about what it was like to fight a man whose arms were a foot longer than his own, Cobb responded by saying, “Oh, it seemed that way to you, too?”
Suddenly, Cobb became a hero for outmatched underdogs everywhere. By remaining gracious and maintaining his sense of humor in defeat, the boxer endeared himself to sports fans around the world, and was showered with letters congratulating him for his effort in the ring.
Cobb didn’t quit boxing, either; after all, he was a promising fighter.
Cobb had dropped out of college at 19 to become a kick boxer. He trained at the Philadelphia gym owned by fabled boxing champion Joe Frazier, and switched to professional boxing in 1977. In his first two years, Cobb knocked out 13 opponents in a row. Then, in 1980, he knocked out one of the most powerful punchers of all time, Ernie Shavers, who was nicknamed the “Black Destroyer” and had nearly dethroned Ali in a 1977 fight that Sports Illustrated called “Ali’s Desperate Hour.”
Although Cobb’s fight with Holmes was humiliating, it was also a testament to his tenacity because he refused to go down. Cobb proved he was tough that night, and on many other nights during his boxing career. He was knocked out only once, in a one-round 1985 fight against a relative unknown named Dee Collier. He fought many of the best boxers of his time, including Bernardo Mercardo, Ken Norton and Michael Dokes, and although he often lost the big fights, it was never easily.
Cobb continued fighting professionally until the early 1990s, amassing a 43-7-1 record along the way. But he’s probably better known to most people today as a television and screen actor. A hairy giant with a rugged face that looks like it belongs to the 1930s, Cobb has appeared in dozens of productions, including TV shows like Miami Vice, Married…With Children, Walker, Texas Ranger and The X Files. He’s also landed starring roles in movies such as Police Academy 4, Ace Ventura: Pet Detective and my personal favorite, the 1987 Coen Brothers’ comedic masterpiece Raising Arizona. In that film, Cobb played opposite Nicolas Cage as the fearsome Harley-riding bounty hunter Leonard Smalls, who was also known as the Lone Biker of the Apocalypse. His taciturn, single-minded intensity was a perfect foil for the fast-talking ne’er-do-well with a heart of gold played by Cage.
Athlete, actor–Cobb’s done it all. And he’s no dummy, either.
Last year, at age 57, Cobb graduated magna cum laude from Temple University with a bachelor’s degree in sports and recreation management. He put himself through school by working construction jobs in the Philadelphia area.
“This was no honorary degree,” Jeffrey Montague, assistant dean of Temple’s School of Tourism and Hospitality Management, told The Philadelphia Inquirer. “He worked hard for this. He’s a tremendous guy, a very, very genuine person. Some of the same qualities that made him a successful boxer made him a great student.”
Cobb accepted his degree with characteristic humor, noting it was odd to hear the cheers of a packed arena without being in a boxing ring. “It was nice to have that opportunity to wear a robe, to step up there and not have to worry about bleeding,” he said.
So is Cobb a loser?
Not to me.
Not by a long shot.
I wrote this post to help celebrate the month-long ”Anti Injustice Campaign” with my fellow writers over at Humor Bloggers Dot Com. Check out the other entries if you get a chance.