“What the hell is this guy going to do to me? Hit me? You think I got all this scar tissue running into parked cars?” – Randall “Tex” Cobb before his 1982 bout with Larry Holmes.
The year is 1982 and Larry Holmes is what one might call a god damned monster in the ring. 40-0, technically sound, quick with thudding power and wins over men with names like Ali, Shavers (twice), Norton, Berbick and Spinks. Holmes was not a man to be taken lightly.
On November 13 that same year, Ray Mancini fought Duk Koo Kim live on CBS. Kim was dropped in the 14th round and the fight was called off as Kim valiantly struggled to his feet. Following the bout, Kim collapsed, was taken to a hospital and never woke up again, dying mere days later.
It would be only weeks after Mancini vs. Kim that Holmes would step into the ring with Randall “Tex” Cobb, a rugged, iron chinned sonofabitch. While tough as nails, Cobb was also a fairly limited brawler who made his big move to contention by beating Earnie Shavers as a late replacement in a strange 1980 fight. He’d lost his next two bouts in competitive losses to Ken Norton and Michael Dokes that proved he wasn’t quite an “A-level fighter” only to win three in a row over middling competition to earn his shot at the champ.
“I’ve been hit by bigger, stronger guys and never been stopped. I mean, look at every fight I’ve ever had – I’ve been hit with lots of big shots but I get up and keep coming. Anderson is so damn good, but no-one has ever walked through me and I will keep coming at him no matter what he throws my way.” – Stephan Bonnar ahead of Saturday’s UFC 153 bout with Anderson Silva.
Nobody has ever confused Stephan Bonnar with the elite fighters in the UFC. He doesn’t hit the hardest, he doesn’t move the fastest and he doesn’t fight the prettiest fights. But he’s tough as all hell and skilled enough that the only fighters he has lost to (with the exception of a stoppage on a cut) have been to men who have held UFC championship belts.
It’s not that anyone will ever confuse Bonnar with being on the same level as Saturday’s opponent in Anderson Silva. Hell, if that were the case we wouldn’t see Bonnar as high as +800 at the betting window.
Silva is, after all, a monster the likes of which the UFC has never seen. His 15-0 record on the world’s biggest stage has only seen two opponents who were able to make it to the final bell, both of those fights being outings where Silva seemed content to play with his food rather than devour it whole.
A three fight win streak over middling competition and a need for a popular 205 pounder now gives Bonnar the chance to face the best.
“I’ve always thought the greatest crime a man can do is take himself too seriously. I mean, something like fighting is pretty ridiculous to take seriously. What I do is hit people, I’m not promoting anything that is real or valuable.” – Cobb
Cobb’s fight with Holmes would be the first (and last) time that he got a shot at the heavyweight championship, yet his ability to pull off a one-liner and willingness to make jokes at his own expense have left him a sort of boxing cult hero to this day.
When Tex failed to come to town two weeks early to promote the fight, as dictated by his contract, Don King cut $200,000 from his $700,000 purse. Cobb, rather than put up much of a fight about losing out on his money, simply said “I’ll just have to leave the bar sooner.”
Cobb would say later in life “Don King is one of the great humanitarians of our time. He has risen above that great term prejudice. He has screwed everybody he has ever been around. Hog, dog or frog, it don’t matter to Don. If you got a quarter, he wants the first twenty-six cents.”
Tex would earn every dime he had coming to him that night in Houston and then some.
“I’m just a skinny white kid from Indiana going to Brazil to fight the best. There’s no pressure on me.” – Stephan Bonnar to Open Mat Radio.
Bonnar’s role in the development of the UFC is solidified regardless of what happens on Saturday. One half of the legendary Ultimate Fighter season one finale with Forrest Griffin, the fight provided the exciting water cooler friendly brawl that perfectly capped the then groundbreaking reality show.
Years have passed and it’s become trendy to whine about the lack of technique in Bonnar vs. Griffin, as though histories best brawls in MMA and boxing have revolved around splendid footwork and defensive tactics. But Bonnar remains a fan favorite, never taking himself or his occupation too seriously and almost always fighting in a face first style that provides exciting fights.
Stephan has already seen what happened to Griffin the last time Silva moved up to light heavyweight for a bout. Anderson deftly avoided the punches of Griffin, making him look silly in the process, before repeatedly dropping him with simple straight punches. That humiliatingly impotent performance from Griffin has to give Bonnar some pause considering Forrest’s two career wins over him.
“I wonder if that referee understands that he is constructing an advertisement for the abolition of the very sport he’s a part of.” – Howard Cosell in round 14 of Cobb vs. Holmes.
It would be an understatement of massive proportions to say things didn’t go well for Tex on that November night in 1982 when Cobb got his shot at the title. Howard Cosell would say in the early stages that the bout was “a class professional against a club fighter” later calling the fight “as brutal a mismatch as I think I’ve ever seen.”
From start to finish, the fight saw Cobb valiantly walking foward while Holmes circled and popped him with thunderous punches. Cobb would land a jab to the body, Holmes would pop him with a four punch combination, circle away and the cycle would repeat itself.
Cobb, too stupid, too stubborn or simply too much of a fighter to go down, saw no real other option but to continue coming forward.
Holmes actually tried to take the last round off, not seeing any particular reason to put three more minutes of punches to Cobb’s face. But Tex, ever the bastard, wouldn’t stop fighting. Holmes would later say “I didn’t want any knockout in the 15th because that’s when guys get killed. I could hear the crowd booing when I didn’t hit him. They wanted me to kill him and then say how bad it was. He’s a good man with a lot of courage. I just didn’t want to hit him anymore.” It was sentiment that made sense so close to Kim’s death at the hands of Mancini.
Instead of cruising to the finish line Holmes would be forced to finish the 15th round pounding on Cobb’s face yet again as the challenger refused to go away.
Informed after the bout that the brutality of his beating had made legendary broadcaster Howard Cosell decide he was done calling boxing matches, Tex would say “If I eliminate heart disease, if I walk on water, if I come up with a cure for crippled kids, I can’t image a greater gift to mankind. That is my greatest accomplishment.”
Cobb would lose the fight in a clean sweep on two judges cards while one judge found a way to give Tex a single round.
“It’s just me, it’s who I am and what I have to rely on. If I was super fast and hit really hard, was slick and had all those natural athletic gifts, I probably wouldn’t have as big a heart. It’s worked for me. I mean, now I’m 35, at the end of my career, I’ve got use what I got. And heart is what I got.” – Stephan Bonnar talking to MMAMania.com
It’s understandable to not see a path to victory for Bonnar. He’s bigger, he has decent boxing, he has severely underrated jiu-jitsu. But Silva is…well, he’s Anderson Silva. And we’ve seen size not matter the two previous times Anderson moved up to light heavyweight in the UFC.
And the history of fight sports is littered with far more fights like Tex Cobb vs. Larry Holmes, where the superior fighter dominates and brutalizes his gutsy challenger, than it is with the world stopping upset ala Douglas over Tyson. Hell, even Rocky lost to Apollo.
Sports Illustrated described Cobb vs. Holmes as “a mismatch involving a great measure of courage-if it can be said that jumping in front of a locomotive is courageous.”
Now it’s Stephan Bonnar standing on the tracks. Courage or stupidity, he’s aiming to derail the whole damn thing. And for some reason, even as we close in on 30 years to the day that Larry Holmes put such a beating on Tex Cobb that it made other men quit their jobs, I can’t shake the feeling that he might just be able to do it.
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