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The split decision went against Cobb, his first loss in 19 fights.
"You ever see Norton fight like that before?" Cobb asks. "Or Shavers, for that matter? I bring out the best in these old bastards. Old guys who know they have to die rather than back down. After the fight, Kenny said to me, 'You whipped my ass, Randall. But I'll take everything the judges give me.' He knows I beat him, but I'm not bitter." Cobb shakes his head. "I learned a bunch in that fight. Next time out, Darlin'."
Cobb's only other loss was a majority decision on March 22, 1981 to 22-year-old Michael Dokes, the fast Ohioan who will fight Mike Weaver for the WBA title next month. "I knew I was going to knock out Dokes, too, with the next solid shot," Cobb says. "Later, when I suggested we have another go at it, Dokes said, 'No, I don't think so.' My record's now 21-2, but only four of those fights have been against guys ranked in the top 10. Shavers, Norton, Dokes and Bernardo Mercado. I feel that I'm just starting my pro career, just learning how to fight."
Cobb and Weaver are both from Texas, and they're also probably the only two "kick fighters" to make it as heavyweight boxers. Cobb was a North American full-contact karate champion. His boxing trainer is George Benton, a former middleweight who between 1949 and 1970 amassed a 61-13-1 record.
"When Tex showed up in Philly seven years ago, he was the rawest fighter for his age I'd ever seen," Benton says. "But he had power and his will to win. I figured it would take five years to make him a fighter, and we're on schedule. But my God, he had a lot of bad habits."
And he still does. He failed to finish strongly against Norton and Dokes, so many in boxing question his stamina.
"His straight right is his best punch," says Mort Sharnik, boxing consultant for CBS, "but Benton's got him throwing hooks, and that's not his game. He's not a boxer like Benton was, he's a banger."
Benton noticed that when Cobb was getting hit he would move away from the punches. Only Muhammad Ali and Ray Leonard could ever get away with that. In the martial arts, which Cobb has studied since the age of 16—he is a first-degree dan black belt now—a kick boxer tries to move beyond his opponent's range when he's being hit. In boxing, this just puts a defender into hooking range, which can be devastating.
"Another thing," Benton says, "he kept lifting his right foot when he got hit. I didn't realize he was cocking it for a kick. Who ever heard of a fighter kicking someone? That's for the ladies."
"In karate or kung fu," Cobb explains, "your kick is your most powerful weapon. And the punching is totally different. You don't put your body into a punch as completely as you do in boxing. You fight from an erect posture, usually punching straight out, snapping from the shoulders. Also, in the martial arts there's this legend of the 'one death punch'—a quick, crisp shot to the temple, throat, heart or back of the neck. Actually, boxers have a much better—more realistic—hand style. Combinations rather than the one killer blow. It's the cumulative effect of many punches thrown in combination that wins the fight."